Thursday, December 20, 2007
Somehow I'm hardly ever convinced.
I think the truth is, often we don't think we can afford something fancy, or we don't think we deserve it, or we don't want to go to the trouble of arranging it.
But the Christmas season seems made for fancy, never mind the simplicity of Jesus's actual birth. God didn't seem troubled that His son was born in a stable; I wonder sometimes how He looks at our elaborate Christmas decorations, gift-wrap, food . . .
On the other hand, maybe He is pleased that we make a fuss, that we celebrate the good news that Jesus is born among us. Maybe he feels honored when we bring our best selves to the party, when we fuss over Him.
I wonder what He sees when He looks at our hearts . . .
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
So, when I'm rude to a clerk after waiting in line to buy a Christmas gift, my automatic “Merry Christmas” at the end of the transaction is not just hollow, it's offensive.
It's hard to have integrity when you're tired, overwhelmed, and your feet hurt.
It's not just at Christmas, either. What mom hasn't heard the example of the “bad” mom who talks nicely to someone on the phone, then turns and snarls at her own dear children? What mom hasn't been that mom?
How do we live out what we say we believe?
Especially during the Christmas season I try to remember that I don't have to live this life of integrity by myself – part of the reason God sent Jesus is so we have the help we need to live so the outside of us matches the inside of us. God is conforming us to the image of Jesus, challenge by challenge, difficult moment by difficult moment – as well as joy by joy.
I'm certainly not there yet, but someday . . .
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
All our grandkids and one son helped us decorate the Fraser fir, but John and I put up the tall, slender pine ourselves. One tree has ornaments carefully placed, spaced at pleasing intervals. The other tree is a jumble of ornaments, with some placed almost on top of the one next to it, and the ornaments are disproportionately toward the bottom of the tree.
Guess which is which, and guess which one pleases us more . . .
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Ice storms notwithstanding, Thanksgiving is past and Christmas is coming.
We have snow on the ground, and more in the forecast, and it's cold outside, bitterly cold.
There was a shooting in a mall in Omaha this afternoon. I happened to be at one of our local malls later this afternoon, where mall security guards were patrolling, making a show of their presence. How difficult it must be for them, wondering if the shooting was an isolated incident or if it might be part of a pattern of attack.
What a terrible juxtaposition – Christmas decorations acting as a backdrop to a shooting rampage. Yet, isn't Christmas always framed by the sad, bad things happening in the world? Isn't that why Jesus was born? We seem to forget that as we delight in the celebration.
The bad news we hear so often and constantly is the very reason that Jesus's coming is good news – He has come to save us from our sin, and to redeem what is lost.
In the meantime, our prayers are with the victims, their families, and the people of Omaha.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Another December, another ice storm.
At least this year the power didn't go out here, and the ice on local roads melted fairly quickly, courtesy of warmer temperatures.
The areas just west and north of us weren't quite so fortunate, with power outages that have lasted awhile.
In the interest of good stewardship we don't turn on quite so many lights these days, but we aren't sitting in the dark, either, and I am reminded of how precious light is, especially this time of the year when days are so short, and often cloudy.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Jane Kenyon's observation about sensible people is true – sensible people plan ahead for what they need. They prepare for their future. They do what needs to be done.
But I think the peonies, campanula, roses, lilies, astilbe, and bee balm she plants are also a sensible response to our human need for beauty and celebration.
We've just had a week-long celebration at our house. Not only did we enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving; we celebrated the marriage of our youngest son and his wife. It was a week of both green beans and peonies . . .
The house was full of family and friends, old and new. There was a non-stop feast of good food – turkey, salads, dressing, all kinds of relishes and vegetables, cookies, pies – shared over a table graced with flowers, candles, laughter and good conversation. Then there was the wedding, complete with lovely music, fragrant flowers, joy-filled faces. The reception was more good food, dancing to good music, renewing acquaintance with friends and family.
This morning it's back to green beans for us; almost everyone is back in their normal routine. The scent of the celebration lingers, though, just like the fragrance of flowers, and the day is better for it.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
There's a small chance we'll have some before Thanksgiving.
I went out this afternoon – it was still warm and a little windy – and dug out some of the vine-y plants from the summer pots, then repotted them for the house. The closer winter gets, the more I want to hang on to the greens of summer!
This year we brought in two pots of basil; they release their fragrance when the sun warms them in the window. The rosemary and lemon thyme smell good when I brush by them.
What a difference fragrance makes! When the house has been shut up for awhile it smells stale, somehow. But having fresh green plants sitting around freshens the air, scents it with a touch of summer.
It's easy to understand why people used to build orangeries. We visited one in Kansas City this summer; it wasn't large but the ceiling was tall enough to allow large plants. Walking in was an adventure in beauty. The plants were a symphony of green, varied in texture; the fragrances tickled our noses with delight. Visitors were invited to touch some of the plants, adding a dimension of pleasure.
We don't have an orangerie in our house, but we do have generously sized windows that allow us to have green plants through the winter.
When the snow flurries, it's nice to watch it through our living room garden.
It's one more thing for our Thanksgiving list!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
The sky filled with clouds this afternoon, and the wind picked up. The temperature is dropping, as this autumn tease continues.
It's a good day for soup, and I've just come from making a pot of beef-vegetable. All that chopping and slicing gave me a lot of time for thinking, and a lot of time for thanking.
I used up the last of the roast I made the day Meg died. She came into the kitchen as soon as I opened the package of raw meat to sear and put into the oven. She sat right at my feet when I took the roast out of the oven, and right beside John while we ate dinner that night, hoping – successfully, as it turned out – for morsels of hot meat from his hand.
As I prepared the left-over roast for the soup I thought of Meg, and wished she were in the kitchen with me, hoping for a morsel of meat to drop her way.
A friend who has been living with cancer has begun the process of dying from it. It doesn't look as if there will be another reprieve; but she is determined to live as much as she can til she dies.
