Thank You for the Reminder

Since leaving Seattle I have been bereft (nice word) of a much treasured pair of earrings.  Not to make this another “lost jewelry” story I am skipping right to the part this morning where I found them in a pocket as I was preparing clothes to go into the washer.  (And it’s another string of stories were I to tell of all the things I’ve washed before I started checking pockets consistently.)  As I was feeling a rush of gratitude and relief inwardly, a song that I had not sung for fifty years came to my mind and out of my mouth.  Not only the complicated melody with the harmonies in my head, but also all the words!

I was probably 15 or 16 and in the upper stages of 4-H in my rural community.  Every summer the state fair in Milwaukee hosted the state 4-H chorus and orchestra and had them perform in midway programs.  My friend and I decided to be brave and audition.  I don’t think either one of us had ever tried out for anything but we both took piano lessons and were in the high school chorus so it was worth a try.

I remember the audition.  We had to travel to a nearby town and wait our turn to go into the room with the chorus director.  He talked with me a bit and then had me read some music and match some pitches with my voice.  I don’t remember if I actually sang anything, but probably.  Then the long wait until a letter in the mail informed me that I’d been accepted into the alto section of the chorus.  I was stoked.

The time came a month or so later to make the trip to Milwaukee, a good six hours away, for the four day experience at the state fair.  The chorus was a large group, close to 100 I’m guessing, and they were all strangers to me – coming from all parts of the state of Wisconsin.  We were housed in a dorm of some kind, but my memory is dim on that aspect probably because we didn’t spend much time doing anything but singing.

The first two days were non-stop practice.  All the songs were unfamiliar, ambitious choral pieces.  We sang until we were worried we would have no voice left.  The words and melodies were burned into our minds until no printed music was needed and all our attention was on the director.  I fell in love with the power of being part of a responsive group and having such amazing music pulled out of us by a skilled leader.  I fell in love with the music itself and have since found those pieces and used them again.

As often happens, something small, and relatively insignificant triggered this memory and  brought the words to one of the songs back to me this morning.

“Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me, uphold me with thy free Spiriit, thy free Spirit.  Then will I teach transgressors thy way, and sinners shall be converted unto thee.”

The words are from Psalm 51:12, 13.  Several songs from our program were from scripture references and there was nothing politically incorrect about doing that in those days.  I don’t know how it would go today.  We performed on two different days and enjoyed the state fair in between our times on stage.  It was an experience of great value for me.

I am not saying that the joy of finding lost jewelry compares to the joy of God’s eternal salvation.  But I think that anytime God allows us a joy of any proportion he likes it to remind us of what He has done, and is doing, and will do.  Just sayin’, I am reminded and grateful today.

These rascals were hiding again...
These rascals were hiding again…

Pact with my Children

To My Children: Putting Words Toward the Pact

There are various kinds of promises people make to one another in moments of devotion or need that are significant to their relationships. Some are of their own making, others I believe to have been modeled by God and meant to be carried on. One of those is the pact that parents make with their children – probably more like a covenant since it is more of a unilateral promise. I believe that God extended to me an unconditional love guaranteeing his care, his forgiveness when needed, his support, membership in a spiritual family that I can’t quite comprehend, and all the other benefits he is able to provide. He knew I would have trouble feeling the depth of his commitment to me, so he came up with an idea to help me experience his side of the covenant. He gave me a family.

When you children came along I began to love you immediately. I watched you grow and studied your natures and found you fascinating. I loved being with you. There were hard times and disappointments but none of that lessened my desire to work toward your highest potential and greatest good. I saw what God was trying to show me through our relationship. The trouble was, I was not God. My performance falls so short of his, and my understanding is never going to be complete in this life. But he also enables me to have his help. His help often comes from a spiritual, unseen world that many have trouble believing in and accepting. But I believe it and do not need confirmation from those who haven’t experienced that other world.

I promise as much as is humanly possible to love you, my children, without end. Nothing depends on your ability to return love perfectly because I know you are human too. I will try to listen to you, understand your messages, not be quick to conclude or brittle in my responses to you. Whatever you are going through, I want to be a safe place for you to express it, to examine it, and to process without it becoming “all about me”. God will help me do this.

