Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mom's favorite photos and new beginnings!

Yesterday I had a great day helping a friend along the path to completing a scrapbook for her son.  She had started this book but had gotten a bit bogged down in the process.  She had lots and lots of pictures but had a good bit of organizing already done.  I helped her make sense out of the process and together we were able to get ideas for the remainder of the pages of her album, and then match pictures to those pages.  We actually only completed one page while I was there, but we also arranged two more pages that were mostly ready to go.  Additionally, we had another two pages pretty well designed.  She also got a good start on scanning her photos before she uses them in an album.  So, all in all, it was a successful day.  It is so life-giving to help someone else when it is a passion for you!  She was concerned that I was getting bored helping her!  This was not a problem, I can assure you.  Scrapbooking is my happy place!  As she was looking through pictures, she pulled out a couple that were favorites of hers.  I know how this is!  You have some shots that your kids don't really like, but you just love!  I encouraged her to make a page of "mom's favorites" in her album!

After having that conversation with her I knew just the photos that I would include if I were doing an album right now.  The first picture that came to mind was this one.....
This picture of Gwen and I was taken just before Doug was born!  While it is not a very flattering picture of me, I just love having this shot of Gwen and me - when it was just the two of us!  And with my Facebook feed filled with first day of school photos, I was also remembering a couple of those pictures.  This one is especially important to me since it was the first time I ever sent a child off to school.  It was preschool, but it was still a really big deal to me.
It was a much harder adjustment for ME than for Gwen, who happily marched into the classroom, never looking back.  Yes, this was the first of many beginning school photos!  And it is a favorite of mine!

Today I am especially grateful to add another photo to my list of very favorite photos....
Susie shared this last night on Facebook.  What a sweet way to announce that Doug and Susie are expecting a baby!  And what a joyous and wonderful announcement for this Grandma!  Our entire family is so ready for this new life.  I love that Susie honored Lucas in this announcement.  At the time that my kids were born, having "Big Sister" or "Big Brother" shirts was unheard of.  Lucas will always be the big brother to this baby.  Lucas is remembered and loved in our family and we will share his story with his new sibling. 

Yes, this is a season of "new beginnings".  In addition to a new school year, as a country we are moving into a time of a new administration.  As I have said on this blog, I am staying out of all the political stuff as much as possible.  Even still, you can just feel that there is a new thing out there on the horizon.  And now, as our family is looking ahead to this new baby, my heart soars at all that might be in store.  We are extremely thankful for this new life!  

As I was typing this blog, I found myself humming a very old song...  This song was popular when I was in high school (oh, so long ago!).   They lyrics are actually straight out of the Bible - found in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.  The song is Turn, Turn, Turn by the Byrds.  Here is the text from the Bible...

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

I just love that in these verses, there is a transition from weeping to laughing and from mourning to dancing.  I am so thankful that tonight we can laugh and dance and celebrate this new life!  Yes, I just love being a grandma!  

Jesus, thank you so much for time with friends that included so much sharing and prayer and scrapbooking!  Thank you for this new baby in our family.  Holy Spirit guard and protect everyone as we walk into this new season and these new beginnings.  Keep us mindful of the seasons of our life and help us to remember that there is a purpose for each season.  Amen

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Reflections from this weekend......on being grandma.

I saw this picture tonight and decided it would be a great picture to use for this blog!  It may not be the best picture - but I just love this very casual shot!  This is Doug getting a ride on his great grandma Baker's leg.  And in the background Gwen is having a fun time with her grandpa.  This was taken in 1983 when Doug was about 18 months old and Gwen was three.  Now - here is why I just love this picture..............

This weekend, during scrapbooking, we do lots of talking.  Talking for hours on many, many subjects.  Today Tim brought the kids to swim in the hotel pool, so I got to see Lia, Ellie, Zeke and Anna.  As they were leaving, I casually said to Gwen "I don't get to see them enough"!  She really laughed at that!  I am actually so fortunate that I get to see the kids at least once a week.  And I am just so thankful for that!  The gals were all laughing at my comment and the conversation turned to thinking about the future.  I realized that when I was in my 30's and 40's, I really didn't think much about the future.  I don't recall having any dreams or plans regarding what my life might look like when I retired.  So the conversation turned to what these gals (mostly in their 30's) thought about for their future.  Gwen said that she thinks often about being a grandma and just how wonderful that will be.

Boy does she have that one correct!  Being a grandparent is the icing on the cake.  You get all of the good stuff with very little of the plain stuff on the inside.  I love that this picture kind of reflects what it is like to be a grandparent.  It is FUN!  There are always lots of cuddles and hugs and lots of games.  When I look at this picture I am really amazed by Grandma Baker.  She had really bad knees with arthritis pains.  I remember seeing her with a heating pad laid on her knees.  Yet, here she is bouncing that not-so-little Doug on her foot, which I am sure was a strain on her knee.  But look at the smile on her face. It is clearly the joy of being a great grandma that is shown on her face.  And grandpa seems to be having just as much fun as Gwen.  I am sure this was a tickle fest happening.
And here is the follow up picture.  Grandma Baker is bringing Doug up close for a kiss and hug!  And Grandpa and Gwen are connected hand in hand.  We don't have many pictures of Gwen and Doug with their great grandmas.  And we don't have a lot of casual pictures of them with their grandparents either.  I am so blessed to have piles of pictures of Ken and I with our grandchildren.  And I am blessed to be able to preserve those pictures for the future.  

While I love just being with the grandkids, having fun and playing games, the biggest joy for me is praying into their future.  I love looking at each one of them and seeing their strengths and talents.  I love watching them grow into exactly the person that Jesus designed them to be.  And every day I pray for them with specific direction for their future.  I love seeing them learning and growing in new ways each day.  And I love sowing seeds of love and joy and peace into them.  

Yes, I am so thankful that my children got some of this wonderful "grandparent blessing".  And I am so thankful that I have photographic evidence of that.  Frankly I have an overwhelming number of pictures of me with my grandchildren to even begin to choose one for this blog!  But each time I look at those pictures, I remember the joy of passing on the blessing of Jesus to them.  

