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Late Night Reflections

IMG_3611C.S. Lewis once wrote, ‘ You can never find a cup of tea big enough, or a book long enough to suit me.’  At this late hour, with my cup of tea by my side, surrounded by my precious books, I feel a kinship with the great man.  It’s late, very late, and I  am tucked up in the quietness of our home office, my special place, the place that is fast becoming my thinking spot.

It is good to reflect in these quiet night hours. It is good to reflect on all things good and beautiful, on the blessings of the week. Tonight as I put the water on to heat and prepared the teapot, I thought of the many times through the years when tea was prepared in our home, taken to a birthday child, brought to a sick parent, lovingly embellished for an evening of Masterpiece viewing. Tea has played a large role in the lives of this family. It has given us comfort and enjoyment, encouraged a sense of oneness and given each of us a better understanding of beauty and goodness.

Tea is our shared experience. It is more than a beautiful cup, although that is important. It is more than a fine leaf, although that is also important. In our home, it is our remembered ritual. The making of the tea, the choice of blend, the careful picking of a special cup, the perfect teapot, the arranging of the tray just so, sugar cubes, cream….In the hustle and bustle of life, there will always be a hearkening back to those times, those precious tea times we cherish. It is a gift that each child has taken with them as they ventured out into the wide world. Nothing can take it away and, as each one has made sure, there will always be a teapot and lovely cup to transport the soul to a quiet place.

This week as I sat working quietly at my desk, the door quietly opened and there was our son, now an adult, and, thankfully, still a lover of beauty,

“Would you like some tea, Mom?”               IMG_3613

Lovingly, he carried a tray with hot tea, cream, and sugar and placed it on my desk. I gulped.

“Oh God, thank you for this kindness. This good thing.” I whispered in my heart. How quickly the hours flew, as I sipped my tea and continued my writing.

The next morning, busily at work again, our sweet daughter, again ever so quietly opened the door,

” Mom, would you like some tea?” IMG_3615

Oh dear Lord, thank you for this goodness. “Yes, that would be great.”

And again,another tray. A different teapot, a different cup, and crisp toast. God is good to show His goodness in the loving touches of our children. And so it continued. These lovely souls, children by birth, servants by choice, lovingly ministering to another. These are grateful moments, never to be taken for granted. 

The ritual of tea continues to unite us. In this fast paced, often coarse and jarring world, it is a comfort to know that the hours spent creating beauty and believing in goodness are not wasted. There are still children and adults who notice. Though the world may scoff at niceties, I make no apologies, for there is still a difference to be made. There is a loveliness to our ritual that is not necessarily the teapot or the cup. It is the caring and the giving, the kindness of time taken.  It is true and it is good and it is very beautiful.

Whatsoever things are lovely…think on these things. Phil. 4:8

 

The Best Day Ever

IMG_3559They say the best writing is done when you are either euphorically happy or in the depths of despair. I think they’re right, whomever they are, because whenever I remember this day, I feel I want to write forever. You might think the title doesn’t match the experience when you begin reading, but stick with me. I think you’ll feel the same way. I think you’ll agree —- it was the best day ever.

It was cold, bitterly cold, as I sat in the rain, bundled up in my daughter-in-law’s coat and gloves, sneakered feet tucked inside the tapaderos that hung from the sides of my son’s saddle. It was years since I had looked at the world from the top of a horse. And here I was, joining this group of cowboys, my son included, as they moved 300 head of cattle to spring pasture. 

I had just completed a week of school meetings in Utah and journeyed on to southern Idaho, where our son and his wife were working on a large ranch and farm enterprise. Talking to my son a few days before my arrival, he expressed disappointment that he was due to work during the only day I’d be there. It was spring and cows must be moved to higher country.

“Unless you’d like to ride along, Mom. We’re driving the herd about 10 miles up into the mountains.”

Hurrying busily between school meetings in the city, heels nicely polished and makeup on, I quickly tossed out a reply,

“Well, sure! It’s been a long time. Let’s do it.” 

The words were out now and there was no backing down. 

“Are you sure?”

“Of course. It’ll be fun.”

Poor boy. I’m sure he was worried, and to tell you the truth, as I stopped at Target that night to pick up a pair of jeans, I had a little bit of concern myself. I had no fear of getting on a horse, but I wondered if, after a day of riding, I might not be able to get off!  My bravado slipped just slightly before I pulled my sense of adventure quickly out and brandished it courageously.

So, here I was. The day had dawned, foggy and rainy and cold – 45 degrees cold. My daughter-in-law did her best to wrap me up warmly, tucking heating packets in pockets and making sure snacks were ready. I chuckled to myself as I thought of the day before when, in heels and office attire I had visited schools and shared educational philosophies.  Well, they wouldn’t recognize me today. 

As we trailered our horses out and met the others, I wondered just what they must be thinking. But all was well, the cowboys having been instructed to be careful of how they spoke (this I found out later when one of them slipped and another corrected him). And of course they knew the cowboy way; be respectful, especially to ladies. There is a gentleness and kindness that runs straight through the middle of the life of those who live close to the land. It is something the Washington politicians could learn from but will never understand. There is a quiet confidence that is born when one touches the land and lives by its rules, experiencing the force of the elements and understanding how small mankind is in relation to creation and the Creator. 

As I climbed onto a nice palomino, the rain began to fall in a steady torrent and my son apologized for the weather. I didn’t care. It was as it should be. I was living the cowboy life, if only for a day. Let the rain come and the wind blow. My hands might have gotten a little cold, my knees a little stiff, but I was a cowboy and I would not complain. 