I slice and dice the garlic, the onion, the carrots, and I think of her, wishing there would be more time for dinners out, wishing there would be more time to hear of her travels.
I think about loved ones who've died, and began a litany of thanksgiving for them. I'm thankful to have known them, thankful to have been part of their lives.
I'm thankful to know that death doesn't win in the end; love wins.
Some Sunday I'll take my place in a church pew, and it will be the last Sunday I'm there. Maybe I'll know that somehow, but more likely I won't. I hope, though, that I am aware of how precious, how lovely it is to be alive that day. I hope I have a thankful heart; I hope I'm completely present in those moments.
Making soup requires a kind of mindfulness. As I work with the vegetables I admire their shapes, their colors, their smells, the way they feel as I work with them. I think of the people who planted and grew them, who drew them from the ground, who shipped and sold them. I think of them with thanksgiving, and I think of the people who will gather round my table with thanksgiving. I think of those who came before, and those who will come after, with thanksgiving.
An attitude of thanksgiving is an antidote to mourning. It doesn't take away the sting of death, but it eases the pain somehow. On an autumn afternoon as darkness fills the house, thanksgiving is a bit of light and lightness that does my heart good.
The soup is warm now, and fills the house with an enticing aroma, just as thanksgiving fills our lives with the fragrance of God.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Ask people which soups are their favorites and you'll get different answers, but almost all of them will agree that a bowl of soup is a good thing, especially if someone has made it from scratch.
In our family, the house specialty for a long time was potato soup, made with bratwurst browned in a little olive oil, with garlic, onion, carrot, and celery added next, then some diced, cooked potatoes, milk and/or cream, salt, pepper, and thyme.
Depending on who was cooking, there might be other ingredients, herbs, or spices. If we'd had ham recently, the left-overs would be substituted for the bratwurst. Occasionally left-over mashed potatoes would be thrown into the blender with some of the milk and then added as a thickener.
Add a side of fresh bread or cornbread and some sliced apples and cheddar cheese, and everyone would be happy.
It's one of the consolations of cold weather.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Soup weather is here.
You know, that just-beyond-chilly kind of day that requires something steaming and delicious smelling when you come in the door.
Whether it's a main course or just an appetizer, soup satisfies.
The only question is – what kind?
Vegetable soup – with meat, or without?
Take the What's Your Favorite Soup poll at the right . . . you never know when a bowl might show up!
Monday, November 5, 2007
Yesterday I had to make an hour's drive in the middle of the afternoon. It was glorious, beautiful autumn weather, not too warm but not cold, either. Traffic was light, the road was good, and I put Handel's Messiah into the CD player.
It had been a difficult week – our beloved dog Meg died suddenly, unexpectedly, and we were devastated. A friend was sick with an undiagnosed ailment, an acquaintance died, a sudden work assignment came up, I realized I'd forgotten to return something to its proper place in the office, causing problems for someone else.
Somehow, the trip with Handel eased my sadness. Mary Byers is right: “music is another way to meet God.” The music, the words, Kathleen Battles's lovely voice – they worked together to soothe, to reassure, to lift my spirits. I was reminded that nothing surprises God, that not only does He have a plan – He is the plan.
Disappointment, grief, sadness are all so real, and one afternoon of music won't make them disappear. It just reminds me that I don't suffer them without hope.
And that's enough for now.
Monday, October 29, 2007
In her book The Busy Mom's Guide to Simple Living, Wellwood talks about simple living as if it were, well, simple. In one sense it is, but it's also hard.
Take doing things for yourself, for instance.
You have to know how to do things for yourself before you can save the money she refers to, and in the meantime, learning can be expensive.
Cooking is a good example. Convenience foods are usually, well, convenient (except for hauling them in from the car) but they are also expensive and often, nutritionally deficient. That doesn't mean we don't use them around here, but we try to keep it to a minimum.
As a young wife I knew how to cook, sort of. My cooking consisted of an awful lot of opening cans and jars and boxes. The idea of making anything besides chocolate chip cookies from scratch intimidated me into a good nap.
Our family grew faster than our income, though, and pretty soon I figured out that if I could trim our grocery budget it would help us have money for things like, oh, the electric bill. So I went to work, learning to cook inexpensively – which meant those lovely cans, jars, and boxes became scarce in our kitchen, while whole chickens, raw potatoes, and bags of flour and sugar became staples.
It took time and it wasn't simple or pretty for awhile, but I learned! I can do all kinds of things for myself in the kitchen now that I used to expect would be already done for me – scratch cakes and pies; homemade mashed potatoes; spaghetti sauce from fresh tomatoes . . . and it all seems to taste better, and the house smells cozy and warm – but it wasn't simple!
There are all kinds of things we can learn to do that eventually result in saving money, and once we learn to do them are actually fun. Sewing, for instance, and mending. Changing the oil on our vehicles. Gardening for food and pleasure. Those things enrich our lives and eventually, our bank accounts.
Simplicity lies in being able to do those things for our own selves, without relying on someone else to do them for us; we gain a certain pride in self-sufficiency, as well as comfort in knowing how things are done.
Simple, not always easy, but worthwhile.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
One of the most compelling books I've read this past summer is A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini.
The story of Mariam, Laila, and Rasheed, the husband they shared, offers a glimpse of another culture, another way of ordering life, that illuminates both the things we have in common and the things that separate us.
We share a deep desire to love and to be loved; we share a fierce commitment to nurture and protect our children, even at our own expense.
We share a yearning for order, beauty, peace.
Yet the differences are profound. The structure of Afghan society creates built-in injustices, difficulties that war intensifies. Simple human cruelty becomes something monstrous under that stress.
This isn't an easy book to read; the story stays with me. It makes me realize how easy it is for me to live, to love. It makes me sad, and angry; it makes me want to know more, to understand more about the culture that shapes people's lives in these ways.
