My Dearests

January 29, 2010 | My Jottings

Nothing has impacted my life as much as having children. Those of you with kids know just what I mean. I knew when I was a little girl that I wanted to grow up, get married, and raise a family. But I had no idea how much being a mother would characterize my life. I am married and have a husband who is a daily example to me of what love, mercy, long-suffering, hope, and grace look like. I cannot imagine my life without Michael. He threw his wild and haphazard net all the way out from Northern Minnesota to Southern California in 1981 and caught me, and I have thanked God about six and a half million times for that marvel.

But there’s something about flesh and blood. There’s something about having my own children, that drives every single day. Even though I’m not raising them anymore and they’re all capable adults, there’s hardly an hour in my life that isn’t shaped by thoughts of and dreams for my girls.

God has given me three daughters, and here they are.

This photo was taken in 2000 at Sharon’s wedding, but they all still basically look the same. They might say otherwise, but when you get old like me, four pounds and two slight wrinkles mean nothing, nothing at all. So if any of them leave comments about this photo, pay absolutely no attention to what they say. :)

Sara Yvonne is on the left. She would have been named Steven Michael had she been a boy. I was so thrilled she was a girl. She was born at home and is the youngest of our daughters. She is very creative. She has had a knack for interior design since she was a little girl, and I never hesitated to ask her even when she was seven, which way the furniture should be arranged, what art print I should choose and which fabric I should buy to cover the chair. She is a gifted floral designer and her creations are unique, unexpected and beautiful, like she is. Sara is the most devoted auntie to her nieces and nephews, and they all throw themselves at her when she visits. She has a talent for turning chaos into order in almost no time. She lends a hand when others need help. She gives me pedicures, massages my neck and feet, and comes over often to just talk. Every time she leaves I say, “Thank you, Jesus, for blessing me with Sara!”

Sharon Lindsay is pictured in the middle. She would have been named Nathan or Nathaniel had she been a boy. I was so thrilled she was a girl. She was born in an Air Force hospital in northern California, and is my oldest daughter, who made me a mother when I was nineteen years old. She is very creative. She has had the gift of words since she was a year old, when she began speaking and retaining information at an alarming rate. She was reading simple books by the time she was eighteen months old, and conducting extensive telephone polls about the Loch Ness Monster by the time she was thirteen. She is a wife. She is the mother of three wonderful children. She is a high school teacher and a gifted dyer and purveyor of gorgeous yarns. She calls me every day and we laugh about the same things, which no one else thinks are funny. She sends me songs with pertinent lyrics when I am blue. Every time I get off the phone with her I say, “Thank you, Jesus, for blessing me with Sharon!”

Carolyn Beth is on the right. She would have been named Jeffrey Allen had she been a boy. I was so thrilled she was a girl. She was born in an Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, and is my second daughter, born twenty months after Sharon. She is very creative. Early on she could play the piano, paint and draw quite well, and write dramatic stories. She was a peaceful child and an avid reader, and could often be found with her nose in a book, deeply engrossed in works like Gone With the Wind even if chaos swirled around her. She is a superb actress who has been in stage productions of Cinderella, The Miracle Worker, Carousel, The Last Five Years, and many others. Carolyn sings beautifully and her acting gift always amazes me. I sit in the audience of her plays and wonder to myself, “Who is that lovely young woman? Oh that’s right – she’s my daughter!” She is a wife. She is the mother of four wonderful children. She is my Personal Assistant, and her fantastic cooking, planning and organizational help keeps me sane. Her very presence heartens and cheers me, and I always feel a little bit better when she’s around. When she goes home I say, “Thank you, Jesus, for blessing me with Carolyn!”

My three daughters. My very heart. My dearests.

Edition 31-Wednesday’s Word

January 27, 2010 | My Jottings

I have enjoyed the music of Sara Groves for years now. If you’d like to hear one of her recent releases that spoke to my heart, you can click here.

I like how transparent she is about her life, about her struggles and triumphs in marriage and motherhood. I also like how open she is about her unanswered questions even though she’s a follower of Jesus. I recently found this quote about marital growth and struggle from her and thought I’d share it here on the blog.

“That is so real for Troy and me,” says the Minneapolis resident and mother of three. “At one moment, you’re looking at each other with thoughts like, I can’t believe I married you — what was I thinking? And you go from that place where there’s no common ground to complete tenderness and the complete knowing of each other. Troy and I are learning how to resolve conflict better. Keeping that tenderness in the equation has been the greater victory of our marriage.”