No matter where you are in life.... you can sow these seeds of blessing into your generations.  If you are young and still have grandparents and/or great grandparents, ask them to pray for you!  Ask for their blessing.  If you are busy parenting right now, ask your own parents to pray for you AND your children.  If you are in that grandparenting stage with me, make it a point to connect with your grandchildren - physically and spiritually.  Pray for them - specific prayers for their today and their tomorrow.  Let's raise up children who are covered in prayer and filled with the joy and love of Jesus!

Jesus, I am reminded of you taking little children onto your lap and blessing them.  Help us all to draw our children and grandchildren into your love.  Holy Spirit, remind us to pray and stand with all parents as they seek to raise their families in your ways.  Amen

Friday, August 26, 2016

Looking ahead - to this weekend and to the future!

This mess of bags and containers and things is all that I have packed for my scrapbooking weekend!  Every time that I think I am more organized, I look at a picture like this and know that while I might be better than I used to be - I still have a long way to go!  I always look longingly at those pictures of the "perfect craft rooms".  I think about how nice it would be to have a space that looked like those perfectly organized spaces with everything so neatly in place.  But the truth is, if I had a space like that, it would be very difficult to pick up and go off to a weekend away with my scrap buddies!  The way I have my things, it is easy to just pick up and go!  And there is a lot to be said for that.  It may look messy, but I can find everything and MOST times, I don't forget anything that is really important.  The very best part of these times away is the fellowship.  The time to just sit and talk and share with this wonderful group of gals is refreshing and renewing.

I've been thinking about friends a lot this week.  My small group had a great gathering on Wednesday to celebrate a visitor from out of state, as well as a 60th birthday of one of the gals.  It was such a sweet time of fellowship, with prayer and sharing and of course food!  I am so thankful for this group for so many reasons!  The prayer support is just amazing.  Additionally, I just love these wonderful ladies so much.  It is really something to feel such a "kindred spirit" with people who, in so many ways, are nothing at all like yourself!  It is at that point that you say - "It has got to be GOD!"  We have been drawn together by a desire to grow closer to Jesus.  And there is an openness and freedom to share that has built trust among us.  I can honestly say that this group of women have my back.  They don't judge me.  There is acceptance and love.  And true caring and concern.  What a gift!

With my own birthday approaching in a couple of weeks, I've also been thinking about moving into this new stage of life - retirement.  I think that Ken would say that I've been retired for awhile since I haven't had a PAID job for several months.  But the transition into a more REAL retirement is what has been on my mind.  How many commercials do I have to see for Medicare Supplemental Insurance or Life Insurance for "final expenses" before I can scream ENOUGH!  Quite honestly, between the political garbage and these annoying advertisements, I have about had it with TV!  Ken and I have certainly been talking about retirement - we don't have our heads in the sand.  But it has not been an easy topic around our house.  Ken's primary desire is to move AWAY from snow and cold.  My primary desire is to stay right here.  Surrounded by our children and grandchildren.  AND my good friends.  While this argument has been going on for many years, we are no closer to a solution to this problem.  I truly believe that this is my biggest concern right now, because there doesn't seem to be a logical answer to this situation.  And I have to remind myself that Jesus is in control of the future.  I just did a blog about NOT worrying about tomorrow.  So I will make a choice to not dwell on the seemingly unsolvable dilemma regarding our retirement. And I will celebrate today.

I have heard that you can always tell what is most important to someone by looking at where they spend their time and what the focus of their life is all about.  For some people it might be their work or their career.  For others it might be sports or a hobby.  Or it might be exercise or fitness that commands all of your "spare time".  For me, it is most certainly my faith, my family and my friends!  This is certainly what these blogs are all about.   Every way that I spend my time has some connection to those three things.  There is such a strength in knowing that!   For me, the best part of my weekend away preserving pictures in albums, is that there is a total overlap of these three!  FAITH - FAMILY- FRIENDS!

It is interesting how each persons story is filled with those "important" things in their life.  For some people their "glory days" were the time they spent in college.  Or for some it might be when they are at the very height of their careers.  I've been thinking about what my "story" would look like if I had to make it short and simple.  This thought has actually stopped me in my tracks (so to speak) and I have been sitting here at the keyboard just lost in thought.  And yes, it always come back to those three things.....Faith - Family and Friends!  I guess that is the topic for another blog!

So yes, I am looking ahead to this fun weekend away with family and friends, doing something that I just love - scrapbooking!  And I will be reminding myself that today has enough cares of its own and I don't need to worry about tomorrow.  My encouragement and wish for you all is that you can find a time to spend on what is most important to you!  Meet up with that friend.  Go visit that family member you haven''t seen in so long.  Take a few minutes to walk by yourself in the woods.  Look up at the sky.  Look down at the flowers.  Stop and be thankful for today.  It is a sure cure for worry!

Jesus, thank you for the reminder to us all that we need to step out of the routines of life and find joy in our world.  Holy Spirit, help us all to look around and be thankful for the small things.  Keep our focus on what is really important and help us to renew our thinking!  Thank you Jesus for the reminder of what is really important to me!   Amen

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Telling the truth even when it is hard!

So I went to bed last night thinking about my last two blog posts.  I guess it was really on my mind since I have promised total truth telling on this blog.  And I knew when I woke up this morning that I would have to do a follow up blog.  This may not be popular, but it is the truth.  And I know that I need to always speak the truth......  My dad drank......A LOT!  I have posted that he usually had a beer in his hand.  And I even shared yesterday that he experienced health problems because of his drinking.  But the truth is, HE DRANK so much that it caused serious problems.  There may be some in my family who would disagree with me.  Some who might think it not really very nice to write these things.  But I know that I need to share the reality of my own experiences with my dad - and that means telling the truth about his drinking.

It was much more socially acceptable to drink in the 1950's and 1960's.  Men came home from work and had mixed drinks or beer.  Or they stopped after work for some "refreshments".  And smoking went along with this.  You were not at all shocked by smoking in every scene on television.  Even Lucy and Ricky smoked on "I Love Lucy".  And they often were seen drinking mixed drinks.  Ricky actually worked at a nightclub on that show.  No one really thought much about it.  This was the time period that I grew up in.  There was much less talk about problems with alcoholism or drunk driving.  And very little was said about what drinking and smoking might do to your physical body.

