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Blog 12/15/2012

When our hearts are breaking…..     12/15/2012

 

Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be Thy name
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven 

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Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil…..

                                         ALL EVIL.
                                                                 Amen.

 

Blog 12/11/2012

The grace and power of Christmas cards and greetings….       

The song usually goes: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, with every Christmas card I write...…”  So many people I know seem to enjoy that slower paced activity of writing family and friends, some of whom we write or only hear from once a year.  It can be a blessing to recall friendships and share what has been going on in our lives the past year with those we treasure.   Our Christmas cards here at MV, or rather, our letters, rarely go out before Christmas though.  It is usually such a busy season that the first time to sit down and write letters has often been on Christmas day or Christmas evening when all the gifts are opened and the food is consumed and everyone else is exhausted.  For me, that’s when the season actually sinks in; that’s when it really begins.  Everything else has been preparation.  So, year after year, I compose the family letter on December 25th sitting near the warmth of the woodstove, and Danielle, our eldest, often helps put together the yearly “picture page”.  This year, though, that usual festive exchange is causing me to take a step back and deeply reflect upon the roads we have walked, or in Robert Frost’s words, “the road not taken”.       

 

While I have lived in New England for over forty years, I grew up in the Midwest, and after high school, I went to work in a publishing firm with a half dozen other young women in the proofreading department.  I made some good friends there, so much so, that two years later, one woman and I moved to the “windy city” of Chicago and became roommates.  Those were our dating years, she dated and I dated, sometimes we double dated, then she got engaged, and I got engaged, I stood up at her wedding and she came to mine.  The year after we were married, though, Bill graduated from dental school, and we moved East and started having children.  We had our first and then quickly adopted our second, and then had our third in pretty rapid succession (that was our initial plan: to have 5 and adopt 5; we stopped at 7 later on...…that perfect number for us).  By the time we were having our third, my former roommate, Ann, and her husband, Norb, had their first, a little boy, Tommy, and when he was about a year old, they came East to visit us.  It was a nice visit, and we kept in touch for a while after that, but then the Christmas cards started going unanswered, so we thought they must have moved on.  This past week I got a rather cryptic note from Norb, followed by a short Christmas letter/wishes the following day. 

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When I saw the name after all these years, especially just his name, I thought perhaps something had happened to Ann.  I was right, but in such a drastic way that I never could have imagined and I have been thinking about them ever since.  Norb mentioned that he was sad he missed my mother’s funeral, which was nice, but my mother went home to God two and a half years ago.  Then, he mentioned a mutual friend of ours from so many years ago, and then said something about Ann being in a nursing home since she was and had been a double amputee since around 1976 or so after the car accident.  I went numb.  Their last visit with us must have been around 1974.  I knew nothing of the accident, or the fact that she had been a double amputee all these years.  In 1974, they had just bought a beautiful home in the suburbs.  The address on the envelope was now a simple apartment.  Since our mutual friend had become a deacon years ago, I was able to look him up and called him and he gave me some more details.  Anne had indeed been in a car accident years ago and had lost both legs; she also recently had a stroke; their son Tom had gotten married a couple years ago and last Christmas presented them with a beautiful grandson, Zachery.  While the two of them have had a difficult life, Norb continues to go to the nursing home every day across town to sit with Ann, and is totally devoted to her.  His Christmas letter arrived the next day, and in it was picture of Tom and Jill’s wedding with Ann sitting in her chair alongside Norb, and then there was a picture of Tom holding his brand new baby son, Zachery, at his baptism.   I have been thinking this past week about God’s plan for each of us.   Our lives (Anne and Norb’s and Bill and mine) turned out to be so drastically different.   God must know what God wants of each of us, but sometimes it is difficult to understand why so much sadness and suffering must touch some people’s lives.  On the bright side, little Zachery, I’m sure lights up everyone’s eyes, and must give great happiness to my friends of old.  I will be writing Norb soon, and asking for Ann’s nursing home address as well.   Friendships can be a blessing, especially if after 35 years, one can be graced enough with a simple Christmas letter.  They have the power to transform our lives.  May God be blessed!!     

 

Blog 12/1/2012

 

First Sunday of Advent…..first snowfall

 

It was a surprise this morning when I saw the light snow beginning around 7 a.m.  Different parts of Massachusetts have already seen snow this year, but not here; it was always rain for us.  This morning, however, it was our turn.  It was also sort of fitting being the first day of the meteorological winter and being the first weekend of Advent.  Right around lunch time, the tiny flakes turned into these awesome big light fluffy ones, and stuck to the ground, but left really no accumulation.  It slowed in the afternoon, and Bill tells me it may rain overnight, so all will probably be gone by the morning. 

