Trees, seals, graves, friends and a virus

April 16, 2020 | My Jottings

How is everyone doing? I stopped counting the days a long time ago. I remind myself that with a warm home, a job I do from home, stable health, and an impossible jigsaw puzzle to do, I have much to be thankful for.

Then I remind myself that I cannot see my grandchildren even though they are within practically arm’s reach, and that they are growing up and changing without me being able to see them up close. Then I remind myself that they are going to forget that they love and need me, until they don’t love and need me anymore. And it won’t matter to them that I love and need them. Then I remind myself that I can’t have lunch with friends, can’t have dinner with my daughters, can’t drive to Tennessee to spend time with my sister-in-law now that my brother has died, can’t go to the library and peruse the shelves. Then I remind myself that so many I know have lost jobs, and so many I don’t know have lost loved ones. Then I remind myself that I can’t go to church and gather and kneel and pray with my church family. Then I remind myself that I can’t happily plan a menu and invite friends over for a nice meal around my table, enjoying conversation and laughter and the preciousness of their presence.

You can see how upbeat and productive I am. My inner life is truly remarkable. Sabotage… that’s what I’m doing to my brain, I guess.

Being an introvert, the first few weeks seemed almost like normal life to me. But now all these facts I’m reminding myself of have taken their toll, and I feel pretty down. Just the time to take to my blog and post something, right?

So I thought I’d share some pictures from the recent trip Lloyd and I took to my home state of California. We were there for almost two weeks, right as everything began to shut down.

I grew up in SoCal, but never made it to Sequoia National Park. We decided to visit there for two days and it was a definite highlight. We both agreed we should have planned for a much longer stay. It was spectacular being in the Sierra Nevadas and seeing these trees that were here when Jesus walked the earth.

This is Lloyd and me standing in front of the largest tree on the planet. The picture doesn’t even come close to showing how magnificent and massive they are. As we drove higher and higher (almost 9000 feet elevation), we gasped and gaped each time we rounded a curve and saw one of these giants in amongst the other trees.

We pulled over to take the picture below — I think you can click to enlarge. The gray squiggles in the middle of the photo are the switchback road we drove to get to the higher elevations.

Toward the end of our trip we drove Pacific Coast Highway north to San Simeon, where Hearst Castle is. My parents and I visited there many times, and it felt strange and sad and exhilarating to see it again, sitting way up on the hill. Lloyd and I had hoped to see an elephant seal or two if we squinted our eyes, at the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery just north of San Simeon. Imagine our awe when we got out of the car and saw hundreds and hundreds of them sleeping on the beach. We were so struck by the seals we had to read up on them when we returned to our hotel. The males can be 5000 pounds, and I can see three in the picture below. The time we spent here was also a highlight of our trip.

When I was growing up in Covina, California, my parents and I would vacation in Morro Bay two-three times a year. Morro Bay is a sleepy little town on the Central Coast, and some of my happiest memories are from visiting there. Morro Rock is supposedly a volcanic plug, whatever that means. I just looked it up — it means this rock is a “remnant neck” of a volcano that was here millions of years ago.

Whenever my mom and dad and I would drive the five hours north to Morro Bay, I watched anxiously to see the rock and the three PG & E smokestacks as we would approach the town. Those monuments meant a fun stay in a hotel, foggy weather we loved, a walk on the Embarcadero, salt water taffy for my mom, a walk on the beach to gather sand dollars, drives up the coast to see Hearst Castle, eating at The Breakers, my parents eating clam chowder and me having a burger, dreaming with them that we might someday live there. They never made that leap because of my dad’s good job in Covina, but I remember the Morro Bay visits as happy times before my parents divorced and our family disintegrated.

I was thrilled to be able to show Lloyd Morro Bay and walk on the beach with him. We gathered sand dollars and marveled at long-beaked, solitary curlews that walked around in the sand close by.

We also visited my mom’s grave in Covina. She is buried next to her parents, Edward Bennett and Oma Leora McInteer.

While in the Morro Bay area we went to Los Osos, where my dad is buried.

We were blessed to spend two days and nights with my beloved childhood friend Denel. She and her husband Jerry have retired and bought a condo on the ocean in Solana Beach, just north of San Diego. Lloyd and I slept in their guest room and had the sliding glass window open a bit at night, listening to the crashing waves nearby.

This is Lloyd in Solana Beach — just look at what Denel and Jerry get to see every single day. We walked the beach with them and I rolled up my jeans and put my feet in the Pacific for the first time in decades. I used to swim in that ocean as often as I could. In fact, I used to swim as far out as my ten-year old strength would allow, until I couldn’t reach the bottom when I dove down, or see the faces of people on the beach when I turned to look back.

How could we go to Southern California and not visit Disneyland? I went to Disneyland at least once a year and sometimes twice in my younger years. I know it like the back of my hand, and wanted to experience it again, and see the new rides. It was a rainy day and we took umbrellas, but even the rain and visiting on a weekday didn’t prevent the lines of some of the most popular rides from having 90 minute waits. So we chose not to wait that long, although had I been by myself I would have done it. Denel and I went to Disneyland as children together, and she drove up to Anaheim from Solana Beach to go with us. The day after we were at the Magic Kingdom, the park closed.

Denel and Jerry also took us to The Flower Fields in Carlsbad Ranch, and that was such a treat. Never have I seen so many ranunculus flowers, nor varieties of poinsettias. It was mind-boggling and lovely. These are my favorite poinsettias:

We also visited my dear friend Diane and her love Danny. They have retired to Palm Desert and we stayed two days and nights with them in their beautiful home in a gated community called Sun City. I met Diane when I was 19 years old and we were both attending a Lamaze childbirth class in Yuba City, California, near Beale AFB where our husbands were stationed. We have been devoted friends for over 40 years.

