Counting Sand, Numbering Stars

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sandcrpped.jpgthoughts collected along a beach

We recently spent a few days with our daughter Julie and her family at a beach on the Pacific coast of Mexico. Walking the sandy beach a couple of times each day I thought a lot about, you guessed it, sand!

What occurred to me was how much sand there is on a beach. In one of our conversations near the beach my wife Diann said she had just read that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all the beaches of the world. She showed me the article. Sure enough, the late Carl Sagan, astronomer and cosmologist, made the statement. According to the article, researchers at the University of Hawaii estimate that there are somewhere around seven and a half quintillion grains of sand on the earth, or 75 followed by 17 zeros.

Doing some research I found that it’s believed the universe contains 200 billion trillion stars, or 200 followed by 21 zeros! They figure there are about 2 trillion galaxies containing, on average, 100 billion stars each. So, yes, it seems likely that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all the beaches in the world!

It takes a lot of space to contain such a colossal number of stars, but space is big. It’s taken up to 14 billion years for the light from the farthest galaxies to get to earth! It’s a very big universe, and in fact, it may be much bigger than we can now measure.

Producing astronomical amounts of energy, these 200 billion trillion stars were all created by God who is omnipotent (being all powerful). Spaced out over unimaginable distances, they’re all surrounded, each and every one of them, by the very presence of God who is omnipresent (being all places present). Scattered through space in mind-boggling numbers, they’re known in the minutest detail, every subatomic particle of each and every one of them, by God who is omniscient (being all knowing).

As awesome as the universe is in size and scope, the Creator of it all simply spoke it into being! It did not at all fatigue Him. Our idea of God is too small!

This same awesome God who made stars numbering more than the sand on the seashores also made us humans in His own image to share in His great cosmic plan for all eternity to come. The next time we face what we think is a big challenge or problem, or feel unimportant, we need to remember this!

“Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” Isaiah 59:1

The Sands of Change

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sandmovingfixed-1.jpgthoughts collected along a beach

Walking the beach on the Pacific Coast of Mexico while on vacation got me to thinking about sand. What I noticed was how the sandscape had changed since my walk the previous morning. Both waves and wind had moved the billions of tiny stones we call sand; both were strong yesterday, gusty winds and pounding waves. I looked at the wet sand at the edge of the waves, and it was being pushed back and forth and sideways, carving an uneven bottom in which to wade and creating and removing sand drifts along where I walked. I glanced at the dry sand higher on the beach, and it was blowing from east to west, creating little waves of mini dunes no higher than a half inch. Beach sand does not stay still!

Heraclitus (6th century BC) said, “You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.” The same holds true for stepping into the ocean waves and on the sandy shore upon which they beach themselves. Walking the beach, I was an observer of constant change. “Time and tide wait for no man,” Geoffrey Chaucer said.

I find it appropriate that the hour glass tells time by the passing of grains of sand from the top half to the bottom half, these sands of time a reminder that the only thing that never changes is that things are always changing. Now in my 7th decade of living I need to reaffirm a commitment to managing change well. Each stage of life brings with it changes, some welcome and some unwelcome.

The psalmist reminds us of “God, who is enthroned of old, who does not change…” (Psalm 55:19a) This is the one constant in our ever changing world. We have a God who never changes! He can and should be our one constant in a constantly changing world. He has been, is, and always will be, loving, strong, wise, just, and every other attribute of His that we can discover and grow to appreciate. He possesses these attributes to perfection eternally without wavering.

This means that whatever changes we face we can do so mindful that God can be our one stabilizing influence. Every new situation we face is one in which we can count on His very same amazing attributes to impact us in a positive way as they have countless of His followers through the centuries. We can rejoice in the One who’s created the shifting sands but who Himself never changes!

“Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Psalm 90:2

The Safe Place

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is marilyn_laszlo-copy.jpgMarilyn Laszlo died at the age of 88 near Valparaiso, Indiana, where she grew up. Hearing of her death, those living on the other side of the world in the Hauna Village in Papua New Guinea entered a five-day mourning ritual called a “house cry” in her honor.

Marilyn had spent 24 years of her life in the village with the purpose of translating the Bible into their language. She had to first learn the language and then create a written version, which they did not have. Then she had to teach them how to read their new written language. Only then could she set about translating the Bible into their new written language that she had created. She completed it, the Sepik Iwam translation, in 1990.