Riding along I thought of that little boy who mimicked the Lone Ranger and crawled along the living room rug and fired his silver bullet. This was the boy who gave us that awful fright when he was five and took off to go hunting with his bow and arrow in the huge BLM pasture in western Arizona where we lived. When his father finally found him — hunting the bull, whose name must have been Ferdinand, because he was just too friendly—- he breathed a sigh of relief and brought him safely home.  And this was the son who spoke to the other cowboys to tell them his job today was to make sure his mother was well taken care of.  

Surely, this is the story of parenthood. We care for our children, worry over them, pray constantly, seek to protect them.  We see them go off to live their grown-up lives and work through the loneliness of not seeing them every day, reminding ourselves that this is good. We would not choose to hold them back. And then sometimes, we have that golden opportunity to be beside them for a day and our hearts are gladdened. 

My horse plodded along on the muddy road as I rode behind the herd. 

“Mom, are you warm enough? You doing okay?”

“I sure am. This is the best day ever.”

 

 

An Unexpected Gift

IMG_2708“Sheesh! This tea is hot.”  I chuckled as I listened to the bright young lady sitting happily at my kitchen counter. Was this the same girl I met all those years ago in a little homeschool co-op class? It is hard to believe. How far she has come and how strong she has grown.

There are times God brings people into our lives in ways we never would imagine. I never knew when I walked into that class that a friendship would be formed that would last a lifetime. I still remember that little girl, pigtails swinging, tomboy that she was, always joking, always bringing laughs, and always working hard, very hard. Her big blue eyes were full of laughter and mischief and I didn’t quite know what to expect.

Imagine my surprise, when, after taking a teaching job at the local Christian school, who should walk into my classroom, but my little friend. We were both new to the system, both a little unsure, but we walked the path together, each learning what was needed in this new world. 

And when I stepped into administration, she remained, my biggest cheerleader. After all, we had come a long way from that little co-op. High school was coming and the little Christian school ended at eighth grade. Surely, we could take the next step and we did. We added a high school and there she was, dressed and ready the first day, full of nerves and excitement and depending on God every day of class. The work was hard but she was a hard worker, studies never being easy for her. She learned the value of perseverance, asking for help from her teachers and studying diligently.

We’ve both stepped into another stage now, she, studying online, while I work to promote classical Christian education. But we are still together. We are doing it again. We are walking new paths together.  When I am far across the country and she is studying at home, we are praying for each other and never forgetting our journey.

She jokes about me and my fondness for ‘taking tea’ and gives me a hard time for being what she calls ‘British’. Somehow this little person has crept into not only my life, but the life of our family. She’s doing it again. That little girl with the braids is still making lives better. She writes us notes and cheers our hearts and fills the lives of our grandchildren. She kids us about being our seventh child and our lives would be too quiet without her.

Who would have guessed, all those years ago? Who would have known the paths our lives would follow? The word serendipitous means an unexpected pleasure. Some of us would call that a blessing. God is the Father of all blessings. And every time I sit at my desk and look at the little teapot, her gift to me, I think of my blessing, my gift, this girl, unexpected  and a very great pleasure.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is of God and cometh down from the Father of lights with whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning. James 1:17

 

 

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The Simple Kind of Life is Splendid

IMG_2927The sun shone brightly as we stepped out into the cold morning air. Silver slivers of ice covered the ground. We were headed out to do the chores, my granddaughter and I.   Lambs baaing, dogs barking, and goats bleating welcomed us in a beautiful orchestra of morning music.  I had slipped my daughter’s barn boots on before leaving the house and I was free to slosh through any mud, ice, or muck we met on this adventure.

“Come on, Nonna Kathy! Come see my pony.” and off we went on this wonderful, beautiful morning on the farm.  The sky was blue, the animals talked, and we laughed and turned our faces to the bright sunshine.  Soon the ice on the pony’s water was broken and I found myself with arms wrapped around a soft furry neck and memories pouring over me…..

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It was a school day, but that mattered nothing to my sister and I. We may have overslept and missed the bus, we sometimes grew wild as flowers, although very cultivated flowers. Children of older parents, ours was an extraordinary situation. Our parents loved us in a way only older parents can; appreciation of the beauty of childhood grows as parents age. They loved us so and we would not like to disappoint them but we knew they understood that we were not bad for having missed school. We loved music and books and that was the basis for a very good education, one in which thinking blossomed. Today was a day for leisurely learning, the kind that required being together exploring the great outdoors. Today nature would be our classroom.

We headed to the pasture to find our ponies, Big Red and Duke.  They were soon saddled and off we went to ride the country roads. There is nothing quite so enjoyable as ambling down a country lane, when one should be in school, one leg wrapped around the saddle horn, chatting and laughing together. That is just what we did, my sister and I.   We were young and free and completely oblivious to the fact that ours was a charmed life and that we were making memories that would last a lifetime.  The cliche of ‘living in the moment’ had not become popular yet and so we must have been ahead of our time.

Late in the afternoon we climbed happily off our trusty steeds and waved as the school bus passed by.  It was a day well spent and we would return to the stuffy old classroom refreshed and ready to hit the books in the morning.  We smiled at each other. We were pals in the best sense of the word.

All of these memories wandered through my mind as I followed my lovely granddaughter through her morning chores and around the farm.  My heart felt as if it would burst as the ponies ran to the fence to greet us and the lambs scampered across the pasture.  Somehow, in this crazy world of technological tomfoolery there is still a place where children learn in God’s classroom and young girls run free.  In a few years there will be sisters riding ponies together on the hills and smiling at one another and never realizing, yet somehow knowing, theirs is a charmed life. Sometimes the simple life shines in all its glory and we are blinded by its light and we know in our hearts that in that very simpleness there is God and there is goodness and it is, as my father would have said, Splendid.