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I took care of the goats, and the baby kids, who were born in June, were trying to figure out what this white fluffy stuff was.   I finished running my errands, and then finished putting away the autumn things, and the Thanksgiving decorations finally got boxed up once more and taken downstairs, and up from the cellar came the Advent wreath and the window lights.  Our home is ranch style, so everything is on one floor, except the laundry and all the “stuff” we’ve managed to accumulate while living in the same house for forty years.  Christmas decorations, Easter decorations, etc. are all downstairs.  So, this afternoon was time to play with the indoor lights in the windows, get out the Christmas runners for our cocoa drinking Santa in the living room and Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus on the dining room credenza, and finding three purple and one pink candle before supper.   Supper was simple, one of our “17” soups with ground turkey, and Bill blessed the Advent wreath, and once more we began the journey.  When the children were little, we had all kinds of Advent activities, and some still bring back fond memories.  advent wreath.resized325

The prayer for the first week of the Advent wreath begins: “Stir up thy might O Lord and come…”  Years ago, on the Saturday of that first weekend of Advent, I would make the batter for plum pudding (you know, that figgy pudding in the song), and we would say that prayer nine times, going around the table.  The children and both of us would give the batter one good stir as we said the prayer and make a Christmas wish (we didn’t tell anyone our wish), and then after supper, I would steam the pudding, cool it, wrap it in cheesecloth, pour a little rum or brandy over it and refrigerate it until Christmas Eve.  Yum!  I didn’t do the plum pudding tonight, but think I can do it this week and Bill and I can still continue to pray God stir up his might and come!

Advent is such a wonderful season.  The blue covered Advent Liturgy of the Hours comes out once more, and we begin to pray all those wonderful hymns and psalms about coming: “Proclaim the good news among the nations: Our God will COME to save us.”  “Know that the Lord is COMING and with Him all his saints;” “The Lord will COME with mighty power”.  They are reassuring songs of praise.  God is with us.  I have long looked forward to the first week of Advent readings.  One of my favorites is on the Feast of St. Nicholas, December 6th.  Again, I am reminded of a practice we employed when the children were young.  To sort of distance ourselves from the commercialism of the season, stockings.resized350

we began hanging the Christmas stockings for the feast of St. Nicholas, and then the night before, when the children were getting ready for bed, we read them the story of St. Nicholas, the real story, the one that tells us St. Nicholas was a 4th century bishop of Myra (today part of modern day Turkey), and he loved God, brought gifts to others and took care of the poor.   Then the children went to bed and the next morning, their stockings were filled with fresh fruits and nuts, and few candies, and their special treat, a pomegranate!  We introduced the children to that marvelous fruit early in their years.  After the goodies were consumed in a few days, we re-hung them on the mantle as a decoration.  No more “stocking stuffers” on the 24th, which we felt was just another way the stores wanted us to buy more things. 

The Office of Readings for the feast of St. Nicholas, bishop and shepherd, is a treatise from St. Augustine about shepherding.  Augustine recalls how Jesus kept asking Peter if he loved him, and when he said he did, Jesus kept telling him, “tend my sheep”.  Augustine adds that: “Surely this means, if you love me your thoughts must focus on taking care of my sheep, not taking care of yourself.  You must tend them as mine, not as yours; seek them in my glory, not yours.....  Of course, we have to take care of ourselves and love ourselves in a healthy manner, but shepherds of Christ’s flock must never indulge in a selfish self-love…..seeking one's own purposes instead of Christ's.  The love of Christ ought to reach a spiritual pitch in his shepherds that they are willing to sacrifice and even lay down their own lives as did the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd has made the entire human race his lambs, and in order to care for them, he became one of them, a lamb.   Being a goat herder is the closest I probably come to shepherding sheep, and the goats do rely on me to feed and water them, clean out their sheds, lay fresh shavings to keep them warmer in winter, etc.  The shepherding of which Augustine speaks and which Nicholas lived, however, was the shepherding of people.   If we pause to reflect on the art of shepherding, I think in a way, we all participate in “tending God’s sheep”.  As Christians and as people of faith, we are all called to care for one another; we are called to be shepherds of the Lord.   This holy season of Advent, may we shepherd one another to ready us for the COMING of the Lord. 

                 Maranatha!  Come, Lord Jesus!  St. Nicholas, pray for us!

