Free Father’s Day Advice

Happy Father’s Day to the men in our audience, especially to dads, but also to the grandfathers, uncles, stepdads, scout leaders and others who help kids grow up with good values. Virtually every study done on families will underscore the importance of having a strong father.

Here is some free advice and encouragement for you on your big day.

In writing “Secrets of the Dark Closet,” I spent a lot of time thinking about family relationships. Do you know that being a good father has historic importance? A good father-child relationship is like having a solid foundation when constructing a building. The footing allow a child to grow into the adult he or she was meant to be. And just as a well-built building can last for centuries, the effects of good parenting can flow down through several generations.

Children who grow up in a secure environment, who know they can depend on their parents, have a head start in life. And the truth is, an overwhelming number of young people who get in trouble come from dysfunctional homes.

Moreover, dads, often the real messages you send aren’t things you say, but things you do. Did you take your kids fishing? Read the same book to them night after night? Teach them to ride bike? Help them change a tire on that bike? Make memories of camping trips or special holidays? Let me tell you, they’ll remember when you sat on a tiny chair and drank pretend tea, or fixed a fancy lunch for them, such as a box of mac and cheese or ramen noodle soup.

Those not-so perfect times turn into good memories in the future. So don’t stress out if you lost your cool when you couldn’t get the campfire going, or weren’t the best reader in the world, or if you burned the soup. It’s okay. Your kids need you and they understand if your halo is a bit tarnished.

But maybe you are, or were, working a lot and missed important moments in their growing up years. Or maybe you divorced and hardly saw your kids. As long as you have life, it is never too late to begin again. Do you know there are thousands of adult children who would give anything to hear from their dad? They still need and want to have dad say you’re proud of them. That you love them.

Three generations of guys in my family

Your values never show more clearly than when seen through a child’s eyes. So show, don’t tell, them what is important in life. Do you keep your promises to them? Do you tell the truth and do what is honorable even if no one is watching? What you do and say will set the stage for not just your children, but also their children.

While you’re at it, do your kids a favor and give them a gift that they can hold onto, that they will treasure. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Perhaps your father gave you something that you can pass down to your children. Maybe it’s your own prize fishing tackle, belt buckle, or a sports or military award. Give it to your child as a keepsake.

While material gifts are good, gifts that feed their souls are even better. Attend church and take them along. Spend time reading your Bible and share any meaningful scriptures you find. Your children may look bored or cross their eyes when you talk to them, but they will also store away your insights like they are sacks of gold. Someday they’ll tell others, “My old man said—,” and then repeat your words.

If they are having problems, don’t be afraid to say, “Let’s pray about that.” And for Pete’s sake, don’t get all spiritual and speak with thee’s and thou’s. A simple plea, “Lord, help my child get through this,” perhaps spoken with a trembling voice, will touch the heart of both your child and God.

Are you wondering how you can be a good father when you didn’t have a good role model yourself? In the book of John, Jesus talked a lot about his relationship with his Father in heaven. He often slipped away to spend time with God. In doing so, he showed us what we need to do. In John 16: 13, he encouraged his followers by saying that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth. That means God can even show you how to be a great father.

Jesus probably lost his earthly father when he was young, but his strong relationship with God the heavenly Father more than made up for it. Your heavenly Father is waiting to hear from you. Waiting to fill in those empty holes in your heart. Waiting to be the father to you that no human can fulfill.

I know. This is Father’s Day. The kids are supposed to remember you. Give you a call. Give you a gift. Tell you that you are special. But even on this special day, your role as father is to lead by example, so don’t wait to be blessed by your kids. Instead, be proactive and bless them. It may be your best Father’s Day ever.

Writing Update

My Wonder Woman cup isn’t speeding up the publishing process!

By now I expected to announce that “Secrets of the Dark Closet” had been published, but alas it remains in the publishing process. As of this week, the art department is working on the cover.

Meanwhile, I am assembling a list of email addresses to let readers know when and where it’s available, and to set up book readings, etc. Chances are I don’t have your email address unless you’ve heard from me recently. So, please hit Reply and send me your address. I promise to keep you updated, but not to clog your email box.

Steppin’ with the Gray-haired Ladies

Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers, grandmothers, aunts and to those of you who fill in when a mom isn’t present. You have the most important role in the world.