It's a story I won't forget.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Last Sunday was a warm day. One of our daughters and some of our granddaughters were here, and we played outside: Red Rover, and Simon Says, and my personal favorite, Mother, May I? We went for a walk, scuffling through dry leaves on the edge of the street; one of the girls got out a bike and rode through them, crunching and rustling.
In the back yard, along the ravine, the trees seem to be afire, orange and red and gold, throwing off sparks every time the wind blows leaves down. Even the weeds seem to be lit from within. Rosebushes are covered with buds and fragrance, and the cosmos and zinnias bloom brightly, as if they know the stingy sun will withhold its warmth soon.
It stays dark in the morning now, til well past the time we usually get up, and gets dark earlier in the evening, now. We are just sitting down to dinner as the first stars begin to shine.
The temperature drops into the 50s, and we pull jackets from the closet. Mourning summer, it's hard to remember autumn's cozy consolations. Yet no matter how carefully we keep our calendars, watch our clocks, count the minutes, time passes, and so does summer.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Our local newspapers seem to be getting thinner. Recently several papers in our region were bought out by a company that, until then, mostly published local shoppers – those small papers consisting of local ads with a little bit of wire-service content.
There is now more “local content” - that is, whatever photographs or stories readers send in. This makes these papers less professional, often less insightful. Excellence is now hit or miss. I miss a variety of thoughtful editorial comment. That space, more and more, is given over to internet commenters, many of whom seem to be the same people, many of whom have favorite complaining refrains.
I miss in-depth reporting of national and international news, even if some of it comes from the wire services. The busier I get the more I want to have access to that news, altogether, at the beginning of my day, in a quiet newspaper. Radio – that is, National Public Radio – is my other best option. Unlike the television or radio, though, the only noise my newspaper makes is the rustle of the pages as I turn them. It's a more gracious way to start the day!
And I'm tired of hearing about Brittney Spears and Lindsey Lohan on television news. We have dial-up internet, which makes it frustrating to get news on the 'net.
How about you? Do you still enjoy reading a newspaper? Or are you content with network news, NPR, or the 'net?
Saturday, October 20, 2007
When I found his note about "advance planning" it got me thinking. I don't have much trouble with planning for things at all. It's actually doing the things I planned that I get stuck on.
Sometimes it's procrastination. Sometimes I've planned so much that I could never get it all done. Sometimes I plan something that sounds good but it isn't really something I want to do.
Cleaning is a good example.
I plan my cleaning. I have a schedule that makes sense. Does the cleaning all get done just like I plan?
OK. Once in awhile.
Every other decade or so.
In the meantime, there are guests to talk with. Flowers to plant, weed, or water. Cookies to bake. Books to read. Walks to take. Dinner to fix - or eat out.
With all those other things, when do I have time to clean?
And don't get me started on laundry!
Coaches are fond of saying things like "plan your work and work your plan." This makes a lot of sense when things like footballs are involved. It's harder to do when small children and dogs are added to the mix - when's the last time you saw a toddler or a golden retriever on the football field?
I think Bryson has it just right - all planning has to be done in advance. It gives me time to think up reasons for why my plans aren't working.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Christmas notwithstanding, we cooked out last night.
Or rather, our son and his wife did, and they brought their 16-month old along with them.
The 16-month old didn't help with the cooking, although he was free with his opinions about the food: he especially liked the bun and the sweet potato, and the fresh pineapple made his eyes shine and his mouth water.
It was a warm afternoon, with the possibility of storms. The yard had a good supply of sticks, thanks to a windy storm the night before, and the 16-month old had fun picking the longest sticks up, balancing them in his hands, throwing them into the creek, even as his daddy's hands were hooked firmly into the back of his pants so he wouldn't go swimming, too.
The sky was that bright brittle blue of autumn, and every now and then fluffy white clouds, framed by heavy grey ones, would go skidding across the sky.
We took a walk around the yard. We picked up sycamore leaves big enough to be hats, and visited with a neighbor from across the street. We checked out a pile of dirt where a squirrel had been trying to bury a nut.
The hamburgers and brats were juicy and tasty, and the grilled sweet potatoes toasty and delicious. We were out of catsup, so someone made a quick trip to the grocery store – what good is a hamburger without catsup?
Some days are so busy I hardly notice the color of the sky or clouds. I take little note of whether or not there is water in the creek. I really couldn't tell you much about whether or not the squirrels are busy burying nuts in the front yard.
And some days, like yesterday, are for savoring. When Thanksgiving comes, those are the days I'm thinking especially about.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Everything from toys to Christmas ham is available with just a phone call or the tap of a cursor, and I'll never have to leave home – but what fun would that be?
It's not just the catalogs. The other day I was riding the escalator at our local Macy's when I glanced over to see a fully decorated Christmas tree standing on the landing between floors
I'm torn between the convenience of having all this Christmas merchandise available now while the weather is pleasant, and the fun of frosty shopping trips, with a hot cocoa reward. Somehow, I'm not sure this is what it means to “keep Christmas all year round . . . “
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
What I've enjoyed most about this series is the way Jackson invites us into the lives of the Yada Yada “sistahs” - women who remind me of the women I know. They take faith seriously, but the situations they deal with are familiar: family problems, work situations, church challenges, difficult volunteer dilemmas. The writing is straightforward and honest. Jackson has created believable characters, living in a real time and place that I can identify with.
These seven novels are “fast reads” but each has left me wanting to do better, to be better. They provide another example of how to pray, and make me want to pray more, and more effectively. And they're fun – I care about the characters, and I want to know what else happens in their lives.
Jackson writes in an afterword that this is the last novel of this series, but that some of the characters will reappear in a new series she is working on, due for publication in spring 2009.
I'm already looking forward to it.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
In our back yard, the leaves on the great leaning mulberry tree are still mostly green. The black gum in the front yard started to turn red last month, turning at the very top of the tree, but then all those bright leaves drifted to the ground, and the rest of the leaves have stayed green. They are dry now, and look as if they could fall off at any moment.
