Sunday, September 8, 2013

Awesome wilderness of Loon Lodge

The “Williams Camp Early History” diaries, written by a young doctor from Boston in the early  1900’s say, “We are thoroughly en see some new joying ourselves these days. It takes…almost three days to get really broken in so you enjoy things  -- I mean so they all sink in and make an impression. The first day or two you see the mountains and their beauty and you appreciate the place, but not for three days or so do you get all there is to get out of it. Then it begins to sink in deeper and deeper and you see new beauties in everything, and every time you turn towards those grand old mountains you see some new thing to fill your soul with wonder and admiration.” Wednesday, January 10, 1912

The writer was sitting across the cove from us when he wrote those words. The pond hasn’t changed a great deal in 100 years. It still is a “wild” pond, an untouched wilderness. Yes, a little more accessible as we came in by road instead of by canoe, but in essence, the “grand old mountains” are still looking down on us. 

The wildest part of Loon Lodge is the loons. The cry of loons signals wilderness, and their eerie laughter across the pond on a dark night can still raise the hair on the back of my neck.  This year there are at least ten loons, but four seem to like our cove. 

Morning mist blanketed the pond as the sun rose this morning. And like frigates taking against the wind, the four sailed past the dock. Two are adults, two are full grown fledglings, but their color is rusty brown instead of the stark black and white so distinctive of the adult loons. 

Mid-morning there was a fishing lesson. The two adults cruised back and forth, dipping their heads and coming up with little fish, and then smoothly transferring them to the beaks of the “kids” in a swift, seamless move. Later afternoon apparently was diving lessons. One adult, two fledgies. Adult dives and comes up, two fledgies dive and come up. Over and over, right in front of the dock, cruising back and forth.  Just before supper one fledgie came and hung out in front of the dock, preening feathers, practicing dives, and incredibly, coming up with fish in its beak. Lessons learned. 

Dark has fallen, and it is incredibly black. There is no moon, just starshine out across the pond. When you stand on the dock and look out, you can see the water shining, and the dark outline of the mountains. When you look back, if we have turned off all the gas lights in the lodge, it is black as pitch. 

Day three settles into a rhythm. The silence is overpowering. The emptiness is overwhelming. The glory of the wilderness is “filling my soul with wonder and admiration.”

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Spirit morning

A group of young moms gather on a warm tropical morning for fellowship and prayer, children wiggling around the fringes. At first glance, they could all be from one country, but when they speak it is obvious that they are from many places around the globe. Business has brought their husbands to this corner of the world, and they are raising their kids in a wonderful city, but thousands of miles from “home.”

We’ve been asked to talk about living overseas with children, schooling choices, creating a home in a place where you are the foreigner.

They don’t know us. We don’t know them. It begins slowly as we tell some stories and lessons we’ve learned. At one point we talk about dealing with the forces of evil, spiritual warfare in our home far from our own comfort culture. We suddenly touch a raw nerve. I notice tears on the cheeks of the young British woman beside us. The woman from India is nodding her head. Others move forward on their chairs, suddenly intent. We pause and let them talk.

The British mom speaks first. “We were on holiday this last weekend and there was a large temple area in the middle of the resort. It was frightening, and I realized that we all had headaches all weekend, but they stopped as soon as we came back here.”

“We just moved house,” the Indian mom says, “and we thought about praying over our new place, but my husband was leaving for a business trip right away and we didn’t do it. Then our little daughter began to wake up screaming in the night.”

“My husband comes is under such stress at work that he can’t sleep. The whole bed shakes when he lies down at night. I think I need to be praying more for him, and for both of us,” puts in a woman from Switzerland.

“I thought it was just us,” says a South African mom. “I think we’ve been under attack and I didn’t even realize it could be spiritual.” A Finnish woman puts in her piece too.

They circle the room and begin to pray for each other, reaching out to touch hands. They pray for God to give them the spirit of power and not of fear, to protect, guard their families, to be willing to open up and talk with each other about deep spiritual issues, and that they would consciously pray for others in the group. They pray for peace and for the ability to understand that God is their home no matter where He puts them.