It was a difficult and dangerous life, living under the conditions in the village. She nearly died three times, contracting typhoid fever, malaria (three times), and trichinosis.

In her younger years, when asked about the dangers of living in such a remote area, she would respond, “I have learned that the safest place in the whole world is to be at the center of God’s will.” She lived out that belief! She said that every time she got very sick or nearly died it brought her and the people closer, stating, “God does not make mistakes with our lives.”

When life does not go well we can find ourselves asking, “What am I doing wrong?” or “Why am I being punished?” Of course, sometimes when things go wrong it’s because we have been wrong, but not always, not usually. The fact is we can be doing things right, acting in accord with God’s will, and have problems, difficulties, and major crises. In the Bible Satan is called “the accuser” and that’s the role he often plays with us during tough times. “You must be doing something wrong,” or “Why would God care about you and what you’re going through?” are the kinds of thoughts that can enter our minds.

Virtually every godly character in the Bible, men and women who walked with God, faced major problems and challenges, even death. Contemporary followers of God do too, like Marilyn Laszlo. Even under trying circumstances the best response is to determine to remain close to God, seeking to do His will in the midst of it all. As Marilyn said, “The safest place in the whole world is to be at the center of God’s will.” God knew we’d be exactly where we are, facing what we are facing, and He has a plan, because “God does not make mistakes with our lives.”

“Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.” Psalm 71:20

Team Work

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is teamconcretework_tonemappedsmall.jpgWhile on my morning walk during our time at our home in Mexico I stopped to watch the roof being poured on a small new house being built on a hilltop. In Mexico many of the roofs are flat slabs of concrete about 10 centimeters (about 4 inches) thick, ours is. In most cases the roof is poured in one day. Preliminary preparation involves the creation of a wooden form for the entire roof with temporary supporting posts scattered about two feet apart underneath to support the form when the heavy concrete is poured in. However, before the concrete is poured an extensive grid work of steel rods (rebar) is crisscrossed in the form to be a permanent reinforcement for the concrete roof.

When I came upon the scene this particular morning all the preliminary work had been done. I noted that a wooden plank walkway stretched at a steep angle from the ground to the future roof. The sound of the gas-powered concrete mixer was drowned out by the even louder sound of a radio blasting Mexican music for the workers. Men were striding up and down the plank walkway, those going up hefting a five gallon pail of concrete on their shoulders, those coming down swinging empty pails to get another load.

There had to have been two guys manning the mixer, adding the ingredients, then tilting the mixer to fill the pails. Another four or so men were going up and down the plank, delivering the concrete a pail at a time. On the top where the concrete was being poured there was one, if not two men, leveling it out. It was taking a crew of workers to get the job done.

When you stop and think about it, most accomplishments involve a group of people, a team working together. Jesus created a team of 12 to follow Him and carry on after He left earth. During His three years of training them He also sent them out in teams of twos to spread His Good News.

Marriage is a team of two. Most teams are bigger, like sports teams and work teams. No matter the size, teams predominate when it comes to getting work done. Even raising children is said to be a team effort, that it takes a village to raise them.

None of us are self-made people. We’ve all had help along the way. Both now and in the future we’re going to need the help of others and they’re going to need our help. It’s just the way it is.

What this means is that if we want to live life well we need to figure out how to be a team player, whether in a marriage, part of a family, on a volunteer committee, member of a work team, contributor to a task force, or whatever. For instance, it requires humility – a willingness to ask for help, to share the credit. It requires empathy – an ability to see the situation from the perspective of others involved, how they think and feel about it. It requires compromise – a commitment to meeting somewhere in the middle. It requires patience – an adjustment of our time schedule because others have a different pace. It requires forgiveness – the realization that no one’s perfect and that we all take our turn at making a mistake. It requires more than this, and we just have to figure out what that involves as we go along.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor.” Ecclesiastes 4:9

Life’s Fences

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is cactusspike_tonemappedsmall.jpgI’ve always wanted to read a James Michener novel. Because we live part of the year in Mexico to be near our daughter and her family, I decided to read his novel Mexico while in Mexico. In the novel Michener mentions a common plant in Mexico called the maguey. Curious as to what this plant was, I looked it up. Surprise! It’s a plant I walk past every day during my walks in Mexico and have photographed many times (pictured in this post). In fact, we bought a variegated variety that’s part of the landscape by the steps leading down to our home here in Mexico.