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An Ark for Me

IMG_2816Driving along narrow country roads has never been my cup of tea. I prefer the wide vistas of Arizona to the narrow country roads of the east. But here I was. My job had called me to Kentucky and I was left with a free day, my plane not leaving until evening.  This was my chance to visit the much talked about Ark Encounter, a replica of the biblical Ark, built with the exact dimensions given in God’s instructions to Noah.

Rising early, I ate the rather artificial hotel breakfast — Were they real eggs? Probably not—packed my bags, and headed out for an adventure.  The trip was to take an hour and a half. I typed the address, 1 Ark Encounter Drive, into my phone, and started on my way. The drive seemed simple enough. The first hour was straight driving on the freeway; easy going with a smattering of rain.  I listened to the Kentucky radio station and hummed along.

And then, the British voice on my navigation system directed me to turn off the main road onto a lovely little two-laned highway…..for 15 miles.  The thin country road meandered through the Kentucky boondocks with steep hills, pastured cows, and as many twists and turns as it takes to make a stranger downright scared.  Where was I going? Would I end up in the proverbial ‘holler’?  I remembered a Reader’s Digest article of a traveler in Iceland who ended up miles from his planned destination because of his know-it-all GPS. My heart beat a little faster, but I talked myself back into a calmer state.  

As one does when one is driving down an unfamiliar road by one’s self, I began to think about life and the surprises it hands us.  Sometimes good things burst upon us and we are surrounded by joy.  Other life events leave us empty and hurting, not sure what to think, but knowing we are still called to follow the Instructor.   We start out with our grand scheme and somewhere along the way things happen and we wonder just where we are.  We would never grow in our relationship to our Savior without experiencing both blessing and burden. Yes, all of life is purely biblical, and even as I tossed up a quick prayer, I knew God was reminding me of this. 

On, I traveled, purposing that all was well and if I kept on I would surely find myself in the place I ended up!  My instructor (Oh why did I set that voice on the British accent? She has a way of making me feel a fool!) directed me to turn and turn again and I breathed a sigh of relief —- 1 Ark Encounter Drive.  

Yes, here it was.  I parked my rental car, slipped on my sneakers, grabbed my bag,and headed to the ticket booth. Stepping out of the shuttle, I  stood, amazed at the enormity of the Ark and all that happened in it. Despite the storm, Noah and his family and all of those many animals floated on to safety. 

Not all arks are made of wood. If we trust, we will one day top a hill and see our Ark.  It’s not a rainbow. It’s not a promise that all afflictions will vanish. It’s a safe place to ride out the storm.  It’s our Heavenly Father holding us tightly when we feel as if our world is falling apart.  It’s Elohim — The Strong and Faithful One. 

I stood on the second deck, surrounded by cages that would have rescued two of each kind. Looking up through the center of this massive lifeboat I could see  the open holes protected by the high roof, skylights of a sort. It seemed I looked straight up to heaven and I thought of my Savior, my Ark, who carries me safely through calm waters and raging storms, always knowing, ever present.

Driving back to catch my plane and wing my way to hearth, home, and husband, my heart overflowed.  It was appropriate that the heavens opened and I drove through  a torrent of rain as I traveled back over that tiny country road.  I hummed an old hymn to myself…The Lord’s our rock in Him we hide….a shelter in the time of storm….

Let the storms rage on. I’ve found my safe place.  I’m safe in The Ark.

 

Lessons from Lambs

“Baa! Baa!” the weak cries of a newborn lamb floated up to our bedroom above the IMG_2706kitchen.  It was early morning and our father had returned from his chores with another lamb in need of warmth. Maybe the mother had twins and had neglected one, or maybe this little one was just too small to survive without the help of the shepherd. Whatever the reason, the sound of a lamb in the house always sent us scurrying to see.                                             

Our father had a soft heart for his sheep.  It was not unusual to find a lamb placed in a warming box in front of the open oven, its little body  shivering with cold, desperately absorbing the needed heat. The cushion of hay in the barn was little insulation against the bitter cold of the lambing season. Upstate New York is an inhospitable place for God’s creatures, great and small, in the month of March.                                                                                                       

  My sister and I had a deal. The white lambs were hers, the black lambs mine. We loved to feed them with the glass bottles and large black nipples our father purchased at the feed store. We learned the importance of  warm milk replacer, mixed carefully and fed at the appropriate times. We delighted in holding the bottle firmly while the little lambs pushed so hard we sometimes thought we would not be able to keep the bottle in our grasp.  We snuggled our lambs closely when, after filling their bellies, they were ready to sleep, wrapped in our arms. We were God’s helpers and we couldn’t be happier.                     

Watching our father care for his sheep taught us many things. He rose early in the morning to feed them and no matter how long the day, they must be fed at night.  Soon after birth, rubber bands were placed on their tails to dock them, which helped them to stay cleaner and improved their health. When spring came, the new lambs and the ewes were sent out to pasture, often escaping the fence in ingenious ways. This was an ongoing frustration for my father. We still remember the day he picked up a full grown sheep and put it over his knee for a good spanking! He was a patient shepherd, but even the best of sheep profits from correction.                                                                                               

The cold winters of New York are far away now, replaced by the warmth of the desert. My sister and I live different lives, far from each other, sending pictures or messages to keep in touch. But we will never be far from the blessed memories of  newborn lambs lovingly placed in the arms of little girls by a loving shepherd.