That said, I’d like to ponder why I am almost always out of step with other women of my generation. Seriously, my life is a little like the step class I took at the YMCA several years ago, when I was always an embarrassing half step off.

Way back when other women were out burning bras and demanding rights, I was a stay-at-home mom with gangs of preschoolers stopping by the kitchen for cookies. Yes, my world looked much different than Gloria Steinem’s.

And I was too busy to worry about rights. There were skinned knees to bandage and Tough Skin jeans to return to the store. Does anyone remember when Sears guaranteed those jeans would never wear through the knees? Ha, ha. Whoever designed them didn’t have boys that played on the carpet, in the sandbox or on the school playground. Those holey knees were also linked to my most frequent words: “Ouch! Didn’t I tell you to pick up the Legos?”

Anyway, the gray-haired ladies in my life were a bigger influence on me than anyone in the women’s movement. They helped me through a long stretch of time, including the three-year period when my mother and sisters died. These seasoned women weren’t trying to break the glass ceiling. Instead, they went beyond the popcorn ceiling to the throne of God with their actions and prayers, and they invited me along.

Their love and kindness nurtured this prairie girl. Flora and Lucille, Cary Lou and Sister Susan. And dear Elenor, a Bible study leader who was in her 70s. Every day she still did pushups and prayed for all the girls who had attended her classes through the years; and there were a lot of us. She was a great role model. They all were with their encouragement, wisdom, true life stories, and Godly examples.

These gray-haired ladies lived out a counterculture right in the heart of the women’s movement. Successful in their own right, they made my life richer because they lived fully in the life God gave them. They influenced me and many other “girls” to do the same.

They believed that God has a higher call on our lives. That we are special. Who we are does matter in a world caught up in media blitz, Hollywood bling and me-first philosophy.

There were many graduates of the gray-haired ladies’ training. We might all have been a little out of step with the times, but looking back, it’s easy to see that their quiet influence is still having an impact in the families of the “girls” they mentored, who are still living for God, who have found a new way of life.

Even today, I’m still steppin’ to their influence. That’s one reason for the past year I’ve been putting finishing touches on the story of one of the most resilient gray-haired women I have ever known. I can’t wait to announce that Secrets of the Dark Closet is available, probably sometime this summer.

So, this Mother’s Day tribute is to those gray-haired women, every one of them now passed on. You still inspire me.

And hugs to all the readers out there. Have a Happy Mother’s Day. Be proactive—treat yourself to something special.

There are still gray-haired ladies around us. To find them, look for a women’s Bible study at a local church or join a women’s fellowship group, such as Christian Women’s Club or Women’s Aglow. Women’s retreats and conferences are also a cool way to nurture your soul. Be a gray-haired lady (hair color optional) and take a friend. 

“Each time we cooperate with God, we take one more giant step forward. Because when God asks us to change, it means that He always has something better to give us – more freedom, greater joy, greater blessings.” Joyce Meyer, author of 41 books including Battlefield of the Mind

 

 

Easter Musings

Grandma Muir’s birthday often fell near Easter and this year she would have celebrated on Easter Monday. For the holiday her sister, my great aunt Carrie, faithfully made kaloches, a traditional Bohemian recipe. She even typed out her recipe in her hunt-and-peck method and gave it to me. I did try making kaloches a few times, but they didn’t turn out until I used another recipe. Perhaps Carrie left out a secret ingredient?

That seems possible because Carrie, Grandma and the rest of their siblings certainly took a lot of secrets to their graves. Those secrets weren’t documented for almost one hundred years, and then only after 20 years of dogged research.

Grandma Muir, prophetically sitting with her back to the dark closet

The story of those secrets is the basis of my uncoming historical novel, Secrets of the Dark Closet. I signed with a publisher this past winter and expect to spend at least part of the Easter weekend reviewing the copy before it goes to the next stage of publishing. I can hardly wait to announce in a few months that it is in print.

But back to Easter. The very word invokes memories of spring dresses being made on Mom’s treadle sewing machine, and of trying on new patent leather shoes and white gloves. The day before Easter, the house would be cleaned from ceiling to floor, as though Jesus himself would be a guest.

