He Owed God a Baptism

There was a farmstead that I visited frequently when I was young. The farm was on Round Lake so the owners also had a resort, Meier’s Log Cabins. They had a daughter around my age and in summer, I was often at their home swimming in the lake, playing with their daughter, Barb, and often was invited to eat supper. In the winter we rode the same bus back and forth to school. Barb’s mom was a great cook, and had a large garden. They had a fish tank with guppies – funny the things that impress children… The father, Phil, was a skilled carpenter (as well as a farmer and resort owner!) He had built their house and it was full of features that were a bit special, like a real upstairs bathroom. I can’t tell you all the good memories associated with that family and that beautiful place.

But like many resorts on the lake, the cabins were sold off to private owners and so was the Meier farmhouse. I lost track of Barb when she went off to college a year before me. I think I might have seen or heard of her once since 1968. But I have often wondered about the house and what changes it might have undergone. I have wondered if I would ever see Barb again.

Oddly enough, I have another friend who now owns and lives in the Meier house. I see her at church quite often and our families have history, since our parents were friends and she and her husband know my brothers quite well. Just yesterday, my brother Bob suggested we go out to visit these friends. He had asked them if they would show me the house, for old time’s sake. We went.

There was a lot going on. They were preparing their RV for a two week trip west, and in addition they were preparing food for a special event. Jan and her sister were in the kitchen cutting up fruit and vegetables, food was everywhere. After giving me a tour of the house and sitting me down with some coffee, she explained that she and her sister were getting baptized, in the lake, the next day. She was excited and told me how it had come about.

Her sister had been wanting to be baptized and she knew Jan wanted to also. Could they do it together? That would be possible if they did it in Hayward before their upcoming trip. Although they didn’t need extra things to do before their trip, everything after that decision came together quickly. Jan had a minister friend who agreed to come, they invited their guests, and the ideas for “spiritual food” to serve after the baptism buzzed in her mind so adamantly that she KNEW how right it would all be. It had the feel of God’s blessing all over it.

Then she told a story about a phone conversation with her niece, Rachel. Rachel had been at a campground and had gone to an inspiring worship service with a Messianic Jewish rabbi. “Don’t be focusing on the bad, and the confusion in our world today” he had said. “We have reasons to celebrate!” He then told them about Rosh Hashana, the Feast of Trumpets, and about how everyone should have a shofar (ram’s horn that makes an awesome loud noise) to sound in the new year and days of celebration and hope. And the day chosen for their baptism was, of all things, the day that Rosh Hashana would start at sundown. How awesome was that?!

“Well,” she said to me, “I didn’t even know what a shofar was. Do you?”

“Yes, I have one at home. We actually observe the Feast of Trumpets for its Christian meaning and message.”

“No way!”

“Yes, would you like me to bring it to you?”

And that’s how it happened that we were invited to the baptism, along with 22 other friends and family. I packed up my shofar, got Mom in the car and we went out to the farmstead this afternoon. On the way we puzzled over how we might find my childhood friend Barb. Mom suggested Facebook but neither of us knew her married name, and checking out all the Barbs was not an option.

We arrived at Jan’s house and parked. Jan was in the driveway talking and came over right away. She had another story.

She and her sister had been walking out to the road to put up a “Baptism”sign up so people could find her place. They met a man on his way to the woods where he and his son had been cutting trees to use in their maple syrup business. The son had cut one more tree than planned and this man had decided to go out and get it. They lived in the Minneapolis area and were in Hayward for the weekend. They owned one of the cabins from the resort, and the woods nearby.

He saw Jan’s sign and asked what was going on. When he found out what they were planning, he said he had been wanting to be baptized too. They invited him to join them, not expecting that he really would.

But he did. He came with his married children, grandchildren, and his wife who, it turned out, was Barb Meier, my childhood buddy. I’m sure God had fun putting this little celebration together.

