Mark Twain and Plans for December

Years ago I lived in New Haven, Connecticut, for a short while. A favorite place to take visiting friends was to the Mark Twain House in Hartford. It was always a hit with our friends, and we loved it because the tour guides to the house were never at a loss to tell a new tale about the colorful author. A favorite of mine was told in the Billiard Room where he did much of his writing. Occasionally there were interruptions to his work caused by visitors who wanted to speak to the famous author. He opened the door and stepped out of the room onto the balcony, and the servant could then truthfully give regrets to the visitor by telling them that Mr. Twain had stepped out for a bit.

My husband and I have been dealing with some of the curve balls of life, which you can read about here Waiting on God – when your back is to the wall . . . and here Curve Balls. Worry. Thanksgiving.

It has been stressful as we considered all options for our financial well being. Added to that, it is December, Advent is upon us, and there are the usual holiday things one wants to do. A house to clean and decorate, baking that wants to be done, a tree to deck with lights and ornaments, gifts to wrap and send, invitations to accept, and extend. On top of everything else is responding graciously to kind people, trying to help, who, bless them, apparently think we are idiots who haven’t considered the most basic solutions to the issues at hand.

With the majority of my siblings and cousins living in my home state of Ohio, one consideration has been selling our house in Arizona and moving. Although being closer to them is a draw, the immediacy of the need to DO SOMETHING, has been daunting. Finally, my husband and I had a heart to heart, charted a course, and did a Mark Twain.

We made a plan and, as part of that plan, chose Advent to step out. We have charted a course, but have stepped out, vowing to celebrate Advent, enjoy Christmas, and take up the plan again in January. We have reduced our commitments. We have bowed out of a few, previously accepted, invitations.  We have stocked the larder. We have decorated with gusto. We have started inviting friends over (the first came last evening).

This decision was a game changer for me. We have a plan. And that involves time to breathe right now. My stress has just been shelved. My husband and I are on the same page. Today we will get to light the second candle on our Advent wreath, counting down the four weeks of Advent as we prepare for the coming of the King, a baby born in Bethlehem.

We hope that you and yours have a safe and happy month of December with appropriate holiday feasting and celebrations spent with those near and dear to you.  If you are a Christian, we would urge you to step out, this Advent, shelve the things that can wait and turn your attention to the birth of the one whose coming breathes life into our lives.

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Life in the Desert

In an attempt to lure you into looking at some earlier slices of life in the desert, I am going to reprint the page called The Beginning.  I would ask that when you finish reading these brief paragraphs, you click on the link below,  and leave comments for me at the bottom of my first blog post.  Have you ever felt like a misfit in church?

Welcome to my blog, When the River Won’t Flow.

I started writing this blog in 2014 after we had moved to the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and I thought I was missing water. Living in the desert was new to me: I had grown up in the midwest and had lived much of my adult life in South Carolina. Everything in those places was green, and water was plentiful. This scruffy desert stuff was new.

But I discovered that I wasn’t missing water in the usual sense. What I was missing was a church home where my husband and I could feast on the words of scripture and the body and blood of Our Lord.  Try as we might, we were unable to solve this problem. But as so often happens in life, prayers were answered, and something we could not have predicted happened. A church found us.

Remember Psalm 42.1:

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.

I wrote about it in my very first blog post which you can find here:

Wanting a Seat in the Pew

 

 

 

 

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Curve Balls. Worry. Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is later this week and as all holidays are known to do from time to time,  it is showing up a time when I don’t feel particularly in the mood. I don’t know what is going on in your life,  but there are plenty of hardships to go around. Many people in the States are still dealing with houses destroyed in hurricanes, wildfires, and tornados. I have a friend whose brother recently died on her birthday. I have several friends who have asked for prayers for themselves or others who are fighting ongoing disabilities and/or disease, struggling with grief, or just worn thin caring for others. Life, at any age, isn’t for sissies. It takes a considerable amount of courage to face some of life’s hurdles and occasionally we run out of gas, and our courage quota hits empty.

You may have noticed that it has been weeks, four to be precise, since I last wrote a blog post. My husband and I have been dealing with some financial issues since my last paycheck came in December of last year. At times the last couple weeks, these problems have consumed time and sort of sucked the life out of me. Our pastor reminds us that worry is the belief that God won’t get it right. My husband tells me that despite what things look like – God had shown us blessings before when we were at a low ebb and that we can absolutely have confidence that we will not be abandoned now.

