Tag Archives: castles

Bats in the Belfry

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (KJV Romans 8:28)

Over the years, I’ve stayed in a variety of places. These ranged from storage rooms in the back of broadcast complexes, to private homes, hotels, castles and palaces. Yes, I’ve stayed in a palace or two. The first palace I stayed the night in was with my wife and sons on our trip west toward castle Neuschwanstein. While it was considered a “hunting” lodge at one point it eventually was renovated to the status of palace. By the time we arrived it was a retreat center but still spectacular. We stayed in the queen’s room. Yep, the room we occupied was the room normally reserved when the queen came to visit. It was large, luxurious and just the intricate wood designs in the walls and on the ceilings impressed us as we brought in our plastic suitcases and two energetic boys.

Fortunately, it was updated with modern plumbing and heating. We enjoyed the thought of being temporary royalty as we strolled around the room and the grounds. We were traveling with friends who enjoyed the cushy comfort of their own royal chamber.

The second palace we enjoyed a few years later was also converted into a retreat center. In this case it was operated by a Christian group running retreats and summer camps for Christian youth and the occasional adult group. Considering the massive number of steps, we had to climb just to reach our room I can understand why it was more youth oriented than “older” adult oriented.

2008_06_BobPhotos_310Beth and I enjoyed the tallest tower on the south wing. Our room covered two floors within the round tower with a spectacular view of the surrounding valley. We were above most of the rest of the palace with a spire on top of our nice room. The bath and toilet were by the entrance. A few steps up from there was the kitchen and dining area. From there we climbed steep steps (aka a ladder) into the living area. To reach the beds we crawled through a triangular door (like the Krell construction on Altair in the sci-fi classic, “The Forbidden Planet”) where two single sleeping mats were laid head to head. The ceiling over the beds was the roof of the adjoining building giving just enough room to slide in for the night. In truth, I couldn’t sit up without hitting my head on the ceiling. Ah, the comforts of palace living.

Snuggled in for the night, a hot night at that, we eventually fell asleep. I’m not a big fan of sleeping on futon beds but that was what we had. I like a little more padding. Part way through the night we were awakened by a noise in the living area. Since a youth retreat was in progress we thought maybe someone had wandered in thinking the room was vacant. Beth and I crawled on our elbows like the two legged Krell and looked out the portal.

There, flitting back and forth in the living room, were a couple bats enjoying the darkness of night. Apparently, they were doing us a service by gulping down the little critters who were flying around the room looking to feast on us for dinner. The bats, although spooky to watch, were keeping us off the menu for the night. Thank you bats!

I’ve heard the phrase “bats in the belfry” many times in life. That night it took on a whole different meaning. Granted, this wasn’t a bell tower but it was close enough. When we arose we carefully peaked out the Krell doorway and assured ourselves they departed during the morning hours.

I wonder about what God allows to cross the path of my life. Sometimes I get annoyed or distracted as things can flitter this way and that disrupting what I think needs to be accomplished. I want to shoo the distractions out of the way and get on with things. Now I’m inclined to think these ‘distractions’ are at times little helpers to clear away other obstacles from my walk with Him. The have their unseen benefits, like eating insects we couldn’t see in the night, and protect us from hidden obstacles. Next time I’m in a castle with bats I think I’ll just watch them for a while and think of God’s protection.

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Sand Castles

How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more in number than the sand. When I wake up, I am still with you. (Psalms 139:17 18 WEB)

I learned to swim when I was in Kindergarten. My family was living in New Orleans at the time. Three sailors living in the apartment complex where we lived took it upon themselves to teach my brothers and me this vital necessity of life. I remember my first lesson vividly.

Standing beside the kidney shaped pool they told me to hold my breath and move my arms and legs. I nodded as I looked up at their husky faces. In one swift motion they grabbed my arms and legs and tossed me high in the air. I summarily plopped me in the middle of the deep end of the pool.

I had followed their instructions to the letter. As my head slid beneath the waves I held my breath and furiously waved my arms and legs. I looked great! There I was, lying on the bottom of the pool executing what I thought was a perfect stroke. After a few seconds my instructors dove into the pool grabbed under my arms and whisked me up to the side where I sputtered and spit chlorine from my lungs.

