2018 February 14 Romantic Love and a Cross of Ashes

I am loved and adored by a remarkable man who delights in me; never tires of my interruptions; gives the best hugs on the planet; and whose eyes light up when he looks at me. Despite all the roadblocks and frustrations of underemployment, we remain, optimists, cheerful, and willing to see the good around us, whatever that may be. When I turned to him and asked him what he would think if I quit my job to work on a book given to me to publish, he never skipped a beat before saying yes. He had faith in me, believed I could do it, and remains as convinced now and as willing to help as he was then when I first talked to him about the project. We are both all in on the love bit. We are best friends, co-conspirators, and hopelessly in love. We don’t need a date on the calendar to remind us to pay attention to each other!

But this particular February 14th is not just Valentine’s Day. It is also Ash Wednesday in the Christian Church. Ash Wednesday is the day that begins the journey of Lent. The closest that many people get to noticing Ash Wednesday is because they like to celebrate Mardi Gras. The words Mardi Gras are just the French for Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday, which is the day that church people traditionally ate all of the goodies in the pantry that they were giving up for the season of Lent. All of my young life we had pancake suppers (complete with sausage links dripping in delicious syrup) in the church hall on the day before Ash Wednesday.

But oh my, what a weird combination of days! Valentine’s Day when we celebrate romantic love and try to do things to make it a beautiful day for our sweetheart and Ash Wednesday when we begin the Lenten season. It is on Ash Wednesday that we start the Lenten walk toward that hill called Calvary or Golgotha where Jesus was crucified, just outside the city walls. At an Ash Wednesday worship service, we will receive ashes in the sign of a cross on our forehead and hear the words: You are dust, and to dust, you shall return. There are other words which might be happier to hear. But for a Christian, they are the recognition of truth. One day our earthly lives will end in death.

As believing Christians, we know that neither those words nor that reality, constitute the end of the story, either for us or for those we love. But the journey of Lent offers us another chance to refocus on the one whose coming changed everything for each of us. Even for those who aren’t sure if they believe.

Just lately I seem to be a magnet for conversations about faith. Recently I have been corresponding with an old friend whom I met years ago when he was a student who attended the Lutheran Parish at Penn State where I was serving my seminary internship. Just lately he and I have been discussing world religions and how Christianity fits into that puzzle. I have quite a large number of Jewish friends as well, mostly from my high school years, and frequently I find myself having conversations regarding Christianity with them as well. I welcome such discussions even when I wonder whether I am making any sense to my friends.

Sometimes I wonder whether something I say might flip on a light switch that starts making sense of the things they were thinking. All I can try to do is be faithful and explain, as best I can, why I believe in the Triune God that the Ecumenical Creeds confess. Whether anything comes of what I say may not be mine to know

But I will say this: if I were wondering about the weird thing called Christianity, I might want to attend an Ash Wednesday service and begin the historical walk through Lent to see what it is all about, (even if Ash Wednesday is also on Valentine’s Day). In fact, if I were wondering about God, or the weird thing called Christianity, I just might have the chutzpah to invite my sweetheart to accompany me to an Ash Wednesday service.

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Love and Marriage and All That . . .

Personally, I am a big fan of Love and Marriage and All That… and as today is my wedding anniversary, I hope that you will indulge me a bit.

As those of you who know me are well aware, and faithful readers of this blog have learned, I failed at marriage the first time around. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what I was promising; our excellent pre-marriage counselor focused precisely on those promises. It wasn’t because I didn’t have outstanding role models. My parents were married for 53 years until my father’s death. I knew what I was promising. There was no question I understood the vow “until death do us part.”

Looking back on things I think I failed to keep my vows for a variety of reasons, but chiefly because I wasn’t smart enough, brave enough, or tenacious enough to find the solution to stay and grow our marriage. There is just enough sarcasm that lives deep within my DNA to recognize Guilt as the gift that keeps on giving. Yea, verily.