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I learned something exciting

January 26, 2010 | My Jottings

I occasionally read a blog of a woman in Texas who I think is very funny. Today I looked at her blog and she has a link to another blogger who gives a tutorial on how to properly and easily fold a fitted sheet. I realized after watching this video that I have never correctly folded a fitted sheet, and it’s so much easier than I thought it was.

To learn A) if you have been folding your fitted sheets correctly, B) if you have been folding your fitted sheets incorrectly, or C) if you’re slightly curious how others fold their fitted sheets, please click right here.

Some of us (as the funny Texas blogger says) have always folded sheets by another popular method – by rolling them up into a ball and stuffing them at the back of the closet. That works too.

But I think you might be surprised how easy this is, and how flat the sheet lays after she folds it. This would definitely create space in a linen closet.

After I put up this post I might tune in to the live Den Cam of Lily the Bear to see if I can hear her little cub making its heart-wrenching little bear cub sounds as the snow falls on her mama’s behind.

After that I might take a nap.

I wish.

So now I would like to ask you two questions.

1. How have you always folded your fitted sheets?
2. Did this little video demonstration change the way you’ll be folding your fitted sheets?

My answers are:

1. I tried but it never turned out well – always a little messy.
2. Yes.

I’m compiling a study and need your answers.

Thank you,

Today’s Eleven Things

January 25, 2010 | My Jottings

1.  Last night I couldn’t find my recipe for Lebanese Chicken with Couscous, so I threw together a Chicken Curry dish in the crockpot that was so yummy everyone raved and said it was a keeper. It had ginger, carrots, tomatoes, cumin, curry, raisins and peanuts in it. I’ll definitely make it again. (I later found the other recipe online and it’s delicious and unique – you can find it here.)

2.  I’ve been watching Lily the black bear in her den in Ely, MN on a live Bear Den Cam. She gave birth to one little cub a couple of days ago and if you catch them at the right time, you can hear its little high-pitched cries of hunger, and see Lily moving around trying to nurse. Check out www.bear.org if you have huge chunks of time with nothing to do.

3.  I have taken to wearing the same clothes over and over again and I’m not in the least bit worried that it might be a mental health issue. I wear a navy blue turtleneck covered by a lightweight grey sweater, dark blue jeans, navy SmartWool socks and Acorn slippers. Unless I’m going out, then I put on some weather-appropriate shoes. I do wash this outfit regularly, so it’s not like I wear it day after day and it never gets clean. But it is like I wear it day after day, day after day, and am thinking I might just do this for a long time.

4.  The song “Rabbit and the Bear” by Josh Garrels is getting a lot of playtime in our car these days. His music sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I am convinced that the lyrics of this song brilliantly describe what has happened, is happening, and will happen, in the spiritual realm which we cannot yet see. If you want to hear the song you can go to his site and click on the forward arrow of his player until you see that song’s title appear.

5.  Michael and I have been talking about going to the Passion Play in Oberammargau, Germany this year. It’s staged once every ten years, and if we’re going to do it, this would be the year. In 2020 Michael will be 71 and I’ll be 62 so we are thinking sooner rather than later.

6.  I have really wonderful children and grandchildren who occupy my thoughts a lot.

7.  This is how I know I’m getting old: a pileated woodpecker at least 15-16 inches tall flew to a maple tree right outside my kitchen window last week and I was so excited I almost cried.

8.  I have been house hunting lately and I can’t say why yet.  :)

9.  I didn’t eat an egg until I was in my early twenties. Or broccoli. Or ketchup or mayonnaise. Or cabbage or soup or gravy or cucumbers or tomatoes. I made a concerted effort to eat and enjoy all these things when I moved to Minnesota, and did!

10. I have not been successful at becoming a fan of tuna or lima beans.

11.  I plan to start baking big crusty, round loaves of whole wheat bread again. It’s been too long, and our wintry weather makes me want to start mixing, kneading and baking. And eating it warm from the oven with some butter.

What are your eleven things today? Or your nine things? Or perhaps your three things?

All aboard!

January 22, 2010 | My Jottings

Our two Miniature German Schnauzers, Edith and Millie, have their favorite places in the house to hang out. The place they prefer the most is the back of the couch in the den, so they can perch there and look out the window to the houses and street beyond. Sometimes we just can’t take their alerting us to minor movement outside one more second and we close the den shades, which, by the looks they give us, robs them of all their zest for living.

Their second favorite place is our bed. And since our bedroom is decorated in a lot of black and white toile, we always comment when they’re both laying on the bed that people probably think we decorated the bedroom to match our dogs. Toile Dogs, we say, and we laugh and think to ourselves how stinking funny we are.