Before we left for church on Easter morning, a ham was readied for the oven, deviled eggs were in the fridge and, always, strawberry shortcake and real whipped cream completed the special holiday meal.

At Cottonwood Church, where family members had worshiped since the early 1900s, everyone filed in wearing spring clothes, even if they needed to wear a winter coat over the top. The service was truly a celebration of Christianity’s holiest day. Green palm fronds and white lilies decorated the simple altar, and no Easter service was complete without singing, “Christ the Lord has risen today…alleluia!”

Then and now, Easter represents something the world desperately needs: Hope that there is meaning in this life. Hope that good can triumph over evil. Hope for eternal life. The good news is that even though Jesus died on Good Friday, he rose again and he still lives. And he made the way for us to do the same.

Easter eggs, a symbol of new life

All of creation plays out this pageant of hope, if we only pay attention. Each spring, new life is found on every prairie hillside as the grass turns green, the trees leaf out and perky flowers pop out of the earth. The birds and animals birth their young, symbolic of the new life that can be found in Christ.

We humans need rituals and special days to remind us of what is important, and so we celebrate the Resurrection each year by gathering with family and friends to celebrate in our homes and churches. Around the world, an ancient greeting will be heard on Easter Sunday: “He has risen!” with the response, “He has risen indeed!” And that really is good news.

To learn more about the resurrection of Christ, read through the gospel of John, and particularly chapter 20. Also, consider viewing the movie The Case for Christ, which was recently released.

Moving Update

I promised to give you an update about moving to a smaller home, so here it is. We moved into a very nice, albeit smaller home, on March 28. As I write, we’ve been here two weeks and two pickup loads of unpacked boxes have been hauled away. I think we will truly be settled when the books are back in the bookcase.

After all my angst about downsizing, was this a good move for us? Well, judging by the boxes still left to be unpacked, maybe we didn’t get rid of all that much stuff. And it does feel more like home every day, although sometimes I must remind myself of the verse the Lord spoke to my heart about moving on: “Let not your heart be troubled.” Yes, and trust that God has it all under control.

A childhood classmate (and veteran of many moves) advised me to take my time getting settled, but I want to get on with life. After all, my next book is about to be published and the sequel to By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek is waiting for completion.

Happy Easter! He has risen. He has risen indeed!

Sing!

If your life was a song, what would it be? A classical number? Country or rap or rock?

Sing, a song written by Joe Raposo for Sesame Street, was later recorded by The Carpenters. The first verse goes, “Sing, sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong. Sing of good things, not bad, sing of happy, not sad.”

I’m trying to apply that philosophy as the moving saga continues at our house. Beloved items and furniture have been disappearing, and boxes now line some of the walls. The move date is set for late March. Next month in the Prairie Lighthouse blog, I’ll try to post a couple photos of our new little nest, but expect different topics in the future. It’s time to move on from moving.

Sing. The song, is a great alternative to Breaking Up is Hard to Do, which the jukebox in my head wants to play. That’s probably because I just forfeited my 1959 sticker book about Gulliver’s Travels, even though I still hadn’t finished it. The ruby red plates went to Rocket Coffee, the neighborhood coffee shop I plan to frequent. This past weekend all of our sofas and loveseats went out the door.

The last and hardest thing we will do is turn over the keys to this house in a few weeks. When I think about that, the song in my head becomes Friends are Friends Forever, a sentimental song made popular by Michael W. Smith in the 1980s. Back then, I hoped the song would be around long enough to be played at our sons’ graduations. Well, it not only was still popular then, but it’s been playing at graduations ever since. Now it also fits us as we move to a new stage of life.

Although this house has been a friendly place to live, I don’t think that dwelling on music about break ups and leaving friends behind is a good idea. And happy tunes aren’t enough, either. Sadly, singing happy songs didn’t spare either Reposo and Karen Carpenter from dying much too young.

What we really need is music based on more than a good feeling. Songs that build hope and faith in God’s love give the sustaining strength needed for life today.

This week I packed up a stack of song books, some of which had been long buried in our basement. They included one published in the 1970s by local musician Steve Harmon. Fittingly, one of his original songs is Sing to the Lord a New Song.