Others will love and support you, but none of them will be quite like me because I am your mother. It doesn’t mean I will always care for you as when you were little and needed so much direction and teaching. It will be more like a friend who is putting you as a high priority when you need physical help, financial help, supportive time, care when you are sick, and all those things we all need even as adults. I am here to go through life with you. I am held responsible for that, right behind my responsibility to God, and then to my husband. I am told in scripture that this will bring me purpose and fulfillment in life and so far that has been true. In all its stages, being your mother has been my favorite career.

I will grow in my understanding of what God is doing among us, but I’m just saying, I think I’ve got this right.

For Gwendolyn with no middle name… on Mother’s Day

Mom, I am so blessed to have you as my parent. Thank you so much for:

  • my family unit of which you are the hub, the one around which we gather
  • your style, the objects you surround yourself with and hold dear, even though they sometimes come from garage sales
  • your availability, our early morning talks
  • your love of coffee and willingness to share it with everyone
  • well, hey, your love of food in general, and the way you make it a part of every good gathering of people (cinnamon roll queen…)
  • your total lack of complaining. I don’t know how you do it.
  • for not giving up on people or things too easily.
  • for helping Dad when he needs it.
  • for continuing to be curious about relationships, about technology, about faith
  • for making me feel special by sharing things with me that you probably don’t tell anyone else
  • for taking responsibility for your own feelings and not putting guilt trips on other people
  • for taking independent action when it’s needed, for being brave and willing to offend the right people at the right time
  • for loving books and being a reader
  • for your devotion to solitaire challenges and keeping your mind sharp
  • for faithfully reading my blog and liking my posts. I write for you most of the time.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I will always love you.

Not about to win any contests but we are beautiful to each other, and that's not a small thing.
Not about to win any contests but we are beautiful to each other, and that’s not a small thing.

A to Z Family Stories: Z for Zed, Zeph and Zech

They are all biblical characters. Zedekiah was a king of the country of Judah and the other two, Zephania and Zechariah,were prophets delivering messages from God to his people – they have books of the Bible named after them. My brothers and I knew who these guys were so when the minister told us to look up Zedekiah 5:14 we did not panic trying to find it. It was a trick.

Soon after she found herself with a small tribe of children to read to, my mother found a children’s version of the Bible and read it to us every night at bedtime. I say it was a child’s version but I call it that only because it was more story centered and spoke our language. I don’t remember any parts that required scholarly understanding. It was a thick book, with an occasional illustration. It was opened only after we all had our jammies on and were ready to be tucked in, sitting on our beds. She would sit in her chair and open the book to the bookmarked page. We were transfixed. She would always stop right at the good part before something was going to happen.

Unlike many simplified versions for children, this Bible did not leave out anything. The good, bad and ugly were all there. The stories portrayed God’s nature, but more vividly they portrayed the nature of people who were always trying to “one up” God. There was drama, mystery, romance, and beauty. When we finished the last page, we would start over again on page one and we didn’t mind. I don’t remember when the cover fell off, but it did. When I learned to read I was sometimes allowed to read to us all at night – but more often than not, it meant I could read by myself and not have to wait to find out how the story ended. And read it I did. It gave me an overview of people and events that is still the bedrock of my biblical knowledge today.

The book was still around when I started my own family and the tradition continued. By this time it was looking pretty ragged and I began to hunt for a new one, but could not find the exact edition. We taped it together and kept reading. I looked for it today and am pretty sure I do not have it. I think it might have gone with one of my daughters when they moved out. But I will not forget it because it was a joy and a blessing to our whole family and a very valuable part of my childhood.

The challenge is over! I have the start of a book for my family, and ideas for more stories that didn’t fit in with the alphabet theme.  How valuable is that!!  What value did you find in the A to Z this year?

A to Z Family Stories: Y for Youth Camp

A lot of our social life as kids revolved around our neighborhood and our church. Every summer, soon after school was out, we headed to church camp for a week. We saved our own money to pay our way, and hopefully some extra to spend at the snack bar. We planned our wardrobes, we bought a new swimsuit and towel, we studied the list of things to take, we anticipated who else would be there. It was a big deal for us and one of the highlights of the summer.

Camp was not the same as it is today. We rarely paid more than $30 for a week of food and lodging. There was no technology involved, no speed boats pulling skiers, no backpacking into the wilderness. We spent time with our counselors and teachers, we did simple team sports, swam and played in the water, had campfires, memorized Bible verses, and learned to work together.

