Thanksgiving Memories

With the Thanksgiving feast only hours away, I’m reminded of the celebrations we’ve experienced over the years. For the first few years of our marriage with small children, we joined nearby family for the traditional meal. Then we began living away from family. What now? Would “Thanksgiving” end because we were no longer surrounded by parents, siblings, nephews and nieces? Not so! Our first year in Canada we were delighted to discover our new friends celebrated the holiday on the first Sunday of October and our church even had a church family meal together. Six weeks later we were invited down to Washington state to celebrate with Ehle/Toles family members we’d never met. Our children thought it was great: twoThanksgivings that year! It was also in Canada that we began enlarging our traditional Thanksgiving dinner table to include others who lived far from their own family circles, especially our unmarried friends. Soon Thanksgiving without “strangers” seemed odd.

A few years later we moved to Germany and the international friends we were making all worked on the “real” Thanksgiving Day, thus unable to celebrate on the designated fourth Thursday of November. Soon, the hectic pace of ministry becoming familiar, we discovered that by the end of November we were tired and needed a break. With the beautiful North Sea coast in Holland only three hours away, we found a small hotel—more like a bed and breakfast—where we could relax, then tour nearby villages and bundle up to walk on the windy coast. Great preparation for the busy Advent and Christmas celebrations ahead.

But what about our children? How could they possibly properly celebrate Thanksgiving without us?? We now laugh about the time we (mostly I) worried about our daughter in far off Southern California. When we called to discover how she’d fared, she described in glowing terms how she and her brother and his almost-fiancé had walked in the nearby mountains and had a “glorious” day! Years later while living in New York City, she wrote (pre-email!) that she decided she needed a day alone so slept in, had tea and toast before walking in Central Park. Mm-m-m-m, it seemed that family, turkey, sweet potatoes and homemade cranberry sauce weren’t actual necessities.

This year we volunteered to invite single or married military men and women to our home but discovered that they’d all found a nest for Thursday. (Colorado Springs is a welcoming city.) So—after the Macy’s parade and before the Detroit Lions football game, while a small turkey roasts—we will walk in a nearby  park, then return to a table set with lace cloth, white napkins, candles and laden with all the traditional food. And be grateful. Not just for Thanksgivings past but for this one where we enjoy good health, beautiful blue skies—with maybe a hint of snow—and the abundance of God’s provision and presence.

Early Christmas Gift!

Some may know that for several years I’ve been writing Advent meditations in booklet form for family and friends. This year for my birthday, our creative and ambitious children compiled eleven years of such writing into a book. Advent Meditations. 2007 to 2017 is available on Lulu.com and Amazon. com.

New Seasons

Is it just me or do your thoughts also turn to the seasons of life as nature introduces autumn and the first snow falls? As leaves swirl to the ground, trees that only recently were fat with green now seem as gangly as a teenager’s legs. Skies once consistently blue are now more often filled with clouds whispering, “Change is coming.” Autumn where I live usually comes with soft gentleness while in other parts of the country, change storms into life with angry hurricanes that disrupt and destroy, floods and fires drown memories along with buildings, and the first flakes catch us unaware, trying to find the snow shovel where we hid it in the garage last spring.

Seasons of life also arrive with varying intensity. Little ones kept snugly at home walk into the dangerous life of kindergarten…or so says a mother’s heart. A strapping young man enters the college dorm miles away from the safe family circle. A friend’s life was recently tossed into the dark, roiling ocean of grief at the unexpected death of her son. Another aging, but healthy, man is only now arriving home after five long months in hospital and rehabilitation. The creeping tentacles of dementia steal the person we once knew.

Even without events such as these, if I step off the merry go round of modern life long enough to be quiet, I realize that my own seasons are passing. How I approach that change will deeply affect how I live in the season. When temperatures recently dropped from the beautiful early autumn high sixties to the Arctic teens, I stored the summery blouses and unpacked my favorite jewel-colored turtlenecks. It’s been interesting to read how some—especially my friends in the American midwest!—respond to the onset of winter: “Gotta’ get out of here and head to Florida” sums up many of their remarks!

Although some can escape the weather, none can bolt from the seasons of life. An honest look in the mirror or the annual physical exam, starkly reveal  that “a person’s days are numbered.” Denial is useless, retreat leads to apathy, resistance can hurry us along toward frustration and anger.