As we get ready to leave different ones come and talk to us, thanking us for affirming them, for ministering deeply to their spirits. We leave and head down the steep hill to the transit system, recognizing that the Spirit was in the middle of the circle this morning. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Table

After wandering the planet, the maple table has returned. It has history, be it just this generation. When we rented our first apartment on Oakdale in the Keswick side of Glenside, the table was in the kitchen. We could have it for $15, with four chairs. It has a bit of a funky look to it, obviously an attempt in the 30’s to look “modern.” We paid our $15 and adopted the table.

It was covered in pure 70’s “antiquing” paint in a hideous shade of green. I remember tying it on top of our Volkswagon and taking it over to my parents garage. In the warm summer sun I set it up in the garage and back drive, and stripped off the ugly green. Underneath I found it had been stained that red of the 30’s. Talked to some friends more intelligent in refinishing than I was and they suggested Clorox, straight up, put on with a brush in bright sunlight. It transformed the table to the natural blonde of maple. Next was a good coat of urethane and we were good to go.

When we went to the Philippines the table went to brother #5 in Indianapolis. It lived with him for four years and came north to Michigan when we moved here. We set it up in the kitchen and it became the daily table for the family. There are drop leaves on the sides and those always caused a bit of consternation – more than one glass was broken by a kid accidentally kicking the flap underneath, and much milk mopped off the floor. But in terms of a table for raising kids, it was impermeable. It’s had everything imaginable that a child can drop dropped on top of it and there is hardly a dent.  A few “loved” spots.

Somewhere along the line it got small for five people, even with the drop leaves and the extra leaf, so we moved it upstairs and bought a round 50 inch table, keeping the chairs. Though it has served well for probably 25 years, it’s just not the sturdy maple of the old table. But it’s bigger, and with a leaf can seat eight. 

When the Driver got married she adopted the maple table and, with her, it went to North Carolina and then to Ohio. When she moved to Macau it came home, and then went back to Philadelphia with the Dragon when she returned from Alaska. Somewhere along the way in the late 2000’s the Driver and the Dragon swapped tables, giving the Dragon the Driver’s larger glass topped table. Then it was switched again, when small children at the Driver’s house began to knock the drop leaves down.

In late September, the Driver moved to Asia and the maple table came home again, and was put upstairs in one of the bedrooms. Most meals in this house are eaten by two people, and if there are more, there is a table that can seat 18 in the other room. On a whim, maybe of nostalgia, the maple table came downstairs  and the man of the house fixed the drop leaves with a lock on each side. Why didn’t we think of that 42 years, and a few pieces of broken china, ago? It is a bit worse for wear so the surface got a good sanding and two coats of semi-gloss urethane.

Nestled in the kitchen, topped with a poinsettia, glistening golden in the light, the old maple table reigns again.
The round table? It will stay in the Tribe. It’s already gone to the Engineer’s parents who got their house back from their third son. They need a table that will seat two, or four, or six, or eight…

Friday, September 21, 2012


Four years ago I said goodbye to a neighborhood on the other side of the world. Not my neighborhood, but where my daughter, the Driver, lived with the Tech. A neighborhood I had come to feel at home in. I remember walking those streets in south China my last afternoon, soaking up the atmosphere, imbedding it deeply in my mind so that even now, four years later, I close my eyes and am there, almost able to touch the color of the late day sun and smell the sesame and peanut bars.

Now, once again, I have said goodbye to a little corner of the world that I would never have known had not my daughter moved here. In four years of visits I have come to feel at home in the cluster of townhouses outside my nation’s campus. I find myself pausing at a window, drinking in the deep woods to the back, looking down on the greensward hill where young boys toss a football and my grands search for Easter eggs, watching for the UPS truck or the red fixit guy’s truck. Though I don’t know their names, the neighbors are familiar. The guy next door who was deployed in Afghanistan last year heads across the street with his sons following, the little Chinese girl on the other side seems to have grown a foot -- even the dogs are friends.

A neighborhood is a collection of small pieces: the library around the corner where I sat the other morning searching the children’s books on the topic of “moving,” the jeweler who repaired things for me, the Anglican pre-school, the sweet middle-aged couples in the block of townhouses who have deeply impacted the lives of Boy Blue and Mei Mei – celebrating their birthdays, finding books and magazines on bugs, bringing balloons and stashing gummy treats in their garages.