Last night we had a bit of rain – a quiet, gentle rain – and this morning the ground is littered with leaves, front and back. So are the gutters.
It's been a dry, unusual autumn. The harvest here has kept farmers busy. Corn is piled on the ground at local elevators, even as huge machines move from one field to another, lumbering along country roads.
Autumn colors are subtle, although grasses along the roadsides glow golden. We've had warm days, and a few cool nights, the kind where you pile extra blankets on the bed because suddenly, temperatures that will seem warm next spring, seem chilly right now.
Every autumn moves at its own pace, moves right along to the day when the temperature doesn't get above freezing, when we draw the curtains against the cold and the dark, when we settle the soup kettle on the back burner. Every autumn brings its own burnished beauty, its own fragrance of dusty leaves and dried grass, its own melody of squirrels scurrying to bury just one more nut in the back yard.
Every autumn leads to winter, one lovely day at a time.
Monday, October 15, 2007
On the recommendation of my friend Megan, I've been reading Mary DeMuth's book Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture.(Harvest House, 2007)
I've enjoyed other books Mary has written, especially Ordinary Mom, Extraordinary God, a book of devotional essays, but somehow I'd neglected this book. Even as a grandparent, though, this book speaks to my desire to parent and grandparent well, by talking about ways our culture has changed, and what that means to my children who are trying to parent their children well, and to my grandchildren, who are growing up in a culture that differs significantly both from the culture in which I grew up, and from the culture in which we raised our children.
That was a mouthful! But I appreciate Mary's clear discussion of what “postmodernity” is, especially compared to “modernity.” She articulates changes and trends – the paradigm shift - and makes the point that “Parenting in a postmodern world means contextualizing our parenting in that world with our heart constantly bent toward Jesus.”
She goes on to discuss the ways she and her family practice that contextualizing, reminding us that “Modernity and postmodernity are simply worldviews. Both have positives and negatives for Christians.”
As she shares her family's experiences, it's hard not to get excited about the possibilities and opportunities we have in this time and in this culture to share Christ, and to keep growing in faith.
It's a good read – challenging, energizing, encouraging. I highly recommend it!
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Is anything better than a quiet Sunday afternoon with lots of newspapers and books, with maybe a nap tucked in there somewhere? Not much that I can think of, except maybe a big family dinner, with good food, good conversation, and dessert . . .
Once in awhile I need to do some errand, or shop on a Sunday; it seems to start the week off in a rush. I never enjoy those Sundays as much as the ones filled with family, friends, or peace and quiet.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Starting out as it does, with that genealogy, Matthew seems just a little intimidating! How do we figure out all those names, and why do they matter?
Whenever I see the genealogies in Scripture, they always remind me of a cousin who knows all the family history, and can recite it whenever anyone asks her a family-history related question. She knows who everyone is, and how they fit together. Her stories are always interesting, because they touch our lives as we wonder how all these people who came before us affect the people we are today.
Same thing with Matthew, I think . . . the genealogy is nothing more or less than our “family history” in the faith. All those people Matthew lists and names have had some effect on us as people of faith.
The trick is figuring out what that effect is – and that's why we read on!
Thursday, October 4, 2007
I'm not quite to the point of longing for cool, cozy nights. I'm still enjoying having the bedroom window open at night so I can hear the tiny wrens twittering their morning news, and watch the breeze flutter the curtains. I'm still enjoying the sun warming the kitchen through the morning, and I'm still enjoying going outside without a jacket.
Still, leaves dance slowly down, lazily carpet the yard in orange, yellow, red.
Morning breezes cool and chill; squirrels struggle to bury nuts in a yard hardened by summer's heat. Hostas, geraniums, and even the rosemary look tired and worn; only the live-forever sedum seems pleased by these subtle changes in weather and mood.
We have to take a long view to enjoy change, and sooner or later, I'll be happy for cool, cozy nights. I'll take interest in creating savory soups and baking bread; I'll enjoy filling the house with good smells and warm light against winter's dark days.
But not yet.
Friday, September 28, 2007
This time, though, it really isn't my fault – it's the hard drive on my laptop.
It's been, if not dead, then sick.
That explains the lack of posts this month.
Our computer guru Jason has a new hard drive to install sometime in the next few days, and then we should be back on a regular basis.
Til then, I'm thinking about failure – mine, and not mine.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Most kids climb aboard confidently though, with hardly a look back. That first day is exciting -- a heady combination of old friends and new adventures.
I'm a little jealous of any kid lucky enough to be going back to school. How exciting to learn new things!
Part of me wishes I could line up at the pencil sharpener, listen to the teacher give instructions to “turn in your social studies book to page 212 where you'll find a map of Africa,” then hurry back to my seat to learn more about that mysterious continent.
In school, teachers map out our learning adventures. As adults, we are responsible for the map and the adventure.
That is why this year, as kids I know go back to school, I'm setting some learning goals. I want to be part of a life-long community of learners, whether that's in a formal setting or one I create for myself.
Curiosity drives the learner's itinerary as surely as it drives a travelers; the trick is to be deliberate and specific about setting goals, so that I actually accomplish knowledge and skill along the way.
Curiosity about water gardens might lead to a study of basic botany or weather patterns. Curiosity about photography might lead to a study of light or lighting requirements for photography, or how light is portrayed by painters. Curiosity about one of Shakespeare's plays might lead to a word study or an investigation of the War of the Roses or maybe a study of everyday life in Elizabethan England.
Curiosity is a path with branches in every direction.
We just have to choose one, get on the big yellow bus, and go.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
To be restless? Jealous or envious? Bitter or complaining? Ungrateful?
Probably it's a nasty brew of all of the above.
How can we be content when all around us we see things we want to do, to be, to have – and we can't, or we aren't, or we don't?
Contentment calls us to satisfaction with what we have and with what we are – but we are hardly ever satisfied. How do we keep from wanting what we don't have or can't get?