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas On The Mountain

Christmastime was a grand event at our little country church. Not grand in the way that our present culture counts grandness, but in a true and uncomplicated way.  We looked forward to the Sunday School program each year. Practices were held every Saturday morning in December and all children faithfully attended. Life was slower then. Church was important and the celebration of the birth of the Christ child took precedence over all else.IMG_2621

Our father drove us faithfully to practice each Saturday and we memorized our parts in preparation for the big day.  Each class had its turn and of course every child longed to  be chosen for the coveted role of Mary or Joseph. Even the littlest class had poems or scripture to recite and worked hard to learn their parts.

There was always a real tree donated by some church member and decorated by all. Under the tree, were nestled the gifts we received from our Sunday School teachers —– farmer’s wives, grandmothers, women who loved God and children. Each showed up for Sunday School equipped with lessons often taught with flannelgraph. Their images remain in my mind to this day.

How we looked forward to that special night. The gifts were simple, pencils with verses, and my favorite, the slide puzzles with a verse to be placed in order by sliding the pieces  to the proper spot.

At the end of the program the pastor would step to the front of the church and share a short message reminding us of Christ’s birth and the Father in heaven who sent His Son in the form of a baby to save the world. The story, spoken sincerely,  while lights twinkled on the tree and dear folks listened respectfully, was ever new and always old, just as God’s work in our life.  When the last hymn was sung, the happy congregation visited with one another as they filed to the back of the church. Waiting at the door were the Christmas bags filled with hard candy and a juicy orange, accepted with excitement and enjoyed thoroughly by grateful children and adults. We stepped out of the church to a cold winter night, often with a light snow floating down.

It was all so simple — a quiet church in a little vale, a country pastor, familiar Christmas carols, families seated in wooden pews, mothers holding babies, fathers smiling proudly as they looked down their row of children.  Families were larger in those days, a symbol of love and something to be admired.

Memories can sometimes be larger than life, and it is often a temptation, especially in the present age when life has become so cynical, to hear stories of the past with a wry expression on one’s face and a rolling of the eyes.  But I like to think that the important things in life are still going on, that there will always be a Christmas program in that little country church, that families still gather to sing the great old hymns of Christmas, children still hope they will be chosen to play the part of Mary, and that a pastor still tells the ever new and always old story of the Father who sent his Son to save us.

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The Strength of Tradition

 

IMG_2619Press it thinner.” my mother said, and I struggled to press the soft sandkaker dough into the metal form.  I knew that the dough needed to be just the right thickness in order for the sandkaker to bake properly.  My young hands worked hard, fingers pressing the dough to the sides of the metal tin, shaped like the outside of a cupcake.  It was Christmas and the krumkaker must be made.  

Tradition was important in our home. Krumkaker and sandkaker must be made, mixed nuts along with the nutcracker, bowls of mints, and of course fruit, must be laid out on Christmas day. All of these to nibble on while we waited for the special dinner to cook. 

The night before, Christmas Eve, we set out a tea cup and cookies for Santa because we knew OUR Santa drank tea. He also knocked on the stovepipe that ran up into the upstairs bedroom, and shouted Ho-Ho-Ho to our delight. We were all together on Christmas Eve, as tradition dictated all five girls must sleep together on that night in anticipation of the early morning when we would rise early, peek at our stockings, and make breakfast for our patient parents, who lovingly consumed burnt toast and runny eggs with courageous smiles.

Our stockings were filled with cupie dolls, chocolate bells, ribbon candy, and marshmallow Santas. Tucked in the toe was a lovely orange.  On Christmas morning there were no rules about eating. We gobbled our chocolate while taking turns opening our gifts. There was the year Dad donned each article of clothing he received which brought us great laughter as he stepped into his new winter coveralls and continued to hand out gifts.  

The Christmas tree was always decorated on our brother Steven’s birthday, the 21st of Dec. We trudged to the knoll or above the shale pit  –  there was a name for each field on the farm –  to cut down a homegrown tree.  We dragged it home to be decorated with glass ornaments, being careful not to break the little glass church and other special pieces. Candy canes came next and lastly the tinsel, always with the warning to hang it one strand at a time, for tinsel hanging is an art. Compared to the lights we use today, the lights on our tree were big, even a bit garish, but we loved them and all their bright colors.  

Maybe it was because our grandparents were immigrants or maybe it was just the time in which we lived, but our Christmases seemed to be ordered by old world traditions that I have come to appreciate more and more with each passing year.  Perhaps this is why I find myself setting my special Christmas books out, placing the pine boughs over the living room archway, hanging those special ornaments on the tree, insisting the tree should be decorated on Dec 16th, my husband’s birthday, and filling two stockings.

The children are grown and there is no need to continue the traditions, but my mother taught me something long ago as I pressed the dough in the krumkaker forms.  It is important to establish traditions for they form the structure on which we hang our lives.  Life is fragile and often changeable, but tradition is strong and helps to strengthen our connection to all that is good. In the rush of everyday life, the getting ahead, it is a comfort to know that certain things will always be. 

On Christmas Eve we will gather for our traditional Christmas Eve pasta and sauce followed by the candlelight service. Christmas morning is different now, with only the two of us.  We rise late, enjoy our coffee, open gifts, and travel to our daughter’s home for dinner. Shouts of Merry Christmas will greet us, little voices will tell of their Christmas morning in a house filled with wrapping paper and toys. They will be full of chocolate from their stockings and they will have left cookies for Santa.  They will be too full to eat a proper Christmas dinner, but I hope they have room for the sandkaker.