It was a beautiful time. Three precious people told what it meant to them to have come to this decision. The man, Don, said he had been baptized as an infant but as an adult, he had come to feel he “owed God a baptism”. They all demonstrated their love and commitment to their Savior and God and came up from the water smiling. And I got to blow the shofar, not an easy thing to do. Surprisingly, I did it quite well and counted it as just one more miracle in a long string of miraculous happenings.

Ceremonial words
Water baptism
A biblical feast – figs, honey, dried fish, olives, bread

This is just one of the ways that God demonstrates his reality to me. He does, crazy, awesome stuff and chooses to include me in his plans. He wants me to see him that way and be a part of what he does. In this I am not unique. I think he wants everyone to know him that way. Look for it, just sayin’…

Being “Right” Comes Full Circle.

(It has been suggested by the husband that I write this to his daughters.)

We were reading a thoughtful paragraph on humility this morning, referencing people who are always right about anything and everything. Dennis laughed and said something that our youngest daughter had said to him once. “I am right, because I am a Dietz!” It was said tongue in cheek and they laughed at it at the time too. Then he got quiet and continued, “I love our daughters so much. I hope they know that.”

It was a special moment and we continued talking about the meaning of that conversation and why the memory of it sparked such gratitude and love inside his “dad heart”.

During the years our daughters were growing up at home there were so many good times for us as parents and for them as children. There were also times, not so good, when they felt distanced from their parents. The role of provider was always of high concern for Dennis, and required a lot of his attention. Maybe small people (children), having limited experiences, were not as interesting as other friends and business associates. He never intentionally conveyed this to them, but it was conveyed nonetheless.

In addition it was natural to assume that children’s opinions, reasons, and thought processes were still to be directed and molded, not listened to and considered. This attitude also was never intentionally spoken, nor was it applied 100% of the time, but over the years it was felt, sometimes acutely. Although Dad provided well and loved them, he didn’t know them personally and was often clueless as to what they were feeling. Perhaps they heard more of “don’t leave toothpaste in the sink” and “your lights were left on – go turn them off” than the things daughters need to hear from their dads.

So what does it mean when a daughter can tease, laugh and point out some hurtful flaw when talking to her dad? What did it mean that she could remind him of that “always right” attitude in a gentle conversation (well, I don’t actually know how gentle it was or what it was about because I wasn’t there…)? To him, it meant forgiveness. It meant that she wasn’t afraid to remind him of that proclivity of his. It was acknowledgement and grace extended. And it was love.

The husband has mellowed so much in the last few years. Retirement has put the distraction of being a provider behind him. He fully realizes those things he has missed by not being more aware, more curious, more persistent about knowing his children. He has also been diagnosed with a heartbreaking condition. But it has turned into a blessing. It’s almost as if his heart had to be broken in order for him to know what was in it. It’s amazing to think about.

Although he is disabled, he has traveled long distances to see each of his two daughters get married, during pandemic times. He would not have missed these opportunities for the world. “Being right” has come full circle and is now much more like “Being in love.”

It provides hope for us all. We can grow, learn, change. The whole story doesn’t have to be pretty for the outcome to be good. God be praised for his transforming power, his gentleness and his wisdom, and his mysterious ways.

“Full of Feelings” Month: Mother’s Day

Well, it’s probably no surprise that there would be a lot of “feelings” floating around on Mother’s Day, another one of those days of expectations that are hard to realize. Harder even than birthdays, in my opinion. This year I didn’t even wait till the weekend to get emotionally riled up, so yeah, I’ve cried pretty much all day, mostly inside my head, but outwardly as well.

Earlier in the week I met several young mothers and got reminded of how exhausting and plain old “hard” it is to have young ones. Add in various degrees of dysfunction and things become heartbreaking, overwhelming, difficult to share with others who could possibly help. I also feel bad for family and friends who don’t have the children they want and generally feel left out of motherhood in one way or another. I accept these stories, and kind of embrace them because the women telling them feel like my people. They are my people. I pray for them and wait for the healing I know God wants to give.