Diane and Danny (below) took us to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, and we boarded a rotating tram car in the desert and in ten minutes were almost 9000 feet up, where there was snow and pines and views of the Coachella Valley I could have enjoyed for the whole day.

Everyone in the desert gets very creative with their landscaping since having green grassy lawns to water isn’t recommended. I think Diane and Danny’s back yard is unique and beautiful!

One of the best parts of the trip for me, was being able to spend time with my father’s widow Dorothy. Dorothy is one of the finest people I’ve ever known. It would take an entire blog post to tell of how she cared lovingly for my mother when she was ill, how she loved and served my father, how she blessed our family so richly. She lives in Atascadero with her son Jim and his wife Kim and their amazing family. We were welcomed there for lunch and when we left, Lloyd and I got in the car to drive away and I sobbed. I love her so much and know this was probably the last time I’ll see her on this earth. Dorothy used to paint, and the portrait is of her late father.

I have so many more pictures, but just thought I’d share a few from each area we visited. As we neared the end of our trip, we called ahead one morning to see if we could get an early check-in at the last hotel we were to stay in, in San Diego. They had closed indefinitely and never even emailed or called to let us know our reservation was voided. We took that as our sign to leave a day early, as everything in California was closing down and we wanted to get home to Minnesota. We had heard of “ghost flights” with hardly any passengers, but we were able to reschedule and get the last two seats on a packed Delta flight. We arrived in Minneapolis late, so stayed in a hotel overnight, grocery shopped the next morning, then drove north. I dropped Lloyd off at his cabin and continued on to my house by Lake Superior. We quarantined for almost two weeks before we were together again. We have been married for six months now, but we still have two homes. We spend three or four days together, then three or four days apart. It works well for us.

Today, I am taking my foster gal on a nice ride in the country, and we will stop at a burger place with carhop service. She is anxious to order their onion rings, a hot dog, and one of their famous fresh berry milk shakes. I think I might have a burger myself. 🙂

How are you holding up? Have you been doing anything creative? Watching anything good on TV? Lloyd and I have really liked a British series on Netflix that my friend Pat recommended called “Endeavour.”

God bless you all…

Bearskin Lodge After-Wedding Trip

March 23, 2020 | My Jottings

I’ve been meaning to share some pictures from our after-wedding trip ever since October. But a few things have happened. And then a few more. And then the Huge Thing happened, and here we are, in our houses, praying for the sick and the bereaved, wondering if life will ever get back to the way it was. I know the answer to that, but for now, let’s just look at some beauty.

This was the tiny cabin Lloyd and I stayed in at Bearskin Lodge on the Gunflint Trail. We were there four nights and five days, and didn’t want to leave. It was cold at night, sunny during the day, and there were gorgeous colorful leaves everywhere, and we had a lake at our back door and the woods all around. No phone service, no television. It was heaven.

The Gunflint Trail starts in Grand Marais, MN, which is about 100 miles north of where I live. It winds north and west through Minnesota’s forests, and if you look at the map you can see how close to Canada it comes. The Gunflint is the yellow road below. And you can also get an idea why Minnesota is called the land of 10,000 lakes. Although that is a lie. We have so many more than 10,000.

This is the sign that greeted us on the Gunflint Trail for our lodge. We then drove down a dirt road a couple of miles before getting to the main office, where we picked up our key and headed for Cabin 2.

We just had to stop and have some lunch before we got to our Gunflint turnoff, though. This was the salted caramel gingerbread cake a la mode we split. It had some cayenne pepper in it too, so yummy.

The inside of our cabin was rustic but so warm and comfy. Lloyd’s daughter Angela had called ahead and a warm Forest Berry Pie was waiting for us when we unlocked our cabin.

The kitchen was just a little corner at the front of the cabin, and I warmed a pot of soup for dinner. I made the soup at home and we took it with us.

We hiked, we drove around in our pajamas looking for moose (they abound on the Gunflint Trail!), we read out loud to each other. We had to hike on the Honeymoon Bluff Hiking trail since we had just gotten married and we were on our After-Wedding Trip.

Lloyd’s truck, Lloyd tying his hiking boots.

Such a gorgeous autumn day for a senior citizen selfie.

The morning we drove down some abandoned logging roads looking for moose, we happened upon this lake at sunrise. If you enlarge it you might be able to see the ducks.

We hiked to an overlook near Hungry Jack Lake, and this weathered fence post caught my eye. Look at how the rings formed in the winters (dark) are harder and stood up to the winds better than the lighter colored, softer wood made in the summers. There is a life lesson there.

The lodge at Bearskin has a cow moose and her calf made out of wound up twigs and branches, and they’re lit up with hundreds of tiny lights at night.

We took a kite in case we wanted to fly it. We took it out on the boat with us in Bearskin Lake and flew it until the string snapped. We were able to turn back and rescue the kite from the lake. What a lovely thing to sit with my feet up and read, while the fall sun comes in the back window of our little cabin.

This is the soup I brought — a copy of Olive Garden’s Zuppa Toscana — so mouthwatering. I always add extra of everything, especially kale.

I don’t know what kind of mushrooms these are, but they were super hard. It took a lot to pull one off.

If you have trypophobia, do not enlarge this picture below. And please send lotion.

We boated for hours, but it was windy enough to make us want to come in and build a fire to get warm. Lloyd in a posture and expression I see a lot…

Trees fascinate me and I took lots of pictures of the waviness of the layers of bark on the pines.

From the top of Honeymoon Bluff Trail:

I’m trying to be intentional about how I spend my time these days. Lloyd and I just returned from a two week trip to California and were right in the thick of things. He is home in his log cabin fifty miles south of me, making sure he feels well. I’m here in my home, within view of Lake Superior, “sheltering in place” and doing foster paperwork. I want to knit, write, read, bake, walk, do old-person yoga, draw. So far I’ve only done one of those things. With overripe bananas.