Here’s a photo of part of our bedroom, followed by a shot of Millie and Edith on the bed. See how nicely they blend in with our color scheme? (A few years ago I read in Better Homes and Gardens that you can never really have too many plates on your walls. I might have carried this decorating advice a little too far…)

Toile (pronounced twall) Dogs. Schnauzers have hair instead of fur, so this means they don’t shed and they always smell pretty good. For dogs. But notice that when they lay on our bed, I put a cotton blanket down just to keep things lasting fresher longer.

So now we’ve noticed that Edith and Millie are trying to find a place to be comfortable in the living room. I moved the couch recently and this has unsettled them. It’s in the middle of the room, centered in front of the fireplace, with a couple of chairs around it – sort of a conversation area. So if you need an area in which to have some conversation, please call or e-mail and I can set you up pretty quickly.

The two Schnauzers (the blacker one is Edith and she’s almost eight, and the silvery one is Millie and she’s almost four) keep jumping up on the back of the rearranged couch in the living room and looking at us from under those schnauzery eyebrows, perplexed. They seem to wonder why they’re suddenly sitting way up there in the middle of the room, not near the window where they can keep vigil for all the potentially perilous things going on outside. It’s much harder to see the sinister squirrels and the dangerous deer from their new vantage point.

I took this photo of them the other day and I thought they looked like a Schnauzer Train. Millie, the insecure and needy one, has to be out in front all the time. And Edith, the long-suffering and weary one, bringing up the rear as the canine caboose.

Don’t they look like they’re Dogs Adrift? Clinging to a rickety raft on an ocean of carpet, far from the window land they love?

A Schnauzer Train. Dogs adrift on a rickety raft. Toile Dogs.

Clearly, I need to make an appointment.

On that final day

January 20, 2010 | My Jottings

Many years ago a good friend shared with a group of us that she would give anything to be a fly on the wall at her own funeral. So, a zany bunch of us planned Joanne’s funeral while she was still alive, and we graciously invited her to attend. It was held in the evening at a friend’s house.

My husband built Joanne a makeshift coffin, which was laid out on the dining room table. There were chairs set up in the living room as in a funeral parlor, candles lit, flowers placed, somber music playing in the background. All of us wore black, even our friend (who was approaching sixty at the time). One by one, everyone came up to share personal eulogies and memories about our friend, while she laid there motionless in the coffin, listening. Some comments were more serious and truly heartfelt, most were a little on the goofy and melodramatic side, and I remember seeing Joanne trying to keep a straight face as she laid there and listened to all of the weeping and wailing and reminiscing. We dabbed at our eyes with hankies and some even threw themselves across the body in practice grief. Then a couple of us performed a song, an oldie with words we rewrote for the occasion: “It’s my funeral and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to…you would cry too if it happened to you!”

Then we had a funeral lunch. And Joanne climbed out of the coffin and joined us for that.  It was agreed that a good time was had by all. :)

Some of you are thinking this is pretty funny. Others are reading with a raised eyebrow and thinking it’s kind of sick. This sort of humor is not for everyone. I think since our friend Joanne (a wise and dignified woman we all love so much) wanted this and could laugh at herself, it was okay. It certainly created an unforgettable memory for all of us.

I don’t plan on asking my friends and family to stage a funeral for me before I die, although I do relate a little to the curiosity of wanting to know what will be said after I’m gone. I’ve left my wishes and instructions in a file on my computer and my family knows all about it. They won’t have to guess what I want, who should sing, what I should be dressed in, what verses should be read, etc. I don’t want them to have to wonder about any of that at the time of my passing.

But I do have one special request for that day that only God can fill.

This is what I would like to happen outside our window on the day that I die, and I would want it to occur so that all my family members were in one place at the same time to witness it.

I don’t know if it will happen, of course. Only God could orchestrate something this lovely and miraculous. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.

I can dream, can’t I?

Silent Retreat

January 18, 2010 | My Jottings

We have some friends who told us about a place they visit a few times a year for rest and renewal. It’s called Pacem in Terris (Latin for Peace on Earth) and is a silent retreat center about two hours south of where we live.

As I heard more about the acres of beautiful woods, the small private hermitages, and the quiet, I knew I wanted to go.

Late last fall I got everything squared away at home and drove south to Pacem (I had to get used to the way it’s pronounced – POTCH-em in TER-ees). I stayed for two nights in the middle of the week, so out of the sixteen hermitages available, only four were occupied. They are spaced so carefully and far apart that it’s possible to feel like you’re alone in the woods. My hermitage was about a quarter mile out and was named after the patron saint, St. Clare of Assisi.