It is possible for us to see something we want and don't have, and still be content by turning our longing into positive action toward a goal.
But discontent isn't interested in working toward a goal. Discontent is only satisfied with sighing, envy, and a subtle sense of entitlement.
I should have a bigger house, I think. And probably a nicer car, and maybe a cleaning lady. And why are my kids so whiny? Kathy's kids don't whine. They should appreciate everything I do for them. I've practically given up everything fun to be their mom, so why don't they show a little more respect?
I tend to fall into discontent when I'm tired or overwhelmed. Self-pity can play a part, but probably ingratitude is the thing that pitches me into discontent most quickly.
When I fail to keep track of good things in my life by thanking God for them, I tend to take them for granted. I'm tempted to dismiss their significance. Even things I just knew would make me happy forever pale relatively quickly!
I allow myself to complain about things instead of evaluating them fairly and trying to improve them. Or I refuse to make changes God is calling me to make – and the price for my disobedience is a restlessness that gives birth to discontent.
I need a measure of maturity to be content: I need to be able to rejoice with those who rejoice – be happy for friends who enjoy more than I have. I need to be able to cultivate a thankful heart. I need to give up the expectations or desires that God asks me to give up. I need to take responsibility for choices I've made without complaining about the parts that are harder than I expected.
In return I experience the peace that comes with contentment.
This morning I was catching up on some correspondence when the doorbell rang. Meg was barking ferociously and dancing around the front door, so I hurried to see who was there.
Two women – one older, tired looking in the heat; one very young, really a child – were waiting. The older woman carried a briefcase, and when I opened the door she smiled a big smile and launched into her speech about how the Creator had made everything good and lovely, and wouldn't I like to read more about it in The Watchtower magazines she wanted to share with me.
I wasn't rude to her, but neither was I kind. I didn't offer her a cup of cold water, even though it is hot already outside, and humid. I missed an opportunity to smile at her and affirm that God is a good God, even though we disagree on so many other issues of doctrine.
I wasn't rude to her, but neither was I kind, and now I am sorry for it.
I was talking with someone else this morning who told me of a conversation with a loved one who blames God for everything bad that is happening in the world today.
I wonder, does he also thank God and give Him credit for everything good ?
Saturday, July 28, 2007
We bought a new refrigerator from Sears several weeks ago. We're pleased with it; it keeps our food at the correct temperature and it looks good, too.
The problem isn't the refrigerator; it's the warranty – or rather, the fact that we didn't purchase one.
We almost never pay for an extended warranty. Call us gamblers – we just don't buy them.
This must be hard for Sears to believe, because they keep on calling. The latest call came just this morning as I was elbow deep in a closet putting things away, when the phone rang.
“Hello, may I speak to John Shoo – Sur- Shur -”
“John isn't here. May I ask who is calling?” I said.
“Oh, hello. Is this Mrs. Shoo – Sur – Shur “
“This is Mrs. Schurter,” I said.
“Oh, hello, Mrs. Sur-ter,” he said in broken English. “I'm calling today to ask how you like that nice new refrigerator you recently purchased from Sears.”
“I like it very much,” I said, and sighed, knowing what was coming next.
Sure enough, the next thing my caller wanted to know was “Do you know you can still purchase an extended warranty?“
Before he could finish I said – as politely as I could - “Yes, I know about the extended warranty; I think you're the fifty-ninth person to call me to ask if I want one. We still haven't changed our minds about buying it, but thank you for the offer.”
(Fifty nine might have been a slight exaggeration, but not by much.)
“Oh, dear,” he said. “It is a wonderful deal. I'm sorry you don't wish to purchase it. I'll try to make sure no one else calls, though.”
“That would be great,” I said, thinking I might be willing to pay him if he could stop the warranty sales calls.
I wonder how much less our new refrigerator might have cost if Sears wasn't supporting such a large warranty sales staff . . .
Speaking of our new refrigerator, we've got all the magnets, cartoons, and advertising/special offer/pizza coupons attached to the front and sides, so now it looks like our own.
Why do we do that? Why can't we just leave the refrigerator – at least the outside of it – in pristine, unadorned condition?
Why do we feel the need to turn the refrigerator into a family billboard?
When I think of what I should take off, though, I'm stumped.
Certainly not the photographs of people I love – although I'm picky about which photographs I put on the refrigerator; they tend to fall off and tear or get dirty, so I don't put up too many photos.
Certainly not the magnets that remind me of vacations we've taken or that have some connection to people I love, or the cartoons that make me laugh inside every time I see them.
Certainly not the telephone numbers of local restaurants or pizza coupons – how would we eat?
And certainly not the cards that say things I want to remember, like “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
Grandma Schurter didn't put too much on her refrigerator, at least not when they lived out on the farm. Her kitchen was long and narrow, with several big windows that let in a lot of light. The ceiling was high; the cabinets were tall, and everything was arranged efficiently. Grandma used colorful contact paper to protect the wall over the sink and stove, and to add a pretty touch to the work space where she regularly turned out pies, cinnamon rolls, and dinners.
What she did have was index cards with pithy sayings or Scripture verses she'd written out, taped to the space between the sink and the windows that looked out on the back yard and the fields beyond.
Your dad has often said that Grandma didn't have to say much; she just changed those index cards as needed. Whatever they said always seemed to speak to what was happening at the time.
Some of you have some of those cards; I think Amy has a framed set of them. I don't know if Grandma kept them and rotated them, or if she wrote them out as they came to mind. Someone found some of them, though, and thought they would be good to keep.
I'm glad Grandma found such a creative way to keep good words in front of her family, and that those good words did the work they were meant to do.
Maybe the refrigerator doesn't look so bad, after all.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
I wanted to cover Meg's ears during the debate.
Meg is our golden retriever. She has been part of our family for the past eight or so years. I'm pretty sure she thinks she is one of our children.