We were usually housed in cabins with rows of bunk beds. The military atmosphere was accentuated with inspections every morning while we were in chapel. The white glove test was used to see if we had dusted, there were demerits for any little piece of trash under a bed, clothing had to be in the proper place – the results were announced and the first place token was given to one cabin each day.

When bells were sounded for meals, there was always a scramble to see which team could get all their members lined up first at the mess hall. The winning team got to enter first. We sat at long tables together with our team and were also judged on our manners. There were choruses of “get your elbows off the table, Uncle Don” sung by campers whenever we caught one of our counselors or pastors. At the end of the meal we passed our plates and tableware to one end of the table where dish washing took place – and we washed the dishes. The team with the best attitude and behavior would find the award on their table at the next meal. I don’t remember much about the food, but none of us starved. We were always hungry.

After classes and lunch there would always be a “down time” when we would have to stay in our cabins and rest. We could study for our classes, read our Bibles, or if we were really ambitious we could memorize scripture from a list that we were given. When we were ready, we would recite the verse to our counselor and be given credit, and of course there were prizes for that too. As the hour for resting was nearly up we would start getting ready for the active games and swimming which would take most of the afternoon. The afternoon was also the time for the snack bar to open. In those days there were not drink machines and fast food places at every corner. Most of us didn’t get to have a Coke or other soft drink very often so it was a treat to spend our money on something to drink and a candy bar.

I think the pastors and adults who volunteered for camp duty really enjoyed working with us. The younger ones played ball and swam, the older ones had conversations and taught classes. They joked and played games with us. We had our favorites that we played pranks on and teased. Underwear was seen flying from the flag pole on occasion.

The more serious part of the day was our evening service. We always wore our favorite dresses and tried to look our best. I remember how fun it was to trade outfits with friends and wear something different. We sang songs that were contemporary then but seem almost classic now. There were no screens, there weren’t even songbooks. We learned songs either by repeating them or from a huge poster book that would be held up high in the front of the room. The first time I ever heard the song “How Great Thou Art” was at youth camp and I can almost see the illustrations that were in that book. One page had the stars and planets with the words “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the worlds thy hands have made. I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder. Thy power throughout the universe displayed.” Our imaginations were stirred by the messages given by the pastors, the skits performed by our counselors, and the invitations to know God better. Young people can make decisions that set the course for the rest of their lives. Many of those decisions were made at camp and they were good ones.

There have been many books written by recent generations of church going youth that talk of their alienation from faith, how they became burned out when life didn’t live up to their expectations, how God seemed distant and hypocrisy was everywhere. I do understand how that can happen, but I don’t have a story like that. I wasn’t taught to have unrealistic expectations of Christian life. I knew there would be easy times and hard times and that I would have to grow by experiencing failure and trying again, and that God would be there to help me in one form or another. Love was there, and I felt it. I am thankful.

Did you attend any kind of summer camp as a child? Did it influence you in any direction?

A to Z Family Stories: E for Every Easter

There we were.
There we were.

There we would be – however many of us there were at the time.  All lined up, or as close to that as possible, in the moment before the boys got into some dirt, the moment before we were herded into the car – hopefully not late for church.  It was the Easter photo op.

Weeks before the event the planning would begin.  Mom always made a new dress for me and I still have memories of many of them, partly from seeing the pictures so many times but also I remember how I felt in them, what I thought of the fabric, who I was trying to look like.  Little girls always got a hat. Who started the Easter bonnet thing is still a mystery to me but it was a habit that died hard.  Easter was also one of the two times when one might expect to get new shoes to go with the new dress.  And because the snow might be melting by Easter I sometimes got to wear the new shoes without boots over them.  There were so many things about the holiday that spoke of spring freedom.

The real miracle of Easter was getting all my brothers cleaned up and dressed in their church clothes before something tragic happened to one of them. For simplicity’s sake they always had matching outfits in various sizes. Often one component or another would go missing – a sock, a belt, a shoe – adding to the craziness of the morning.  I can remember family routines of getting things ready on Saturday nights (commonly referred to as bath night). Shoe polishing must have been one of my favorite things to do as I have a mental picture of small shoes lined up, last week’s newspaper underneath them to protect the floor.  But it was mom who did most of the work. I think she was the one who took most of the pictures, just to prove she had done the job.