In fact, during these same weeks one amazing gift happened. We were trying to sell two paintings that my husband had painted. We first offered them for sale to our friends and family on Facebook.  Several people said that they were beautiful, but no one seemed interested in buying them. We thought we had asked a modest price – but that didn’t bring us a buyer. At the time, my husband was his usual sunny self while I had to work on my personal character flaws du jour: irritation, impatience, and frustration.

Some weeks later I asked a question on Facebook about what would be a better venue for trying to sell them. Several friends replied with suggestions. But about the same time, a friend sent a private message saying that he wanted to purchase both paintings. Not for the price mentioned but for many times more than the price indicated. So, I asked for the address where we should ship them, and I was told that he wanted us to give each of the paintings to someone who would be cheered by them. What a blessing! A blessing to us, we hope to our friends who will receive the paintings, and to the purchaser of the paintings according to his own comments to me.

The other day another thought struck me. I was dusting a neglected corner and saw an unusual vase that my father resurrected. It started life as a beautiful cut crystal vase. My father loved the real deal and wouldn’t have pressed glass because he liked the way cut glass reflected the brilliance of light. Well, many years ago this particular vase was knocked over and broke. My father was not about to let this vase go to waste. So he thought outside the box.  He took the vase and smoothed out what was left of the stem. He found a brass candleholder and poured some lead solder into the base for extra weight. Then he put what appears to be epoxy around what was left of the stem of the vase so that it would sit snugly inside the candlestick. Suddenly he had created a new vase – and one unlike any other.

Sometimes it is the little things in life, such as thinking of others, or thinking outside the box, or remembering the unexpected rainbows that follow the storms of life, that help us prepare to be thankful.   Despite whatever trials we may have in our lives – all of us have many things for which to be grateful.  This day – as I give thanks – I give thanks for all of my readers and pray that you may be blessed abundantly.

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Reformation Sunday. The Color is Red. 1517 – 2017: 500 Years Focusing on Grace

Dr. Martin Luther, 1483-1546, Augustinian Monk, Professor of Theology, and Reformer – chose October 31, the evening before All Saint’s Day – on November 1, to post on the church door a list of things that he thought needed reforming in the church.  He chose the day, so they say because he knew that the church would be packed on All Saint’s Day and many would see his list.  That list which came to be known as the Ninety-Five Theses has caused much uproar, turbulence, and wonder these last five hundred years. It isn’t for ordinary folks like me to explain what theologians, pastors, priests, and professors have written about, argued about, and preached about throughout the last 500 years — however, that hasn’t stopped me before.

So, allow me to offer some simple thoughts. I am a Lutheran by birth, parental nurture, education, association, church but most assuredly by scripture’s promise.

My mother and father were Lutherans who believed and taught that there are no good works, good intentions, anything under the heavens that we can do that will help us attain heaven. We have all sinned and fall short of the Law.  In other words, we cannot save ourselves. Period. End of statement.

Today in worship, the paraments for Reformation Day were red. Should you want to look up the lessons we heard in church this morning, I list them here: the first lesson was  Revelation 14:6-7; the Epistle was Romans 3:19-28; the Gospel was John 8:31-36 where Jesus talks to the Jews who had believed in him.

Romans 3:(23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (25) whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

(27) Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. (28)For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

I attach a picture of Martin Luther’s Rose surrounded by the Latin word VIVIT which means: He Lives. The black cross is in the center of a red heart set on a white rose. The rose is surrounded by blue, and the whole is surrounded by a circle of Gold. Luther said that this was a good summation of his theology – and he explains it in a letter which I have appended. Luther wrote to Lazarus Spengler and interpreted his seal:

 

“From the wilderness of Koburg Castle
8 July 1530

Honorable, kind, dear Sir and Friend!

Grace and Peace in Christ!

Since you ask whether my seal has come out correctly, I shall answer most amiably and tell you of those thoughts which now come to my mind about my seal as a symbol of my theology. There is first to be a cross, black, and placed in a heart, which should be of its natural color (red), to put me in mind that faith in Christ crucified saved us. For if one believes from the heart, he will be justified. [“For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.” –Romans 10:10] Even though it is a black cross, which mortifies and which also should hurt us, yet it leaves the heart in its natural color and does not ruin nature…that is, the cross does not kill, but keeps man alive. For the just shall live by faith, by faith in the Savior. [“This Good News tells us how God makes us right in His sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.'” –Romans 1:17]

Such a heart is to be in the midst of a white rose, to symbolize that faith gives joy, comfort, and peace. In a word, it places the believer into a white joyful rose, for this faith does not give peace and joy as the world gives. [“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” –John 14:27] Therefore, the rose is to be white, not red, for white is the color of the spirits and of all angels. [“..an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and rolled aside the stone and sat on it. His face shone like lightening, and his clothing was as white as snow.” –Matthew 28:2b-3 and “She saw two white-robed angels sitting at the head and foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying.” –John 20:12]

This rose, moreover, is fixed in a sky-blue field, symbolizing that such joy in the Spirit and in faith is a beginning of the future heavenly joy. It is already a part of faith, and is grasped through hope, even though not yet manifest.

