Saturday, December 9, 2017

Twins In Their Soul

Brothers and Sisters

I was watching Steve Hartman on CBS news last night when Joel and I both were overcome with laughter and tears.  Two 4 year old girls were absolutely more than best friends.....they consider themselves twins.  One girl is African American and the other is Caucasian.  They love to dress alike and are "closer than sisters".  Their moms are delighted with this connection.  Recently they were at a birthday party and one boy told them they couldn't be twins because they don't have the same color skin.  One of the girls started to cry, but then she replied, "We are twins!  We are twins because we have the same soul."  How sweet!  How profound.

This story took me back to when we had 4 kids and the two oldest were in school.  We went to some school event as a family and later one of the kids told our oldest daughter that our two middle kids could not be her sister and brother because they did not have the same color skin.  I don't even recall what our oldest said in reply, but I do remember she defended our family and tried to explain adoption.

Just this week one man was fired from his radio announcing job and a woman resigned from her teaching position in town an hour from here because of the comments they made towards a couple Hispanic young men playing basketball on the opposing team.  Among other statements on the air, they made the comment that "Just like our President said, they need to go back where they came from." I'm thinking there are times the Native Americans must think that about all the rest of us.  Hmm

One of the young Hispanic men at the game was interviewed a couple of days later, and when he was asked what he felt about what was said, he replied (in perfect English by the way) that he was surprised by what the announcer and teacher said, but was forgiving the two involved for their hurtful comments.  Profound.

Our country has so much to learn, and we can learn a great deal of it from the young.  Whether a teenager with forgiveness in his heart, or four year old girls who are twins because they have the same soul.  Yeah.  I'm thinking we could all use a bit more forgiveness, acceptance, and love for one another.

Monday, December 4, 2017

We Ain't Looking So Clean!

A couple of weeks ago Joel washed the outside windows while I helped tackle the inside.  When we were finished they looked pretty good.........or so we thought.  The next day when we looked closely I said to Joel....... "Honey, the windows?  They "ain't" looking so clean!"  What is up with that??

So today, we started over with the windows.  Again.  On December 4th.  Are we bundled up as we venture outside to soap and rinse and dry?  Nope.  It was 64 degrees by 11 am today.  Seriously.  In northern Iowa.  Huh.  We have been given another chance to make the windows sparkling clean.  This time we took vinegar and mixed in another ingredient, a little Seventh Generation dish detergent and it broke up the dirt and grime.  Rinsing the glass with vinegar water and wiping with a soft cloth had us smiling.  With a little extra work and the right ingredients, the windows are clean!

As I was washing the windows I actually started to see a connection here and started to sing  "What can wash away our sins.....nothing but the blood of Jesus."   It seems that we often try to eliminate our sins with self control, determination, and prayer.  Not a bad combination, but without that extra ingredient ~ Jesus~ to cut through the dirt and grime in our lives, we ain't looking so clean.  Jesus suffered and died for us.  For our sins.  For sickness and disease (Is. 54).  He alone can wash away our sins....make us clean.  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

So we cleaned up the windows today in shirt sleeves, and we are all ready for the cold and snow that is arriving tonight.  Winter is on it's way.  Think I will bundle up under my wool comforter and listen to a little music.  Maybe the song I was humming today!  Nothing but the blood.  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

                                                                        Song by Matt Redman 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Search For A Tree

Good Saturday morning from our corner of Iowa where the temperatures remain in the 50's!  We have a few more days of this left before the bottom drops out and December weather becomes a reality.

Speaking of December, Joel and I have been on a quest to find a artificial tree.  One that will last for 30 more years.  What can I say, we are being optimistic about our endurance and a tree's!  We have searched a gently used place connected to our daughter's work place.  We have gone to Hobby Lobby, Fleet Farm, Target, Menard's, Wal-mart, and Shopko.  I think we are going to have to face the fact that we are going to be paying way too much money for a tree that smells like plastic and was made in China.  