But Love also keeps on giving. I have married a second time, and I feel very fortunate that my husband understands me exceedingly well. He understands that I am a sentimental fool who can cry at the drop of a hat (even Frosty’s when he melted). He knows that I believe and understand what the church teaches about keeping promises and that when I failed in my first marriage, it left grief and scars that have been covered but will not heal. He remembers daily that loving kindness, understanding, hugs, kisses and sweet, tender words go a long way toward warming my heart.

Today is our ninth wedding anniversary. My husband is 18 years older than I am. He returned home from his Navy service during the Vietnam war when I was in second grade. I am so thankful for this man.

He is fearless and has taken on the daunting challenge that is me. He loves me when I feel unlovable; he comforts me when I grieve over the loss of someone else, he shelters me in the circle of his strong arms when I need protection. He laughs at me when I take myself too seriously; he raises color on my cheeks by humorously embarrassing me in public, and he all too enthusiastically believes in public displays of affection.

Today we are enjoying our first meal out in the new year with a Christmas gift we saved for this celebration. Our festivities won’t stop with dessert. We are both flawed people, but we are united in one belief concerning our marriage. We are in this for the duration, and we are praying that the Lord will have mercy on us and grant us our wish: many, many more years together making mischief, making love, and keeping our promises.

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And Then There Were None

When I was young, I enjoyed the various movies made of the Agatha Christie murder mystery called And Then There Were None. But yesterday, I discovered an organization called And Then There Were None which is all about Life. I’d like to tell you a bit about it.

Yesterday was the National March for Life in Washington, DC. In many towns and cities across our nation, similar marches were held. Many individuals along with church groups marched. Here in Tucson, the Missouri Lutherans joined the Roman Catholics for the local March for Life. I was excited to see that ecumenical partnership for the cause of life.

Early yesterday I read an article about why one employee of Planned Parenthood left her job. I have to warn you, the article reduced both my husband and me to tears. You can read it here:  ‘We Were Crying’: One Woman Shares Why She Left Planned Parenthood

Because of that article, I learned of a Non-Profit Organization called: And Then There Were None. It exists to help abortion workers transition out of the abortion industry. They seek to walk beside people who once worked in the abortion industry during their entire journey to heal and make new lives. They offer transitional financial help, legal help, help finding new employment, emotional support, and spiritual guidance. To quote from their website:

And Then There Were None (ATTWN) is a registered nonprofit organization that exists to help abortion clinic workers leave the abortion industry. ATTWN is pro-life without exceptions. While we believe in and wholeheartedly support all peaceful prolife efforts, ATTWN seeks to end abortion from the inside out.

The founder of the organization is Abby Johnson, whose book unPlanned, I wrote about in January of 2015. You can read that blog post here: A Little Bit Pregnant

Abby Johnson founded And Then There Were None (ATTWN)  in 2009 to assist others who, like her, wanted to break away from their work in the abortion industry. I think what impressed me most about the organization is the comprehensive long-term support that they realized would be needed to help these former abortion industry workers transition to a new life. It is very impressive.  Here is a link to what all they offer: How we help Abortion Workers

They ask for partners for this ministry. Partners who offer prayer and also partners who can help financially. If you or your church would like to take up this cause, please reach out to them.

Abortion has been a horrible wound for many. So many families and women who have been touched by abortion. I am happy to learn about this ministry. Abby Johnson was recruited to work at Planned Parenthood when she was a college student and believed them when they said that they wanted abortions to be rare, but safe. If you haven’t already read her book, unPlanned, I would urge you to read that. But I would also urge you to read her open letter to abortion industry workers. She joined Planned Parenthood because she wanted to help You can read it here: Open Letter from Abby Johnson

Regardless of your views on abortion – I would urge you to take a look at the various links I have provided, both to the article above and to the multiple links I have provided to this non-profit organization And Then There Were None. Abortion doesn’t just affect women and their babies. Abortion causes wounds that need prayer and help to heal. This organization is a blessing for that healing.