The maguey has a large collection of long, thick, stiff, broad-speared leaves with very sharp needles along the edges. Among its many uses in Mexican culture is the fact that rows of it can act as a living fence, to keep both people and animals either in or out of an area. This doesn’t surprise me; you don’t want to bump into a maguey!

I’ve always been intrigued by fences. The other common fence where I walk when in Mexico is the stone fence; they’re everywhere. As a photographer I find them to be very photogenic. Back in the States, split rail fences are also very photogenic. Growing up on an Iowa farm I helped my father put in miles of barbed wire fences and mend them. I often had to trek around the pasture to make certain the electric fence was still electrified. At our home in Florida we’ve recently had a vinyl privacy fence installed around the backyard. Yes, I can mount a pretty good defense in being an expert on fences!

Fences are important; they define boundaries. An old proverb says, “Good fences make good neighbors.” The phrase was made popular by Robert Frost’s 1914 poem “Mending Wall” where he describes himself and his neighbor mending a shared rock fence together. In the poem he had his neighbor repeating the phrase.

We all deal with fences, if not the tangible kinds, the intangible kinds that define boundaries for us. We’re all “fenced in” by limitations, lost opportunities, and possibilities that are for others but not for us. Sometimes we’re meant to tear down a fence, pushing and climbing our way through, and sometimes we’re to bound over fences of limitations with herculean effort. Other times, though, the boundaries are to help define our God-given destiny. After all, we can’t do everything, just a few things, and boundaries help with figuring that out.

Most animals don’t like fences (take it from me, an Iowa farm boy, I know). We people often don’t like limitations or boundaries either, but we, nevertheless, have them. Just as fences come in great varieties, so do our boundaries. There are the boundaries of poor health, insufficient finances, lack of opportunities, limited time, our marital status, our current age, our present location, and the list goes on. God knew we would be living with these boundaries and He has a plan! We just have to have faith in the face of these fences, faith in God that He has His destiny for us where we find ourselves.

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” Psalm 16:6

The Insignificant Becoming Significant

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is smallworldcomp_cropped.jpgI hadn’t noticed the blossoms nor the bees until I sat down on one of my resting rocks that I’ve designated as such on my morning walks. As I rested I couldn’t help but observe the tiny purple blossoms. Each was smaller than a pencil’s eraser. So tiny were they that an elfin florist could create a bouquet of a dozen of them in a thimble-sized vase.

Thousands of the mini flowers were scattered all about me as I sat on my sitting stone. Honey bees were there too, flitting about from blossom to blossom. Good thing the mini flowers had strong stems, otherwise the much bigger bees would have bent each one as they landed to gather a bit of nectar and pollen. There couldn’t be much of either on the minuscule blossoms. How many visits to the blossoms would the bees have to make to produce enough honey to spread on my morning slice of toast? Tens of thousands, I’m guessing.

My days are also made up of primarily small elements. Big events are few and far between. The big events, when they come, startle me to alertness, and I give pause as to how I should best handle them. Not so with the far greater number of small happenings each day.

These small events are little blossoms of opportunity that I can easily overlook, even trample upon, as I undoubtedly did the tiny flowers when on my walk, both before and after my time on the sitting stone. The bees went from blossom to blossom, though each blossom gave little in terms of nectar and pollen. The cumulative effect would yield a significant amount of life-sustaining honey for the hive. The cumulative results of my handling of the little details of life in a right way, I realized, could also have life-sustaining results.

It’s important for me to take the three minutes to read a daily devotional from MORNING BY MORNING by Charles Spurgeon. It’s important for me to stop what I’m reading or typing to turn, give eye contact to my wife, and really listen to what she wants to tell me. It’s important for me to pause and give a genuine expression of gratitude for a small gesture of kindness from one of my grandchildren. It’s important that I take a couple of minutes and text or message a word of encouragement to a friend. It’s important that I pause and offer God a sentence prayer of thanks or lift up someone in a similarly brief prayer to Him.