There is a huge variety of trees made....different colors, sizes, shapes, and you can have one with lights or without.  Some have 400 lights, others 700.  The price ranges from $59 to $800.  I am not kidding you, an $800 tree should be able to plug itself in, decorate and un-decorate it's branches and put itself away, don't you think?  We saw one tree at Target that was supposed to look just like a Charlie Brown tree.  It succeeded.  I think it must be trendy to pay an enormous price for a tree with 6 stick like branches.  Seriously.

One store had more boxed trees than trees on display.  We need to see it, please!  Another store had the trees up on a high shelf so you had to stand back and stare up to see.  No touching I guess.  One store had a number of trees with a pathway to walk through!  Fun, but not on sale and way way to expensive.  All the stores had trees and all but one had trees on how can it be so hard?  I am getting it us?

Finding a tree has always been a journey for us.  When we purchased the real deal, it would take time to find just the right one for the right price.  When we lived in MN we once went out to a refuge and with permission cut down a tree.  It was a hike out there, and you had to be really good at guessing what the top 10 feet of the tree of a 40 foot tree would look like!  Joel would saw down the tree, then cut the top 10 feet or less off to take home.  The rest was taken care of by the refuge.  One of our refuge trees had to be tied to the wall because the trunk was so crooked!   After two years of that practice, a member of the congregation told us to come to their Christmas tree farm and pick out one to cut down.  Nice!  Years later when I was too sick to have one in the house, Joel would bring home one and put it on the back deck.  I loved looking at it all lit up from my resting place on the sofa.

We noticed in recent years that unless you paid a week's worth of wages for a tree, it was often packed with old needles, and who knows how many bugs.  Trimming branches from the trunk and bringing it in, and especially carrying it out?  I guess we have stepped into that season of our lives where that just seems like a whole lot of work.

Still, this search for the "right" artificial tree is taking such a long time...... I wonder if that Charlie brown trendy tree is such a bad idea?  I wonder if the one "on sale" for $199 is the one to grace our home?  Okay, okay, our early morning and late night quests for a tree are taking waaaaay too long. Make a decision or go without! 

I wonder if the grandkids would notice if we did not have one.......

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Restoring The Balance

The Christmas decorations are all in place and our little angel tree holds the place of honor for now. We are in a dilemma....a real or fake tree?  I shudder using the word..."fake" in today's atmosphere, but we just can't decide........we are leaning towards an artificial tree in this season of our lives.  We do love bringing nature inside, in fact we have added some northern California mountain pine cones to the mix this year!

The house is lit up inside and out with a special glow. The photo cards and newsletter are waiting for my hand, and I have started picking up gifts for the family and Joel.  The TV has been gifting us with a few musical Holiday specials, and our first Christmas card arrived in the mail yesterday!  "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas............."

When the house was full,  so was our schedule for December.  Practices, programs, shopping, decorating, baking, and school events kept us going at full speed.  Having a pastor in the house certainly added to the mix!  During this season of our lives, it is only our shoes by the door, and our grands live miles away, so we pick an choose how busy we want to be.  There is still the anticipation and excitement, but on a much more subdued level.  We look back on precious memories, while still intentionally making new ones!

Advent starts this Sunday.  A time to prepare for the birth of our Savior. For most of our married life we gathered around the advent wreath every night in December, lighting candles, opening the advent calendar doors one day at a time.  The same old Advent devotional with it's beat up cover still lays nearby as candles stand tall in our wreath made in the Philippines over 40 years ago.  It holds some special memories that we hold dear.  No longer a nightly tradition but a place to remember the kids taking turns lighting the candle, or opening the calendar doors.  Reading from the blue devotional book and the Bible.  A tradition that brought a busy family a place to gather and remember the reason for the season.

Taking the time to focus on Jesus is so important.  It centers us.  The news, the politics, and the busyness of living distract and often unsettle, but those moments of quiet focus on our Savior quiet the soul and restore the balance in our lives. 

During this time of preparation, as we step into December and Advent, I pray you have warm memories to draw on, new memories to make, and plenty of time to remember the true reason for this season.   Come, Lord Jesus.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Catching Up

Yesterday we met with long time friends at a restaurant off of the Interstate.  They were on their way back home after a short trip to visit family, and to give us more time to catch up we met them about 20 minutes from our home.  It had been a few years and even though we knew our friend Allen was having many health challenges now, we were still surprised. He is just shy of turning 90, a retired Methodist pastor from the deep south who was sent first to Iowa and then to Minnesota to serve congregations.  In the Methodist church you are assigned congregations. 