This would be because she is the last one home. All of our human kids have places of their own now; Meg is the one who is still here, waiting to welcome them all home again.
Which she does, with great joy. When she hears a car on the drive, she wakes up, goes to the door, then turns around to go get a gift for the new arrival. Socks, bones, small toys one of the grandkids left lying around – she doesn't care what, so long as she has something to offer someone at the door. Her tail wags, her face smiles – she knows how to welcome someone home.
With dog wisdom, Meg teaches me a lot about what it means to love, to welcome, to trust. She is patient with our busyness, although occasionally we rate her cold shoulder. She is curious, eager to sniff out whatever is just around the corner. She is gentle, curling herself around our infant grandchildren, just in case they might need protection. She listens, without condemnation or criticism.
When it storms, she's right there with me in the basement, and when the sun shines she waits by the window, hoping for a trip to the backyard.
Do you suppose angels ever take the form of golden retrievers?
Monday, July 2, 2007
Who knew ordinary time had a liturgical season all its own? It makes sense, though, since we spend so much of our lives in “ordinary time.”
Maybe the reason we don't pay much attention to this season is it doesn't have great music like Christmas or Easter. What hymns or spiritual songs remind you of “ordinary time?”
How about “He Leadeth Me” or perhaps my favorite “Be Thou My Vision” - those songs certainly speak to the every-dailiness of our faith.
Instead of Christmas candles, ordinary time is illuminated by early light and summer sun, or by lightning bugs and moonlight. Instead of oratorios, ordinary time is lived out to the music of daily life, the rhythm of laundry, cooking, errands, and gardening.
Sometimes we take ordinary days for granted: familiar pleasures, the repetition of happy routines, the comfort of being close to well loved people and places.
But it is in “ordinary time” that we begin to understand what life is for, and how good it can be – not always easy, not always exciting, but always filled with quiet joy and love for those who take time to see life for what it is.
It is in “ordinary time” that we learn to live.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
I'm so bad at it, but it's so fun!
I love color, and line, and image. From the time Mrs. Rickey began sharing “The Great Artists” with our second grade class, I've admired what artists can communicate.
I just seem to be artistically inarticulate.
Throughout grade school someone – I think it was the local American Legion – sponsored a “Poppy Poster” contest. We were supposed to create a poster explaining and celebrating the poppies of Flanders Field, and what they said about the sacrifices of our veterans.
Every year I thought a lot about what I wanted my poster to 'say' and how to express that thought. I tried to draw neatly and realistically, but somehow I always seemed to misjudge the size of my poster board, or create unattractively crooked lettering; my posters always looked, well, pathetic.
Every year my friend Millie won.
She was a natural artist with a great eye for perspective and a lot of good ideas. She deserved to win, and I was glad for her – kind of! I was also jealous and worried about why I couldn't ever draw anything or do things well.
A few years ago, though, I wanted to try a nature journal. Ignoring that persistent voice that said “but you can't draw anything” I tried looking at objects as a collection of lines and shading. It helped – sort of! I was able to draw objects that were almost recognizable. Some of them even had helpful detail so I could remember later on just what it was I had drawn.
Pushing down my Poppy Poster memories, I've drawn and sketched a little bit from time to time, and every time I'm so excited when something comes out reasonably well (my standards aren't too high.)
I've learned I like to play with pastel crayons and charcoal pencils, or even just sketch something out with a pen when I'm on the phone. None of it is “good” in a traditional artistic sense, but what's good about it is the kick I get from trying, from just having fun with it.
Maybe that's the true meaning of play – just trying; just having fun, no matter how it turns out.
Which brings up those piano “lessons” . . .
Thursday, June 14, 2007
These warm and warmer days have crowded it out; corn shoots up in the fields, and already a dry, dusty film covers grass and shrubs.
Cicadas drone in wooded areas, though we don't hear them much in town yet. We are almost at the longest day of the year, and it makes me sad to think of days shortened even by a few minutes, already.
We could use a bit of rain, to wash things off and wet them down. In the afternoons the corn leaves curl up ever so slightly, and each evening stays warmer than the last. Soon we'll have used up the cool air in the basement; the humidity will make it as sticky and uncomfortable as the air outside.
It's the kind of weather that makes me want to go to the swimming pool, to play corner tag and practice diving; I want to lounge on the screened in porch with a long romantic book and read all afternoon; I want to sip sweet tea and visit with friends in the back yard after a light summer supper of tomatoes and sweet corn.
I don't do those things, mostly, because I have responsibilities, duties, chores.
I don't do those things, mostly, because I've grown up and it seems wrong, somehow, to spend the whole day playing.
I don't do those things, mostly, because I've forgotten just how much fun summer can be . . .
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Here in the midwest, in May and June first light makes waking up more of a pleasure than almost any other time of year.
The song sparrow in our pine tree seems to sing the light into our window; he is the first one awake, and must take joy in waking up the rest of the world.
What could be better than waking to music like that?
The light seems shy at first, but gathers strength quickly, boldly overtaking the corners of our bedroom, insistently calling us out of bed. We respond with more enthusiasm, perhaps, than we do when winter's later light takes its time in coming.
First light in the spring calls us, calls us to get up, hurry up, come see what is new in the garden, in the yard, in the creek – roses budding? buttercups in the grass? baby ducks taking an early morning swimming lesson?
What was the real first light – the light God called into being with a word – like?
Did it wake up excitement in Him? Did He savor it awhile, or did it call Him to hurry up and create something else? Did that first light shine with possibility, too?
Lying in bed, watching first light move across the curtain, then the ceiling, I wonder about that other first light, and the One who created them both, and my heart sings along with the song sparrow.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Many schools no longer mark this milestone. An 8th grade diploma used to be significant; it used to be the end game for a lot of students.
Now it's just one more stop on the educational road.
When Emma was 6 or 7 years old, we were out walking one evening after dinner. I was there to help with a new baby in the house, and we were ready to stretch our legs.
