sh’ma

How many of you remember ordering books from the Scholastic Book Club? I loved those thin catalogs of newsprint paper passed out every so often during the academic year. My parents didn’t have a lot of money for extras, but frequently I could find affordable items in the Scholastic catalog and would be allowed to order one precious book.

In the 7th grade I purchased The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig. Published in 1968, the book is an account of Esther’s formative years spent in a Communist Party labor camp in Siberia, to which her family was sent in early 1941. Esther was about 10 years old at the time of their forced relocation. Her account of the next five years of her life, arguably five of the most important years of a child’s life, was riveting to me for I was much the same age.

It must be noted that Esther and her family were Jews who lived in Poland. Although their relocation by the Russian communists actually saved them from the Holocaust, the labor camp experience took a terrible toll on their family. They did not return to their hometown of Vilna, which was eventually overrun by the Nazis, until after World War II ended.

The violent uprooting from all that Esther had known as the beloved child of a prosperous family, the terrible living conditions and grinding poverty endured in Siberia, the loyalty to family and faith, all of that touched and moved me. I admired her courage and initiative in the face of it. I read her book so many times during my adolescent years that the binding eventually fell apart. The lessons learned have stayed with me.

But let me relate to you what was, for me, the most stirring moment of Esther’s book: an account of young Esther walking home from (if I recall correctly) her job, and finding herself in a terrible Siberian blizzard. Likely you already know that the weather in that part of Russia can be harsh and dangerous. There is a reason why it is still an infamous location for their labor camps.

This storm that Esther found herself in was bad. She did not have the choice to remain at her place of employment to wait out the blinding blizzard; she had to walk home. And the storm nearly took her. Not only was she walking against gale force winds and snow, she lost her way and could not find their house. Darkness was falling and she was very late. As she battled the elements and wondered where she was, the wind brought a sound she feared she’d never hear again: her mother’s voice. To her utter amazement, she heard her mother calling over and over again through the wind and the storm, “Sh’ma, Israel! Sh’ma, Israel! Sh’ma, Israel!”

As Esther put it, her mother, with the ferocity and instinct of a mother bear, had turned herself into a human homing device, searching for her daughter with the great prayer of Israel: “Sh’ma, Israel!” In English: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one!”

I’m crying as I type this, for those words are the precious call of God on the hearts of His own.

We live today in turbulent, intolerant, frequently downright nasty times. We may not have to walk through blinding weather, but we certainly are living through stormy circumstances that threaten to defeat us. But know this: God is still the Lord. He still calls through the storms of this earthly life to each of us, a divine homing device guiding His children to Himself.

Sh’ma, Israel!

mine all mine

Spent a cold Sunday afternoon watching the movie Sweet Home Alabama, starring Reese Witherspoon. After watching all the credits, I realized that the movie is 20 years old this year! Where did THAT time go?

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Sweet Home Alabama the very first time I saw it. The acting is first rate and the story line resonates. Yes, it’s an enjoyable romantic comedy, but more importantly, this time viewing it I realized that it’s actually about owning your past and coming to terms with it so that you can move on.

Granted, not all of us have felonies on our record by the time we’re 18 or blew up banks at the age of 10 (as did the main character of this film). I can happily say that about myself anyway. But we all have completely cringe-worthy episodes of varying degrees in our pasts. Admit it. It’s not possible to be human and not have made mistakes. Lots of them, actually. And it can paralyse us so terribly.

I grew up with parents who expected us to be perfect, or so it seemed to me. I realize now that they had their own very deep-seated issues from their childhoods — both grew up during the Great Depression and were impacted, one way or another, by World War II. Both grew up in times when the stakes were extremely high, when one childish mistake — like breaking a dinner plate — could cost their parents more money than they had available at the time. Both endured abuse, one way or another. And while they did a lot better than their own parents did, they were, well, difficult.

I was taught — again, so it seemed to me at the time — that any bad or even not-so-good thing I did somehow negated everything that came before. For example, did I bring home a C in phys ed? Yes, many times, actually. And then every A on that same report card became somehow … less than.

Enough of that kind of influence and eventually you find, as an adult, that relationships and careers are a constant source of anxiety. Mess up once? Every good thing you did before that, every good characteristic that you brought to the situation, is annihilated. You become worthless, and other people don’t want you any more.

It’s exhausting. And unnecessary. And not at all what is taught in Scripture. (Okay, here we go with some preaching — but remember that I’m preaching to my own heart as much as to anyone else.)