We’re walking back from a frozen yogurt run one night when a neighbor two blocks away calls, “I have parsley for your swallowtail caterpillars.” Three neighbors are having a dog conference on a sunny lawn, but seeing Boy Blue, conversation turns to bug collections. He is a familiar visitor to their gardens; they relish watching a little blonde boy with a butterfly net or a Tupperware collection tub. When they hear he’s moving across the world, they express both dismay at their loss but also excitement at his future. Boy and dogs snuggle before we head home.

If it takes a village to raise a child, this little neighborhood has labored together to help raise these two little grands. Four years ago it was Mr. Wong guarding the door to keep a tiny baby from being taken out too soon into the night air, collecting moths in the mailbox for Bye-Ren’s cats, wiping tears from his eyes as I bit him goodbye my last night. Today it is the bug collectors, the dog friends down the street, and a host of others.

I wipe my own tears.

Soon they head once again across the world. The Driver and the Tech will once again do the hard work to build a new life and make friends; Boy Blue and Mei Mei will melt hearts; God will once again create a neighborhood.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Building for eternity

“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” 2 Cor 5:1

The little city that rises Labor Day weekend in the Michigan woods is not permanent. Though each year has strong similarities to the previous year, with neighbors rubbing up against last year’s neighbors, it is a fluid and mobile little community.

We arrive midday on Friday and find ourselves the first to set up camp. Savoring the silence of the wide fields and woods, we unpack, scope out the site, and begin to build our little weekend world. Slowly over the next six hours more families arrive, campers roll into place, tents are pitched, canopies raised. A small city emerges, built by human hands.

The genius is that this is a heavenly city, even if it is one built by human hands. These families gather because they want to live together once again, briefly, and share their lives and their Lord. For many, the yearly routine has stretched over decades. The little children of 30 years ago are the parents of today, and yesterday’s parents are now grandparents -- gray and a little less mobile, but here. Today’s little children only vaguely know there is history, but their very presence celebrates generational connection, year after year. They relish today, the freedom to run and yell and play, unfettered by fences and walls.

The weekend takes on a rhythm of its own. I rise early, knowing that already the Engineer is building a fire outside my tent, with either Bug or Joy Boy at his side, wrapped in a blanket. My job is to crank up the ancient Coleman stove and make coffee, and then begin the breakfast process. As our three generations gather around the table to eat, the scene is echoed up and down the line of tents and campers. Later we’ll explore the woods, the water, the slides and zipline, the bikes and bike paths. We’ll crowd into the rustic chapel and sing till the rafters rise, open our Bibles together and worship the Lord. Some in the group we know well, others are simply familiar faces we’ve seen other years. A little world, captured for a brief weekend, frozen in time.

By day children of all ages dash around the camp, parents watching and sharing the watch. “I’ve got the playground covered,” you hear, or “Anyone taking kids to the lake?” The teens actually unplug all their electronics and feast on soccer and zipline, the infamous blog at the waterfront, and messing around in boats like something out of “The Wind in the Willows.” There’s a bit of complaining at the lack of electronic media, but for the most part the sounds of their laughter almost rise above the little ones.

At night we tuck the little kids into bed and then gather around the fires, talking into the dark night about life, family, God, and more about life. As we huddle closer to get warm, we share deeply, listening and learning from each other. The messages are dissected and digested, and processed but our talk goes far beyond what is presented in chapel.

When Labor Day comes, the little city slowly disappears into the sunshine, one tent or camper at a time. By the time we leave, there is almost no one else around and once again the fields and woods stretch out untouched. We leave refreshed, restored, and renewed, even on weekends when the weather has been terrible and we’ve huddled under umbrellas.

We come knowing this will end, but also knowing, Lord wiling, we’ll come again. We recognize that living in celestial cities will never be long term on earth, but somehow, in the woods and fields and smoke, we’ve tasted a little bit of heaven.

All the while, year after year, decade after decade, we are looking for a city whose builder and maker is God.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Steinways in heaven

Are there Steinways in heaven? Or any instrument faintly resembling a nine-foot grand piano, highly polished, black and beautiful?

If there are, perhaps a small and gentle Chinese man, walking with a slightly awkward gait, comes before the Lord with a humble request.