 

Blog 11/20/2012

 We give Thee thanks…..     11/20/2012


     As we near the end of November each year, thoughts turn to turkey and stuffing, cranberry sauce and mincemeat pie, lots of family and football games, and hopefully, thanks.   It seems to get harder and harder to celebrate an autumn harvest feast each year when the stores are all decked out with Christmas merchandise before Halloween.  For the stores, it seems like it is all about the money.  I remember a Christmas special years ago with a popular singer at the time, Mac Davis, and Bernadette Peters, entitled “Commerce Day”.  People had forgotten what the true meaning of Christmas was all about, but every house had a silver tree topped with a dollar sign instead of a star, and everyone was incessantly buying presents, but couldn’t remember what for.  If I remember right, it was only at the end of the program that a little child asked about the meaning of Christmas and gradually as if in a dream, people began to remember bits and pieces of the first Nativity story.  

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I recently started reading a marvelous little book about preparing for Christmas, A Monastery Journey to Christmas, by a Benedictine brother (see book reviews).  It starts with meditations on November 15th and carries one through to February 2nd, the (former) last day of the Christmas season.  Brother Victor-Antoine makes a point about deliberately preparing for the wonderful season of Advent.  His argument is that if we do not, the world will run right over us and we will lose it.  I sort of feel the same about Thanksgiving.  The college campuses were emptying out this afternoon and it took me nearly three hours to get home tonight because of all the traffic.  People are frazzled and all the grocery stores are jammed.  One would think we only ate once a year. 


     If, however, we step back from all the craziness and breathe, and remember why the Pilgrims and the Wampanaog Indians first observed this feast, to give thanks for the harvest and for new friendships, and why President Lincoln made this an official national holiday in 1863 in the midst of the civil war many years ago, it can refresh our spirit and straighten our paths.  Lincoln asked all Americans: “to ask God to commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation”. 

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Though not on our shores, there is another strife going on this day in the Middle East, and widows, orphans, mourners and sufferers are still with us.  We pause to give thanks to God for our blessings and our freedoms in this country even in our harried life, but Thanksgiving ought to remind us to also commend to His care those who still suffer.  We have many, many blessings in this land from sea to shining sea.  Another president, President Franklin Roosevelt, reminded us in his 1941 State of the Union just a few things for which we have to be thankful.  He called them our four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.  Thanksgiving is a good time to remember those freedoms and give thanks to God for them.  Norman Rockwell captures them beautifully in his artwork.

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     Many people go around the dinner table at Thanksgiving and articulate something specific for which they are thankful.  A few weeks ago, on Facebook, I noticed that my nephew’s wife (I’m not too sure what that makes her to me, my niece-in-law?) started mentioning little things she was thankful for.  If she told us what she was doing in the beginning, I missed it, but as I began to read them, it became clear.  She was taking the month of November and deliberately articulating one thing per day that she was thankful for.  Amanda was on the same wave length as Brother Victor-Antoine.  The culture around us is moving so rapidly that if we do not deliberately slow down and reflect, we simply get caught up in the silliness and miss the forest as well as the trees.  We just move from one activity to the next without thinking or pausing.  We allow life to pass us by.

 

norman-rockwell-freedom-from-want.three      So this year, I think I will deliberately pause and reflect on those four freedoms, and thank God that we are free to give praise in this country.  We do not have to practice our faith underground as some must do in other countries.  I will thank God for freedom of speech, that I may use my voice for God’s glory and ask that I use it with kindness toward others.  I thank God for freedom from want, that I can put a turkey dinner on the table this year and then some.  May I never forget those who have less.  And I thank God for freedom from fear, and especially for our men and women in uniform who protect us from harm, with a special mention for my son-in-law in the Army and my nephew in the Air Force.  When I go to bed tonight, it will be in a comfortable bed with simply nature sounds around me, not bombs.  Some of our brothers and sisters on this planet are not so lucky tonight.  I will pray for them.  May all of you have a blessed Thanksgiving!

 

 

Blog 10/30/2012

 

          First frost, a cricket by the hearth, and things that go bump in the night…..     10/30/2012

     While the first frost in this part of the country usually comes mid-October and is a sign that winter is approaching, many of us in New England are somewhat grateful that mosquitoes and ticks have been zapped by Mother Nature when that temperature dips.  With Triple E (Eastern Equine Encephalitis) and Lyme disease being contracted by humans as well as horses, and heartworm plaguing our canine friends unless they are on preventative measures, the first frost signals a bit of respite.  When I do get to heaven, that may be one of my top ten questions for God….. “Why mosquitoes, LORD?”     