Other discovered songbooks include a set of Servant Music Songs of Praise from the Charismatic Renewal days, which changed the hearts and lives of millions of people as the wind of the Holy Spirit blew across the world.

Perhaps my favorite is the hymnal from the Presbyterian church at LaMoure, my home church. It magically appeared at the Used Book Sale at Bismarck Public Library a few years ago, just when I was searching for a hymnal since they have disappeared from church pews.

Contemporary music can certainly stir the heart, too. I love it when a song done in church on Sunday resonates in my head all week. One of my favorites from our church is How Great is Our God, by Chris Tomlin. You can look that up on YouTube. Then, close your eyes and sink into the words.

While I mostly sing in “be flat,” making that joyful noise is like sowing seeds for the future, or planting a flag in enemy territory. Even if the enemy is me. Singing helps me let go of the past long enough to reach for the future, for indeed, there is a future and a hope for us all. And humbly I hope that my life will become a song of praise.

Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.

Martin Luther

Please, Mr. Postman

 

Throughout history, letters have been the chief means of communicating for everyone from family members to heads of state.

Perhaps the most famous American letter is one dated Nov. 25, 1864. President Abraham Lincoln wrote the letter to a Mrs. Bixby, who had lost five sons in the Civil War. The letter is eloquent and compassionate, but sadly, it is also famous because of the debate over whether the president actually wrote the letter.

My son wrote some of my favorite letters while he served in the military. He was a skinny 18-year-old, fresh out of high school, when he left home to serve in the Infantry. To say the least, his father and I were uneasy about his choice. This was before the advent of email and cellphones, and we were glad he wrote weekly letters, even if we weren’t always comforted by what he said.

Recently, I gave the collection of letters back to him, and the family gathered in the living room to listen as he read through some of them. The letters were postmarked from Georgia, Hawaii, Japan, Australia and Panama. (He had quite an education in the two years after high school.) It was moving to hear him read of his trials, adventures, and successes. His three sons sat listening quietly, taking in what his life was like back then, what he was like. Listening to him read the letters so many years later felt like a sacred family moment.

I have a drawer full of keepsake letters that are just some of the hundreds delivered by the postal service. Letters from my husband who often was away from home for weeks at a time. Letters from my three sisters, now gone, that offer a window into their daily lives. A letter from my mother outlined my father’s grave health concerns, perhaps the first hint that she had begun to see me as an adult instead of the eternal baby of the family. Letters from nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, good friends and even famous people.

Erma Bombeck responded to a fan letter I wrote her in 1980. The note had the same humor that graced her columns. After I wrote a thank you letter to Apollo 15 astronaut James Irwin, he wrote a very nice letter back. He had spoken in Bismarck and I had arranged for Scout Troop 11 to attend.

Today, most of my correspondence is online. I receive messages from friends that are funny, frustrated or fostering, and I suppose every word is recorded somewhere, but who will ever access any of it?

Fortunately, the most famous letters of all time are gathered in the bestselling book of all time. There are 21 letters in the Bible, written by the apostles to believers throughout the Mediterranean region. Some of those biblical letters offer encouragement. In I John 4: 11, John urges us, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”

Some of the New Testament letters chastise the church. Saint Paul was good at getting down to the nitty gritty, such as when he wrote, “Do not deceive yourselves…For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” Paul also offered practical advice, such as telling his Timothy, his son in the Lord, to take a little wine for his stomach.

More recently, in the last century, there was a hit song called Please Mr. Postman made famous by the Marveletts and, later, the Carpenters. The last verse says, “Mister Postman, Mister Postman look and see, If there’s a letter in your bag for me. Please, please, Mr. Postman, Why’s it takin’ such a long time, Why don’t you check it and see one more time for me, C’mon deliver the letter, the sooner, the better.”

This month we celebrate Valentine’s Day. What a great time to send a card or letter to a friend or loved one who doesn’t text or email. Make it an “I’m thinking of you” letter, with personal thoughts. Real paper and a postage stamp might just make someone’s day.

“You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ironically, after this post was written, I received a card in the mail from a friend. How’s that for timing? It included a hand-written note congratulating me on signing a contract for my next book. So, here is the inside scoop: my historical novel, based on a true story that was hidden for almost a century, is in the publication process. Many years went into this book and I am more than excited to see it published. And don’t worry, the sequel to By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek is well underway, but will come out after the historical novel.