And here is some truth about my dad.  He was hospitalized when I was just 2 years old with serious stomach problems.  When I was 4, he had pancreatitis and began taking insulin for diabetes.   I will never forget the ambulance coming to our house to take my dad to the hospital after he collapsed in the bathroom when I was 6 years old.  All of these health conditions were make much worse because he continued to drink.  And he didn't just drink a small amount.  He drank until he was very drunk. Almost every day.   He never managed his diabetes.  He acted as if he didn't have it.  And that is the reason he spent the last three years of his life in a wheelchair and on dialysis. He did not want to give up his beer or his Manhattans.

Because I was the youngest child and my siblings were gone from the house, I spent a great deal of time with just my mom and dad.  It was during those years that I watched what my dad's drinking did to my mom.  She felt powerless to stop his drinking.  And I lived many, many years in fear of my dad causing a serious or deadly car accident by driving drunk.  When I was in Junior High and High School, I would wait up to make sure that mom and dad got home safely after they went out for the evening.  I knew that my dad would drink and that he would never let mom drive home.  I remember many times, being in the car with them, wondering if we would make it home in one piece.  My dad never had a serious accident caused by his drinking and he never got a ticket either.  But it doesn't change the fact that I know that he often drove very impaired and took risks with his own life and the lives of many others.

My mom took care of my dad at home mostly, during those last three years.  He had made her promise to NOT put him in a "nursing home".  Those three years were so hard on my mom - emotionally and physically.  My dad was still a big man and she had to transfer him to the wheelchair, in and out of bed and the bathroom.  Into the car and back into the wheelchair.  They lived in a townhouse with stairs and she finally got a "stair climber" so that my dad could get up to the main living area.  But after a time when it became to hard for her to get him onto the stair climber, she resorted to creating a living space for him on the lower level.  This meant that she made countless trips up and down those steps with food and drink and to care for my dad.  During those three years, I watched my mom go from a vibrant, healthy women in her late sixties to a thin, nervous and drained old lady.  I was 400 miles away and had a sick child and I was unable to be any help to her at all.  Mom and I often talked to each other from hospital rooms in separate cities.  I feared that her health would get so bad that she would have a heart attack and die and my dad would live on!  Her biggest regret was that my dad had so little actual "retirement" time.  But she realized that he lived his life exactly to his own choosing.  He made the decision to drink and eat whatever he wanted - with no regard for his health.  And that choice took him away from all of us sooner than it could have been.
He could have had more time to travel.  He could have had more time on that pontoon.  He could have had more time with his grandchildren.
This is the last picture I have of my dad.  I had taken a trip to visit them when Doug was 18 months old in the fall of 1983.  Gwen at 4 years old, remembers this trip and she was very scared of my dad since he was so sick.  Dad died in April of 1985.

Mom recovered from her years of taking care of my dad.  She took care of her own health and made wise decisions.  During the 25 years that she lived beyond my dad's death, she lived a full and happy life.   She traveled to visit with her sisters.  She visited with her children and grandchildren.  She had many friends and she spent many happy days at Lake Maud.  She made lasting memories with many of her great grandchildren.  My sweet Lia and Ellie have so many great memories of Great Grandma Nona and they talk about her all the time.  I am so grateful for these precious years with my mom.

Yes, my dad's drinking certainly had an effect on my life. I  never drank more than a sip here or there.  There was a time when Ken was known to drink - sometimes more than he should have.  But when he experienced a health crisis, he made the decision to stop drinking.  Both of us experienced our parents drinking and the consequences of that choice.  I am very thankful that Ken made this decision.  So if you ever wonder why you see Ken and I drinking a soda or even water when we are out at social events, this is the reason. Each person needs to make their own choices about drinking.  But I think it is also important to tell the truth about my own experience.

This is a blog and because of that, I don't know who may ever read these words.  Maybe you are in a spot where you are scared about someone else's drinking.  Maybe you are frightened by your own inability to stop drinking. The problem might be drugs.   Possibly this has struck a cord with you because of some other health issue.  Maybe this reminded you of your own experiences as a child.  Whatever your situation, I want to tell you that no matter what.......Jesus loves you.  He loves us all when we fail.  He loves us when we do things without thinking.  He cares about our emotions and our feelings.  He loves you more than you could imagine.  There is no quick or easy answer to some of the big problems that many are facing right now.  It may seem dark and hopeless.  But there is hope and light in Jesus.  Don't let a moment pass without stopping right now, and simply taking a breath and asking Jesus to show you His great love.  I can assure you, He is faithful and you will experience his presence when you ask.  Then find someone you can trust and tell them your truth!  Speak the truth about what is bothering you.  Don't be deceived into thinking that you can't tell anyone else your problem.  That is a lie from satan!  Jesus cares and He will show you others who will stand with you.  You don't have to face this alone.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible in Psalm 40:2-3.  It reads.........
"He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire, he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him."

This is the reason I write this blog. To tell my stories.  To talk about the many times I have found myself in that slimy pit.  And then to tell how I found myself standing on Jesus. He has given me that new song!  He has given me a wonderful testimony and so much to praise Him for.  And it is my desire that everyone who reads these blogs would catch a glimpse of  the wonder and amazement of Jesus.  It is my hope that many will trust in His promises.  I am waiting to hear all of those new songs of praise from each of you!

Jesus, thank you so much for reminding me that you are THE TRUTH!  You desire for us all to share truth with each other.  Thank you for drawing me into the place to share these words.  Holy Spirit, let your comfort come into the hearts of those reading this blog.  Give us all renewed assurance of the great love of Jesus.  Amen

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Still thinking about my dad (on what would be his 103 birthday!)