So how can I live—truly live—in new seasons? Many are acquainted with the psalmist’s positive statement:

This is the day the Lord has made.
We will rejoice and be glad in it.  (Psalm 118:24 TNIV)

But I think the late Eugene Peterson captured the exuberance of the original language:

This is the very day God acted—
let’s celebrate and be festive! 
(The Message)

In both versions, I see intentional action: we WILL rejoice…we WILL be glad..LET us celebrate…BE festive…This is definitely not an easy, emotional, denial-of-reality response, but it can become a Spirit-empowered habit. Whether I feel like it or not, whether there is snow or sunshine, I can choose to continue the habit of acknowledging God’s presence, his rule, his love, his plan. Circumstances will likely remain the same, but my attitude toward and in them will determine how I live in these new seasons.

A Rocky Road

Rocky RoadMarch 14, 2018. The last date I wrote on this site. Three days earlier my husband began experiencing a sudden onset of extreme fatigue. Mistakenly diagnosed as a virus, he continued to become weaker. Two days later, physically helpless, he was transported by ambulance to the hospital. Only in re-reading the doctors’ description of his condition upon admittance is the severity of the situation revealed: acute respiratory failure with hypoxia, bacteremia, acute cystitis, acute kidney injury, thrombocytopenia, chronic diastolic congestive heart failure…

In some yet undetected way, the bacteria enterococcus had entered the bloodstream and with each pump of the heart, flushed to every part of the body. Quick intervention over the course of a week’s hospital stay, three weeks in extended care with daily physical and occupational therapy, and a total of six weeks’ intravenous antibiotic infusion bring us to today where he has progressed from being unable to stand upright to almost daily one-mile walks in our neighborhood with hiking poles.

We have trod a rocky road over these weeks. A wheelchair was Bob’s first means of transport, then a few halting steps with a walker, and now only a cane for balance. Thinking processes have moved from murky at best to reading, study and the anticipated soon return to the full ministry of mentoring younger Global Aid Network staff.

While family and friends greatly contributed to our journey with prayer, meals, visits and more, we essentially walked the path alone. Such is true for all who tread similar lanes. No one else—no matter how much they love and care—can enter the recesses of the mind and heart where questions, indecision, worry reside alongside trust and hope. After twelve-hour days at the hospital and rehabilitation facility with Bob, my mind found it almost impossible to rest in the dark midnight hours. Sleeplessness cannot always be remedied with pills or herbal tea, but eventually words of a hymn, remembered from childhood, would bring comfort:

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Or I would envision the protective wings of a mother bird:

Under His wings I am safely abiding;
Though the night deepens and tempests are wild,
Still I can trust Him, I know He will keep me;
He has redeemed me, and I am His child…
Who from His love can sever?
Under His wings my soul shall abide,
Safely abide forever

Rocky roads are inevitable for The Perennial Woman. Detours, bright orange watch-out-for-danger cones, yield, stop, do-not-enter signs often bring confusion, frustration and inescapable questions. But daily I must—often only by faith—return to the sure Word from a loving Father: in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths (“we recognize he is God, and we accept his authority”—Dallas Willard); walk by faith not by sight; walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you that you may live; run with endurance the race that is set before you; this is the way, walk in it…

And so I keep walking…

International Women’s Day+

You’ve heard it before: when technology works, it’s priceless. I now add: when technology doesn’t work, it’s pricey! After almost two weeks of computer glitches, then a hefty check to the tech guru, I’m back in the world of computer communication. Adding to the long delay in writing for My Monday Moments was a week in Dallas to reconnect with Global Aid Network colleagues, recovery from said journey (such recuperation seems to be taking longer these days 😏, and my husband’s current battle with an elusive virus which has totally grounded him with complete exhaustion. Other than these minutiae, life goes forward with joy.

Because of my current emphasis on The Perennial Woman, I especially wanted to write on March 8th, International Women’s Day. This could be a thorny emphasis for some. I am aware that one extreme wing of Christian thought decries this commemoration, believing “…the woman’s rights movement has decimated God’s institution of marriage and the family,” and “International Women’s Day should not be a time for us to rejoice, but rather a time for us to mourn for our nation and our culture…”*

But as I have studied scripture, listened to the wise counsel of men and women I respect and trust, and looked deeply into the state of women around the world (in every society and culture, in every group including religious groups, and sadly in Christian groups), I am saddened only that it was the secular women’s rights world that emphasized these needs before the Christian voice was heard.

I am justifiably proud of our two grandsons: one earning his living by hard work and the other completing his undergraduate university degree (equally hard work!). Both these young men display their God-given skills with intensity and honor. I also shout hurrah that both are at home in the kitchen! Skills and attitudes learned from their dads as well as their moms.