How are you spending your time at home lately? Are you healthy? I pray you are.

May God keep you and help you,

Night time routines

March 1, 2020 | My Jottings

Do you think people develop more firmly established night time routines when they get older? I know I have.

Hopefully everyone brushes their teeth and gets into some comfortable pajamas or a nightgown before they go to bed. Those habits are expected and enforced from the time we’re tiny humans, right?

How about when you’re middle aged or even in the few last years of your life….what kinds of night time routines do you practice that you look forward to, or don’t look forward to?

It takes me a while to get ready for bed, because I like to take my time and I actually look forward to sleep each night. In the winter I go to bed so early one of my daughters pokes fun at me about it. She’ll call at 5:30 p.m. on her way home from work and say, “Are you in your nightgown yet?” In the warmer months I stay up later, but my routines rarely vary.

If my daughter Sara doesn’t let Mildred the Schnauzer out before me, I put Millie’s special collars on (no-bark and no-leave-the-yard) and let her out. I get morning meds ready for my foster resident the night before, and I may or may not load the dishwasher and get it started. When Millie is ready to come in for the night, I remove her collars and put them on the pillow on the oak pew in the dining room, and she goes downstairs to sleep in Sara’s room. I lock all the doors, turn off all lights and the computer, and head down the dark hallway to my bedroom.

I turn on one nightstand lamp, turn off the mist-free humidifier I have on in the winter, and I use the remote to turn on my wonderful electric fireplace near my bed. I turn down the house furnace and set the fireplace temperature to 66 degrees, the timer to two hours, and I enjoy the heat and the realistic flame so much, often falling asleep before it shuts off.

I always plug in my iPhone and scroll to my playlists on Amazon Music, and play something calming. I’ve gotten attached to the soundtrack of the recent movie A Hidden Life, and the music plays through my Bose speaker that sits on top of the fireplace.

Every other night I run a bath and put in a splash of Amway’s LOC liquid so I’ll have bubbles; sometimes my skin is dry and I don’t run a bath. While the super deep tub is filling, I grab the basin of my CPAP machine that has been air drying from its wash that morning, fill it half way with distilled water that I keep in my closet, and slide it in the machine on my nightstand and set it to warm. If I could skip living with a CPAP I would do so happily, but right after Michael died in 2015 I began having severe episodes of not breathing at night, and since then I’ve never gone a night without it. The feeling of going without any oxygen for a whole minute and waking up gasping desperately, heart pounding and limbs tingling, is not something pleasant, nor is it beneficial for my various internal organs. Why my brain forgot how to breathe at night after Michael died is a mystery. I told Lloyd I have brain damage and I absolutely meant it.

Then I brush my teeth. I take my time, sometimes using my Sonicare for the two minutes it’s set for, sometimes my ultra-soft regular toothbrush. After having Invisalign braces a few years ago, I began flossing my teeth a minimum of two times a day and I’ve never looked back. Then I take a very clean white washcloth that has been washed in the sanitize setting in my front loader machine, and clean off my tongue with warm water. Does that sound weird? I thought so too, until I read about how a certain former Bachelorette regularly uses a tongue scraper every day. She admitted it was weird but said “You’ve got to try it and you’ll see why.” Well, I wasn’t going to go out and buy a tongue scraper, but I thought clean white washcloths might do the trick, and she was right. Sounds strange, but wow. It’s a part of my night time routine now. What do you do to get ready for bed, Julie? Oh, I fill my CPAP basin and scrape my tongue. Wait…where are you going? Come baaack!

I use some mouthwash, wash my face if I’m not taking a bath, put a little Vitamin C serum on my skin and then a dab of moisturizer. I put on a plaid flannel nightgown, one of a few I have that are so warm and soft. And SmartWool socks on my feet if it’s cold out.

I pile up a couple of pillows on my king-sized bed so I can read for a while while my music is still playing softly and the faux fire is looking so cheery. The last three books I read: Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy, I’ve Seen the End of You by W. Lee Warren, and Rhythms of Renewal by Rebekah Lyons. The last three audiobooks I’ve listened to at night are: Hallelujah Anyway and Small Victories by Anne Lamott, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. The narrator on the last one was unbelievably good.

And here are a couple of photos of some kind of lantern flowers on my dining room table, taken years ago. For your visual enjoyment, having nothing to do with my night time rituals.




If Lloyd isn’t here (we both maintain our own houses, fifty miles apart, so we are together about half the time), he calls and we chat before we go to bed.

When it’s time to turn the light off and get ready to sleep, I turn the Bose speaker off, and the music. If sleep doesn’t seem imminent, I might listen to part of a podcast, but most of the time I don’t. I’ve read a lot about Dolly Parton’s America and didn’t think it would be up my alley, but I gave it a try and it’s pretty fascinating. I strap on a wrist brace to keep me from wrecking my left wrist. In sleep I bend my hand down as far as it will go, and the pain wakes me. Why would I do something like that when I’m supposed to be totally relaxed? Maybe that will go in the Question Box along with why has my brain forgotten to signal for regular breathing during sleep.

I also usually put on some kind of Burt’s Bees lip balm. And some Citrus-Mint Beeswax on my hands from a brown little waxy disk. Sometimes I think it smells like Citrus and Mint and other times I think it smells like Urine and Mint. I’m pretty sure the company wouldn’t do that, but the Citrus part is a little, uh, strong. Then I put a little dab of lanolin on one part of a nostril, where the nasal pillow mask sits on my crooked nose. By the time I wake in the morning, that spot is red and sore, and I entertain thoughts of using a full-face mask, which doesn’t hurt my nose but squashes my face pretty powerfully. All so a woman can breathe.