Pacem is a Catholic/Franciscan retreat center; I was told that about half the people who visit are Catholic, about forty percent are Protestant (that’s me), and the rest are people who claim no faith but are interested seekers.

From the Pacem in Terris literature, I read this:

Why Make a Hermitage Retreat?

To be alone with God is vital to spirituality. Nevertheless, most of us tend to neglect or push aside opportunities to move deeper into intimacy with Him.

With fast-paced, noisy, hectic and over-scheduled lives, we struggle daily to meet our personal needs and to balance relationships. Listening to others (truly listening) seems almost impossible – and it is even more difficult to hear one’s inner voice or the voice of God.

Sometimes, we need to step away from the struggles and influences of a secular society into a simple “desert-like” environment of silence and solitude. The dedicated silence and simplicity of a hermitage makes it possible for each hermit guest to seek and enter into an intimate union with God. In that intimacy, God’s love heals, nourishes, guides and transforms lives. He delights as we offer Him our praise and thanksgiving, and intercede for the needs of His people.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I visited, but I knew I needed to be alone with God. My life is blessed, but I don’t have many opportunities to be completely by myself, in total quiet, and the older I get the more I seem to need this.

Here’s a photo of my little hermitage, St. Clare, although when I visited it was in the autumn and most of the leaves had changed, dried and fallen by then:

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Above, you can see the little screen porch to the right. It was pretty cold when I was there, but I did bundle up and go out to sit in the porch one evening. The wildlife, the birdsong and the wind in the trees were the only sounds to be heard on these beautiful 240 acres of woods. There’s also a small prairie and a lake on the property.

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Inside each hermitage is a comfortable twin bed, a large rocking chair, a wall heater that kept things toasty, and a gas burner for making tea. No electricity, no running water, no bathroom. There are extra clean outhouses scattered throughout the woods near the hermitages, and I was not as inconvenienced by them as I had anticipated I would be.

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The closet has everything you need – extra blankets, a pillow, a first aid kit, tea, and so much more. Several jugs of fresh water are provided, and if you need more, the caretakers at “the big house” at the front of the property will bring it to you. Because you keep silence while you’re at Pacem, if you need something you leave a note on your outside box with a clothespin. At 1:00 p.m. each day they come to check your note and then bring back to you whatever you need. They don’t even knock on your door – they just hang it on the box and do not disturb anyone.

There’s also an altar and a Bible in each hermitage. I brought my own Bible and a journal in which to write.

If you’re a first-time visitor to Pacem, you get a chance to chat with someone before they drive you out to your hermitage and show you where everything is. The woman I met with told me that many people who come for retreat are utterly exhausted, and it’s not unheard of for some to sleep forty-eight hours at first. Our culture is so harried and loud and demanding, it seems our bodies don’t know how to thrive with the stress. She said that if I felt like sleeping a lot I shouldn’t feel guilty and that sleep is a gift from God too.

I don’t think I’m sleep-deprived so that wasn’t an issue for me, but it took me most of the first day to just get used to the quiet. No phones, no music, no chores to do, no other voices – it made me realize how noisy and busy our lives have become, and how unaccustomed to quiet most of us truly are. It was unsettling at first, and that fact alone made me a little sad.

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The walking trails through the beautiful woods at Pacem are peaceful and well-groomed. Even in the woods, if passing a fellow “hermit,” you keep silence.

Anyone staying there is invited for dinner at “the big house,” and the first night I didn’t go. I wanted to rest and enjoy the solitude, and to pray and read. I did walk up to the house the second evening, and it was quite nice to meet two other people who were there on retreat. At dinner silence is broken, so we shared where we were from and why we were there.

I saw so many deer walking and even bounding and leaping through the woods outside my hermitage window as I sat and rocked in my chair. There were birds and squirrels everywhere too.

Grey fox 010

At dinner we learned about the Pacem fox who’s fairly tame and roams the property. I hoped I’d have a chance to see him and was so delighted when I did. I was walking up to the big house to take a shower (wonderful, clean facilities for this) one morning and the fox trotted across the path about twenty yards in front of me. I didn’t take this photo, but this is the Pacem fox, taken by the folks who care for the center.

All the hermitages are the same, and this is the view from the bed, near the entry. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to sit in this chair, watch the woods and animals outside, close my eyes and pray, read my Bible and ponder, knowing I had nowhere to go and no one to talk to but Jesus. At night I wrapped myself in a blanket, lit a candle and just sat and rocked, praying for my family and praising God for His goodness to me.