I decided to begin this blog with this not-so-good and grainy picture of my dad since it is a sort of follow-up picture to my last blog.  This was my dad, at the microphone, at his retirement party from Montgomery Wards.  I found this picture today while looking for some photos of my dad for this blog!  Here are the others I decided to include today...
This is a very early picture of my mom and dad.  I'm not sure when or where it was taken but I know it was possibly even before they were married or just after they were married. I would expect that this was taken around 1935 when my dad was in his early 20's.  I just love how young they both look! I just noticed that my mom is NOT wearing a wedding ring, so I know this was before their marriage.  
Then I decided to add these two photos....

These two photos represent my dad's happy place.....Lake Maud.  I know I have blogged about this before, but it is fitting to add these photos on his birthday.  Oh how he loved this place.  He had built this entire cabin by hand - pounding every nail by himself (or almost).  He loved being in his work pants and a tee shirt, just puttering around and he usually had a beer in his hand!  In the last years they actually purchased a pontoon - something he had been wanting for so long.  Sadly they waited so long to get this that he didn't live long enough to really enjoy it.  My mom was rather scared of the water and never swam so she was reluctant to go in a regular boat.  My dad always thought that she would be happy on a pontoon - and she was.  Sitting in her lawn chair and going rather slowly, touring around the lake.  I never really got to enjoy the pontoon with my dad and mom during the years following his retirement since my kids were born during those years.  My dad retired in 1978, Gwen was born in 1979 and Doug in 1982.  Sadly my dad died in 1985.  His last three years were not very good years, since his health was bad and he was on dialysis.  Yes, those years of always having a beer in hand caught up to him and he experienced kidney failure.  It is so sad that my kids never got a chance to know their grandpa.  

Isn't it interesting how, looking back, you can see yourself in your parents?  It gives you such a better idea of how our parents shape us.  Mom always said that I was a lot like my dad.  He was not afraid to get up and speak in front of people.  He usually had something to say and people always seemed to listen to him.  Mom was much more a behind the scenes kind of person.  She never wanted to speak in a crowd and would never consider teaching or leading in front of a group.  My dad had lots of ideas.  He was always coming up with some new thing to try or a new or different way to approach a situation.  That is why he was so successful at his job.  He loved talking to people.  He loved meeting new people and sharing what he knew.  And I have to say that some of the best times of my life have been when I have been speaking and/or leading and teaching others.  So I guess mom was right.  I do take after Dad.  

After dad retired, they moved back to Minnesota to be closer to the Lake.  One of the best parts of this move was the church home that they found.  For the first time in my dad's life, he attended a weekly Bible Study.  My mom and dad formed a close relationship with their pastor and his wife.  It was such a blessing for my mom to have these friends to support her during my dads long illness.  My mom always talked about Pastor Bode visiting my dad in the hospital on the last day of his life, and reading Psalm 121 to him....

I lift up my eyes to the mountains - where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip- he who watches over you will not slumber.
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber not sleep.
The Lord watches over you - the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm - He will watch over your life;
The Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Through that weekly Bible Study my dad had found such a comfort in reading the Psalms.  And this was his very favorite Psalm.  Mom said that after Pastor Bode read that Psalm to dad, he smiled.  After a few moments, he was gone.  What a fitting way to die.  Knowing and being reminded that Jesus is watching over you.  And He knows the coming and the going for each person.  This Psalm was such a comfort to my mom for the remainder of her life.  There was an assurance for my mom that she would be with Dad again.  And there was the reminder for her that God was taking care of her.  

There is so much contained in the Psalms.  Several years ago a good friend suggested that I read the Psalms of the day (on the lst of the month you read Psalm 1, 31, 61, 91, 121 - then on the 2nd of the month you read Psalm 2, 32, 62, 92, 122 and so on).  In this way every month you read the entire book of Psalms.  This has been such a huge blessing for me.  If you have never considered doing this, I encourage you to try this out.  The Psalms are usually a very quick read.  And it is amazing how you can see a pattern as you read through them with this method.  I can't imagine starting a day now without doing this.  I have changed translations now (I usually read my Psalms from The Passion Translation) but there always seems to be a message for me as I read each day.  

As I was remembering my dad today, I added Psalm 121.  And I felt myself relax and take some very deep breaths.  Yes, it is good.  It is very, very good to know that the Lord is watching over your life.

Jesus, thank you for memories that help us keep our loved ones close even after they die.  Holy Spirit, remind us of the comfort that is contained in the Psalms.  Thank you for keeping watch over us.  Help us all to cherish every day.  Thank you for mom and dad and all that they sowed into my generations.  Amen

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A History Lesson just for me......

It is really interesting when you KNOW that something has been planned, just for you.  On Monday I got to help Lia with her home school history lesson.  Afterward Gwen and I were talking about just how special and wonderful it was that I "happened" to be there for that particular lesson in Lia's text book.

The history lesson began in the late 1800's talking about something that was so important in the life of the pioneers as they settled the west - the general store.  There were illustrations of what a general store might look like and pages of discussion about the products and services that these stores provided.  Lia was really surprised when I told her that my grandfather (her great great grandfather and great grandma Nona's dad) had run a general store!  That is how he came to be in the little town in North Dakota that was home to Nora Larson, my grandmother!  He ran that general store until my grandmother got very sick and needed to go the city for medical treatment.  After my grandmother died (when my mom was only 2 years old) it was too painful for him to return to that town so he never ran that general store again..  But customer service and selling goods continued to be how he supported his family for the remainder of his life.  That general store mentality of friendly service and care for people was central to his character.   My mom admired that about her dad.  She often said that he always had a smile and a friendly word for everyone.  And everyone in the town knew him.  This picture is my mom at age 3 with her dad.

And then the history lesson moved on to Montgomery Ward and his amazing idea to market goods via a catalog.  It was a lot of great information about how he built his company on trust and customer service.  As Lia got to the end of the reading I asked her if she knew why this was so special to me.  She had no idea.  There was a look of surprise on her face when I told her that my dad - her great grandfather - had worked at Montgomery Ward for 43 years!  I am sure that my dad would be shocked that Lia has no idea what a Wards store even is and saddened to learn of the demise of the company that was his home for most of his adult life.  My mom actually started off working at Wards (I have told the story of their meeting on this blog in past blogs) and met and married my father after he came to work there.  Lia's history lesson went on to talk about Sears and Roebuck and the development of the department store as we know it today.  Sears actually also started as a mail order business but did not have the same good reputation as Wards. (No bias here, I am actually just relaying information that was in the history lesson!  Honestly!)  There was an example given of Sears advertising a set of upholstered furniture for 98 cents.  The problem was that in very small print it said "miniature" and people were not happy with the doll house furniture they received!   I hardly remember shopping anywhere but Wards until I was in high school.  My dad was fiercely loyal to Wards as you might expect after his very long employment with them.   My mom supported my dad and was just as loyal to Wards as he was.  When I was in grade school and my mom needed to return to work for financial reasons, she went to Wards.   I decided to use this picture of my mom and dad at my wedding.  It was only a few years before my dad retired.