And then there is the husband (mine). He has not been feeling as perky as before and is definitely not moving around well. He needs a lot of help from me to do basic activities of daily living – ADLs. When we have visitors as we do this Mother’s Day weekend, I become aware of the things that are hard for me to enjoy because I am coupled with him. It’s vastly different from being a nurse and having to help elderly patients. I had no trouble with that. The husband, who looks SO OLD, is my contemporary, my covenant partner. His life is largely my life for the foreseeable future. It is not a happy picture when I look at it from that angle.

And always on Mother’s Day, I miss my own kids. We can’t help that we live so far apart and can’t be together. Most days we manage not to think about that at all, but on Mother’s Day it’s a 24 hour reminder that people are missing from my life. This is also the first Mother’s Day that my sister-in-law is missing from our family. She died last August and there was an act of closure today, as we buried her ashes in a small memorial garden overlooking the pond behind the barn. That was a hard one, not because we have no hope, but because we believe in grieving well.

But, emotional exercise includes happiness and gratitude as well as sadness. How wonderful it is that I don’t have to miss having my own mother with me! I had time to talk with her and share all these feelings, knowing that she cares. I had phone calls and texts from my girls. And I had three of my brothers and a niece and nephew here as well to share the weekend and be family to me.

I am thinking deeply about all these events, all these people and trying (imperfectly) to lay the care on God, like he said I could. He wants me to know, to care, and to love – but then to hand it over and let him do any heavy lifting.

I have a regular job cleaning my brother’s business place on the weekends. I didn’t really want to do it today because … those expectations again. But as I emptied garbage and straightened things up, I got in the rhythm of work and started to forget sadness. Seriously, if you ever want to change the way you’re feeling, go find a mess and clean it up, focus on getting rid of some dirt, make a difference. What a gift work can be. God meant it that way and I am thankful for work, even on Mother’s Day. Or perhaps, especially on Mother’s Day.

A special rest spot on the hiking trail – my three brothers and my niece. What are they looking at?
They are looking out over the beautiful Namekagon River valley, one of the National Wild and Scenic River areas.

Hope for Things Thought Dead

What is the story here? I can see it plainly, but I never know how plain it is to others – we are all products of our past thoughts and experiences and it can make such a difference in our outlooks.

Last fall I put these amaryllis bulbs in the garage for their winter dormancy period. Their long leaves flopped over, turned yellow and dried up. They got no water, very little light, and no attention. One of them started pushing up a new leaf during the winter but there was no chance of it surviving and I worried about the untimely appearance. They were all dead looking, didn’t seem very stable or rooted in their pots, and were soft like they might be rotting. Nothing hopeful about them.

And then they came to life, like so many things do in the spring. Tips of the new leaves were barely visible in the dead layers of brown wrappings. I didn’t know if the early started would start again a second time, but it did. It was much later than the others and seems a bit tattered but it’s alive.

For me, it’s all about the hope that is built into creation that dead things come to life. It’s one of those plainly seen reminders of the intentions of our Creator. Seeing how life is embedded into the DNA of plants and trees and animals of all kinds, I can’t imagine that it isn’t also built into us. I do believe there is a creator God and that he’s telling me on a regular yearly schedule, that he is all about restoring, making new, and starting over, no matter how unlikely it might look to me. I love the sound of that and the spirit behind it.

Funny thing, once I started believing that God was sending me personal messages through things I could see and touch, things he created for my environment, he became real and personal to me. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in science. Science is a process by which we study our world. But science is not a creator. Science is still looking for a creator.

I’m enjoying this season. I’m watching for green grass to come up through the dead, matted fields. I’m watching for the geese to come to the marsh to make nests. I’m looking at the lilac twigs to see how far along the buds are. I’m watching the sunrise shift rapidly from south to north on the horizon. There is nothing dead that doesn’t have some hope attached to it and it all feels very personal, now that I’ve decided it is.

February Goodness: More Snow

February had this one last day to show up with something good and it decided that snow would be its choice. I walked over to Mom’s to say good morning and the walkways were bare and dry. I came home an hour later wading through several inches of very loosely packed, huge snowflakes. It was clear that shoveling and plowing would have to take place again. February is known for being indecisive about its weather.