The Move

Posting this spring photo in January is really the height of irony, but that shabby old picnic table is a symbol of the changes taking place in our lives right now. You see, the table has served at decades of backyard picnics and birthday parties. We’ve repotted hundreds of plants there and, for a while, it was a feeding station for our feral cat, Flash.

One evening last fall, as our son hauled the table away in his trailer, I stood in the driveway and blubbered like my best friend was being dragged off. I didn’t want to let go of the picnic table, but it was time. Our 4-level house with the lovely yard is up for sale. We are moving to a nice, new home with no steps and a postcard-sized yard.

Downsizing is one of the hardest jobs I’ve had. My new mantra is, “Keep it if you like it, use it, and it’s in good repair.” But, wow, it’s surprising how many things meet two of the three criteria. The picnic table, for example, was well loved and used, but suffering from wood rot. Away it went.

Some items only meet one of the three criteria. I love that chipped, hand-painted pitcher that collects dust on top of our kitchen cabinets. When I discovered one just like it selling for $48 on eBay, and maybe it was by Ditmar Urbach, my pitcher went right in the “save” box. And I don’t even know who Ditmar Urbach is.

I won’t go into the fact that we have inherited stuff from our parents and aunts and uncles that we hate to part with, or that I still have a couple dolls and a whole wardrobe of doll clothes made by my mother. And as I packed my doll bottle sterilizer away, I realized you’d have to be of a certain age to even know its purpose.

Here is another problem: If you finally decide to let something go, what do you do with it? I’ve been making weekly trips to a nearby charity and putting things on www.bismanonline.com, the local equivalent of e-Bay, but that’s like moving a mountain with a spoon. Plus, I fear someday I’ll meet Lucille Hendrickson in heaven. She’ll be carrying a reporter’s notepad and want to know why the crystal dish she gave me ended up at Good Will. Guess I’ll keep the dish.

I’ve noticed that when we tell our friends that we’re downsizing, their collars get a little tight. The topic has the same social appeal as telling someone you just planned your funeral. No one wants to think about it, let alone do it.

Maybe that’s because our generation followed those who survived the Depression era. Oh, the stories they told of turning a flour bag into a dress, or making a meal for 10 out of a cup of flour and a teaspoon of salt. Baby boomers grew up in that aura of gloom, but moved on to the sweet pleasure of owning stuff. At least that’s my excuse for the 25 pairs of footwear I’m carting to our new place.

Looking forward is a topic imbedded in almost every Prairie Lighthouse blog post, and it is a central theme in my upcoming book, “Secrets of the Dark Closet.” In times of change, I relentlessly encourage others to believe they are facing a new beginning rather than the end. But do I trust God with this next phase of my own life? You, dear readers will have to be the judges.

Still, there are definite perks to letting go and moving on. When cleaning house recently, I realized I won’t be dragging the vacuum up and down 22 steps any more. Plus, we’ll be within walking distance of our children (though far enough away so they can’t spy on us.) There’s a nice coffee shop just a good morning stroll away. We can choose the books, art and music to take with us, and there are sunny south-facing windows, a fireplace for chilly nights, and a welcoming space for visitors.

All month, I’ve felt God speak to me through the prophet Isaiah. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way…” That’s Isaiah 43: 18-19. Not bad advice for the beginning of a new year and a new phase of life.

Oh, and the picnic table? I recently spied it in our son’s garage.

Anniversary Grace

The electric frying pan and coffeepot have gone to appliance heaven, but 50 years after our wedding, we still use a Corningware casserole, metal mixing bowls and aluminum cookware that were opened on our wedding day. We still have a blue-flowered blanket, a Fostoria serving bowl (used twice) and a picture of Jesus. And we still have each other.

Our wedding was in January, right after a real North Dakota blizzard. When I woke that morning in my parents’ home, the sun was shining and the window glowed with Jack Frost’s artwork. The bright sky seemed like a good sign.