 

 

A Collection of Writings

A Perfect Cup of Tea

The rain is raining all around.; a desert storm is upon us. The lightning is flashing, thunder rolling….and I am safely sipping a hot cup of tea.

I learned to dTearink tea from my father. Second only to his love of books, was his blessed addiction to a hot cup of tea. Dad never used teabags; simply not done! We used a tea ball or simply dropped the loose leaves in the tea kettle and placed a strainer over our cup.

There is a distinct difference in using loose tea versus the use of a teabag. I guess you might say it’s the difference between homemade bread and purchased bread, but to me it’s more than that. It’s a view of life. It’s the difference between picking up fast food or  sitting down to a pleasant, enjoyable dinner. Imagine it; a beautifully set table on a lovely tablecloth, special dishes, carefully prepared food, lively and pleasant conversation….what dad would have called a ‘sumptuous repast’.

There are times one doesn’t have to have the most well prepared food. Indeed, I remember my father stating, “A meal fit for a king!” as he rose from a dinner of hotdogs. What a wonderful way to look at life. He taught us so much as he drank his tea with plenty of sugar, often a bit of lemon juice, and maybe a few gingersnaps or crackers on the side. I will always remember him this way, his rough, working hands holding his teacup, a look of contentment on his weary face. His days were long, but he made time for the finer things in life; hot tea in a nice cup.

I love you, Dad. Tonight, as I put the teapot on to boil, I made sure to take out the lemon juice to go along with my sugar cubes. In these later years, I often drink my tea black, but tonight, well, tonight I am remembering how many times we shared a perfect cup of tea.Tea table

On Fathers and Mothers

You may have tangible wealth untold, caskets of riches, coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be; I had a mother who read to me. ~~~GS

Generally speaking,  my mother didn’t read to me–she sang. It was my father who read. Who can ever forget our father reading The Long Winter in his Brooklyn accent? We had traveled through the cold days and nights of desperate need with our father’s voice leading the way.rockwell parents with children We felt the intense hunger of the Ingalls family. When finally the train made it through to their little town, thin and hungry, Pa pulled supplies eagerly from the supply barrel as Ma and the girls gathered ’round. Our father read this book to my sisters and I, as we sat in rapt attention. How we laughed when Dad read Pa’s exclamation: ‘Buttah,buttah, he cried!’ leaving off his r’s, and we rejoiced in both the supply of butter and our father’s wonderful accent.

In my junior high and high school years, my father often listened to me read aloud from my history book at night as we worked on homework.  It seemed he had a photographic memory;he never missed an answer no matter what review questions I asked him.  I thought he was the smartest man I had ever met. It was from my father I  learned to love reading and talking about reading and began to pay attention to the political world around me.

I’ll always believe my two sisters and I were blessed with the best years of parenting our parents had to offer. Yes, they were older than some parents, but they had the wisdom of experience -we were the last three of nine– and they had learned how to truly enjoy their children. How thankful I am that our father chose to keep our home free of the onslaught of  television in favor of conversation and reading.  My father opened the door of poetry to us by deliberately choosing reading over other forms of leisure. It is his work in our lives that is seen and heard when we gather these many years later and launch into a recitation of Jabberwocky. It was his influence that led me to read Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. His love of reading pointed me toward Longfellow and Dickinson, and blessed me with an addiction to words.

Both my mother and father loved words…..read or sung, words ruled our home. Growing up in a home where books and music ruled is a rare opportunity and I will be forever grateful. Our mother sang, loved to sing, and loved to hear US sing. We sang. There was never a question as to whether we COULD sing. At thirteen we joined the choir; this was a given. Our mother made sure we were exposed to music, read music, played music, sang music. I will always be thankful for the sacrifices she made to make sure we had music lessons. I remember the awe I felt as I listened to my mother sing in church or at weddings, and the joy of singing around the piano at family gatherings.

And then there were the people  in and out of the house and the discussions. Rich or poor, mom and dad were not  picky….all were welcome and all treated with the respect due creatures of our great God. They taught us to love people by simply living. There was no social media, no television, and yet their home drew people from many places. There was no pay beyond the enjoyment of good company and hot cups of tea or the inevitable coffee perking on the stove; they simply lived their lives, worked, read, sang, worshiped….they were a father and a mother who loved music, books, and words and we are all better for it.

Richer than I you can never be…………

We’ve Hopelessly Lost Our Way

hopelessly lost

‘Wonderful, Merciful Savior, You offer help when our hearts have hopelessly lost our way, oh, we’ve hopelessly lost our way’….so says the song and I heartily agree. There have been times recently, as I have looked around and seen the devastation of moral values and viewed the very libertarian view of ‘every man doing what is right in their own eyes’, that I have despaired for our country, our families, our churches.

I have seen parents loving their children and hurting  when those very children turn their faces away and wander off into the world to partake of the same ‘delights’ that drew the  bibilical prodigal.  The parents watch and hurt and pray and know that their children will be hurt and scarred, and beg  God to turn their hearts toward home…and Him.

I have seen hurting children forsaken by their parents, abused and mistreated….families broken, hearts shattered, children living in two homes and struggling to find order in a world that is anything but orderly, knowing that the only given in their life is the understanding that there IS no understanding.

I have seen leaders lacking any respect for truth or virtue, a country crumbling before my eyes, bending to the whims of the ungodly and selfish, personal gain. I’ve watched and even participated as we have  become a social media nation, where peer pressure and selfies focus our affections on a false perception of reality, a place where the here and now is the most important place to be and no one looks to the future other than to set aside a pot of gold for their old age.