When I finally put all reading material down, turn off the music or podcasts, have my brace on and my CPAP on, I turn on my side and rest my bent right knee on a pillow. It’s the residue of a total knee replacement surgery I had in 2013. Just a little torque or twist and it’s a deep ache. Although walking is great.

Then, I pray. I pray for each daughter, step-daughter, grandchild, son-in-law, friend, and many others. I have probably prayed for you if you’re reading this. I often pray The Jesus Prayer, which is something I would never have done years ago, but I need His mercy, everyone I love needs His mercy, and if He were right in front of me now I would plead for mercy from my Jesus. I sometimes pray an Examen prayer. Sometimes I cry-pray. Actually, I cry-pray a lot.

Fortunately I don’t often have trouble falling asleep. I would guess I’m out within five minutes. I might wake up at 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. and have some trouble falling back to sleep but dropping off around 9:30 or 10:00 at night is never an issue.

This all takes less than 20 minutes or so (unless it’s bath night).

What are some of your night time routines? Which ones do you wish you could do without? Which ones bring you the most comfort?

Sifting Through

February 20, 2020 | My Jottings

She goes over the whole house in her mind again. The yellow stucco, the white trim, the half circle driveway out front. Her tiny self standing out there and looking south to the rolling gold hills in the distance, and listening for the call of the peacocks. Heelllp. Heelllp.

She goes back to the small galley kitchen at the front of the house, with a Formica covered table at one end, and the red vinyl banquette behind the table, a novelty to her which she called a booth, the cookie jar on the tiled counter with Nabisco Ideal cookies piled inside, the colored aluminum drinking glasses that gave a metallic taste to the water from the slowly dripping faucet.

She can see the good sized but narrow feet in the sturdy flesh colored sandals, anklet socks neatly turned down, and the stout but long calves above that, and the hem of the flowered cotton house dress above that, standing in front of the gleaming gas range. There is stirring going on, and savory smells she can’t bring to mind now because at that age she hardly ate the things others ate. Eggs, vegetables, pizza, soup, gravy and potatoes, almonds, apricots. All were impossible for her. She ate white rice with butter, Cheerios with whole milk and a spoonful of sugar, Skippy peanut butter and Welch’s grape jelly sandwiches on white Wonder bread, plain hamburgers “meat and bun only,” and Abba Zabba candy bars she bought for ten cents at the liquor store in front of Denel’s house. She would have a small salad if the lettuce was iceberg and the dressing was Wishbone Italian.

On the other side of the kitchen wall was the living room, with colonial style furniture, all arranged so the couple who lowered their bottoms down into the deep chairs and the divan with a sigh could see the television. Ed Sullivan. The Wonderful World of Disney. Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins.

There was a corner used-brick fireplace near the large cabinet television, where no fires were ever lit, and a many-spindled maple dining room set neatly pushed up against the far wall of the living room. A large painting of three little girls gathered together reading a book was hung over the divan. She liked being in this house, liked walking around and taking note of things, even though she was mostly invisible when she was there.

In the entry hall closet, which hid a vacuum and a few hanging coats, she always took out the inflatable Peter Rabbit, which was weighted at the bottom and stood taller than she, the single toy in the house that was a punching bag of sorts. It was dark blue, red and pale yellow, and she would give it a few whacks and smile when it righted itself and wobbled until it was still and waiting again.

She can see herself walking down the hallway to the three bedroom and two bathroom part of the house, in white shorts with cuffs, a white knit short-sleeved top, and bare feet. Her strawberry hair is shoulder length and parted on the side, and has the remnant of a pageboy curl at the ends, something her mother created with pink sponge rollers after a night time bath.

One of the small bedrooms had a gold vinyl sleeper couch in it and a desk. It had held her crib when she was brought home from Inter-Community Hospital to this house on Delay Avenue. Before her grandparents had moved here from Kansas and bought the house from her parents.

She looks in the door of the second bedroom, which used to be her two older brothers’ room. It has a double bed, a tall maple dresser and matching vanity and nightstand, and she sees the hardwood floors and the spareness of the room as she passes. Across the hall to the back of the house, she sees the room she was always drawn to the most. Two twin beds with rich mahogany head and foot boards, white chenille bedspreads perfectly made, and three other pieces. A tall, dark dresser, curved at the front, all the drawers stacked in elegant symmetrical unison, a shorter, wider dresser with a huge mirror affixed at the back and twelve graceful drawers, and a single prim nightstand that divided the two twin beds. Years later she met a furniture expert who looked at this mahogany set in her guest room upstairs and said, “Ooohhh, that’s probably a Drexel.” The expert pulled out one drawer, saw the confirming stamp on the side, and said, “Even in this condition you could get $10,000, easy.”

She closes her eyes and continues, tip-toeing around the bedroom, turning the key on the side of the nightstand lamp, on, off, on, off, so she can see the two china globes light so delicately, taking their turns. She was never much interested in what was in all the drawers. The tour around the house, quietly conducted for such a little girl (whose award years later from her Girl Scout troop leaders was a defining ribbon that read, “Perpetual Motion”) always led to the Japanese jewelry box on the long dresser. The outside was black lacquer, the inside had little portions lined with red satin. It had been a gift from her father to his mother-in-law, her grandmother, when he was serving in WW II as Lt. Commander of the USS Magoffin.

She stands in front of the dresser and reverently lifts the middle lid of the box, listening to the mournful tune that plays, and each tinkly note is still sharp and clear in her memory, over half a century later.