Two granddaughters complete the “grand” generation for us. One is completing her first year of university, the other will enter tenth grade this coming fall. These two I fervently pray will follow the path of hundreds of Christian women before them as leaders in their homes, schools, communities, churches and the world:

Rosa Parks dared to ride a bus.

Antoinette Blackwell began preaching in her Congregational church at the age of nine!

Catherine Booth, along with her husband, trained evangelists throughout England, ultimately founding The Salvation Army.

Lilias Trotter not only gave up her wealthy lifestyle to minister to Muslims in Algeria, but used her artistic talent to “capture impressions of the people and places she visited.”

Jennifer Wiseman was a senior project scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope.

Flannery O’Connor’s short stories are renowned.

Susannah Wesley bore 19 children (at her death, only eight children were still alive), raising them with intense study on scripture; her children, including her daughters, “learned Latin and Greek and were well tutored in the classical studies.”

Although many know her primarily through her husband, Bill, Vonette Bright took no back seat in Campus Crusade for Christ leadership. She was quick to advise Bill both when he effectively ministered as well as when she thought him “out of line”😊; Bill credited her for much of the ministry’s success.

Carolyn Custis James writes provocatively with courage about women in the Bible and women’s roles today.

Dr. Christena Cleveland is an outspoken social psychologist, public theologian, author and Associate Professor at Duke University.

Dr. Mimi Haddad leads a worldwide organization of Christian men and women who believe that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of women and men.

Joanna, Esther, Naomi, Demaris, Ruth, Jael, Abigail, Claudia, Deborah, Junia and scores more fill the pages of scripture.

And the list goes, including hundreds of thousands of unnamed women who regularly follow God’s call in their individual and community lives. Women who walk miles over dusty roads to carry clean water so their children can survive. Women who cook nutritious meals for their families day after day. After day after day! Women who teach in the classrooms of elementary and secondary schools, universities and seminaries. Women in the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies. Single women. Married women. Girls. Teenagers. Women in their eighties and nineties.

Yes, my granddaughters, I do celebrate International Women’s Day.

 

*biblicalgenderroles.com  (I am unable to discover the name of the author of this site, but he identifies himself as Larry Solomon, stating that “The reason I do not use my real name is the same reason that Christ hid himself from Jews: “Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” – John 8:59 (KJV)

 

Who Are You?

JournalThe Christmas tree was still up and decorated—though slightly drooping in our dry Colorado air—when I cracked open my new journal on January first. (We follow the custom learned in Germany of celebrating all twelve days of Christmas, right up to Three Kings Day on January 6. I love these days for meditating about the first days of Jesus’ life: what was he like at a week old? did his hair curl like Mary’s? when did he begin sleeping through the night? did Joseph find work in Bethlehem before fleeing to Egypt?)

It’s rare that one of my brand new journals actually begins on the first day of the new year. More often two years (or more) of scattered words fill one book with several blank pages at the end. But this year the fresh, blank pages were waiting for what God would bring to mind, or what I would cry out in writing when I couldn’t—or wouldn’t—wail those thoughts aloud.

Before writing on that unmarked new page I printed out copies that have been pasted in the back of many recent journals. Information that I frequently turn to through the year: my Myers-Briggs Personality Profile (want to guess what/who I am??), my Strengths Finders analysis, and the results from Your Personality and Your Spiritual Life by Reginald Johnson. I am definitely not a “navel gazer” (one who engages in useless or excessive self-contemplation), but a deeper understanding of my personality—as God made me and as the Holy Spirit continues to refine me—has been of immeasurable help in my spiritual and emotional growth.

This understanding also helps me evaluate my work so that I don’t sink into a “slough of despond” (as described by Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress) when I see nothing productive happening, nor am I tempted to glorify self effort when success is at hand. Knowing myself with clearer vision also helps me see when circumstances, events—even people!—knock on the door of life ready to draw me away from God’s call for any particular day.

As I occasionally glance at these personality traits, I find myself offering honest gratitude to God for making me who I am. It’s so easy to fall into the trap—the Enemy’s trap, I’ve come to believe—of wanting to be something or someone else. “I wish I were like            .” From that point it’s only a small step into saying, “If I were like                       , I could do great things for God. But since I’m not, I’ll just stay here in my puddle.”