 So, yes, I felt like Lia's particular history lesson was just for me.  Boy is that enough to make you feel extremely old!  But the truth is, my Grandfather was at the very tale end of the general store era (he left the store in 1917).  And Montgomery Wards was well established by the time that my mom and dad (1935) began working there.  While Lia was getting the HISTORY lesson, I was getting a valuable reminder of my personal history.   I was reminded about my grandfather and the life that he lived.  My grandfather died when I was just 2 years old so I never really knew him.  But through the pages of Lia's textbook I saw the kind of care and concern he had for the people he served through this very important job in the community.  He was able to really touch the lives of people every day.  He had wanted so much to be a pastor but could not afford college.  Today I saw how the course of his life put him in exactly the right place to really serve Jesus and people - just not in a church.  And I was reminded of my dad's loyalty to the company that he had served his entire adult life.  My dad had that same spirit of Montgomery Ward.  He cared about the customers and wanted to provide the very best service for them.  He started out as a simple appliance repairman with a small territory.  He ended his career as a well respected trainer for an entire region.  Not only could he fix just about anything, he was a gifted teacher who shared his knowledge with thousands of servicemen.  I remember him saying that the most important part of his job was making sure that each person he trained could do their job well enough that they never had to return to a customers home.  Keeping the customers happy was the central focus for my dad.

This is quite an impressive legacy of these two men.  Neither had a lot of money.  In fact, both were really very average middle class men.  Both of them worked hard to make a living. Neither ever got their name written in a history book.  But both of these men served well.  They cared about people and they loved their jobs and their families.  Tonight I am feeling so proud of my generations.  I am so thankful for the hand of God on my family line and for His provision for my family.  I am reminded of this verse Matthew 22:37-39(from The Passion Translation)

"Jesus answered him, "Love the Lord your God with every passion of your heart, with all the energy of your being, and with every thought that is within you.  This is the great and supreme commandment.  And the second is like it in importance: you must love your friend in the same way that you love yourself."

Looking at the example of these two men it is easy to see how Jesus uses each of us.  It is not only the pastors and the missionary who are doing God's work. It is the person working at Walmart and the drive through person at Starbucks.  The preschool teacher, the plumber, the painter.  It is the construction worker, the bank president and the customer service representative.  Each of us - no matter what our occupations, can fulfill those verses.  We can love Jesus and we can love our neighbors.  And when we do that, we will be leaving a legacy for our generations.

Jesus, thank you for reminding me of the seeds that have been sown into my family line.  Thank you for history lessons that come to life through the people in our own families.  Help us all to see the impact of our past generations on our life today.  Holy Spirit help us all to recognize and appreciate how you are providing for us through our occupations.  Keep us all mindful of the commandments to love You and to love our neighbors.  Amen

Monday, August 15, 2016

In the background (second try)....

This wonderful picture above is from my very favorite yearly calendar provided each Christmas by the Johnson family.  It is always fun to see the kids as they were exactly a year before.  This picture was from August of 2015 - on Zeke's first day of four year old preschool.  The great thing about this picture is what is visible "in the background"!  Chandler managed to photobomb this picture, totally by accident (notice the upper left hand corner).  It is difficult to get the four kids to sit for the picture, let alone get the DOG to sit in the window!  And Anna was just 18 months old at this time.  At any rate, I love this picture and have been waiting for August to roll around to have this shot up on my kitchen wall.  I love the kids, but I also love that cute doggie in the background!  Yes, it is what is in the background that makes this picture so special.

Now, about the second try mentioned in the title.   I started this blog a week ago!  Yes that's right.  Last Monday night I started writing this blog.  I didn't get back to working on it until late in the week and finally finished it last night.  I was having some trouble saving the file.  I tried several times to save it and it seemed to finally save.  I checked the actual blog post a couple of times and yes, it was all there.  So I hit "publish" and breathed a sigh of relief.  It is sometimes like that with these posts.  I know what I am supposed to say, but the words just don't seem to flow smoothly.  I put words on the page and then, after reading them, decided that it is not at all what I wanted to convey with a post.  I am convinced that the reason this post was so difficult is because of the message I had to share.

In a nut shell (and not at all like I shared it last night) the message is that sometimes things come up to the surface from where they had been hiding in the background.  And when this happens, there are emotions and feelings that come with those things and suddenly you have to deal with a very old issue and/or event.  It might be that you thought you had already taken care of that thing, but then you realize that you are still bothered and  you didn't even KNOW it was there in the background.   The worst part of this is that it SEEMS so out of your control.  This is not something you planned to have in your life right at this moment.  Yet, there it is.  This certainly happened to me this past week.  And after several days of rehashing some things from the past, I found myself being very critical and even angry at myself.  And then I started to worry.  Worry that there might be other things hanging around in the background that I hadn't taken care of.  Worry that I had made some kind of big mistake in that background issue that I should have done something about.  Just worry in general.  And then I was reading my favorite Scripture translation - The Passion Translation and I came to this passage in Matthew 6:34

"Refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time,.  Tomorrow will take care of itself."

Can you believe that?  REFUSE!  Refuse to worry!  I love this translation.  I will REFUSE TO WORRY!   I love that not only does this verse remind us not to worry, but then it reminds us that we can deal with whatever the challenge is that comes along.  But only as it actually comes along.