And, sadly, and yet most assuredly, I have watched Christianity fall apart as we, the people who are tasked with being the light, the great changers, the influencers of society, have surrendered to the religious political correctness which renders us useless. Our churches have become our stages; all show and no depth.  Motivational speaking abounds; true teaching is disdained as our ability to think continues to wane.  People feel good and live bad. We are not separate or different and anyone looking at us sees nothing that shows we are sinners who belong to a Savior. Our speech has become careful; no mention of sin, or blood, or sacrifice. It’s just not done. We mustn’t offend and I can’t help but think all we have done is contribute to the breakdown of society by making everyone feel extremely comfortable in whatever may be their chosen sin.

Wrong has become right. Right has become wrong. Ah! There is the hope! It is all very biblical. The Writer of the Great Story told us this would happen. And every day I believe it even more fully. The great thing is, I know the ending….that beautiful, better than a fairytale ending to the Truest Story ever told. My King will call me home where I will live in a beautiful city forever. There is also the evil prince of this world. He will be thrown into a bottomless pit and his followers will burn forever in a place where there will be literal ‘weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.’ Every story ever written, every tale of good and evil, was rooted in the original story, the basis of all truth. It is inescapable–HE is inescapable.

Almighty, Infinite Father, faithfully loving your own, here in our weakness you find us falling before your throne. Oh! We’re falling before your throne.’

Yes, I’m falling before His throne.

Swimming in the Living Room

Tonight I swam in the ocean in the middle of Arizona. I was Queen Fiona, ruler of the sea. I rescued Teresa, a very small mermaid, and her sister, Delphinia, as we swam to shore (the kitchen floor). I ruled the aquatic world from my throne, a wing-back chair.

Today I traveled to the high country IMG_1726and visited bears and wolves and foxes. I ate lunch under the tall pines with a beautiful mother and lovely children. We ate blueberries, sweet peas, fresh grapes, washed it all down with juice, and finished it all off with sumptuous fig newtons. The air was clear and piney; the company was grand.

Our technology driven age does not make time for ocean filled living rooms or appreciate picnics in the woods. There is no time for turning off the phone and escaping to the land of make believe. Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘land of counterpane’ is foreign to the world of A.I. – artificial intelligence. There is little knowledge of the world of Longfellow’s ‘Children’s Hour’ where ‘grave Alice and laughing Allegra and Edith with golden hair’ dwelt in innocence. And proof of this is shown in the fact that many reading this blog will be ignorant of the very poems and authors mentioned.

Technology will never bring the sense of completeness or that lump in my throat that comes from a brown little imp running pell-mell to welcome me at the door, shouting, ‘Babushka! Babushka!’. There is no substitute for a seven year old climbing quietly on my lap, wrapping her arms about me and quietly stating,’ Thank you for spending this day with me’. They  do not know that I am the grateful one, that every moment with them draws me closer to God, that I have fallen hopelessly in love with the wonder of them.  Their very existence, their health and wholeness, is a testament to His goodness.

This is life with my granddaughters. This is life in the Lokaychuk living room.  This is life…and it is true and good and beautiful.

 

Oh, the Joy of it all!

Tonight I cried. I sat in an auditorium full of people and I cried. I cried unabashedly, I cried joyfully, I could not stop myself.

Tonight I watched a little girl dance with her father. I watched her glow with love and admiration for this man who stepped out of his comfort zone to embrace this beautiful experience with his daughter. There was Max, our son-in-law, joining with  fathers and daughters in this experience of love and joy. Tonight God allowed us to enjoy a beautiful experience and we are not taking one moment for granted.

It’s not a wonder I forgot to press the button that would have started the video on my phone; my eyes were blurred and the tears ran freely down my face. My daughter sat next to me crying as she watched her niece and brother-in-law, while my husband laughed aloud with the joy of it. Next to us sat the Great-Uncle Peter laughing, talking, and loving every minute, while the Mischievous Mariana, the littlest imp of all, wandered from lap to lap. There sat Noel, my daughter by birth,  my friend by choice, surrounded by Sofia’s little home school compatriots, expectantly watching their friend.  We fell, no we plunged, purposely and deeply, into this moment of joy.  It was too good, too wonderful, too joyous to comprehend. Our hearts overflowed with the beauty of it all.

Life is not always beautiful or even pleasant.  There was a time when I expected to be handed lovely crepe suzette experiences almost on a daily basis. But life comes knocking and in its hand we do not always find the omelette of our dreams. Sometimes, life hands us broken, smashed, Humpty Dumpty eggs, that can never be put together again. But God….

And here we were, just shy of the three year anniversary of their arrival in America, and this  little family, whole and lovely, shows us once again the old, old story,  an example of all that is good and right and true in God’s great plan……the eternal story unfolds in our everyday life. The root of all that is good is God. The story of a dance, a little girl, a father, a blessed mother, a little munchkin…..all of this tells us it is true; there is healing  and a good and loving God who showers us with hope and happiness and is the giver of good things. His wise plan allows pain and hurt and loss and, while teaching us the beauty of trust and leaning, opens the door to intense joy.

Tonight I cried. Tonight we all cried, my husband, my daughter…..we all cried. We cried and we laughed and we rejoiced in all that is true, good, and beautiful….and God said, “It is good.”

 

Pure Joy

01bd30b58aa93247ab3e26a97176486f9ac96b5192I am sitting in a little house in central Arizona, surrounded by moving boxes and furniture. Two small girls are running around, rejoicing in the feeling of freedom that comes from knowing that the land you stand on is your very own. I am witnessing a happy ending, or should I say a happy beginning? For it is truly a new beginning……

 It was just two and a half years ago that a family left the Far East region of Russia  where winter temperatures dip to -40F to find a new life in the American southwest where summer temperatures rise to 110F. Their only belongings were a few suitcases, some broken hearts,  and a solid belief that God will do what He will do and in the midst of grief, He is still there.