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      With the first frost, though, other things also begin to happen.  The earth is getting ready for its winter slumber and hibernation.  The growing season, at least the outdoor one, is halted.  Lots of growing continues indoors, however, with more and more learning every fall.  Our church bulletin goes from the slim two pages of summer announcements to a whopping eight pages of notices of classes, speakers, programs, events, new groups forming, etc.  Coat drives and Halloween parties are being held, boy scouts are selling popcorn, even holiday wreaths are being ordered via the youth groups.  Children in school have settled into a routine by now with homework, soccer practice, ballet lessons, faith formation classes, trumpet lessons, etc.  Little ones are dreaming about the Great Pumpkin and what they will be for Halloween, though this year Hurricane Sandy may put a crimp in some Halloween plans.  At this writing, New York and New Jersey seemed to have fared the worst, and many are in our prayers today.  We lost power for all of 30 seconds here and just lost a few branches.   Sandy as a hurricane?? Who’d a thunk??  Today, our daughter, Sandy, is a wonderful wife, mother, cook, seamstress, federal employee and all around accomplished young woman, but if I remember some of her teen-age years…..hurricane might have been a good description!  Just kidding, San!  Hurricane or not, autumn is still my favorite season.  Growing may be shifting to indoors, but the colors in New England are magnificent and I thank God every year for his masterful paintbrush.  This past Sunday, I spent about a half hour sitting atop one of our chicken tractors simply watching the pine needles fall and create a beautiful carpet all across the back of our land.  It was the calm before the storm.  What a peaceful site!  Yesterday, since all was cancelled, we had more free time to watch the power of nature unfold.  The winds picked up, the goats stayed put in their sheds, and Sophie, our Great White Pyrenees, couldn’t seem to figure out why it was getting so rainy and windy and no one wanted to come out and play.  The unexpected free day allowed us extra time for reflection.  Just before a storm was also a good time to re-read one of my favorite passages from the book of Job: chapter 38, when God answers Job from the whirlwind:  “Were you there when I laid the foundation of the earth…..?”

    

     The other night, I was sitting in our living room, correcting papers (Bill has already gone to bed), when out from the hearth of our woodstove hopped this little black cricket, hopping across the braided rug and heading for underneath the couch. 

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Now I know having a cricket by the hearth is a sign of good luck, (Charles Dickens thought they were like having a guardian angel to ensure domestic tranquility) and when that first frost comes and goes, those little critters are looking for a warmer spot for the winter, but if any of you have dealt with their little incessant “chirp, chirp, chirp” all night long, you may understand my reaction was either to escort the little creature outside once more, or send him home to God, if I was fast enough.  They also seem to have an uncanny ability to move faster than we do, just when they need to do so, too.  The cricket and I played a cat and mouse game for a while, but then he did hide out under the couch.  A few minutes later, however, he exited the couch on the other side, and I did, in this case, send him packing.  Another sign that winter is creeping closer…..  God’s little creatures, even those pesky crickets and the Asian ladybug now hiding behind a stack of papers on my desk, are looking for a warm place to live.  Funny how we are all related and all part of the same universe.  God must have this wonderful interconnected plan as the Great Sustainer.

    

     In a couple days, lots of children will be waiting for the Great Pumpkin, while others will be out for “Tricks or Treats” as Lucy calls it.  I always get a kick out of Lucy who has to double dip with her “Tricks or Treats” so she can get enough goodies for her brother, Linus, who is convinced that THIS year, the Great Pumpkin will show up. 

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Children’s fantasies are so heartwarming, though as they get older, the fairy princesses and kitty cats opt out for Frankenstein and zombies and half-dead creatures from some imagined graveyard.  Supposedly frightening, things that go bump in the night are supposed to scare us.  They shouldn’t though.  November is right around the corner and All Hallows Eve, which was really meant to be the vigil celebration of all our saints, signals that this month is a month or remembrance of those who have passed.  November 1st is All Saints Day and November 2nd All Soul’s Day.  As the earth quiets down after its growing season, we can reflect on the mortality of our days here on this good earth.  God has a plan for each of us, but we are here for only a short while.  We still read Charles Dicken’s stories, but he is no longer with us. 

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We still enjoy Charles Schultz’ Peanuts and the Gang, but Mr. Schultz is also no longer with us either.  November is a time to remember those who have gone home to God, and to acknowledge that after a short time on this good earth, we will follow them.  While we are here, though, it is good to sit near the hearth, listening to those pesky crickets, getting up every once and a while, to share some treats with our neighborhood munchkins and others who go “bump in the night”.   Enjoy!

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