And around this field is a golden ring, to signify that such bliss in heaven is endless, and more precious than all joys and goods, just as gold is the most valuable and precious metal.

May Christ, our dear Lord, be with your spirit until the life to come. Amen.”

[Luther’s Works – American Edition – Volume 49, pp. 356-359]

 

For five hundred years the words of Martin Luther

still resound throughout the land

pointing us – to the Lord of Life

the Risen Lord who saves us through his death and resurrection.

VIVIT

He Lives!  Alleluia!

Thanks be to God!

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Waiting on God – when your back is to the wall . . .

There have been a few times in my life when I would say I was in a very bad place. Not often. Not horrible. But very nervous making and very uncomfortable. There have been a few times when it seemed that nothing good could come of the situation I was in. Where no amount of imagination could render a good outcome from the chaos or crumbs that surrounded me.

There were the years when the only thing in the world I wanted was children – and the clock ticked – and there seemed no hope on the horizon. It was hard to walk through those years and pretend things were all right when I knew they weren’t and when I was aging by the nano-second, and my dream of children seemed always to elude me. The big family I dreamed of eluded me, but the perfect baby came as a gift.

How many tears were shed as I despaired the passing of years? I gave up all hope. Somehow between tears, I asked God to please help me to deal with what I couldn’t wrap my head around – the idea of being childless. I tried to put it behind me. I tried to just realize that I couldn’t stop living that I had to find some way to make it through the new days. Somehow, I managed that. The days passed, and I busied myself with life as best I could. I tried to keep tears to a minimum. Don’t know that I always succeeded very well, but over time, I quit feeling quite so desperate about being childless. Then one day in August I learned I was pregnant. I was almost afraid to hope – after all I had given up hope. Our child was due on March 28th. No baby came. No baby came during the whole first week in April. Then, on the second Sunday in April, which just happened to be Easter, The Resurrection of Our Lord, our little one decided to make an appearance. I got to listen to church bells ring while she dawdled just a little bit longer for good measure.

Occasionally, after that wonderfully joyous year, there were other times when unexpected deaths, loneliness, and loss seemed to interrupt our days. I’m usually a pretty upbeat person and am not unduly borne down by sadness or depression, or really by unhappiness of any kind. But there were days when I hardly knew if I were coming or going. I guess that is pretty common in many peoples lives. Loss or threat of loss, anxiety, fear – all manner of things for which we are ill prepared when they come upon us unaware.

Now, again, I am in the midst of such a time. No one has died. No one is ill. No one is in a physically dangerous position. But my husband and I are facing something that I have never encountered in my life, and he has not faced for decades. Our backs are against the wall financially. It isn’t a pretty picture. Part of the problem is due to our choices.  We each credit choices we have made. Both of us have contributed to our situation – and in both cases – with the best of intentions. When he reads this blog post, and he will, he may squirm at my public sharing of private information. Well heck. Who would write a blog at all if they coveted privacy above all else?

The last few days have been a roller coaster of ups & downs. I find myself having conversations with dead people. Six of them to be exact. It doesn’t matter who – none of them are saints by the church’s reckoning. Just six people who loved us, once upon a time, and might still hear us, and might be willing to do us a favor. The favor you ask? Well – what the priesthood of all believers is always doing for each other – saying a prayer for us.

We aren’t looking for handouts or a hand up – we are looking for a miracle. If you can pause in your day to say a prayer for us too – well that would be much appreciated. Why? When your back is to the wall, there is only one place you can go. To the author of life and the giver of every good and perfect gift. There is nowhere else to turn.

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Me, Too. What Parents Can Do

There has recently been a light shown on the vast amount of sexual harassment or assault in social media by asking people who have been subjected to it to post the words: Me, Too. From looking through my friends’ posts on FB, many women have had this experience. But men have been victims of this too. Both men and women are sometimes victims, and both men and women are sometimes assailants.