There are many features in this field, none of which can be seen. White, white, white.

It was worse by the time we traveled to the church. The highways weren’t completely plowed. The confusing thing about new snow is the way it seems to erase important things like where the roads and ditches are. Everything is just white and more white and even the air is full of flying white. The husband’s remark, “maybe we should have stayed home today?”

But I was kind of glad that I would have at least another day of skiing, possibly a whole week. We ended up with about 8 inches which was just enough to fill in all the ski trails I had made the last time I went out. It was a different kind of snow too – so very wet that I could not get the skis to slide at all. The walk was much like traveling in very large snowshoes. I only went for a mile but the scenery was amazing and the experience of being out while the snow was coming down was worth it.

My feet are kind of like snowshoes, right?

I knew this month would most likely be a difficult month, unless I purposely looked for the goodness of God in it. Winter seems too long in February, especially a pandemic winter. A good friend’s death seemed imminent and, indeed, has come to pass. I seem stuck in some patterns I want to move out of. There are things I want to do that seem out of reach. February is a month of waiting for change. I know that if I wait long enough, change is certain, and for that I am glad. Change is part of God’s goodness.

March 1st, tomorrow, in the year 2021 has never happened before. It is brand new, like our snow today. There are good changes to plan for, dream about, pray about, and bring about. Looking forward to it, just sayin’…

February Goodness: Blessings

I am learning to recognize blessings, not actually counting them, like the old song describes, but realizing that all the small surprises in my day are really blessings. That was the common denominator of all the good things on this Wednesday in the first week of February.

A stunning sunrise that kept evolving so fast that I ran outside in the freezing temps at least three times to capture its stages. The brightest spot is no longer hidden behind a building like it has been for several months. The sun is moving! (I know, not really…)

Our family pod of five, gathered together to have a meal. And our extended family and friends on ZOOM who took the time to throw a virtual birthday party for our Ryan, my youngest daughter’s fiancée.

The catalog promising that spring is coming eventually for us, and even now for some happy gardeners. I have already planned, and ordered but that doesn’t keep me from reading it all again. Gardens are such hopeful things!

I’m especially grateful for these blessings on a day that also holds much tension. A dear friend battling cancer went into the hospital on an emergency basis. Blessing and trial, side by side, else how would we know that by contrast they sweeten each other. We are praying for this situation and appreciate all who join us in hoping for more time with our friend.

Good Things in February: Kindness

An interesting thing at the end of this first day of February – a relief, and a miracle of sorts.

The husband has a condition, Lewy Body Dementia, which wreaks havoc with his autonomic nervous system, among other things. This is the system that controls blood pressure, and it shows up as giving him unstable pressures from time to time. He has been on medication, but even that is trial and error in keeping him stable. So we check it fairly often.

This morning I found his medication from the night before. He had missed taking it with his other pills and it was still in the container. Sure enough, his pressure was on the high side, so he took a diuretic in addition to his morning medication. Late this afternoon I asked him to check his pressure again and he got this:

A scary blood pressure reading, 197/116, yikes!

For those who might not have had to know anything about blood pressure, the top number is the pressure in the system when the strongest part of the heart, the ventricle, is squeezing. The bottom number is supposed to be the pressure when the heart is “resting” in between beats. The top number is ideally below 120 and the bottom number should be less than 80. The husband’s reading of 197/116 – not so good. I blinked a bit, held my breath and tried to get my plan in mind in case he stroked out. He’s had this happen before, but knowing that it changes quickly, I’m not one to speed him to the ER.

We prayed. I told God we would check Dennis’s pressure again in a few minutes and asked him to please let us know whether to stay home or get help. I gave him another diuretic, hoping it wouldn’t keep him up all night going to the bathroom.

About 15 minutes later, after we had finished eating dinner, his pressure was 128/84. His medications had not had time to work yet so we either had faulty equipment or a miraculous change. The equipment checked out okay. I have no trouble believing that I was spared spending an evening in the hospital, even spared the decision of whether or not to go. That’s really the hardest part of my caretaking role, deciding if it’s time.