Isn't it great that Scripture can answer to a situation so perfectly?  When these background things pop up to the surface what you have to do is first, refuse to worry!  Don't let the enemy get you into the cycle of shame/blame and anger.  Don't worry about what else might be lurking ready to come up.  And then secondly, deal with whatever the situation is that has come up.  That word "deal" is pretty broad.  It might mean forgiving someone (even yourself).  Or it might mean just letting go of things that you can't change.  There might be an action required on your part.  The best action is to just give the entire thing to Jesus and know that he has taken care of it all.  And then  there is a final reminder in this verse to NOT worry!

This morning I heard a song and it fits perfectly with this blog.  It was not in yesterdays addition.  I am convinced that there was a wonderful reason why that "glitch" happened last night with my blog and this might be it.  The song is Sparrows by Jason Gray.  Here are the lyrics.........

You can't add a single day by worrying
You'll worry your life away
Oh don't worry your life away
You can't change a single thing by freaking out
It's just gonna close you in
Oh don't let the trouble win

You may feel alone
But you're not on your own

(Lalala) if He can hold the world He can hold this moment
(Lalala) not a field nor flower escapes His notice
Oh even the sparrow
Knows He holds tomorrow

Lean in and it's hard to miss
Everything can change
When you make it His
Oh He wants to carry it
Carefree in the care of God
When you let it go
You'll find that He's enough
Oh you never leave His love

You don't walk alone

(Lalala) if He can hold the world He can hold this moment
(Lalala) not a field nor flower escapes His notice
Oh even the sparrow
Knows He holds tomorrow

There's not a single star that's out of place
There's nothing broken He can't remake
If you long for hope when you're afraid
Look at the sparrow

(Lalala) if He can hold the world He can hold this moment
(Lalala) not a field nor flower escapes His notice
Oh even the sparrow
Knows He holds tomorrow
(Lalala) even the sparrow knows
He holds tomorrow

I just love the verse I highlighted.  Yep, that is what this blog has all been about.  Being carefree in the care of God.  No matter what is in the background.  No matter what stuff comes to the surface.  No matter what!  He is enough!  We can never leave His love!  It might have taken me more than a couple days and multiple attempts to share this message, but it was worth it!  

Jesus, thank you for the reminder that you are in control!  Even in control of this blog and what is written and when it get published.  Thank you for this song this morning and for Jason Gray.  Holy Spirit, help us all to remember the words of this song as we face those issues that just come up out of nowhere.  Keep our eyes on Jesus.  And remind us of the sparrow.  Amen 

Monday, August 8, 2016

Out of your comfort zone into the convergence zone!

Last week Lia and Ellie went to a drama camp.  I think I mentioned that in a previous blog.  On Friday they had a performance at the end of the camp.  It is seriously amazing how much they get those 5-12 year olds to learn in just 4 1/2 days.  This is my sweet Lia at the microphone.  She had a couple of lines and a solo.  Ellie elected to not take any lines or solos.  Both were a part of the chorus and did a great job with all of the dances and songs.  Here they are during the show!

I don't know if I could have done something like this when I was 7 years old (like Ellie) or 10 years old (like Lia).  I don't remember a time when I was even in any kind of school program until I was in 8th Grade!  It is quite brave to get on stage and sing and dance.  Lia and Ellie have both been in several plays and done other camps like this.  But all I could think about was how amazing it was that they seemed so comfortable in front of so many people.  

I have been doing a lot of thinking about what exactly I am supposed to be doing in the future.  I am not talking about a job. What I am thinking about is ways to serve others.  Ways to use the gifts and talents that I have been given.  Ways to tell others about Jesus.  I am quite comfortable speaking to groups of people - especially if I am speaking on a subject that I am passionate about.  It's like that isn't it?  When you have something to say, it is much easier to speak clearly and even loudly.  Recently I heard a speaker talking about the "Convergence Zone".  How he described it was those times when you were involved in a task and you just KNEW that it was exactly what you were supposed to be doing.  When everything went well and you could see the purpose and the outcome.  Most importantly, you just know that whatever it was that you were doing was part of that bigger plan and purpose that God had created especially for you.  This speaker pointed out that most people don't ALWAYS operate in that zone.  As a matter of fact, the actual pattern is usually that we move in and out of that zone.  The idea is to DEFINE that zone and then seek to spend as much time in that place as possible!  He also pointed out that most people don't even realize what their Convergence Zone is until they are at least 50 years old.  And then it can take years to define that zone and determine how to stay there.  

This was interesting to me.  When I was 40 I thought I knew exactly what Jesus wanted me to do.  And I set out to do it!  Over the next 10 years or so I was more or less in that convergence zone.  I was creating programs for children's ministry, executing those programs and then sharing about those programs with others.   Somewhere around the age of 50, I realized that what I was really supposed to be doing was educating ADULTS about children and God's plan and purpose and destiny for children, rather than working with children.  And while I knew that was what the convergence zone was SUPPOSED to be, I don't think I really operated much in that place during those years.   And here I am at the age of 62.  In all honesty I have no idea what that convergence zone looks like for me right now.  At 40 I had both a message and a platform to share/execute the message.  At 50 I had a message but no platform to SHARE that message.  And, alas, here I am at 60 with no seeming message and no obvious platform.  

My current message is really very simple.  It includes the message that I was first given at age 4.  Jesus is real.  He died for ALL of us.  He loves us more than we can imagine.  He is always with us and He cares for us.  More than that, every person - no matter what age - can hear Jesus.  All you have to do is stop and ask.  I know that he will speak to you.  And as far as a platform goes......... well, here I am, writing this blog to you all.  This blog is my platform.  It allows me to share from my heart in total honesty.  It is amazing to me that anyone else would care to read my every day thoughts.  But the thing is, tonight I realized that what makes my blogs readable is that I am writing from my convergence zone!  When I am putting these words on the page, I know that somewhere out there in cyber space, someone is reading them and Jesus is using this blog to touch someone else.  

Be encouraged tonight.  Even if you can't identify right now how you might be walking out God's plan for your life, you can trust that there IS a plan for you!  And as you go about your day to day life, be aware of those convergence zone times, when you just know things are "clicking".  Take notice of those times and then seek to recreate them!  