Each hermitage is thoughtfully stocked with a basket of food for each visitor. There are two small rounds of whole wheat bread they bake in their house kitchen, and a block of cheddar cheese, several pieces of fruit and a large, nutty bran muffin. If you want more you can put a note out in your box and they’ll bring more for you. I was content with what they provided, and the chicken dinner at the big house was delicious.

It was strange to go to bed with the setting sun and not have anything else to do. No nightstand light to read by, no calls to answer. A friend of mine said, “Oh, Julie, I don’t know if I could do it. I think I would have a hard time with all that quiet.” I understood what she meant, and it is strange to step into all that silence, but oh, it was sublime!

I would like to return to Pacem in Terris again someday. Our friends who told us about the place go there regularly, to keep sane in a crazy world, to renew, rest and refresh, and to listen to what God wants to speak to them.

Psalm 46:10 is such an appropriate verse for a silent retreat, and I was so aware of this invitation while I was there:

Be still, and know that I am God.

Never read anything like it

January 15, 2010 | My Jottings

I started a book a few weeks ago on the recommendation of someone whose book taste I like. The book is over 600 pages long and began slowly, but I persisted because of the referral. I just finished it last night. I couldn’t get to sleep right away so wanted to read the final two chapters without disturbing Michael sleeping beside me. I reached over and quietly took out a little flashlight in my nightstand drawer, put on my glasses, and read in bed until just after midnight, when I regretfully turned the last page.

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden, was like no other book I’ve ever read. A work of fiction based on a real abbey in England, it’s a detailed and fascinating look into the monastic lives of contemplative Benedictine nuns. The women entered the abbey prepared to give their lives completely to God, and lived literal lives of prayer, which I find intriguing and compelling, even though I’m not Catholic.

The various nuns the reader becomes acquainted with are young and virginal, older and widowed, selfish and prideful, homely and insecure, formerly rich and powerful, beautiful and angelic, gifted and wise, and all in process of learning what it means to serve their God above all else. Some find that they cannot make the sacrifices, and leave Brede Abbey before taking their solemn vows.

It took over a hundred pages of reading before I began to understand how the author was crafting this book and developing her characters, but once I got the feel for it, I couldn’t put it down. I was deeply touched and awed many times, and had to lay the book on my chest, close my eyes and let a few tears fall.

Whether or not you’re a believer, if you would like a rich, different reading experience, your library should have this book, and you should check it out soon.

Strange and silly as this sounds, I feel almost bereft at the thought of no longer being able to savor this book at the end of the day.

Sigh,

While I sit in comfort…

January 14, 2010 | My Jottings

I just put up a post about praying for our children. Now we see that Haiti’s children are in dire need. If you have paid attention to the news lately, you know about the terrible earthquake that has destroyed a huge part of that island nation. I can’t even grasp what kind of horror they’re experiencing.

While I sit in comfort and plenty, much of Haiti is in ruins. I have prayed, as many of you have. Really, I don’t know what else to do. But I would rather light one candle in the vast darkness than light no candle at all, especially when I have candles and matches in hand.

I’ve never done this on the blog before, but in case any of you would like to light one little candle in the dark with me, I’m posting a link to an organization I trust and regularly support, and one I know is already at work in Haiti, helping people, especially children.

I know that many people are very strapped these days. But I believe if each of us could give a little bit — $5? $10? the cost of a Frappuccino or a pizza — then for someone, somehow, it could make a difference. How much of a difference I don’t know, but I’m not going to let that stop me from giving.

Here’s the link to Compassion International.

Thank you,

Prayer Mug

My Jottings

My delightful friend Deb gave me a unique gift last summer that I use frequently. It’s a prayer mug, made by a friend of hers. The mug is stamped with different words that signify the things we might pray for when we lift our children to the Lord. The mom who made this mug thought of how we often hold our warm mugs of coffee or tea with our hands cupped around them, almost as if in prayer.

What better time to pray for our children than when we’re having a cup of something hot in the mornings? What better words to use than the ones on this prayer mug?

Guard...Love...Bless

Help...Heal...Guide

Protect

“Lord, we lift our beautiful, cherished children to you today. We don’t really know how to be good parents unless you show us what to do. We rely on you to do what we cannot.

Father, we ask you to guard our children whether they are young or old.

We ask you to fill their lives with evidences of your love, and teach them what real love is.

We ask that you bless our children in all the ways they need to be blessed.

Help them, Lord Jesus. 

Heal their wounds so they can know your touch and take your compassion to others.

Guide them today, Lord, and put them on the paths that will lead them to you.

And please protect our children, Father. Keep them from evil and evil from them.

In Jesus’ mighty name we pray….Amen”

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