“May I play for you? It is my offering of praise, of gratitude, of love for my great God, the Savior of my soul, the strength of my being, the One who gave me life and sustained me in want and in plenty.”

He sits carefully on the stool and arranges his coat. Not his long black overcoat with neck scarf flailing, but a neat suit, finely tailored to his slight stature. He bows his head and there is total silence. Then he places his stubby hands on the keys with reverence.

The music begins to lift from the instrument – music of all genre – symphonies, etudes, hymn arrangements, romances, barcarolles. Music that spans generations and centuries, that comes from years of memorization and study, from an intimate knowledge of compositions, and of the instrument. It rolls on and on. He plays with extreme delicacy at times, barely stroking the keys. He moves to intense fervor. The sound rises and soars and builds in strength. The man’s hands move faster and faster, and his head and shoulders take on life from his hands.

All heaven stops to listen and revels in the glory.

Finally, in a roaring crescendo, the music comes to a halt. Once again there is silence, and then a roar of praise erupts as multitudes stand, clapping their hands and lifting the praise offering as it if were their own.

The pianist rises slowly and nods, and then, with a gentle and somewhat hesitant smile, bows -- not to the crowd but to the Lord of the universe. The Lord reaches out His hand to his dear son, and says, “Any time, Samuel, *who bears my name. Any time!”

In Jerusalem the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat. There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign LORD will wipe away all tears. Isaiah 25:6-8

*Samuel means One who bears the name of God

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Generation to generation

A friend wrote yesterday that as he and his wife stood in the guest room of their daughter’s new home looking at the furniture from their families, stored for many years, they said to each other, “This has been a long time coming, but it was worth waiting.”

Another friend recently moved from overseas asked me where we bought our furniture and it brought me up short. Bought? Very little was ever bought – a recliner, mattresses, a few small pieces. No, my furniture is generational, and I love it.

Everyone takes naps on Lorena’s sofa, now in its third generation and who knows how many different upholstery colors. Somewhere I have a faded newspaper picture of my parents and my grandparents on that sofa at their 50th and 25th wedding anniversaries – August, 1953. Lorena’s high poster bed lives at the Dragon’s house, along with her folding desk. Her glass bookcase is upstairs in the red room.

Lewis’ desk is mine, but it detoured through my father’s hands for about 50 years. When I sit down, I feel the weight of the gentlemen who did serious work at that desk, and it sobers me at times. Both of their pictures look at me from under the glass top. Fitting reminders.

In the front hall is a washstand, one of six that Bernice lovingly saved for her six sons. Upstairs we use Bernice and Alvin’s dressers every single day. An iron bedstead in the next room came from her childhood home. Down the hall, maple bed frames take me back to my childhood when Clarence Sr. bought them for my room so he’d have a decent place to sleep when he came visiting from Atlanta. They were used hard, but a refinishing job and new mattresses brought them back to life again.

Lois’ chairs are often my spots for casual reading. The command post chair sat in her living room at the end of her life, comfortable and strategic beside her phone. From that chair she listened to the problems of a whole town and prayed for the world. Her Board reward rocker elegances my study. Out in the family room Russell’s chair is a favorite with the grands because it’s big enough for three kids. Jane’s rocker lives at the Dreamer’s house and has rocked her little ones.

The kitchen chairs remind me of our first apartment, a steal at $15 bucks including the maple table. The table lives with the Driver right now, but I have claim to it for my old age. My dining table belonged to Betty and Alice and fed multitudes before I got it. It continues to feed the world, opening to five wide leaves. The china cupboard came with our first house, for peanuts. The buffet that matches it lives with the Dreamer because I have Lois’ buffet. I remember her saving her honoraria from speaking engagements for years until the day came when she had enough to buy it. It’s not spectacular, but it holds meaning.

All these things are temporal. There will come a day when I give them away, or sell them, or they fall apart. But until then, instead of ghosts around the house, I have the memories of friends and family who are gone, but who left little traces of themselves behind.

The memories are rich and they continue to be made. I watch Joy-Boy climb up the side of Russell’s chair and tumble into it. He turns and grins at me and then proceeds to strip off his shoes and socks, tossing them to the floor. He laughs again, gives me a look, climbs over the other side of the chair and slowly drops himself down to the floor.

Not even once do I think to say, “Careful of the furniture, Jon.”