So at the beginning of this blog I thought that I did not have a message or a platform.  And just in the writing of this blog, Jesus reminded me exactly WHY I am even writing this blog!  Isn't Jesus simply amazing?  Well folks, that is just how fast Jesus will speak to you, if you just ask.  Sometimes you will get an answer just by putting words on a page.   Here I was tonight - in my comfort zone.  Blogging about my life.  Then suddenly I found myself smack dab in the middle of my convergence zone!  I'm going to need to think about this blog for a bit!  Hope it blesses you - I've been blessed!

Jesus, thank you for turning my thoughts in the right direction.  Holy Spirit, thank you for the nudges that help us realize those wonderful convergence zone times.  Help us all to hear Jesus speaking and leading us.  Keep our ears tuned to His voice and His word.  Thank you for showing us the way to move out of our comfort zone and into that convergence zone!  Amen

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A date in remember

On August 6, 1945, the United States changed the history of the world.  They dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. While this marked the beginning of the ending of WWII, it also was the beginning of a different that has the entire world fearing an atomic weapon war.  While it seems like this was so long ago, the picture above was NOT taken off of the internet.  It actually belongs to my family.  It was taken on September 16, 1945 in Hiroshima by Ken's father.  We actually have a series of these photos scanned and preserved in our photo library.  Ken's dad was on a recon mission in Japan with the Navy.  He went on this "shore excursion" with several of the other officers from the ship and he took these photos.  It wasn't until the very last years of his life that he talked much about his time there.  It had a very big impact on him.  I remember his getting quite teary eyed when he pointed out the man next to the wall in this picture.  He said that they saw hardly any civilians during the entire time they drove through the city.  Little did these officers know that they were most likely exposed to dangerous radiation during this tour.

It's hard to wrap your head around the fact that someone you know - personally - walked in this place.  It's one thing to read about this in history books, its quite another to think about actually experiencing it.  As we get further and further removed from these events - as the years go by - it is good to stop and take stock and remember exactly what happened.  Once again I am extremely thankful for photographs.  My children and grandchildren will ALWAYS have these photos to remember and reflect.  It is pictures like this that make me even more dedicated to scrapbooking and the preservation of not only the photos, but also words that explain each picture.

When Ken's mom died in 2009, we helped to clean out his parents home and prepare his dad for a move to Florida.  During that process, I got possession of several old photo albums with pictures going back in to the very early 1900's.  The problem with these albums is that nothing is marked!  Ken's dad had no idea who these pictures were of.  The albums had belonged to Ken's maternal grandmother Baker and maternal great grandmother Kelly.  With his mom gone, there was no one to even guess who these people might be.  I can't bring myself to get rid of these pictures.  For now they are stored in a plastic box.  When I see that box, I am determined to write on the back of every photo I have that is not in an album!  I want to make sure that there are names, dates and events so that, in the future, someone can identify that shot!

Yesterday was the opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympics.  There has been much in the news about possible terror threats and dangers to all who are gathered to watch these competitions with athletes from all over the world.  The Olympics represent a time of unity......a gathering of countries not in war but in peace.  Yet the threat is real.  All over the world, evil is at work.  Daily people are losing their lives in senseless attacks.  The difference is that individuals are the weapons now - suicide bombers.  Unlike Hiroshima where a government acted during a time of war, today one person can destroy the world for hundreds or even thousands.  This threat hit all of us in the United States on September 11, 2001 when our world was rocked by terrorists.

BUT JESUS!   With Jesus, we will not give into the fear of terrorists.  For when we do, they have won.  With Jesus we can rest in the peace that passes understanding, knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  We can love our enemy and pray for those who persecute us.  We can show mercy to those who don't have any mercy for us, because of Jesus. We can rest knowing that Jesus is the King of King and Lord of Lords and He reigns over ALL!  

Yes, it is good to be able to remember what happened 71 years ago. But I am also thankful that I can turn on my television and watch cheering crowds celebrate the athletes from around the world.
I will celebrate the first United States Gold Medal won on day 1 of the Olympics!  Go team USA! And I will pray for the safety of all of Rio during this busy time as well as all the visitors.  Yes, I will be praying that Jesus will be lifted up during these games and that the love and mercy and grace of God will be showered over the entire event!  

Today in Hiroshima, 71 years later, paper lanterns were set afloat during the peace celebration.  
Words of remembrance and peace were written on them by people from all over the world.   I am going to end my blog with words from the Huffington Post that ran today.....
Keiko Ogura, a small Japanese woman with cropped black hair, trots down the hallway of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in bronze heels with an agility that belies her age. Keiko was only eight years old when her world was upended in a flash of light. When she regained consciousness, the first thing she noticed was the flatness. The buildings that had once dotted the horizon were gone, as if a giant hammer had descended from the sky.
An eerie parade of waifs emerged from the wreckage, streaming past Keiko towards the first aid station located in the Shinto shrine on a nearby hill. “Clothes were tattered and shrunk or hanging down, and their skin… their skin was peeling off, just peeling off and showing red wet flesh,” she remembered. They weren’t saying a word. So quietly they were coming, more and more.”
Seventy-one years later, Keiko is a fixture at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial museum, one of the hibakusha—the survivors of the atomic bombing—who have helped guide the post-war identity of the city that gave birth to the nuclear age.
When Keiko visited the United States 12 years ago, she dissolved into tears in the Smithsonian, transfixed with terror at the sight of static B-29 bombers suspended from the ceiling of the Air and Space museum. But she makes it clear that it is not the Americans she blames. Keiko considers war—especially nuclear war—to be an unacceptable evil. It is this universal and unequivocal message that she and many other hibakusha hope to communicate by repeatedly reliving a horror beyond most of our imaginations.
Today, the average hibakusha is over 80 years old. Soon there will be no more survivors to tell their stories. For seventy-one years, Hiroshima’s call for peace and nuclear disarmament has been simultaneously embraced and undermined by the actions of Japanese leadership. And at a moment when the appeal is perhaps more important than ever, Hiroshima finds itself at ideological odds with the Japanese government.
Nuclear weapons are often described as an “existential threat,” but beneath the A-Bomb Dome, that threat casts a concrete shadow. It is this solidity that Keiko and others hope might spur change.
In 1987, recently deceased Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Elie Wiesel made a trip to Hiroshima. At the end of his visit, he penned a few lines in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum guest book: “We shall remember. We must remember. For only in memory is there some hope for us all.”