She sees herself close the jewelry box, then walk through the house to the kitchen back door, which led to an attached screened porch on the side of the house. A clean cement slab made the floor, the slanted roof was aluminum, which was so loud and comforting in the rain, and there were metal rocking chairs and a dark red stained cedar patio table along the perimeter of the porch. Mr. Clean, a yellow canary who sang and trilled and couldn’t stay out of his water dish, lived in a cage on the cedar table. She would sit close and say bird things to him, loving how he cocked his head at her and jumped from perch to perch.

Since this going back is a sunny day, she steps out of the porch onto the pink, porous cement block her grandfather has placed beneath the screen door, into the small back yard. There’s a tall, shady tree close to the house, a rose garden with pale pink and yellow wide blooms she pushes her nose into, and some common bladed grass, rather than the springy dichondra lawn her parents had opted for.

She can hear the clatter of dishes being set on the kitchen table. The conversation of her parents and grandparents inside. She doesn’t know why her brothers aren’t there.

She was never invited to spend the night there. There was no sitting on a squishy lap for the reading of a book. She doesn’t remember being asked even one question (How is school going? What books have you read lately? Would you like to help me bake cookies?) or looked upon with delight. She knows they cared, but whether or not they loved has never been firmly established. They came from a different generation of course.

A screech from the dining room breaks her reverie and she knows her periwinkle colored parakeet, Phoebe, wants a morning greeting and a new stem of millet. She looks around her at the antique mahogany Drexel bedroom set, and hums the tune from the jewelry box, long gone.

She has been told lately that she is cold and dismissive, that she is unable to make good human connection or change for the better. She has gone back to rake through the bits to see why this might be, what molds she was poured into that have shaped and hardened into what she is today.

She gleans no shiny treasures that would make her cry, “Aha!”

Except perhaps, just one.

It was in this yellow stucco house on Delay Avenue that she was clothed in a frilly dress and black patent leather Mary Janes. Her own lacy anklets were cuffed perfectly. Her hair brushed while she whined. From this circle driveway, the 1957 Buick LeSabre station wagon carried her off to Sunday School when she was three years old. She was taken into the pretty church, introduced to the warm and loving middle-aged teachers, and then her father drove home, returning to pick her up two hours later.

And this verse comes to her mind.

Philippians 1:6 – And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

She takes the gem and moves it in the light.

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 141

February 12, 2020 | My Jottings

“A world without a Sabbath would be like a man without a smile, like a summer without flowers, and like a homestead without a garden. It is the most joyous day of the week.”

Henry Ward Beecher

   *         *         *         *         *         *         *

Meditating on the Attributes of God

February 6, 2020 | My Jottings

Hi friends. How are you thinking today? Most of the time we would greet someone by asking, “How are you doing today?” but if we really wanted the details of how someone was doing the more appropriate question might be, “How are you thinking?” How I think about God and how I think about myself will often steer my day, and what steers my day steers my week, and what steers my week steers my month and then my years, and my life can be steered by how I’m thinking about God and about myself.

Many of us have had swimming lessons or music lessons, but I truly believe we all could use thinking lessons. Where do we sign up for those? A good church could teach us how to change our thinking from what’s false to what is true. Worship helps shift our thinking. God will use the people and circumstances of our lives to show us where our thinking needs changing. But one of the most effective tools God has used to help change my thinking and bring stability into my life is the Word of God.

I’ve been emotionally unstable at times, and I’ve experienced God’s wonderful stabilizing power in my life as well. What might be going on in a mind needing more stability? Anxiety. Fear. Repeated poor decisions. Self-destructive tendencies. Self-obsession. I’m not saying that if we grapple with worry and fear that we’re ready for psychiatric treatment, although when that is needed, there is no shame in that. I’ve wondered that if the peace that passes all understanding doesn’t generally flow through our days, then we might not be walking as fully in the rest and stability that the Lord has for us.

What are some things that would characterize a sound and stable mind? Peace. Hopefulness. Calm. Confidence in the Lord. Mature, productive decisions. Not being easily moved or tossed about by trials and challenges. Kindness to others, humility.

We have strong sin natures and our minds can be like wild horses that don’t want to be harnessed and trained or told where to go at first. Our thoughts can run like a hamster in a wheel. It’s why 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us how important it is to take our thoughts captive and to make them obedient to Christ – because our thoughts are wild, runaway, and sometimes deceptive, and need to be brought in line.

Through the invitation of my dear friend Sue Raimo, God in His mercy led me to Community Bible Study 21 years ago and I can’t thank Him enough. I still can’t fully convey what studying the Bible has done for me. It’s no longer a duty to read – it’s a privilege. It’s personal, it’s practical, it’s powerful. And the older I get the more I believe there are hidden treasures buried in His Word that only the sharp shovel of our trials and suffering will unearth.

Prayerfully digging deep into God’s word can stabilize us. It can correct our wrong thinking about God and about ourselves. For me and for others I know, salvation came when we cried out to Jesus to save us, but stability has come, slowly and progressively, from the strength of God’s Word.

Many years ago something else happened in my life that brought an added measure of stability and peace. I was up early having my quiet time – I had already read and I was thinking about how my husband Michael spent so much time praising God. It occurred to me that my praise vocabulary was very limited – I was using about five adjectives to praise the Lord. “Lord, You’re a good God. You are worthy, Lord. You are mighty and powerful Father.” I had a desire to expand my praise vocabulary – I wanted to understand and think deeply about His attributes. So I prayed, “Lord, increase my praise vocabulary – you are so much more than my puny praise would ever tell.” Now some might chuckle at this, because what happened was very logical and might even sound formulaic, but I am a logical thinker and I believe God made me that way, so in His mercy He spoke to me in a way I would understand.

As I was quietly praising Him I felt a question inside, “Well, then, Julie – what am I?” And I responded, “Lord you’re awesome.”