So began their journey, a journey in which God showed Himself faithful over and over, blessing their way with God’s people, doing good things; a job, a rental home, paperwork accomplished, a church family. 

I will never forget the birth of that beautiful, healthy baby girl two years ago. Little Mariana came bouncing into the world and into our lives, healthy and strong, and full of personality. 

We have watched our son-in-law struggle to learn the English language and adjust to a new culture. We have seen his tenacity as he ventures out each day into unfamiliar territory, learning new skills. And today, here he stands, beaming with pride, as he carries furniture into his new home. 

And  then there is our daughter, acquainted with grief, trusting in trials, found faithful. How far we have come from those years of praying across the world. I never dared to hope she would be so close…..

And Sofia, dear Sofia. Seven years old, tall and thin and very happy as she dances joyfully around the boxes…. “Babushka, I want to make up a song about this house….”  She is fully an American girl and she is fully a Russian girl. She can switch languages mid-sentence and is now wanting to learn Spanish. She is a picture of what is possible in this great land. 

 The deepest of griefs makes the fullness of joy even more precious. We do not take these good times for granted, neither do we forget the times of great loss. We have mourned with those who mourned. We will now rejoice with those who rejoice. There is a time for everything and this is our time of great joy.

 

Eternal Truth from Beatrix Potter

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Wandering the house on a quiet Saturday morning, I found myself at the bookshelf looking for old friends. I have found wonderful solace in spending time with great books. There is true loyalty in a book. In the hustle and bustle of our very busy lives, the old stories are never changing, yet always new. I needed this and as I reached into the shelf, I was not to be disappointed.

Beatrix Potter, that wonderful author and illustrator  beckoned to me. I began to leaf through the old story of Peter. Yes, it was true, in each season of life stories tell new tales and I was glad to learn what Beatrix had to teach me.

The story greeted me with the warmth and beauty of home and hearth. Here was Mrs. Cottontail feeding the children a lovely breakfast and preparing them for the day. Bellies full, faces washed, the bunnies (children) were sent out to play along with the guiding admonition not to wander into Mr. McGregor’s garden.

Ah, but what was this? Our Peter chooses to follow the path of sin; the prodigal ventures off on his own. He must see what is out there. He must wander the world. Oh Ms. Potter, you are such a theologian! And why is this so surprising? The story of sin and redemption is the eternal story, so that there is little we can read without finding it.

And so it goes, Peter wanders out into the world to spend his inheritance in the form of a coat with silver buttons, returning stripped of pride (and also his clothing), narrowly escaping the long-term effects of sin. Home comes the prodigal.

Mother Cottontail, full of wisdom and truth, welcomes her son, never prying, yet always knowing he has had a narrow escape in the eternal struggle with sin. She does not excuse Peter, nor does she ignore the obedient children. Here we see the beautiful love of a mother as she ministers to her children. She is not weak; Peter must suffer the consequences, something we all must come to terms with. Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail enjoy their blackberries while Peter takes his medicine ( in this case chamomile tea), and hops off to bed, a repentant, yet forgiven, sinner.

Yes, Ms. Potter, you are quite the theologian! Or is it just that the story of mankind and his need of redemption runs straight through everything?  There, in the form of mother-love, we see God’s unconditional mercy. There is evil (pride- my way is better), goodness (the beauty of obedience), realization of truth, reconciliation, as our family of little bunnies band together with kindness and the story culminates right where it started…a sweet picture of home and hearth. Evil threatened but Good (God) won in the end. So much to learn from you, Ms. Potter. Thank you for sharing timeless truths for children, or should I say adults?

 

Blackberry Blessings

Life is full of serendipitous moments, those moments when God drops a blessing directly in our lap and we look around dazedly, surprised by His generosity.11987054_10152976929216640_8017444158859586247_n  I never knew, I never dreamed that I would be sitting in the middle of Oak Creek with a round little cherub on my lap.  The clear water, just deep enough to entertain minnows, and cool enough for little feet to dangle in, swirls gently by. This is not a rushing water place; it is a gentle spot, with ivy and trees and —- oh, look! Over there!  

The bank rises steeply on the opposite side of the creek and all the way up are blackberry bushes, near enough for us to glimpse the plump, juicy fruit;  far enough away for us to feel a sense of  impossibility. They are on the other side of the creek and to get to them one must venture into deeper water.  The forbidden fruit calls and we are helpless to deny it. 

I find myself gingerly making my way across the creek, slipping here, sliding there….glancing back at the cherub as she sits on her mother’s lap.  Like the foragers of old, I journey on and delight in the thought of small hands full of berries.  The deepening water is no deterrent and I am standing waist deep as I reach the lowest growing vines. A handful of berries is worth standing in cold water, when a round little person is waiting for them. As I make my way back to the other side, little hands reach out, and, those hands, full of berries , are pressed to a little mouth that is wide open. Berry juice runs down a little chin and little hands reach out for more….more. 

It is hard for me to swallow and it’s not the berries. My eyes are wet and it’s not the creek water. God, in the quietness of a summer hike, has given me a glimpse of His goodness. I am overwhelmed.  Before our journey is complete, we are all wet, the cherub has a belly full of berries,  we have been kissed by the sun and enjoyed a summer picnic.

Don’t ever tell me God does not see. Don’t ever tell me God does not care. Don’t ever tell me there is no more beauty and goodness in this world. I have been to the creek. I’ve seen a mother and her children play in water, surrounded by ivy and beauty and the sweetness of blackberry blessings.