Watching the blossoms and the bees was a pollinating process for me, resulting in a seed of an idea that needs to germinate and grow in the landscape of my own life. So, the next time I spread honey on my morning toast, I’m going to remember the busy bees among the mini blossoms and that handling, in a bee-like fashion, the mini opportunities which bloom in my coming day will make the day all the sweeter!

“Be careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”  Ephesians 5:15-16

Being Available

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is friendsmen-copy.jpgThe least helpful offer I can think of, and one of the most common, is, “Just let me know if there’s anything I can do.” How many people really respond to an offer like that?

What this generalized offer requires of the hurting person is to think about how they want to be helped and then take the initiative and boldness to contact the one willing to help and ask for the help. It just isn’t going to happen! It’s an empty offer in which we’re not really making ourselves available, just sounding like we are.

What people need from us is to have us show up and do what needs to be done. It’s all about being available. Availability is the key to pleasing God and serving others.

Of course being available takes sacrifice on our part. It can require being interruptible, sacrificing our own schedule to meet the needs of someone else. I’ve observed before, but it’s worth repeating, that of all the recorded miracles Jesus performed, almost all were not planned or scheduled, and most happened when Jesus was interrupted. Jesus was interruptible, and we should be too! “We can’t plan life. All we can do is be available for it,” singer and song writer Lauryn Hill said.

Being available also means being willing to listen. When we ask, “How are you?” and the person says, “Oh, so so,” we can let that go by. We let it go because we’re anxious to get on to the subject we really want to talk about or move on to conversation with another person nearby; our eyes have probably already been darting around, distracted by other people and conversations.

The person’s non-committal answer of “Oh, so so,” should be a cue for us to pause, look at them, and perhaps gently prompt with another question. Being available means giving them our time and attention so they feel they have the opportunity to share more.

It’s so easy to let our bodies be one place and our minds somewhere else. Wherever we are, we should be all there!

We don’t have to be a talented and highly gifted person to live for God’s glory and the good of others. Brother Andrew, a Christian missionary famous for smuggling Bibles into communist countries during the height of the Cold War, said, “God does not choose people because of their ability, but because of their availability.”

“The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.'”  1 Samuel 3:10

A Dog and Ring Story

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ringsand.jpgElsa was at the beach with her son. She noticed a big black beetle crawling across her cap that she had just placed on the sand. Picking up the cap she swung it through the air to send the beetle flying. She suddenly remembered she had placed her diamond engagement ring and wedding ring in the hat so she could apply suntan lotion! She and her son searched and searched the sand in the large area she could have slung the rings, but to no avail.

Elsa drove to the sheriff’s office to ask if they might have a metal detector to help her find her rings. Sgt. Brad Pelli was working the front desk. He said they didn’t, but then he got an idea. He would take Dogo, the sheriff department’s K-9 to see if he could sniff it out. Dogo had been trained to look for objects with a human scent, such as a knife or revolver tossed into the woods by a criminal. Could he find a couple of rings?

At the beach Sgt. Pelli asked Elsa and her son to pack up their things and move away from the area. He then gave Dogo the command to search. Dogo sniffed around for awhile then laid down on the sand, the sign he had found something. Sgt. Pelli got down on his knees by the dog, sifted through the sand, and found the rings! Dogo’s reward was being able to play with his favorite ball and getting some appreciative pats from Elsa and her son.

This story, written by Cathy Free of the Washington Post and appearing in the Tampa Bay Times, Sunday, August 22, 2021, is a reminder that being flexible, adaptable and willing to try something new can result in great achievements!

Much of what limits us in life is our own ideas of our limitations. We have a God of big ideas, just consider the vast cosmos, which was His idea. His calling for us, His idea of how we can deal with something or do something, is very likely going to be different than our ideas.

Moses didn’t think he could communicate well and at first resisted God’s call to lead God’s people out of slavery. Moses did lead the people to freedom and several of his fine speeches are recorded in the early books of the Bible. David was but a shepherd boy and at first was overlooked as God’s choice to be king. He did become king, and the greatest king God’s people in the Old Testament ever had. Matthew was a despised tax collector but was called by Jesus to be one of His twelve disciples, and eventually wrote one of the four Gospels in the Bible.