One fellow asked, “Are you OK?” Unthinking I gasped, “Sure!” Before I knew what was happening I was pulled from the water and again tossed into the air to plop once more into the pool. This routine was repeated over and over until I eventually learned to swim.

Once I had learned to swim, I discovered the beach. Playing in the rolling waves was lots of fun. Years later I was living on Guam where we had plenty of beaches. There were plenty of chances to swim and also plenty of sand. The only problem with the beaches was the sand. It was everywhere.

Sand and is great for squishing between your toes. Strolling along the sandy beach in the late evening with your honey is very romantic. Camping in the sand lets you custom form your bedding. But when there are waves and sand there is sand then there is sand in the shorts. I hate sand in my shorts.

Splashing in the waves is great. Walking from the surf with your swimsuit hanging around you knees full of sand is both embarrassing and uncomfortable. We spent a lot of time at the beach with our children. I spent a lot of time walking funny and rinsing sand from my shorts. I guess girls don’t mind the sand. Beth never complained about sand in her suit.

Sand is useful for other things besides providing ballast for my swimsuit. It cleans things, cushions things and looks great in a fish tank and you can build with it. With the right mixture of sand and tide you have the perfect place to build a sand castle. I started when I was young and passed my skills on to my children. We built many a magnificent structure in the sand.20160605 Kure Beach 048

Our castles included the requisite moat, walls and towers. This was just the beginning. Adding pieces of drift wood there were draw bridges. Tunnels were carefully dug to provide escape routes for besieged residents. If there was enough daylight, we would include all the interior features, chairs, tables, toilets. The ultimate was the dungeon. You couldn’t see the dungeon, because it was underneath our five story castle, but we knew it was there and held evil criminals.

We always built our castles near the high-tide mark so we could watch their destruction. I’m not sure why that was so much fun. Perhaps it’s a guy thing. Since there was more sand than we could count it didn’t matter when the castle dissolved in the tide. We just gathered the sand back up and started over.

Scripture says if we can count the grains of sand we will count God’s people. I tried that once. When I ran out of toes and fingers I figured God had a lot of people to watch over. I have enough trouble just watching over my small family.

But according to the Psalmist God has more thoughts about me than there are grains of sand on the shore. There are lots of shores in the world filled with lots of sand, not to mention all those deserts. I find comfort when I realize God never runs out of thoughts about His children.

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Hike in the Woods

For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me; (Psalms 31:3 ESV)

During High School I participated in a week long hike of the Appalachian Trail. I was young. The mountains were beautiful and the rattlesnakes abundant. That week long hike was a once in a lifetime experience not to be equaled. Sometimes I thought I got close.

One Sunday afternoon, while on a church retreat, we decided to enjoy a hike in the forest surrounding the little village of Baden. A castle ruin near the retreat site beckoned for a visit. I, and a few others, decided to pay it a visit.

Our Austrian friend took the lead. He was an accomplished outdoors-man, native to the land and all around a nice guy. We started our hike to the castle. Our trail blazing guide said it was only twenty minutes away.

An hour later we discovered there were many paths through the forest not clearly marked on the trail map. The landmarks appeared to be taking the day off. Turning the map round and round, trying to figure which way was which our intrepid leader said, “Maybe it’s this way,” and pointed to another trail heading into the deep dark forest.

In spite of being lost, in a foreign land, in the deep dark forest with a confused guide, the day was beautiful and cool. The conversation was delightful and jokes abounded.

We looked like an international hiking club. A mixture of Nigerian, German, Austrian, Filipino and American explored the wild together. These were good friends to be with when lost in the forest on a sunny day.

At the top of the tower in Rauchenstein by Baden in Austria

At the top of the tower in Rauchenstein by Baden in Austria

We were so far off the beaten path we figured we would soon cross the border into Slovakia. Despite our guides claim to understand the trail map we doubted his abilities after the first hour. However, we trudged onward, upward, downward and around many a bend in the trail. After almost two hours we finally arrived at Rauhenstein.

The castle sat on one side of a mountain pass. Across the valley sat another castle. The two were situated to guard the pass and defend the valley from attack.

We figured our next trip to the area we’d hike up to the other castle and take more pictures. Maybe by then I’d learn how to read the trail map myself. If I’m going to get lost, I want to lead the way.

In the end we arrived at a great spiritual revelation. Never accept a seasoned outdoors-man as your guide through the Wienerwald . . . even with a map in hand!