Look at King David. Look at the Apostle Peter. Both used mightily by God AFTER their monumental screw-ups. After David raped Bathsheba and had her husband murdered. After Peter denied being a follower of Christ. These are huge issues. But God heard their contrite hearts and, most importantly, did not hold it against them.

We’re promised in the Psalms, by that very same, very flawed King David, that God remembers our sins no more. That when we acknowledge our mistakes and crummy choices, He throws them as far as the east is from the west. Recall that the earth is …. round …. and you get the idea of how far the east really IS from the west.

So while both David and Peter experienced real-life consequences from their catastrophically poor choices, those actions, those sins, weren’t held against them by God.

Back to Sweet Home Alabama and coming to terms with your past — in fact, owning it. Can I own mine? On my good days, I say yes, yes, and yes. I can trust that God threw it all away and looks on my face with nothing but love and approval, the most loving and patient of all parents. And on my not-so-good days, especially after some mistake or other, I wonder if I still can keep going forward.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change …. and I cannot change my past.

My word for this coming year is “expansive.” Why? I think it’s because I have spent too many years contracting more and more tightly within myself so as to make as little impact on the lives around me as possible — you know, in case I make a mistake. Being expansive is a broad theme (maybe that pun is intended), and it implies a lot of things: relaxation, grace, mercy, slowing down, thinking deeply, listening carefully, making space. And definitely it implies trusting. Trusting God, trusting myself, trusting my people, trusting the process.

And owning that which was and is mine. Freely. “Take my yoke upon you, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light,” says Jesus. It’s the very best exchange for that which is mine all mine.

Onward …..

new year

So long 2021, and may your memory be buried deep alongside that of 2020.

I suppose the irony is that 2021 saw my best year of business yet — a staggering 46% increase in sales over 2020. That’s a lot of dolls, my friends. A lot of happy hours spent in my sewing studio. A lot of happy hours spent at the local markets and craft shows. I ended the business year with a profit and some truly great memories.

But 2021 also saw a lot of grief and aggravation. And I’m not sorry it’s over. It’s the year we lost the grandson we never got to know. It’s another year we couldn’t see our daughter and son-in-law in Canada. It’s the year I returned home to New Jersey to bury my aunt’s ashes on a hilltop in the family cemetery. It’s another year of people getting sick and dying from Covid. Another year of impossible divisions in the fabric of our nation. Another year of disappointment in the Church (writ large) in America.

Where do I go from here? Onward, of course. There is no other choice, and I’m not sorry about that either. Onward into deeper relationship with Christ. Onward into continuing Bible study. Onward into better balancing my information-junkie habits with the need to rest and reflect and just be. Onward into my husband’s retirement (slated for July of 2022!). Onward into life.

Onward.

Join me?

Amy Grant Christmas Music Day

It’s been almost 18 months since my last blog post. Eighteen months since our beloved pup, Charley, passed away. It’s been a long and mostly sad time, and I haven’t felt one bit like blogging. In the blighted year of 2020 we lost a young friend to suicide and despair, and we lost our Charley. And then we lost my aunt and my stepmother, both to dementia. We also lost a grandchild we never had the opportunity to meet, and we lost touch with friends due to the Covid pandemic. We lost. We lost. And we lost again. It seemed like the losing would never end.

Thankfully, I sense the season is changing. We’ve sustained no losses for the last 11 months, and these days that feels like some kind of record.

So, today — the day after Halloween — is Amy Grant Christmas Music Day in my home sewing studio, where I create stuffed dolls for children. I’m heading into my busiest and most stressful season with my doll business, and the pressure to provide enough inventory for five craft fair days within a three-week period is enormous. These are big shows, with hundreds, potentially thousands, of people coming to buy.

Thus Amy Grant Christmas Music day, which ushers in the very best and most joyful of the Christmas music season. If you’ve never listened to her “Home for Christmas” album from 1992, you are missing out big time — it is a classic and, simply, the best.

I actually start listening to some Christmas music in September, as I begin to prepare for the busy season, but I keep it low key — Christmas guitar, Christmas harp, etc. for ambiance. Christmas “wallpaper music,” if you will. As of today — it’s full out, my friends, and every. single. Christmas. song. that I love to bellow at the top of my lungs is on the playlist.