Phil. 4:8 ~ Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, if there be any praise; think on these things.

An Invitation to Schole

Schole

This is an invitation to mindful learning, to thoughtful moments, to the art of contemplation. This  is an invitation to schole (sco-lay), the Greek word from which our English word school is derived.   In the Greek, schole refers to the free use of time for wonder, curiosity, and discernment.  In our       busy world, it has become almost impossible to embrace the true meaning of  rest, of quietness, of  being alone with our thoughts, of even knowing what those thoughts are.  Did you know that true  learning is not memorizing ten facts for an A, but thoroughly plumbing the depths of a subject? Of  course you did. But have you thought about that? Between updates and postings on social media, texting, rushing to the mall, meeting friends for dinner at the latest restaurant, did you stop to think?

Our present culture is in chaos. I recently read that in one week we are exposed to more information than a 19th century person was exposed to in a lifetime. Information, not knowledge, not wisdom, not truth or goodness or beauty……just information. All kinds of information. Our minds are on overload, but not with knowledge, which takes time to accumulate, simply with meaningless information, unable to be processed and resulting in lack of deep thought. We live in a shallow valueless world where truth has become whatever society perceives it to be; I believe this is truth, so it is.

I’m inviting you to do something different; to take time to read, to think, to look at life from God’s perspective (wisdom), to experience true schooling…..schole. You can do this. You can find a truly good book, a classic – not some present day work of fiction that will be forgotten before the year is out – and take time to turn off the technology, not that it can’t be used for good (i.e. this blog), but moderation is needed, isn’t it? Shall we try it?

When was the last time you wrote a poem, a thought, jotted a letter to a friend, found yourself in the wee hours of the morning unable to stop reading?  This is not a gift only certain people possess; God commands us all to be learners – no exceptions. There is something to be said for the tactile experience of holding a real book in your hands, of turning each page with care.  The relationship grows and the memories of your time together stay with you. Who can forget crying over  Little Women or rooting for Anne and her precious Green Gables?  Remember those times you pored over Lewis’ Four Loves or felt as if you could actually hear Homer’s Sirens? Ah, those were the days, lovely memories of our experiences in  the pages of a book and the resulting meditation over the plot and characters, the lessons learned.

‘We live in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.’ so says CS Lewis. If we were ‘starved’ sixty years ago, can you imagine our present day state of emaciation?  While our society suffers from physical obesity, our souls suffer from a lack of intellectual and spiritual nourishment. Contemplation has become a lost art.

And so I extend this invitation to you: Set aside some time for schole — thoughtful curious learning and contemplation in a quiet restful spot.  It will not be easy; the world is always interfering. But do it. Commit to that hour, that secluded spot, that book. I dare you. Then see what a difference it makes…..Jesus said to them, ” Come apart to a desert place and rest awhile.” Mark 6:31.

 

The Season of Hope

   Hope is the thing with feathers,                                                                               That perches in the soul,                                                                                                                    And sings the tune without the  words,                                                                                        And never stops at all. ~~ Emily Dickinsondove

Hope, that generous giver, never takes away; she only gives.  Hope is ever present; in the very darkest hour, hope takes our hand, and leads us gently on.

In this season, we see hope brightly displayed in the shining faces of children dressed up for Christmas concerts, in the faces of parents as they watch their precious little ones sing. It is the hope of Christmas morning, the expected surprise of unknown gifts. It is the hope of parents as they look forward to the arrival of faraway family on a Christmas Eve. Hope fulfilled is seen in the faces of those gathered around the table for that dreamed of Christmas dinner as family and friends rejoice in the fellowship of Christmas.

Humanists and agnostics, in this season of hope, cannot escape her tentacles. For, if they are not careful, those very tentacles will wrap gently but firmly around their hearts, pulling them into close relationship.  It will be difficult to keep from imagining the glory of the angels praising God, to keep from picturing the humble shepherds as they hurry to the manger, or the beauty of the young mother adoring her Son.

Careful unbeliever, hard and embittered by life. The very beauty of the Christmas story may soften your hardened heart and you may find yourself fully awakened. You may find yourself wanting…in need of peace, wondering…..hoping. You may find …… Him.

How wise of God, how truly wise, to send His Son in the form of a helpless babe, knowing we would forever be drawn to the story and in being drawn to the story,  be drawn to HIM. Who, knowing the story, does not imagine it; the cold winter’s night, the shepherds in the fields, the poor couple looking for a place to stay? There is Joseph, desperately in need of shelter for his young wife, and Mary, young, suffering in the beginning throes of labor, giving birth in the crude stable. We often picture a haven, comfy and cozy. The reality may not have been anywhere near that scenario, but it is comforting to us to imagine our Christ, our Messiah, swaddled tightly and held closely by His young mother. She is tired but happy, as new mothers are.

It is the story for which mankind longs…the low brought high, the helpless babe is the King of the world. He reigns in truth and justice, forgiving the penitent and punishing evil. In the end, every knee bows and all is revealed. It is the ending we all hoped and hope for, the first story ever written and the last that will ever be told. The Alpha and Omega.

Because of this, we hope, we know, we trust, we believe.  Hope, like a small bird, perches in our soul and keeps us warm in the promise that in the darkest, coldest night, or the raging storms of life, He is there. Hope, that unseen entity, full of power and ever present. Without hope, our hearts would break. With hope, we press forward, knowing…there was a small babe, a manger, a young mother, angels singing, shepherds kneeling. the Hope of mankind came to earth. 

It is the season of hope…. and hope does not disappoint. Rom. 5:4