Joel met Allen when we were living in Zimmerman Mn in the mid 80's and they soon became friends.  When he married Susan, Joel was his best man.  They have now been married 30 years, she being several years younger.  They adopted children to add to his older grown sons, and with our adopted children we had yet another connection.  Allen is a gentle man with compassion that runs deep.  When our lives were threatened by a man who wanted to end Joel's life, one who did not like our multi-racial family, Allen was there for us.  The man who threatened Joel had a restraining order so could not come within a certain number of yards of he started going to Allen's church.  We found irony in that, since he was such a prejudice man and Allen is African American.  I think God wanted to teach that broken, hateful man a few things!

Seeing Allen and Susan again has had me thinking about old friendships.   We have a few long time friends that we have stayed connected to for many many years, mostly from a distance.  Our hearts are warmed when thinking about John S and others from our time at the Lutheran Bible Institute, Marge and Dick from our time in Utah, Montana friends from the early 80's, Marilyn from Mn, Dan and Barb from seminary days, Jim and Linda from my high school days, George and Helen from the Philippines.  And many more.  It is one of the reasons I love Christmas~ cards and letters, pictures and packages fill the mailbox and we get to hear how they are doing. 

We are all aging.  Life has been kinder to some than others.  Some have spent their lives in one place while others have moved around the country, the world.  Everyone of us has a different story to share, but what unites us all is our faith.  We all are believers in Jesus as Savior. I like that. 

We are so grateful for our visit with Allen and Susan.  So grateful for long time friends.  So grateful for a faith that unites and a love that sustains.  As the Christmas season begins, our trips to the mailbox hold more anticipation.  Connections with family and long time friends.  A time for catching up!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Gratitude WIns The War

"Gratitude wins the war".
Ann Voskamp

Ann Voskamp is the author of the book, "One Thousand Gifts" and most recently "The Broken Way".  As a woman who at one time was fearful of leaving her home, God has used her to reach people across the world.  He had other plans, and it all began with her making the commitment to give thanks for every blessing, and soon she saw blessings in everything, every place, event, moment of her days.  As a mom of 7 who homeschools, and lives with her husband on a farm in Canada, as a well known author and speaker and advocate for those in great need, her days are beyond full, I expect.

Recently Ann wrote on her blog "A Holy Experience" about health issues in herself and three of her children.  They adopted a little girl from China who has a broken heart, in need of much repair.  They have a son who was diagnosed with diabetes at a younger age, and another child with health issues.  And Ann herself is recovering from heart failure after a problem was left undiscovered until her heart was struggling to function.  Her life is filled with challenges, but her gratitude still rises to the surface with mighty power.  She believes gratitude wins the war, and her life tells that story one thank you at a time.

So as I ponder giving thanks, being grateful, lifting my voice in praise to the One, I ask myself what I believe.  And can that belief be walked out in my daily life?  There is something powerful about giving thanks in all circumstances.  Not for all, but in all.  Gratitude shifts our attitude.  Gratitude makes it less about us and more about Him.  It can take an ordinary day or a challenging one and make it extraordinary.  That "extra" attitude of gratitude makes the ordinary extraordinary.

Thanksgiving is behind us, but giving thanks today and tomorrow and in the tomorrows that lay ahead is a choice.  Some days it is not is more of a sacrifice of praise just like we are told in the book of Hebrews.  But that can make it sweeter, that praise that lifts us out of the darkness.  The gratitude that releases the light of Heaven like a million stars.  Speaking of that..........a verse from a song comes to mind.  "If the stars were made to worship, so will I."  Worship is a form of gratitude and praise.  It wins the war.

God in all His wisdom, created us to worship.  To praise.  He created us for gratitude.  He created us to give thanks in all circumstances knowing that in doing so, we find the peace and joy within that empowers us to win in life.  No matter the circumstances.  Jesus made sure we win the victory.  Our gratitude wins the war.