Lest you think I concentrate only on my strengths or the characteristics that are thought to be more positive (or more socially or—yes, even more spiritually) acceptable, I also glance at the weaknesses (from Strength Finders) or the infirmities (from Johnson’s analysis). This keeps me grounded, avoiding an inflated ego.

So what does all this have to do with becoming God’s Perennial Woman? Aren’t these practices, or isn’t this understanding, primarily beneficial for the young person just starting on the path of following Jesus? Remember the yardstick measurements many of us marked on a door jamb when our children were growing up? How many inches (or centimeters) did Johnny grow this year? The Apostle Peter, a pro when it came to beginning, falling, and beginning again, wrote what I call the yardstick of growth in his letter to Christians who we might say had every “right” to give up on growth as they were forced from their homeland and “persecuted from without and subverted from within.”* In the first chapter he repeatedly says, “add to.” Don’t rest on your laurels. Don’t give up. “If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive…”

No matter the age, physical condition, education, past experience, or sociological standing, God’s Perennial Woman is meant to keep growing, be effective and productive. Some might be discouraged because of decreasing energy (all of us??) or mental capacity, but we are responsible for those areas of life over which we have control.

Maybe it’s time to take inventory of who you are. Praise God for creating you in his image and look for ways each morning to make his light shine brightly (that’s what “glorify” means) through your strengths and your weaknesses. And remember: “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

*Encyclopedia of the Bible

Start!

Starting LineI didn’t go to church yesterday. Before you gasp, gasp or tsk, tsk, let me explain. I firmly believe that meeting together weekly with my partners on this journey of faith is crucial to my spiritual health, my intellectual growth, and the mutual encouragement that flows between my brothers and sisters. But I also know that the sharing of germs is definitely not part of God’s plan for my life or theirs!

Fortunately our church “livestreams” the morning worship services so I was able to virtually pray, sing and worship in front of my computer. (Well, I didn’t do the singing part.) I particularly didn’t want to miss out on the first sermon of a current series with the simple theme, Start. I wasn’t disappointed. The premise of this series is that God asks us all to start something in our walk with him. The race isn’t over until life is over so no matter the age, we’re all, at all times, at some starting point. The text upon which the morning’s sermon was based was Mark 1:1: The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah. That first “the” isn’t in the Greek text so it’s as though Mark explodes, Beginning! I’m about to tell you the greatest story ever told. Pay attention to how it was done then so you’ll know how to do it now! (The Marilyn Translation.)

I repeat: we’re all, at all times, at some starting point. Maybe not for some grand and glorious endeavor, but—at the minimum—for each day God gives us. Unfortunately for many, waking up to the new day doesn’t seem like the start of anything special. Get up (slowly!), attend to the body’s demands, assume that this day will be much like many or most of the past.

But is it possible that God may have undiscovered nuggets for us in the morning’s devotional reading? (Nuggets, of course, are only unearthed when what is read is pondered upon and that demands quiet, unhindered, uninterrupted thinking.) What or who comes to mind when the head is first bowed in silent prayer? Could this person or circumstance be where God is leading this day?

Many years ago I worked in Women’s Ministries at our church and in a meeting of leaders of small group Bible studies, I almost casually mentioned that I was looking for a woman to begin organizing a new program. A few minutes after returning to my office, Gwen* arrived at my desk. “Marilyn, I don’t think I’m the person to take that job but I’ll pray for the right woman.”

I was dumbfounded. Gwen was in her eighties and while healthy and involved in her small study, in no way did I entertain the thought that she would be the person I was looking for. I hope I was gracious in my response, thanking her for the offer and grateful for her years of ministry. “Oh, that’s OK, Marilyn. It’s just that whenever an opportunity for ministry is voiced, I ask God if it’s a place for me.”

Knowing the details of Gwen’s life, I knew this attitude of instant and willing availability didn’t emerge overnight. She had experienced many races where she was on the starting line. She and her husband worked with suburban teens before they were challenged to move to the inner city of a major metropolitan area. Gwen told me how she nearly stumbled spiritually when faced with the reality of raising five young children in that turbulent culture, but then finally decided this was exactly where God wanted her children nurtured. Other challenges followed, especially after their “retirement” when they moved to an African country to train youth workers. It was during that time, and in that place that another unexpected and difficult start occurred: Gwen’s husband died and she started on life as a widow.

And here she was in my office, willing to start again!

What kind of woman starts over and over again? What is in her “DNA”? What is her view of God? Her view of herself? Her view of her circumstances? Let’s discover this woman together…

*Not her real name.