Our church family and the routine of the church calendar added much to my growing up years.  It was a pretty safe place to be, and there weren’t expectations of perfection that left me disillusioned, jaded or burned out.  We were just people and we seemed to know there was something about God that called for our attention.  Sometimes we gave it fully and lots of times we didn’t. I don’t think God was surprised.

Those Standout Moments

a happy wave of nostalgia
a happy wave of nostalgia

Don’t you know there are those times that become prominent, for one reason or another, and they stick in your mind like something that sparkles, or maybe like a flashing red light? My mind only has so much room in it and normally I want to save that space for stuff I’m really going to need, so one of the things I like to do is ask for God’s watchfulness over my mind each day.  I want him to be in charge of what looms large and what goes by the way. He knows me and he does a good job.

Three things that have been standout (is that a word?) moments recently:

This week there was a community garage sale in the neighborhood where one of my clients lives. My cousin and her husband shop these events and are masters at finding interesting things. They were at my client’s house when I arrived and started talking about what bargains they had scored.  Jerry had bought a large jar (water cooler size) full of marbles. Unbeknownst to most people, I have a inner fondness for marbles that I can’t explain, except that it reminds me of happy childhood times.  Kids today don’t know that you can get hours of fun and interaction with other people through marbles. They are antiques. When the snow would melt in the spring, our school grounds became pocked with marble holes and each recess was time to either lose or gain valuable marbles depending on your skill. Each long bus ride was a constant barter of boulders of various kinds, games of “odds or evens”. There was a whole language built around marbles, most of which I cannot remember now. I had a precious collection that I would hide around the house (because I had brothers). I don’t know what became of that bag of cat’s eyes and purees – did I outgrow my interest or did I lose them, forget where I’d hid them? Jerry took me out to his car and gave me some marbles and I felt like treasure had come home to me.  A standout moment.

Yesterday there was a knock on the door.  A young man I have known since he was an adolescent was standing there, wiping the sweat off his head because he had come on his bike and it was a warm day. The last few years I haven’t heard from him often – pretty much only when he needs money, which was why he had come this time too. He was moving north, taking a bus.  His mom had given him the money for the ticket which was all she could afford. She felt he needed to start new in a different place, but he had nothing for the trip. I listened to his story, we talked about his inability to thrive in spite of his talent, we talked about the faint odor of alcohol he exuded.  I don’t know where God is taking him – or just letting him go – but I felt kindness was required of me.  I gave him money. He let me pray for him and tearfully asked if I would continue to pray for him every day.  I made a promise.  This moment needs to standout so that I can keep that promise.

My inbox is constantly chiming at me because I’m permanently attached to my phone. Most of what comes in is junk mail, just like my old fashioned “snail mail” box.  But this morning there was a note from a family member.  Two sentences of sweet encouragement, which prove to me how much we can do to keep each other going forward.  Thank you MP, for acting on an impulse that was God inspired, no doubt. I love you too.

Three moments out of many that I could have included. Three is a good number and as I said, God does a good job of giving me things to think about and remember.

Draw Me

Luck of the draw, to draw a following, I’m drawn to that, draw your weapon, draw me aside, draw up, draw down, draw away. After a while this simple word with only four letters starts to sound and look funny because of all the ways it appears in our speech – 25 different meanings in my dictionary. The common thread seems to be the ability to cause to move in a particular direction. That causes me to think, what draws me? What causes me to move in a particular direction, toward or away from something? Or someone?

I’m drawn to things of beauty. I’m drawn to simplicity. I’m drawn to optimism. I’m drawn to challenges. I’m drawn to usefulness. And when none of these things exist, I’m still drawn to being wanted. I want to be wanted. That word starts to sound funny to me too.

It started back in grade school where it was mandated that we go out and play, like it or not. I loved it, especially when it was the season to play kick ball, or touch football. Those were mostly “boy sports” but there were at least two of us girls who always wanted to be included and knew the rules of the games. It was good, no it was GREAT, when we were picked to be on a team, not last, but somewhere in the middle between the star players and the incompetents. We were valued and wanted.

Even now, I will do some things that I don’t necessarily like to do, simply because someone I care about wants me to do it. No beauty involved, maybe complex and inconvenient, maybe not completely fun, maybe I’m not being useful, but someone affirms my value by wanting me. That is a very strong draw. (Disclaimer: This is not to say that I DO everything I’m drawn to. I can’t. I don’t.)