There were other good things in this day, but this was probably the most dramatic. I’m happy to share it because it wouldn’t be right not to give God thanks for doing me a favor. And I would encourage anyone – don’t be afraid to ask him for things like this because he really is kind. Just sayin’…

Back to watching his phone. Not a worrier, that one.

Survival Kit

Today, as I was looking through items from the friend’s house, I came across some small bags. They were labeled “Survival Kit”. A small brochure inside gave crucial survival information, tips, advice, and a list of what should go in the kit. I found it very interesting .

Is there room for some hay in there?

It was obvious that it was written back a while. This, for instance, among “items that might also prove useful” – quarters for emergency phone calls. Right. I wonder if recent generations would be able even to guess at how one might make a phone call with a quarter.

But most of the ideas were amazingly still good ones. I think that’s because survival is questionable only in a true crisis when the things we normally depend upon just aren’t there. The brochure called out several situations we might label as being critical, but followed up with this comforting advice:

“And remember, you can live through almost anything. Most survival is simply an inconvenience. Unfortunately, it is usually the individual who turns the survival situation into a life or death circumstance.” How true. How important it is to think clearly, avoid mistakes, and not panic, to conserve energy and resources for when they are most needed.

Then I had to laugh (and marvel) at the wise inclusion of this general rule of survival. It is probably the most universal and still practiced action, even by those who haven’t prepared for it. Here it is…

“Regardless of personal belief, most people confronted with survival have found great strength in asking for God’s help.”

Imagine that. What a timely reminder.

Not Wasting Time

Time is a very strange commodity. I always think about this with birthdays and anniversaries, and of course with the turning of the year. When time is gone, it’s really gone and we have no control over its passing. It’s so impersonal. Yet we do have control over what we do with the present moment.

I was thinking about that over the last weekend when my brother posted a writing to all of us siblings. It was about not postponing the things we want to do thinking we will always have time to do them later. Being in your 50’s, 60’s, and yes (gulp) 70’s, we should begin realizing that there’s not a lot of “later” left.

I was especially considering that when I went outside on Friday, New Year’s Day, to take a walk in the snow. It was a perfect snow day. There were a couple of snowmobiles being noisy out in the wetlands. Seeing them zip around made me remember the days when I used to ski, and how much easier that was than plodding around in my boots. I wanted to ski again but wondered whether it was a bit too risky. If I fell and broke something it would really impact others in my life. Recent experience had made that pretty clear.

My skis, my boot, my thumb.

Talking it over with God, in my mind, drew my attention to fear and how it could keep joy away. I’m not sure it was all God’s doing, but I found myself bravely walking into New Moon Ski Shop. It conveniently adjoins our wetland property. More surprisingly I found myself walking out with skis, boots and poles. Three days of skiing have not only been very fun, but I also have not fallen even once. There are no hills to speak of, and the poles are there for balance. It is great exercise and will make my long winter much more bearable. I am so glad I did not leave this for a “later” time that probably wouldn’t have come.

Time is a construct that God understands much better than I do. I believe he wants me to respect and value the time he’s giving me, and he’s not against creative enjoyment of it. I’m so grateful for that. I love the line from the life story of Eric Liddell “I believe God made me for a purpose but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel his pleasure.” I’m not a world class skier, but I know what it is like to feel God’s pleasure when I’m out on my skis, in his world, being grateful. It is anything but wasted time.

I see beautiful things everywhere.

Short Stories Series: Three Stories about God and Giving

I know, no stories for a long time, and then three at once, and no pictures either. So use your imagination. You have one.

Story One

The first story is one that Robert Morris tells. He is a televangelist who writes and speaks a lot about his experiences with God as a giver. He will say with confidence that he has never been able to out-give God and this is one of the stories that he uses to illustrate that.