And I sensed Him saying, “And?” “Lord you are able.”

And again He seemed to quietly say, “And?” “And you’re always available to me, Father!”

Do you see a pattern? I saw it, so I began to think of all the A words that I could use to describe God, and I said them out loud. “You are ageless, You’re alive, You’re active in my life and in the lives of my children.” I praised His A attributes slowly and intentionally and pondered what each one meant.

The next time I prayed I began to praise Him and I used all the B adjectives I could think of. Now, I wasn’t just ticking these off like a grocery list – I was approaching Him reverently and concentrating on what each word meant. I wasn’t trying to be eloquent — the Bs started out with “Lord, you are big.” What might happen in our lives if we would spend an entire day meditating on just how big He is?

You might be thinking that would be a challenge; meditating on how big God is all day long, much less for five minutes. That would take some effort and self-discipline, especially in an iPhone age where according to an almost unbelievable study, the average iPhone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day.

2 Timothy 1:7 says “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” The Greek word for self-discipline means to be in a right state of mind, to be clear-minded. Are we in a right state of mind about God, about who He is, what He wants to do in our lives? Are we clear-minded about who we are in Christ and how that should reflect in our everyday lives with our families and friends? I’m too often not.

How and what are we thinking? It takes discipline to tame my galloping thoughts. When I begin with God’s help, to direct my own thoughts, rather than my thoughts directing me, a more sound and peaceful mind usually results. Do you know what meditating on His bigness, His immensity, did that one day for my outlook? A lot.

The love for God’s Word that took root in my life through Community Bible Study stabilized me through some overwhelming issues in our family years ago. It was like putting a God is Big lens over my eyes – as I meditated on that one truth everything came into proper perspective – God did, and our troubles did. Confidence in the Lord swelled. And I was anxious to move on to other B adjectives. “Lord, you’re beautiful, bountiful, brilliant.”

And the letter C – “Father you are comforting, cleansing, close to me.”

I made up a list of words that have enlarged my praise vocabulary and I’m always on the lookout for more. You can go through the entire alphabet and not lack for words to describe who God is. Why should we do this? Is this an exercise for God’s sake? No. He’s pretty secure in who He is. But we need to be secure in who He is. And since I know angels and demons watch us with interest, I want that realm to know that I’m secure in who He is. And sometimes I need hourly reminders of who He is.

But God wasn’t done there. He was still giving me thinking lessons. After I began to revel in the small expansion of my praise vocabulary, one morning I sensed another nudge from Him and a new dimension was added to my times of praise – responses that were appropriate to God’s attributes. One example could be from the M list. On days when I have pondered the mercy of God, I can think of at least two proper responses to His mercy – thanksgiving, and giving mercy to others myself. If I have a hard time being merciful, then I need to spend a long period of time praising God for and meditating on His mercy to me.

Let’s take the letter G. The words good, gracious and great come to mind, and also generous. If we set our minds all day long on how generous God has been to us – how He didn’t even spare His own Son to rescue us, what might be an appropriate response to His generosity? We might say, “Lord, you gave, so I’ll give.” As we carry His generosity with us in our minds to Cub Foods, to our workplace, to our mothers in law, we can respond in to Him by being generous ourselves. “Lord, you gave it all, I can certainly loosen my grip on things. In your strength I can give mercy, money, time, a listening ear.”

I have been faithful at this, and I have lapsed at this practice. Lately I feel a need to meditate on God’s sovereignty.

What do you think? Would you consider asking God to expand your praise vocabulary? Say, “Show me something new about yourself today, Lord!” I try not to rush through times of praise. I would say don’t spend a few seconds in praise at the beginning of your prayer time so you can move on to your requests. Go deep with one attribute. Go high, go wide. In what million ways is God big? Anything that changes our thinking has the power to change our lives. This can stabilize us.

You might like to take a word that describes your heavenly Father, and then carry that with you all throughout the day. And along with that word of praise, take with you the appropriate response. If the attribute of God that you’re meditating on for a day is “Lord, you are awesome!” then a fitting response to His awesomeness would simply be to be awed at Him, His creation and His deeds. We act like He’s awesome. We choose to be awestruck – look at the snow on the trees or the chickadees at your feeder and be a little moved by them – even if we have to make ourselves say “Wow! I am awe-struck at the way you made chickadees swoop like a roller coaster when they fly, Lord!”

Psalm 66:3 says “Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you.’”

If you don’t think you can remember to keep this in your mind all day, write it down and take it with you on a post-it note in your car, put reminders on your phone, put it in the kitchen window, in your Bible, wherever. Ask Him to help you remember. Teach it to your children and make it fun – “Today is our H day in getting to know God!” Do it as a couple. Camp a week in one letter of the alphabet, exploring all of God’s beautiful attributes that begin with, say, P.

When you feel you’re under spiritual attack, Psalm 18 says He is your fortress, your deliverer. How productive and life-giving it would be to think deeply about that reality 2600 times a day.

Is there a scriptural mandate for all of this? Yes – it’s Colossians 3:2 – “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” There are many ways to set our minds on things above, and in-depth Bible study and expanding our praises are only two.

For a Christian, proclaiming the attributes of God doesn’t put the ballast in our boats – it makes us aware of the ballast that’s already there. Isn’t that what the disciples failed to notice when they were in the boat with Jesus and the storm whipped up on the Sea of Galilee? “Master, Master, we’re going to drown! Don’t you care?” It seems like they were all proclaiming the attributes of the storm and the swamping boat. They hadn’t put their faith in Jesus’ words, “Let’s get in the boat and go over to the other side.” A terrifying storm didn’t mean that the disciples didn’t have to bring down the sails and do whatever else a boat needed in that situation. We can’t ignore the storms that come into our lives. We’re just not meant to proclaim the characteristics of the storm more than we do the character of our mighty God.