Jesus, help us all to remember.  And in that remembering, keep us in your tender embrace.  Holy Spirit bathe us in the peace that passes understanding and the wisdom to know that Jesus reigns over all the evil in the world.  Give us courage and grace to walk out into our neighborhoods without fear.  Thank you for pictures that speak to us when words fail.   Amen

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Lessons from the Playground

It is always an adventure to discover a playground with Zeke and Anna.  This week Lia and Ellie are at a very exciting (and long anticipated) drama camp so it was just me and the little ones at the playground.  Gwen went on a run while I watched the kids at a really amazing and fun park.  The entire park had a "springy" rubber floor that was quite fun to walk on.  It was designed like a river that had a lake created by a beaver dam - complete with the beaver dam that the kids could climb on, as well as some of the beavers and other water animals (think frogs and turtles) only larger than real life!  Zeke managed to climb on top of the beaver house and Anna loved the slide out of the inside of that house.  I loved that they used colors on the ground cover to actually look like the lake and the river with grass and mud surrounding the areas.  So creative and such a great backdrop for imaginary play.
There were also two age-appropriate play structures with lots of climbing and sliding and exploring areas.  One was the perfect size for Anna and she happily played for a long time.  She especially loved the "driving" spot.....
where she spun that wheel around and around! (Pretty sure she will be a wild driver if her performance as a 2 year old is any picture of her potential abilities).  She also managed to climb and slide on the older kids playset, which gave this Grandma more than one near heart attack.  I am learning (from Gwen) that it is really okay for the kids to try their wings at the playground so I am practicing NOT being one of those over protective people while still managing to keep the kids safe. It is a tricky balancing act, I can assure you.  There was also a really neat rock climbing structure (it looked like a pile of big rocks.....)
and Zeke managed to climb to the top AND get down, ALL BY HIMSELF!  I forgot to mention that he also got off of the beaver house ALL BY HIMSELF!  Again, quite the accomplishment for a five year old.  There was also a structure that looked like a floating log that the kids could crawl through.
Kids of all ages really enjoyed doing this.  Anna laughed the entire way through the log.  She thought it was the greatest thing.  There were also swings - including swings for special needs children.  Such an amazing park.  

I am always amazed at how much things have changed in the last 25 years or so when it comes to parks and playgrounds.  I would have loved to have a place like this to bring my own children!  We were lucky to have swings and slides - usually the old metal ones that got so hot in the summer you couldn't touch them!  It is such a blessing that my grandchildren now have wonderful places to play and explore.  

So, what are the lessons I learned at this playground?  Well, for starters,  I once again understand just how very blessed we are in the United States to have play places for our children.  I just watched some video from a ministry that was visiting Belize to distribute clothing and food for the children.  They fed over 500 kids in a small village.  The dresses that they gave out were the only clothes that most of these children had.  And the village was just a cluster of small huts with a muddy, dirt patch surrounding it all.  Yes, we are blessed with homes, with clothes, with food and WATER, and then blessed beyond measure with these kinds of play spaces for us and our children.  

I leaned about stepping outside of my comfort zone by watching Zeke and Anna be daring and brave.  They made it seem not only easy, but also lots of fun.  Even when they got a little stuck, like Anna did when trying to cross a wiggling bridge, they were willing to keep going with just a small amount of encouragement.  How many times have I looked at a situation or a task and thought "this is just to hard for me" or "I am not qualified to do this".  And when I wasn't daring or brave enough to TRY, I missed out on the fun of the process and also the joy at accomplishing the task.  

I learned that sometimes you have to get on your knees and even crawl if you want to get to the end of the tunnel.  How many times have I felt like I am in a really dark and scary place.  And even when I have been able to see the light at the end of that tunnel, it still seemed just impossible to get there.  What a lesson I learned at the playground!  Wouldn't it have been easier, in those dark times, if only I had "dropped to my knees" in prayer?  Things would not have seemed quite so scary or hard from that perspective.  I know that so many times I found myself frozen and unable to even move.  I am sure that had I changed my perspective, taken the time to seek Jesus in the situation, I would have been better able to work my way out of those dark places - with His help.  I might have been crawling, but I would have been moving!  

And once again, I learned a lesson about balance.  Yes, I saw the kids working on their balance skills as they walked over "beavers" in the "water" or tried to ride on the giant turtles back.  But more than that, Jesus reminded me about letting go.  You know, letting go of those we love.  That balancing act of caring and loving along with letting others make their own choices and walk their own path.  This is no easy task for mothers - to let go of their children, let me tell you!  But this also includes our friends and relatives and neighbors. When we love greatly, it is hard to let go and watch them slip and fall.  What a good reminder it was for me to see that big smile and jumping excitement from Zeke when he managed that rock climb and the descent!  If I had stepped in and stopped him from trying - or helped him down,  he would have missed out on that satisfaction of doing it himself.  I confess there were some pretty scary moments for this grandma when it looked like Zeke was in danger of falling off of those rocks.  I managed to stay close enough to Zeke to keep my heart beating in my chest, while far enough away to give him the freedom to do it himself.  

This balance thing is pretty tricky.  It is especially hard when so much of the letting go is out of your control.  Unlike the kids on this relatively safe playground, our family members or friends often choose to walk very dangerous paths and we are not there to "save" them if they stumble or fall.  I was reminded at my small group today of this amazing song and it's message He Will Come and Save by Bob Fitts. When we are able to let go, Jesus will be there to take care of those we love.  He will be the one to save them.  What an amazing and wonderful lesson from the playground!  

Jesus, thank you for being my Savior.  What a blessing it is to know that you are there to save all - my family, friends and neighbors.  Holy Spirit, help us all to be able to let go of those we love - even when it looks so scary and so hard.  Remind us to look to you when times are hard and we are facing dark times.  Thank you for children and all the lessons you teach us through them.  Amen