My dad was sitting at the kitchen table when I wandered out. He said, “Well, I guess I’ll go to the wedding.” It still makes me tear up to think how much he must have wanted to walk his youngest daughter down the aisle. Dad had a stroke when I was 16 and things hadn’t gone well for him since then. On my wedding day, he was just out of the hospital and extremely frail. I had expected my oldest brother to do the honors.

Meanwhile, the groom was braving the not-plowed-out roads to Oakes, 25 miles away, to pick up the flowers for the wedding. He made it to the church early, with fresh, not frozen, flowers. That was feat in his little red ’65 Mustang. Although the sun was out, the snow was piled high and the thermometer hovered near 30 below.

We had a small wedding. That meant that our parents, 15 of our 17 siblings, their families, my nearby aunts, uncles and cousins, and a smattering of friends were there. I remember walking up the aisle with Dad and how we helped keep each other steady. The little brown brick church was a warm place to say our vows.

Later, we signed the marriage certificate and that’s when I learned my new husband’s real middle name. Then we strolled next door to the reception in the church hall. Larry’s family supplied the ham and homemade wedding kuchen. My family supplied the buns and wedding cake, baked at Elmer’s Bakery where my mother worked. In a corner of the hall, our sisters unwrapped the wedding gifts. And then to my utter frustration, my brothers stole me and drove around town in my parents old gray Chevy. For those who don’t live in North Dakota, stealing the bride away from the groom is an old tradition.

Fifty years later, here we are. At the time, I really couldn’t see past the first few days of marriage and only knew how nice it would be to wake up together each morning. I certainly didn’t consider spending 50 years together. In fact, I didn’t know anyone who had reached their golden anniversary. Life was less predictable then, healthcare less advanced and the odds of reaching that summit were against most people. Today, many of our friends are reaching the rarified air of this mountaintop experience.

The wedding vows made when you are young and naïve take on new meaning when your marriage spans decades. For better, for worse. We’ve had whole seasons that were awesome and whole seasons that were…worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health. We’ve done it all, except for death do us part. We hope to wait a while on that one.

But we haven’t done it alone. We have a Friend who has been part of our marriage from the beginning. Even on our short honeymoon, we attended church, and some of our best moments have been when we’ve prayed together.

We’ve also had friends and family who helped us over the rough spots, who spoke encouraging words and led by example. To all of them we say thank you. My bridesmaid reads this blog, and to her I say thank you for a lifetime of friendship. Larry’s best man died last year, but the last time we visited with him he begged us to appreciate each other and cherish each day. His wife was gone, his days were numbered, and his wisdom flowed like a fountain.

Our 40th anniversary photo

No doubt, some readers will wonder how we are celebrating this golden anniversary. We did the big dinner at the country club for our 40th and once was enough. But we are celebrating. Friends have already taken us to dinner, and on the anniversary date we will dine at a nice restaurant with our two sons, daughter-in-law and three grandsons. We’ll look through our wedding book and watch the DVD of our 40th anniversary celebration. It is enough.

May God bless you in 2017. Here is a special verse for the new year from Isaiah 43: 19: See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (New International Version)

Let’s ask the Lord to do a new thing in our lives this year, and then expect it! He has the power…to help two green kids through 50 years of marriage…and the power to help us find the grace, peace and joy promised those who ask Him into their hearts.

 

Grace Like Snow

dscn1699-3 All fall we had only a few drops of rain. The whole yard was dusty and dry, and dirt clung to the house and crept into every crevice. To make matters worse, a nearby retirement home has a building project going on with mountains of dirt that blow this way with every westerly gale.

I watered the trees and the perennials, washed windows, and hosed down the front porch, but it didn’t seem to do much good. Out in the backyard, there was no getting rid of the grimy build up on the steps leading to the garden. Even the soft green moss that generally grows between the patio pavers turned gray. Freeze-dried perennials looked drab as they nodded in the wane autumn sun.

Then, the last week of November snow began to fall. Big, wet, white flakes feathered down from the sky. At first, the snow melted into the parched grass, but then it began to build up. An inch of snow. Eight inches of snow. Eighteen inches of snow. By early December, we had as much snow as we’d had all the winter before.