The Bible is full of examples of how His creation proclaims His attributes. Psalm 96 says the heavens actually rejoice, that the earth is glad, that the oceans resound, the fields are jubilant and that the trees of the forest sing for joy. All for their Maker.

Isaiah 55 says the mountains and the hills shall break forth in singing, and that the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Psalm 19 says the heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His hands.

Psalm 148 says that the sun, moon and shining stars praise Him.

And in Luke 19 Jesus says if His disciples kept silent, the very rocks would cry out to declare who He is.

I’m guessing that all this is compulsory for the rocks and the trees and the mountains and the oceans and the skies. God has mandated that His magnificent creation continually praise Him in their own ways. They cannot help but cry out.

But for us, His children, praising God, delighting in His attributes, is not compulsory. He has given us a choice… to praise Him and fill our minds with His goodness as long as He gives us life, or… to withhold our praise and to fill our minds with mediocre or even worthless things.

Our Heavenly Father waits for us to praise Him voluntarily.

I want to be a part of that choir of trees and mountains and stars who are continually delighting in and proclaiming how very wonderful our God is, don’t you?

Comments, please

January 28, 2020 | My Jottings

Hello friends,

Not long ago, my blog started not letting people comment, even old friends who’ve commented frequently over the years. My web person Emily worked on it, and installed a new, possibly less vigilant spam filter. She wasn’t sure what happened.

If you’re reading this, would you take a few seconds and leave a comment below? Something like, “Hi.” Or “Here I am.” Or “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?”

I would like to make sure things are fixed so anyone who wants (except spammers, who are just an amazing group of people) can comment here. Or just say hi, or ask for prayer, or share their own stories.

Thank you for your help!

Just some stuff

January 11, 2020 | My Jottings

It’s so wonderful to have a blissfully unscheduled morning on a below zero day with sunshine pouring in my bedroom windows. Lake Superior has huge, glittering shards of ice floating on its surface, but there’s enough open water to allow the shipping traffic to continue moving in and out of Duluth. The 1000-foot ore boats that leave our port are spectacular to see.

I am propped up against three pillows on my high bed, listening to old Mildred snore beside me, with my books and journals scattered on the blankets, a prayer shawl my daughter Sharon dyed and knitted for me wrapped around my perpetually cold neck, and I have the David Nevue station on Pandora playing softly. A dark brown rectangular plaque which was a wedding gift from Lloyd’s son Paul and his wife Selena rests on one of my window sills, and it reads, “Above all else, love each other deeply/1 Peter 4:8/Lloyd and Julie/10.05.19”

Some people seem to be able to almost effortlessly love others deeply. It’s a joy to be in their presence. I would assume that the admonition to love each other deeply means that it’s possible to love each other shallowly. I might fit into that category, and that thought troubles me. It’s not completely true, because there are young people in my family (my grands) who I love so deeply it sometimes pains me, gives me an ache I can’t explain. I would give my lives for them in a second, suffer for them if it were necessary and possible, and care more about their well-being than about my own.

But as they get older, I see them not desiring to spend as much time with me as they did when they were little, and I fear this is because I don’t love as deeply as I should. Or is it because I’m too chatty? Or because I’m a grandma “who’s really into Jesus and God,” because I’m too busy, or because I’m a little dull. I own all of the above, and pray often that God will change me. And that He will give me added grace to cooperate with Him.

I read a lot about how we are all supposed to freely accept ourselves as we are, and not work to change ourselves, and I see the value in “you’re beautiful exactly how you are,” but I don’t think I’ll ever want to stop growing and changing. I wake up each morning acutely aware of the new mercies I need, and ask for them. The fruits of the Holy Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, are still not worked out in my life to the degree I would hope. I pray this prayer quite a bit, “Lord, THANK YOU for not giving up on me!”

I have seen the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” twice now, and will buy the DVD when it’s released. Have you seen it? It was not at all what I expected, and I actually feel it was life-changing. Tom Hanks did a superb job playing Fred Rogers. There were three or four things I saw in the movie that made me sob into my turtleneck, and I have been running them around in my head ever since. The first time I saw it was with my friend Barb, and it was so good I asked Lloyd if he’d like to go with me. Being a kind and agreeable husband, he said without hesitation, “Of course I would!” He too, was surprised by the movie, and said it was way more than he expected. He texted his children before we even left the parking lot and encouraged them to see it. I could do a whole blog post of how Mr. Rogers dealt with his anger, how he valued children, how he gave everyone his undivided attention and how that made them feel, how he prayed for people, and the riches that came from his very small investments into peoples’ lives. It was so remarkable. I think every person should see this movie.

Next month it will be five years since Michael died. Five years. I have no idea how five years passes in what feels like eighteen months, but it has. Lloyd’s wife Rosemarie has been gone for five years as well. At least once a week Lloyd pauses, looks at me with a look of wonder on his face and says, “Did you know we’re married?” We laugh, but I know what he’s saying. It seems surreal. He was with Rose for 51 years, I was with Michael for 33; to be married to someone new at this late age has an illusory feel to it. I think it might pass as the years do, but for now we both feel the strangeness. It’s a pleasant strangeness, but there’s so much to shift in our brains. A new last name for me? I’m still not accustomed to that at all. A shared savings account? Whoa.

The margin I cherished in my life before remarrying is tiny now, and I feel the pull to be a wife who is a blessing, a better mom and grandma, friend, foster care provider, CBS class member, etc. And there’s so much I want to do! I want to travel. I want to read and read and read, I want to write so purely in my journal that God actually shows me stuff I never knew, I want to study, I want so much to take classes and learn and challenge my brain. I want to meet with people I care about and listen and connect. I want to exercise more than I do in winter. I want to serve in some capacity but don’t because I’m afraid that margin will disappear completely.