What started this train of thought was a very beautiful, peaceful song by a group called “Selah”. It’s called simply “Oh Draw Me, Lord”. I’ve heard all my life that God draws people, which is what this song is about, and I started wondering how, and why. The only other words in the song besides “draw me” are “and I’ll run after you.” It sounds to me like God does something first and then I respond.

I’m no theological genius, but it makes sense to me that if there is a God, he should make the first move. He should have a way of drawing my attention to himself. He should show me stuff he’s done, he should get me curious, he should be fun and maybe a bit mysterious. Yeah, I know it sounds kind of like the perfect boyfriend/girlfriend. Actually, the analogy holds because the “why” is the same in both cases. I am wanted.

I believe God wants me. I believe it intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. I believe it because this world is just too awesome to be here for any reason except to draw our attention. Honestly, do you have a beloved pet? Have you looked into a pair of soft animal eyes and not wondered what they were thinking and why they loved you? Have you spent a few minutes at sunset, looking at the colors in the sky and the formation of the clouds and not felt something in your spirit? It’s not just that it’s there, but also that I can see it, and think about it, and call it beautiful. I am drawn to wonder, and I haven’t heard of an adequate scientific explanation of why that happens.

My response is, “go ahead God, draw me more, keep doing it. I want to be sure that I’m wanted.” I don’t think I have to be worried about being the last one picked for the team either. There is a statement in a miraculously preserved book, that claims God has said “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me”. There isn’t anybody he doesn’t want! I’m just saying that this is what makes me want to know more, and that’s what “running after” is all about.


Every Day Should Be this Good

Letters handed to me today from far away Cambodia
Letters handed to me today from far away Cambodia

Even though I did not get a lot of sleep the night before (might have been up late blogging) today was a day I enjoyed and for which I am thankful.  I heard something inspiring and it just happened to be about change. More specifically, about being willing to change things in my own life in order to relate more to other people – to get to know them, to spend time with them, to come to love them.  Sitting next to me at the time was an older man who, it struck me, was a good example of this. He was dressed pretty conservatively, except for his socks which were insanely wild and not shy about being seen.  I surreptitiously took a picture of them with my cell phone when he wasn’t looking but evidently I wasn’t careful enough and got a picture of the inside of my bag instead.  Sorry.  You should have seen these socks.  George H. Bush would have loved them.  This guy was willing to be a bit quirky in order to spark interest, arouse the curiosity of the younger set and enter the world of high fashion. He stepped outside the realm of the average 70-80 year old and I’ll bet some good experiences have come from it. I remain inspired and have some new goals for this week.

Also at this same venue, I was given some letters addressed to me from two very precious women in Cambodia.  One I had never met personally but in her letter she assured me that she knew all about me from others and had been praying for me. Her expression of love and encouragement, in a language not her own, was clear and confident. She is a caretaker in an orphan home in Phnom Penh. She sent a picture of herself.  I can hardly wait to meet her someday.

The other letter was from a teen age girl I have known for several years.  Her family gave her up to live in the orphan home, feeling she would be safer there.  Her father had an alcohol problem and in her culture children in those circumstances are often abused or sold into slavery of one kind or another. She excitedly wrote about how her father had started learning about God, had quit drinking, was helping his wife at home and reading the Bible.  This was a miracle we had been asking God to work out for years.  I could feel her happiness.  Change had brought it.

Lastly, I went to work this afternoon.  My elderly client, Jack, has thrived in his own home over the last couple of months.  He loves to invite people to have dinner with him at his favorite restaurants and tonight it was our turn to be blessed.  I drove him to the Lucky Pelican where we met up with “the husband” for a great meal.  Later, back at his home, I helped him get ready for sleep.  I know it’s part of my job but it’s always a little strange for a grown-up to tuck another grown person into bed. I said “Good night, dear Jack” and he laughed and puckered up for a kiss.  He has changed so much.

Change is at the heart of all these experiences today – our ability to change, and God’s ability to change us.  He made the most miraculous change, giving up his God existence and living like a man, never again to be quite what he was before (becoming more, not less). Change like this is good (for us).  I’m just sayin’ that I’m thankful for everything I’ve become aware of today, thankful there are so many people here on the planet to live with, to love and to pray for. Thankful for change.