He wanted to give his wife a gift for her birthday and asked their daughter to find out what his wife wanted. After the daughter had talked with her mother she reported that she had been sworn to secrecy. Robert was determined to reward his oft self-sacrificing wife so he told his daughter she was released from her promise. His wife had talked about a certain purse that she knew was more expensive than she would ever buy for herself, and she really didn’t want her husband to buy it for her either. She figured he might try if he knew. That was why she made her daughter promise not to tell.

Robert says he was floored when he heard how much the purse cost. He evidently didn’t or couldn’t buy it and he felt sad and was wondering what he should do. A widow lady in his church enters his story next. She came up to his wife and gave her a gift. It was the exact purse that his wife admired and wanted. God’s message to Robert was simply “I wanted my daughter to have this gift.”

Hearing this remarkable story, I was struck with the thought of how it would feel to receive uncommon extravagance from God, how I would feel loved and valued. To feel like the daughter of a king…

Story Two

The second story is about my own experience with giving. I met Darnelle when he was about ten years old. He was in a struggling, single parent family, and we developed a friendship centering around music. I was teaching piano at the time and he wanted to learn so I gave him lessons. Over the years he was frequently in our home, mostly in times of need. He seemed to always be out of work, sometimes homeless and sleeping in his car, when he had one. We gave him money, helped him buy cars, fed him, and gave him shelter and prayed for him. Nothing helped for very long. Every call from him eventually got down to asking for money, and finally I was done. I said no. Rather than helping him, it seemed we were enabling bad decisions.

Recently, even though we now live thousands of miles from Darnelle, I received a text from him. As usual, he was stranded and out of money, on his way to a new job. He just needed enough money to get there. I didn’t see the text until an hour after he sent it and when I replied to it, there was no answer. He often used someone else’s phone when he didn’t have one so I assumed that was the case.

Two days later, the husband and I were praying, and it occurred to me to ask God for wisdom if Darnelle should somehow connect with us again. Sure enough, I got a text. He was desperate and asked me to “walmart-to-walmart” him some money. I didn’t want to stand in line forever at Walmart. I didn’t want to feel like I’d been “suckered in” one more time, but I knew I had prayed about this. I didn’t doubt that he was in some kind of need. God has been generous with me and I felt that he was asking me to be obedient and help Darnelle one more time. I sent the money, not because Darnelle had asked, but because God had asked. Everything belongs to God, including my money.

Story Three

The third story is, again, about giving. And about God. I have a daughter who is getting married, in a pandemic year when everything is a little bit crazy. She is a hardworking equine veterinarian and barely has time to wash the manure off her clothes, much less plan a wedding. But, she made time to try on dresses. The lace, tulle, and frills (at extravagant prices) transported her to a different vision of herself as a beautiful bride. In contrast, her practical self was staring at her school loans and numerous bills. She said “no” to the dress and tried to be satisfied with something less.

We had conversations about this decision. I knew it was not in her nature to spend thousands of dollars on a dress to wear once, ONCE. She wanted reasons to feel good about the lesser dress she was planning to wear and I gave her some. I told her she could choose to be satisfied with whatever decision she made. I told her that I was praying and trusting God to bless her, “his daughter”, with her heart’s desire for this special time in her life. And I truly felt that those were not just words. They were God’s message to her.

With the time growing shorter and tension mounting, Julia was feeling the weight of things that weren’t getting done, weren’t turning out quite as well as planned, weren’t what she had hoped for. I got another call. Things were more hard than happy. Right in the middle of the disappointments, I could see the dress, and I didn’t know what to do except to keep praying for her.

On the same day that I said okay to God and gave Darnelle $100, someone precious gave Julia a gift of a beautiful dress. It was one she had tried on and loved but didn’t feel she could buy.

I don’t presume that God spoke to the generous benefactor in an audible voice, or that he even presented himself as God. I’m pretty sure the generous benefactor knew nothing about the backstory of Darnelle and obedience in my life. But I have seen and heard that God is always at work in ways that are so complicated they can only be described as mysterious. Somehow he can bless Julia, he can bless a man stranded on I-95 with no gas in his car, and he can bless me with answered prayer, all connected with the same circumstance. I know he will also bless the person who cared enough to dress a bride in a beautiful dress.