 

 

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2018 – New Year, New Hope, New Challenges

Many years ago, Sam, my eldest godson, was born on the 31st day of December.  Many years earlier, my husband, Ron, was born on the first day of the year. Sam’s arrival gave his parents a welcomed tax break that year – not to mention a remarkably dear baby boy. Ron’s appearance warranted a picture in the paper for being the first baby born in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware.

Spilt Milk. On another new year, the new year beginning 2009, I lost my full-time job as a grant writer for a theological seminary. The board of trustees thought they would be nice and “allow us to enjoy our Christmas” before they broke the news to us. As several of the others quipped who lost their jobs that day: “had we known we were going to lose our jobs, we would have shopped differently for Christmas.”

Love and Marriage with Adventures. My husband and I had already set the date of our wedding, later that same January. I offered to let him out of the proposed marriage, and he looked at me pityingly as if I was the family idiot. He said something like, What does a paycheck have to do with my marrying you? Of course, we are getting married as planned. We got married as expected, had a wonderful honeymoon in Wyoming and oh my did we have adventures! We took some inherited money and built a jewelry studio in our house and turned my little part-time jewelry business called Uncommon Adornments into a full-time business by adding a new branch called Phos Hilarion that made pectoral crosses.  We loved what we were doing.  But changing our focus from earrings, necklaces, and bracelets that were modestly priced to much more costly crosses was not a smart move in the economy of 2009. We were making money, but not the kind of money we needed to live without being painfully frugal.

Move out West. So, when we thought we had jobs lined up in Arizona, we bit the bullet, sold my house, and moved 1942 miles across the country with our cat, Radcliffe Jellylorum, in the back seat. It took us three days. It took another week to find a rental house. It took 13 months to find a home we could afford to buy, a foreclosed house that was a tight, but doable, fit. By the time we were able to go through our boxes and move into the new house, it was too late to file a claim for all the things that happened to disappear thanks to one of several moving companies. Including, most painfully, our jewelry studio rolling mill. Looking back on it, that move was the worst decision we ever made. The jobs we thought we had waiting did not materialize, and we have been under or unemployed our entire married life. During the times we had odd jobs and even full-time jobs, we were able to chip away at accumulated debt. But our debt has not significantly diminished. I guess playing musical credit cards to buy groceries or cover bills contributes to that.

Blessings.  Look up and see that sunset picture on the blog. That is the awe-inspiring view from our back patio.  The photograph below was taken during a summer rainstorm.  We have a park behind our house – so we have unobstructed views of spectacular western sunsets. Thank you, Jesus!   We have incredibly loving friends and family. We have been fortunate to be able to regularly worship at our faithful church home. We still have financial surprises like staff bonuses, surprising Christmas gifts, and the generous purchase of two of my husband’s paintings that the buyer asked that we give as gifts to others. We also had a pleasant surprise related to this blog. On December 21 I asked this question of my facebook friends:

How can I bribe my friends, family, sparring partners, former school-mates, to take five minutes out of your day to read my blog & hit like? What will it take???? Will any of you share this?

The stats for my blog were terrific. Five friends on FB shared my blog post, the stats on my blog that day were increased by 14 percent.

A Favor – Pretty Please? Would you please help my blog to be circulated and read?  Would you also leave your feedback and likes? You can post comments on-line if you are willing to provide an email address. If you don’t want to do that, please leave comments on my Facebook page. Your comments help me to make the blog better. Your shares and likes help my readership to grow.  I am working on two books. I am acting as compiler and editor for A WWII Memoir comprised of love letters between a school teacher and an Army Master Sergeant in Patton’s third army. I am also writing a book about teaching your children to play detective and get excited by the liturgy of the church – which, surprisingly, is all about Jesus and his Father and their Spirit. The more I can grow my blog readership, the easier it will be to launch a website to build the audience for the books. Will you help me? Will you please share my blog posts on your Facebook and social media pages?

Thank You! I can’t thank you enough. To all my readers I say thanks. Over and over again we have seen tremendous blessings in our lives. Some bordering on miraculous. Thank you for being blessings to us. May 2018 be rich in blessings for all of you!