This isn’t an easy solution.  It will take all people of goodwill to stand up and do what they can when they see others persecuted or in danger.  I would just like to offer a few thoughts about things that parents can do things to try to change the pervasiveness of this going forward.

It seems that our task as parents is two-fold. We want to raise children to know how to protect themselves and also to raise children who respect and don’t abuse others! Respect is critical in relationships and abuse is never acceptable: regardless of age or setting. Both things need to be taught early and revisited often. The biblical book of Proverbs 22:6 provides the motivation:

Train up a childin the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.

Start when they are very young. Don’t waste time. Seriously — do you think your kids will pay more attention to you when they are teenagers with raging hormones? Help teach them to develop character. You can start by not making them the center of attention in your family. By not letting them believe the world revolves around them, that the world owes them, that others exist for their pleasure, or that they come first. You can help them develop their character by using the things that come up every day as little learning moments.

My college boyfriend tried to kill me. He threw me against a wall and tried to strangle me, cutting off my breath. Why? Because he was evil? Not at all. Because he liked hurting people? Not even. No, the reason was quite different. It was because his dear Mother had died when he was young, his father would never mention her again, and he was desperately needy. He desperately wanted to be loved, and he got jealous when I danced one dance with someone else (even after asking if it was okay with him and he said yes.) He was big and muscular, and I couldn’t push him away. I willed myself to cry – and my tears stopped him. Thanks be to God!

But I have wondered if this might have had a different outcome if his father had found the courage to overcome his own grief to help his son deal with the death of his mother? How might it have been different if my boyfriend, as a grown man, had done a little self-reflection and sought out help for his issues of abandonment and jealousy?

Being a parent is not for the faint of heart. Every child is different and has different needs and issues. Child rearing is never static. Every time you think you have figured out how to teach your child, they have gone through some developmental shift and what worked before doesn’t work now. So what? Keep trying! When your children ask questions – try to take advantage of the moment and answer them. But also teach them about the things that they don’t think to ask or are too embarrassed to ask!

Teach your sons and daughters what NO means. Learning the meaning of No isn’t a little thing. No doesn’t mean Maybe. When your children keep wheedling to get your no to turn into yes – remember that there are sometimes when a no turned to yes can put them in grave danger or endanger someone else. Teaching them that No means No could be a lifesaver for them or someone else.

It is also critical to teach your children to tell the truth. If you let your children get by telling lies about small matters, who will believe them when they accuse someone who has an excellent reputation? You want to impress early on your children that telling the truth is non-negotiable. It is also the case that you need your children to know that accusing an innocent person that they don’t like is never acceptable either. Make it clear that charging someone of something they didn’t do could break up a family, ruin a career, put someone in prison. People of character tell the truth. Start young to get that message across.

Teach your children to respect others and to not just think of themselves. But also teach your children that pity and naïveté can sometimes cause them harm. Give them tools by talking about different scenarios. Teach them to learn to identify BS before they step in it.

As they grow up and enter different stages of maturity, talk to them about what this will mean to them as young adults and how as adults they can deal with such demands. Talk to them about how they can respond when a promotion is looming, and pressure is being put on them to comply with a superior’s sexual advances. “Let’s celebrate early, have sex with me, and we’ll see about that promotion.” Quid pro Quo.

A stable, loving family life centered on a firm foundation of faith in God makes this easier to teach. If we understand that we are made in the image of God, then we know that we are precious and worthy of respect. But we also know that others are children of God and deserving respect.

Don’t hold your sons and daughters to different standards. Don’t expect your daughters to be pure while encouraging your sons to have fun while they are young. Teach your daughters and sons to be tellers of the truth and people of character who respect the boundaries of others.

Your sons and daughters are a made in the image of God.  Teach them to be able to stand tall and be counted.

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On Manure – Some Doggerel

When you have a tough problem that plagues you
And you’ve added some worry and stress
You will notice a sweet smell arising:
‘tis a mountain of dung you possess!

Adding worry won’t lesson your burden
Quite the opposite thing then occurs
You must then be more careful and watchful
Lest you find some has clung to your spurs.

Let’s just stop all the fretting and worry
It won’t add nothin’ good to your plight
Now the burden that plagues and upsets you
has increased to a scary new height!

Shedding tears of distress will not help you
Ringing hands, pacing floors, ain’t no good:
On your shoulders the worry is weighty
Cast it off, and relax, as you should.

Heed the words of my kindly old father
When a heap of that dung is at hand
Tuck your jeans in your boots and keep shoveling
And in time you will find life is grand.

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