I also saw “Little Women” with my three daughters right after Christmas and loved it. I sort of expected to be disappointed, because I love the 1994 version so much, but I wasn’t disappointed in the least.

And speaking of screens, Lloyd and I like to settle in to a series on Netflix or Acorn that we can look forward to in the evenings when he is here. (He still has his cabin in the woods fifty miles south of me, with pet cats, chores to do, things to maintain, so we are together 3-4 days a week right now.) We finished Season Nine of “Doc Martin” and loved it, watched quite a few episodes of “Stranger Things” and didn’t love it, marveled at Season Three of “The Crown” and now we have started “Poldark” because so many people have insisted it’s worth watching. Have you watched “Poldark?” What are some of your favorite series?

I have also slowly begun to retire. I have been doing adult foster care in my home for women with developmental disabilities for 19 years. What a wonderful blessing it has been. Not without its challenges of course, but I thank God for how He has provided for me, and for the women in my care. One of my two women, someone who has lived with me for almost 17 years, moved to another foster home last week. I was reluctant to get things going on this because we have a huge shortage of good family foster homes in our area, and because she is diabetic and needs very specialized care that isn’t easy to learn. The place she has gone is a gift from God to me and to her, and things have gone beautifully. So things are quieter here, which my other foster gal says she loves. She is happy to be the only person I’m caring for now, and comments on that every day. She’s anxious to plan a trip, so sometime in the spring she and I will go someplace special.

Speaking of trips, Lloyd and I are going to the place of my birth and raising — Southern California. We’ll be leaving in March, and will visit Denel and her family in Solana Beach, Diane and her man in Palm Desert, Disneyland (I am so excited about this I can’t stand it), Sequoia National Park, Morro Bay on the Central Coast, Covina (I want to show Lloyd the houses I lived in, my high school, all my old haunts and views), and Tauni in San Diego.

Our next trip must be to England, Ireland and Scotland. 🙂

Well, this is getting long and I haven’t even shared about our After Wedding Trip to The Bearskin Lodge on the Gunflint Trail of Northern Minnesota. I have pictures I’ll post next time. We had no wi-fi, no television, no phone service, and it was glorious. We hiked, boated, sat on our cabin’s dock and counted the stars, searched for moose, read to each other, and declared, “Did you know we’re married?”

I am meeting Lloyd tonight in Mahtowa, MN for his annual snowmobile club banquet, so should get a few Saturday things done before it’s time to get ready.

I hope your weekend has enough margin in it for a good book, a lovely connection with someone you love, and for some rest.

Wedding Photos – Part 4

December 30, 2019 | My Jottings

Is anyone getting tired of wedding pictures yet? If you are, just click away and come back in a few days.  🙂

If not, here are the last few I’ll share. Below, we are all laughing after being pronounced husband and wife, because my pastor didn’t say the words, “You may now kiss your bride,” and we started back down the aisle as the recessional music played. Sharon gently reminded us that this traditional end of the ceremony hadn’t occurred, so we halted, had a quick peck and enjoyed a good laugh with the whole congregation.

This is the afternoon of Saturday, October 5th, after the wedding ceremony, the reception, some of the cleanup, and the loading of the cars in the pouring rain. We are back at my house, and the first thing we both did was take off our wedding shoes and put on some comfy footwear.

This is a picture of Lloyd’s daughter Angela and me. She is a loving, funny, welcoming woman and I’m so grateful for her.

This is Lloyd’s son Paul (I think they look like clones) and his sweet wife Selena. They too have been so open hearted to me. I always try to remember that my presence in Lloyd’s children’s lives is because they lost their beloved mother.

Sharon took this before the ceremony — Louisa, Sharon, me, and Margaret in front.

Carolyn and me:

I’ll post some After Wedding Trip photos soon. We went away to a cabin on a lake in the north woods of Minnesota, where there were no televisions, phones, or even cell phone coverage. It was peaceful and beautiful.

Happy New Year to you, dear friends and family…

Wedding Photos – Part 3

December 11, 2019 | My Jottings

Hello from the Great Frozen North! We woke to 14 degrees below zero this morning, and our high is supposed to be zero today. It seems a little early in the winter to have such cold, especially since it’s not technically winter yet. I’ve responded to the texts of a few friends today, “I am a snowbird in the making.” A little trip to warmer climes in January or February is sounding very attractive right about now.

I have a few more wedding pictures to share today. The first one below is me with my grandchildren. I look short in this photo, and that is a word never before attributed to me — I’m 5′ 10″, so that will give you an idea how tall some of these young people are.

From left to right: Audrey, Eleanor with Louisa in front, Cullen, me, Elijah holding Levi, Clara with Miriam in front, Vivienne and Margaret. I consider these humans on my list of Julie’s Richest Treasures, and am so grateful to know and love each one.

The flowers at our wedding were spectacular, all done by my youngest daughter Sara, who has her own floral design business. We had two large arrangements on either side of the altar, in memory of Lloyd’s Rosemarie and my Michael. It has been almost five years since we lost our spouses, and how could we not carry them with us as we walk this new part of our journeys?

I like this picture below because it shows the ceiling of my church, which was built many years ago to look like a ship. I also love our stained glass windows and the wedding banners on either side of the altar.

And click here to see a video of our processional in its entirety, taken by a friend on her iPhone at the back of the church. The song is “Highland Cathedral” on one of Amy Grant’s Christmas albums, and I have loved it for years. It makes me cry and yearn.

Thank you for stopping in — I hope to share some After Wedding Trip (I refuse to say H__neym__n because we are so old) photos soon.