Dogo the dog had only found knives and guns until the day his master took him on a new and very different mission. Dogo was obedient to his master’s command, and he found a diamond ring! Our Master has plans for us too. We must be careful that we not limit how God can use us!

“The Lord answered Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.'” Numbers 11:23

Photo by Carlos Esteves on Unsplash

A Special Word for Special Love

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is heartcarvedinsand.jpgLee Bramlett of Wycliffe Bible translators was working on translating the Bible for the Hdi people, one of the indigenous populations of the country of Cameroon. He wanted to make certain he did justice to the translation, and this weighed heavily on his mind and heart. One night he had a dream in which God prompted him to take a closer look at the word for love in the Hdi language.

Verbs in Hdi end in -i, -a, and -u, but the verb to love only ended in -i and -a, never -u. “Why?” he asked his native translation team. Why could the verb for love be dvi, dva, but never dvu?

Could you ‘dvi’?” Lee asked.

They said yes, that “dvi” is the love the husband had for his wife but was now gone.

They then explained that “dva” was the love a husband had for his wife as long as she was a good wife, remaining faithful and serving her husband.

Lee then asked, “Could a husband ‘dvu’ his wife?”

The translation team members laughed. “Of course not!” they said. “If you said that, you would have to keep loving your wife no matter what she did, even if she never got you water, never made you meals. Even if she committed adultery, you would be compelled to just keep on loving her. No, we would never say, ’dvu.’ It just doesn’t exist.”

Lee thought of John 3:16, then asked, “Could God ‘dvu’ people?”

There was a long silence, then tears in the eyes of the native translation team. They replied, “Do you know what this would mean? This would mean that God kept loving us over and over, millennia after millennia, while all that time we rejected his great love. He is compelled to love us, even though we have sinned more than any people.”

The Hdi people, through the resulting translation of the Bible in their own language, came to understand that God “dvu”-d them so much that He sent and sacrificed His own Son for them, the core message, the Gospel message, of the Bible.

The staff writer for the Wycliffe article, from which I’m obviously heavily indebted for this short piece, concludes, “God had encoded the story of His unconditional love right into their own language. For centuries, the little word was there – unused but available, grammatically correct and quite understandable.”

Our understanding of God’s love for us needs to be the understanding the Hdi people came to have of God’s love. We can experience God’s love, not because we are lovely or loving, but because He is a God of love, of unconditional love, and His love is a forgiving love and an everlasting love. We, like the Hdi people, just need to grasp this truth and respond accordingly!

“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Loving Others by Loving What They Love

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is fishsave.jpgThe grandchildren were taking emergency actions to save my pond fish. The life-saving efforts were taking place at our home in Mexico while we were 2000 miles away at our home in Florida.

The fish were swimming funny, sort of a side stroke. They would be belly up in death soon. Catching the fish the grandchildren noticed little spots on their scales. Not knowing what was ailing the fish, they took one to a small pet store in the nearby town of Ozumba. The pet store owner diagnosed the problem and suggested a bottle of medicine he sold for such purposes. Because my fish inhabit a small pond and not a fish tank, they bought out his entire supply to treat the pond.

Our daughter, their mother, texted me pictures of several of the grandchildren, wearing medical gloves, stooped over a sink, carefully moving the adhesions from each of the fish. Under normal conditions the children just glance at the fish in the pond as they come and go past the small garden that contains the pond. The photos show my grandchildren making a herculean effort to save my pond pets!

The grandchildren didn’t have any special love for the fish, but they love me, their grandpa, and they know I love my fish, or at least sort of like them. They treated the fish with loving care because they love me. It warms my heart!

One of the best ways to love someone is to love what they love. My wife has made numerous trips with me to pet stores (for fish) and Best Buy (for anything electronic), not because she loves pet stores and Best Buy but because she loves me. I, in turn, (at a far greater sacrifice, I feel) have gone with my wife to fabric stores and clothing stores because I love her, not because I love going to these kinds of stores, because I don’t.

Loving others means we care enough about them that we come to understand what interests they have and then become interested in these subjects ourselves. Love means getting inside their head and heart. Love means seeing life from their perspective.

Life is so much more full and very much the richer when we live beyond ourselves. To delight in what those we love delight in can be a real delight!

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4