We walked across the road, choosing a paved trail that led us past a lagoon where trees hung over the trail on one side and into the lagoon on the other. Before we got to the lagoon, though, we could see something seemed amiss: the trees appeared to be hung with something white, as though older kids had tee-peed them.
As we got closer we realized the something white was white cranes, perched on every limb and branch they could find. There was a hush over the lagoon; only our footsteps sounded in the early evening air.
Suddenly the cranes – all of them – took flight. They lifted into the air like a cloud, momentarily blocking out the sky. The trees turned green again, and the cranes were gone.
Emma and I looked at one another, speechless for a moment. Then she said, “Grandma, I won't ever forget this.”
It would have been easy to chalk up the cranes as one more learning experience, to launch into a lecture about their feeding habits or instruct Emma in the fine art of careful observation. I didn't have the heart for it, though.
Moments like that, moments of wonder and beauty - well, they are what they are. Whether it's a graduation or a wealth of cranes, all you can do is hold your breath at the wonder of it.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
I'm not sure what they are doing to celebrate, but I hope they're making time to do something fun, and remembering their delightful wedding day. Even though the florist had the wrong day and the organist forgot to come, some peonies from the front yard and a sister's expertise with a classical CD meant everything went just fine – better than fine!
Kristen was a gorgeous bride. She glowed and sparkled with joy. And who could forget Ted's smile when he saw her walking down the aisle on her dad's arm?
Anniversaries and celebrations are important. We need to remember good times and happy occasions the same way we need a blanket in cold weather – both good memories and blankets warm us up, keep us cozy.
Scripture teaches us that it's important to remember what has gone on before, both in our personal lives and in the whole long history of the faith.
It's important to remember because it minimizes our need to re-learn important things that those who've gone before us have learned.
It's important to remember because it allows us to re-live our joys and remember God's faithfulness.
It's important to remember because, in remembering, we re-value the things that mean most to us.
So get out those photograph albums, scrapbooks, and old videos. Set out the souvenirs, and talk about the memories.
Get warm and cozy. Remember.
Friday, May 18, 2007
The last few days have been sunny and cool. The tulips have finished their spring show; iris, peonies, and poppies are taking their turn. Finches and a little family of songbirds serve as our morning wake-up call, and the air smells damp and fresh, as if it had just come out of some cosmic washing machine and been hung out to dry.
I took time today to relax on the big swing hanging from the mulberry tree in our backyard. May has become one of the busier months of the year, what with school concerts and plays, awards banquets, sports play-offs, Mother's Day, and at least in our family, graduations, birthdays, and anniversaries. There are cards to send, events to attend, and gifts to choose, wrap, and deliver.
It was good to sit quietly and do nothing.
It's easy, once I get wound up and busy, to forget how to relax. Sitting still makes me antsy, then. I feel certain I should be doing something. My anxiety is often enough to drive me to the calendar, just to check and be sure I'm not forgetting something.
What a surprise to find unscheduled minutes, even hours . . . surely they need to be filled up with – something.
No, this is a gift of time, space, and beauty, this time on the swing.
I'm not the first to wonder why we keep ourselves so busy, and I won't be the last.
“Be still,” scripture says, “and know that I am God.”
My busyness sometimes deceives me into thinking that if I just work harder or longer or smarter, I can solve some of those problems that, until now, have been God's responsibility.
When I am still, though, I remember. I remember that God is the One who is, and was, and always will be. God is the One who works in and through us, but God is not a slave-driver, working us to nothing, using us up and then discarding us.
God is the One who intends us to have time to be still, to know that He is, and to rest in His presence.
Even on the swing in the backyard.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
For the past year we've tried, with very modest success, to practice a modified version of Sabbath rest. After church is over, on an ordinary Sunday, we have a quiet lunch and a quiet afternoon reading, napping, visiting. Afternoon shades into evening, and we have a light dinner, maybe watch a bit of television, listen to music, or read again, then to bed.
Ordinary Sundays, though, are sometimes hard to come by.
Part of the problem is that Sunday can be a good visiting day, and we like to visit. Maybe someone comes for dinner after church - and we enjoy that. Or someone is celebrating a holiday, a family event, or just wants to get together - we enjoy that, too.
When it comes to Sabbath rest, we are usually our own worst enemies.
Without that quiet day, that slow start, we notice the rest of the week seems more tightly wound. Somehow it seems to go faster, feels more like a roller coaster.
What was God's intent when He mandated the Sabbath?
We tend to think of it as a restriction, when perhaps really it's a freedom.
Setting time aside one day out of seven for wonder, worship, rest - how can that be a bad thing?
Perhaps it is our own priorities that are out of whack. Perhaps by overscheduling ourselves, we wound our own selves.
Perhaps God asks us to rest on that one day because rest is exactly what we need most.
By the time we're toddlers, naps transition into "quiet time" - a device our moms use to persuade us to lie down for a bit while they enjoy some peace and quiet, or get some of their chores done without our help.
How things change!
As adults we often look around for opportunities to sneak in a little nap - maybe at our desks, or perhaps while our own children lie down for quiet time - just so we can catch up on our rest.
Being an adult can wear a person out in a way being a child doesn't.
Oh, kids get tired too, after a hard day of exploring, asking questions trying to figure out why the world is the way it is, and undoing whatever it is you've just done.
It's just that, for a kid, those things are energizing. They go til they drop, usually; for them, it's all or nothing.
For us mature people, though, we have things figured out. We have to pace ourselves, because we have responsibilities, obligations, and duties. We don't have much time for exploring, or asking questions, or undoing anything - we're too busy accomplishing our long list of goals.
What if we put those things on our list of goals? What if we counted them as worthy pursuits?
What if we took time to explore and enjoy the world around us - would we feel more rested? If we paid more attention to how the world works - watched the way birds fly or caterpillars crawl or flowers unfold - would we be refreshed?