The mail truck couldn’t get through, then school was cancelled, very rare occurrences in our normally dry climate. Adults groaned with the thought of digging out driveways and pushing their way through unplowed streets. Kids, on the other hand, could be seen outside in the worst of it, building snowmen or going sledding.dscn1234

If you could see beyond the work and inconvenience, the city was prettier than any magazine photograph. The view from my office window, even now, is of Colorado spruce and bull pine trees bowed under a blanket of sparkling white. Stepping outside you can smell evergreens, their refreshing fragrance released by the moisture.

I once had a revelation of what God’s grace would look like if we could actually see it. I saw grace as white, pristine snow covering all of the less than beautiful parts of our lives. That was how He was seeing the world, seeing us, through the grace-filled covering His son Jesus provided for us.

Only heavenly beings and astronauts have seen the world from far away. James Irwin, a pilot on Apollo 15, said this about his flight into space, “The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine.”

David McCasland tells the story of astronaut Charles Frank Bolden’s thoughts as he viewed the world from 400 miles up. It all looked peaceful and beautiful to him and he felt that he was viewing earth as it ought to be.

Earth as it ought to be. On earth as it is in heaven, peaceful, beautiful, inspiring.

Maybe God is also looking down from heaven at this war torn world and His children carrying heavy burdens. Maybe he’s saying, “Believe in Me, let your worries go, and ask for my help!”

I believe. Yes, I believe He has the power and the love to help us. I believe He’s provided the grace to cover the burdens of yesterday, today and tomorrow. And just like the earth seems to sigh and rest under the weight of the snow, we can rest under His amazing grace.

Oh, to live like that, under the thick blanket of pure love and apply His grace for all of our shortcomings and worries. To quit shoveling through the messes in our lives and instead go hop in his sleigh and enjoy the wonders around us.

So, let’s let go of our burdens this Christmas and spend some time with Him. Let God’s grace envelop you, and know that when he says, “Lo, I am with you always,” that he means it. That is the message of Christmas delivered by the Messiah.

The Bittersweet Irony of Thanksgiving

I have misgivings about Thanksgiving

The bittersweet irony of Thanksgiving is once again upon our family. Four members of my immediate family have died in November, two of my sisters, Jean and Donna, died on Thanksgiving Day, another sister, Evie, and my dad died a few days before Thanksgiving.

This, in a season when we give thanks for all our blessings and begin the rush to Christmas joy. Instead of being full of thanks, at times my heart has instead resembled the crusted leftovers at the bottom of the dressing pan.

If ever a person needs favor and grace, it’s when life has delivered you to the dark precipice and pushed you into the valley below.

I know a lot about being thankful, learning the phrase “Praise the Lord anyway!” early in my Christian walk. It was easy then, when the world seemed fresh and alive and new. But during times of deep grief, when I passed through the valley of death, my praise well was empty. Indeed, I didn’t walk through the valley in my own power, but seemed to be carried by the pallbearers of my grieving spirit.

The death of loved ones is never easy, but the gaping hole left in holidays you once shared is particularly hard to fill, especially when the deaths cluster together. A pall hung over me as the years passed. Every Thanksgiving I frantically tried to cover the hole left by absent family members. It wasn’t until many years later that I was set free from the oppressive grief and was able to enjoy Thanksgiving again.

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High school photos of Jean, Donna and Evie

Most of those deaths happened many years ago. Then in 2012, as I put the turkey in the oven about dawn on Thanksgiving morning, the phone rang. My oldest sister, Jean, had died a few minutes earlier. Would I sink under the grief again? While her death was not unexpected, it was Thanksgiving. One more Thanksgiving, one more death in the family.

I’m happy to report that year I did not fall into a pit of grief and despair again. The pallbearers of my spirit did their job and carried me through the valley.

Many people experience grief during the holidays. Every year they, and maybe you, face the holidays with a splintered family.

It has now been three decades since the Thanksgiving death pall began in our family. One of the benefits of getting older is you have the perspective of time. For those of you who are grieving during the holidays, here are a few thoughts to hang onto. While they can’t fix what happened, perhaps you will find comfort in them.