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Celebrating A Particular Birthday

Long ago, when I was young, in a public high school in Ohio, a remarkable teacher taught his classes a wide range of vocal music.  At one point, we learned Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Cantata: “To Us a Child is Given.”

It transforms the generic Holly Jolly to the particular reason for the season. The birthday of Jesus. There is an aria for Alto called:  “Jesus, praise I bring” that rather sums it up:

I rejoice in my salvation, in Thy birthday celebration overwhelming comfort find.

There is overwhelming comfort to be found with the birth of Jesus.   His coming was foretold in the Old Testament.  He came to do for us, what we cannot do for ourselves.  No matter how hard we try, or how good we are, we all fall short of what we are to do and who we are to be.  The little baby born in the manger, became the man Jesus who allowed himself to be nailed to a cross, so that we might all have life and have it abundantly.

Isaiah 9:6  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting  Father, Prince of Peace.

The final chorale in the Christmas Cantata has these words:

Alleluia, Alleluia, give praise to our Lord, in song together join in deep emotion; for God today has brought such joy that every hour increases our devotion.

A Blessed Christmas to you and to all you hold dear.  Join me in taking a moment to give thanks today for the baby Jesus who was born into this world for our salvation.  Thanks be to God!

 

 

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It’s a Holly Jolly Christmas . . .

Christmas is just around the corner. The cookies are made (although their numbers dwindle by the day), entertaining is in full swing and festivities are on-going.  The calendar is crazily filled in. Sunday, the 24th, will be the 4th Sunday in Advent and become Christmas Eve.  But our festive Christmas gatherings with friends keep on – even after Christmas.

We have already been out to breakfast with friends, have had dinner guests at our house, are looking forward to friends coming over for dessert who said they would bring Chinese carryout for dinner. The ingredients for some homemade Irish Cream Liquor stand at the ready to be stirred up.  An invitation to a friend’s house for a dinner party awaits and more plans with friends after Christmas. But there is more.

There are also the happy little secrets. The last-minute clandestine smuggling of small gifts, with the requisite wrapping of presents, under a blanket, with inconspicuous security guards standing by, lest surprises are detected prematurely.

We aren’t total rubes, so we add music to the mix. We have some beautiful recordings of classical Christmas music – Bach’s Christmas Cantata, festival trumpet music, Handel; you know the sort of thing. But sometimes a lighter mood is called for.  So in the car, just in case we need some sing-a-long hits, we have  Leon Redbone’s Christmas Island, a DooWop Christmas CD, and some classic Christmas oldies sung by Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Chuck Berry, and, well, Elvis Presley. Just what is needed to help make it a Holly Jolly Christmas!

The shelving of the Big Issues of Life that I narrated in my last post has been 99% effective. Great Idea. Shelve worries and enjoy Christmas. We haven’t written cards – but decided that we would do that after Christmas when we have some better idea where we will be in 2018.

My husband and I are delighted with the jolly gifts the mail brings to us each day.  Cards and notes from old and new friends, bringing with them news and in some cases, very happy memories. Then the photo cards that come of folks dear to us, not to mention the jolly and wholly irresistible photos of grandchildren and great(!)nephews.

A good-looking, new pickup passed us the other day. It sported a sign tied to the tailgate that said: “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” Perhaps not artfully worded, but – yeah – we happen to believe that.  If you are a believer, take time to go worship. If you are curious, reach out to friends and find out about their church services.

Whatever you think about the reason for the season we hope that you have a holly jolly one, and if you are going to be on the road, safe travel and homecoming.

Enjoy. Turn up the music. Get out the second plate of cookies. Hang up some more ornaments.  Hug those you love. Sing along with Mitch. Dance in the kitchen. Light up the whole neighborhood with your excessive decorations. Play games. Hug folks who haven’t had a hug in a while. Share smiles, kindness, home-cooking, some generosity and, a must: share chocolate.  From our family to you and yours – please, have a Holly, Jolly, Christmas!

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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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