Maybe if we took time to watch the sky fill with clouds or the way butterflies flutter from one flower to another, we'd not need a nap. Maybe we'd be so energized with life we wouldn't feel so tired.
It's worth a try . . .
Saturday, May 5, 2007
Johnny Carson called Tommy Newsom "Mr. Excitement" because he seemed to be such a quiet, bland person. Of course he wasn't, really. The person who was interviewed this morning - I didn't catch his name, but he was a friend of Mr. Newsom's - talked about his intellect, his wit, and his skill as a saxophonist, particularly on the soprano saxophone.
I didn't even know there was such an instrument! They played an excerpt of Newsom playing one, though, and it was incredibly beautiful.
Tommy Newsom focused on jazz, and his friend talked about his ability to hear music within the music; he talked about the way Newsom could improvise and expand on what was there so that a listener would wonder, "Why didn't I hear that there before?"
What a gift that is - to see beyond what is really there; to hear what isn't seen or said or played but, once seen or heard is recognized as having been there all along.
I think sometimes that part of our job as human beings is to pay attention so closely to the life all around us that we perceive what isn't apparent, but is nevertheless truly there - God's presence, the imperceptible goodness and blessing that overcomes evil and despair - to hold those things lightly, but take them seriously . . .
What would life be like if we saw and heard those things that aren't readily seen or heard, those extra elements of beauty, strength, and power all around us, all the time?
Monday, April 30, 2007
At least, that's what we thought.
We've watched him, these early spring days, as he dances out to the farthest, featheriest edges of the branches on the big maple, then leans out, reaching for the smallest branches, grasping them delicately, bending them up to his sharp teeth. He nibbles the seeds, bites off the branch and drops it to the ground.
We've never seen a squirrel do this before - although surely other squirrels do - and we thought he was just particularly discriminating.
This afternoon, though, we realized he is collecting those branches from the ground, then taking them higher into the tree for a nest.
Maybe this doesn't mean anything other than a bit of diversion and entertainment for us as we drink our morning coffee.
Or maybe it's a good chance to meditate on God's JIT (Just-In-Time) policies. The squirrel needs seeds and branches, and at the exact time he needs them, God provides them. As far as we can see, the squirrel doesn't have any Maalox, so he must not worry about the seed-and-branch supply. He just takes himself to the place where the seeds and branches are supposed to be, and there they are.
The squirrel does his part; God does His part; everyone is happy.
It's fun, though, to see a squirrel who does his part with such panache, and to glimpse God at work in His leaf, seed, and nest factory, otherwise known as our backyard.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
The first time I saw a calf kick up its heels was out on the farm where your dad grew up. Your grandma and I were sitting in the dining nook of the kitchen, drinking tea, enjoying the view out the window toward the barn. Beyond the barn was a pasture where cows and their calves were munching away at bright-green new grass. Suddenly one of the calves started running around; every once in awhile it would kind of buck and throw its back legs into the air, kicking up its heels. His enthusiasm was contagious; before long all the calves were kicking up their heels as the cows watched, munching away!
I was awed and delighted, all at the same time, and the look on my face made grandma laugh. I felt like such a city kid!
Thank God for calves and lambs and little things!
But how about those days that, one way or another, are colored grey? It might be the weather that does it, or it might be our mood, or circumstance. Whatever the cause, it can be hard to "give thanks in all things."
This spiritual discipline can be difficult to practice, but it begins with little things, the things we might take for granted - hot water for a shower or a cup of tea; gloves to wear when we go outside on a cold day; even calves kicking up their heels! When we make an effort to notice little things with gratitude, God will honor the effort by opening our eyes to the larger things in our lives for which we can be thankful, even if the weather, our mood, or circumstance seems bleak.
Kick up your heels with thanksgiving!
Thursday, April 19, 2007
One of the best things about spring is the way the garden wakes up.
The tulips in our back yard are beginning to open, just as the daffodils take their final bows. Bluebells, lily of the valley, hostas - they wait in the wings, and I wait for them.
I've been reading a small book, The Fragrance of God, by Vigen Guroian. Guroian describes the way working in his garden draws him closer to God. He writes, "God has filled the whole of Creation with signs of his existence, signs that our senses can apprehend and that our minds can translate into knowledge of him."
Gardens are not just about flowers, though. Guroian describes the way his Irish setter, Scarlett enjoyed being in the garden with him as he worked: "I believe that, despite what some people may conclude about canine sensibility, Scarlett loved beauty also. I believe that love moved her to linger in the garden, to chase after the butterflies, and to consume beauty when she caught it."
In our garden, a variety of blooms invite finches, robins, and all kinds of birds who trill and sing for admission; the butterfly comes looking for a place to rest, and passers-by linger a bit, enjoying the color, the way sunlight plays across the tulips. We watch as rabbits sit quietly among new growth, taking a quick nibble now and then. We hold our breath as the garden empties when a hawk perches in the big tree at the back of the yard.
Our garden is nothing spectacular; it needs weeding and rearranging. Somehow, though, despite all the work that needs to be done, this garden offers both refuge and delight to all kinds of creatures, including me.
Now that spring is here, I'm excited to go play in the dirt, to dig, to weed, to sweat, to plant, to breathe in the fragrance of God.
The Fragrance of God, by Vigen Guroian, published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, copyright 2006
Monday, April 16, 2007
The one thing that made lunch-packing fun - at least for me - was the notes I tucked into those lunches. They were usually short, sometimes written on a napkin or the back of a form-letter from the junk mail recycling bin. "Hope that math test goes well" they would say, or "Just wanted you to know you are in my prayers today."
Sometimes they would simply remind one of the kids that "I'll have fresh cookies for you after school today."
It wasn't so much what the notes said in words as the message they carried: I sure love you. I'm thinking of you. I hope your day is going well. You're in my prayers. I'll be glad to see you when you get home.
Notes from home - something to remind you that you are loved, that someone cares how things are going for you, that someone is looking forward to seeing you.
Welcome to notes from home.