  1. Use this holiday season to count your blessings.
  2. Tell someone your story. People say they want to help, well, here is a way they can, by listening. Tell you first memory, best memory, worst memory, last memory and everything in between. At a funeral, sometimes tears give way to stories that make you smile. Find those smiley stories.
  3. Write down your memories. This is a great healer, the third best way to deal with grief.
  4. Helping others. It will release endorphins into your system and help you find peace. Volunteer to serve a holiday meal at a homeless shelter. Ring the bell for the Salvation Army. One person I know chooses to work on holidays so others can be with their families.
  5. Finally, ask the Lord Jesus to heal your broken heart and to give you a future and a hope. You may not feel like you want to go on, but you are alive and that means you still have a purpose to fulfill here on earth.Isaiah 53: 4 states, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”
  6. That isn’t just a vague promise, but a powerful one. He can and will carry you through the valley of grief and bring you out the other side if you ask him.
  7. One definition of pall is “the white cloth given in baptism and the resurrection of Christ at Easter.” So “pall-bearer” signifies the one who bears a coffin covered by hope of the resurrection. You see, grief has always been associated with grace. It is only through the death and resurrection of Christ that we can have hope for eternal life and hope of seeing our loved ones again.

The Psalms Speak to our Hearts

dscn1556This year, I am reminded of how relevant the Psalms are for life today. They keep cropping up in my devotional. At church, Pastor Dan presented a series called “Summer in the Psalms.” Then last week I received notice that “Psalms Alive” is the theme set for the upcoming Java Joy gatherings.

Although I first became familiar with the Psalms when I was a young girl, I still learned a couple things from the sermon series and also from a peek at the Java Joy website.

When I was growing up, we lived a mile down the road from Cottonwood Church. From our place, it looked like a white dot on the wheat-covered prairie. Although the church closed many years ago, it has continued to inspire me in writing “By the Banks of Cottonwood Creek” and also the historical novel I hope to publish soon.

The church had two main rooms. Church services were held in the green room, while the primary Sunday school class met in the pink room, which also held supplies and an oil burning stove. The women managed to function in a minute-sized kitchen with no running water. A hole in the ground beneath the building was majestically called the basement.

Sunday school was a highlight of my week. The family Bible still holds a bookmark that I made for my mother back then. One time we made a dough of salt and flour and fashioned objects from the time of Christ, such as an oil lamp and a bowl. Those objects were put in the bookcase in the pink room and were still there years later. One steamy summer Sunday, we trooped down the outside steps to the basement and tried to hold class there. That ended quickly when we found some lizards.

Perhaps my single best experience at Cottonwood Church took place when I was nine. I was very surprised to be called to the front of the church during the morning service and presented a black Bible with my name printed on the front in gold; I was graduating to the class that met in the green room!

It was only as an adult that God’s message became real to me.

It was in Sunday school that I learned my way around the Bible. We memorized the books in order and had a new memory verse every week. I  still remember, open it in the middle and you are in Psalm 119, and the New Testament begins three quarters of the way through.

Still, it was only as an adult, when I began searching for the meaning of life, that God’s message became real to me. Even so, I couldn’t particularly relate to the Psalms. Only after I’d been matured by the birth of children, the death of loved ones, and the struggles of life did the Psalms begin speaking to my heart. These 150 songs now console and encourage me. The promises are as trustworthy today as they were when they were written.

These 150 songs now console and encourage me.

When I read through Psalms every year, I always find a wonder. Sometimes it’s a special verse, such as when I began my career in a statewide organization, I underlined Psalm 18: 19: “He also brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me because He delighted in me.” Note to readers: He delights in you, also!

Some psalms have been set to today’s music. Reading the words may remind me of a song that will then play in my head for the rest of the day. One of those is Psalm 27: 14: “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!” That message of waiting isn’t one I always want to receive, but it is wisdom to the core.dscn1527

Sometimes I come upon a verse that I’ve read many times, but it suddenly makes my heart leap as I see it in a new light. “They shall still bear fruit in old age; They shall be fresh and flourishing.” That’s Psalm 92: 14 and it’s a promise that I rest in as I sit at the computer every day.

Have you considered reading through the Psalms? Try reading one Psalm a day using a modern language edition, such as the New International Version or the New King James or The Message. To take a peek at the “Summer in the Psalms” series by Pastor Dan, go to www.cccc.bismarck.com and look under Messages. Get further inspired at the Java Joy and Joy International website at www.joyintl.org.