As a Christian I try to lead others as they follow the narrow way. Sometimes I read the map well. Sometimes I take a wrong turn. Fortunately Jesus is a better guide and never takes me down the wrong trail when I follow Him.

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My First Castle

For he shall not often reflect on the days of his life; because God occupies him with the joy of his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:20 WEB)

Growing up in the USA I enjoyed reading about foreign lands. In particular I was fascinated with Europe and castles. Knights, dragons, kings, queens and even serfs garnered my interest and curiosity. However, I never figured I would never have a chance to visit, much less live in, Europe. I was wrong. My first experience in Europe was the result of a test run to meet my prospective new supervisor and consider a transfer from Guam to the continent.

After thirteen years in the tropics the thought of spending three weeks in the cold north brought shivers to my heart. I was scheduled to fly to Vienna and from there help with an installation project in Central Asia. The staff in Austria told me winter was arriving so I might need warm clothes.

I purchased some warm boots from Wal Mart, and dug through my closet for long sleeves shirts and a jacket. None were found. I brought my plight to my colleagues. Fortunately a recent arrival on the island offered his jacket to keep me warm and another offered a couple long sleeve shirts.

A hodge podge of clothes filled my suitcase as I headed through the USA to Europe for a new experience. Dropped into Austria, knowing only two words of German, I was on my own the first day to forage for food and get my bearings. Since I arrived on Saturday and everything closed at noon I had plenty of time to wander through the little town of Perchtoldsdorf.

Wandering by a 14th century church and tower, from the time of a Turkish invasion, and visiting the local park was relaxing. I was too uncertain to venture into the local restaurants. Without an understanding of food names, numbers or even civil greetings I kept to myself and ate some pretzels from a local shop.

The next day a couple from the mission picked me up at the hotel and took me to church. I was treated to an English church service. Lunch in their apartment was followed by another walk about Perchtoldsdorf.

The streets, buildings and sights were something right out of a history book or a travel documentary. Everything looked old. Everything was old! In fact, most of the impressive structures dated back before the US was even a fledgling colony of England.

Next, we drove a few kilometers to the area of Mödling. Winding our way, on the edge of town, we entered a park surrounding my first castle. There before my eyes was a dream come true. It was my first sight of Liechtenstein Castle.

It was spectacular! Built on top of a rock outcropping and rising majestically, it sported turrets, stone balconies and guard towers. My imagination ran wild. I never thought I would visit anything like this in my life, much less look forward to living nearby.

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I walked about the walls touching them now and again to be sure it wasn’t a dream. Eric thought I was a bit touched myself. Since it was late in the year the castle was closed to visitors. After moving to Austria I learned most castles were closed from November until Easter because of the winter season. But that day it didn’t matter because the castle was there, I could touch it, I could conjure up tales of knights, ladies and battles. I could stand and look out over the valley below as many others did years before I arrived.

From the base of the castle we had a beautiful view of the Vienna valley. Later, after we moved to an apartment nearby, I would enter the castle, climb to the highest turret and enjoy an even larger view of the plains to the East and the Vienna Woods to the west.

My collection of photos of the castle has grown over the years. My wife and I affectionately refer to it is “our” castle. Living only five minute away from “our” castle we enjoy taking our guests for a visit. Over the years we’ve visit many castles in Austria and surrounding countries.

Each time I visit a new castle I am again amazed at the uniqueness of the individual structures. Reading the history of the rulers, owners, and peasants, fascinates me with each new castle. Each new story reveals some way these magnificent structures played a part in my life by shaping history.

Unfortunately I can’t say the same eagerness always existed when I opened the Word of God. It should have. Each Biblical visit revealed some new facet of God and his work in my life. Every page opened new visions of eternity and God’s grace. When I take time to look, consider and appreciate God’s revelation I am always amazed.

Now, when I read of God’s care and interaction with his creation, if I am tempted to rush to get through with the passage I stop and think. What is new, what is fascinating, how does it relate to my life or those I know personally or the world in general. Then as God speaks through the Word I am encouraged, strengthened and brought closer to the throne of grace.

Maybe we all need to visit a castle or two, or some other place which fascinates us and encourages our imagination. Then, our minds can reflect on the reality of God’s Word and the work of the Spirit in our lives today.

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