I started this entry reflecting on what a sad time 2020 was for us. And I’m going to say here and now that 2021 hasn’t won any awards for being the happiest year either. But God is good. By His good design, the seasons do change and black clouds have a habit of blowing away.

And here we are, listening to Amy Grant Christmas music.

In Memory

In Memory

He was just four weeks old when he came to us, one of a large litter of extra-large puppies that an exhausted mama pup simply stopped nursing. My daughter-in-law called me in tears to ask if we could take our designated puppy two weeks early. Of course I said yes. And so Charley came home to us. He never quite got over that first glitch — always needing to be near us and frequently “nursing” on his dog bed all throughout his life.

But he was all heart, our Charley. All heart.

He watched over the grandchildren as they played. He went so far as to kill our rooster when it ran after an unsuspecting child in our yard one Mother’s Day. He didn’t mean to kill it, but he wasn’t going to have it attack a child either.

One early morning Charley came to get me out of bed, and he wouldn’t stop fussing until I got up and followed him to the TV room, where my husband lay on the couch so deathly ill that I immediately drove him to the ER. Charley knew, and he knew just what to do.

He loved to play fetch, only slowing down this past winter when, unbeknownst to us, he started his final battle with the kidney disease — or perhaps it was cancer — that finally took him today. We will never know because we didn’t want a post-mortem done. That he became seriously ill was enough to know. That there was no hope was evident in the blood test.

Charley had large, expressive brown eyes. He loved to “boop” us with his big black nose. He tattled to me when Daddy didn’t provide him any of the delicious leftover steak that was being put away in the refrigerator. He vocalized whenever Tim and I embraced. He barked at every delivery driver that ever came to our door. He loved his friends, and everybody was his friend.

Two weeks ago he developed a mysterious abscess on his back paw. Out of nowhere his paw swelled up to twice its size within the space of about four hours. I was so freaked that we called the after hours vet on a Saturday night to have it seen to immediately. It took a few days of antibiotics and a surgical lancing and draining, but it healed. The cause was unknown, and after it healed, Charley seemed to be back to his old self. But then he became listless. Finally he wouldn’t eat. 48 hours of strong antibiotics yielded a brief rally, but then he sank down even further. The vet did a blood panel and found kidney failure.

During that one miracle day that he rallied, he ate scrambled eggs with gusto and got himself up on the couch for a while. As I was reading before bed, he came over to greet me with a ‘boop’ before settling down in his usual sleeping space on the floor immediately next to my side of the bed. I hoped we were on an upward trajectory.

But it was not to be. He was much, much worse the next day, and our options went down to just one. Euthanasia.

So tonight I’ve wandered around our little farm, seeing Charley in every vista and around every corner, hearing the jingle of his collar as if he were really walking with me. Of all the dogs I’ve had in my life, Charley will stay deep within me. I was his Mama, and that was that.

Goodbye, Charley.

Good boy.

Such a good boy.

anything

Been reading an excellent book by Jennie Allen, titled Anything. Read this book. Really. It will change your life and your faith. It will give you perspective. Just read it.

It’s a radical thing, to surrender every aspect of your life to God’s will and purposes. As Allen points out, we want to live a normal, comfortable, average American life and still live (and exhibit) a real faith in God.

But truly, if we follow Jesus, life on this earth is very frequently anything BUT normal, comfortable, average. It is messy. It is chaotic. It is harder than anything we can imagine at times. Yet it is perfectly planned by the God who loves us and calls us for His purpose. And it is the only way to live a life that is truly satisfied and fulfilled while here on earth.

Nowadays we allow our perspective to be wholly shaped by our culture, by what the mass media says it should be, by what even our fellow Christians say it should be. And thus we easily fall prey to doubts and fears that have nothing to do with what God really wants for us or the relationship He desires with each of us. Those doubts and fears keep us from even seeing His purpose, let alone walking it out.

My life in the last year has certainly been messy. Beyond messy, actually. Abrupt job change. Serious business and financial uncertainties. Serious relationship upheavals. I have sought God, but I have frequently not believed or trusted Him. I have let my circumstances dictate my perspective of His love and goodness, instead of interpreting my circumstances in the light of what I know to be true of His love.

I recently prayed :  “Our God and Father, You desire to do good to and for us. You desire our fellowship and surrender. But I have lived in unbelief and denial and shame in many places, essentially throwing Your gift back in Your face.”

God’s response to me rose as smoothly and clearly as anything I’ve ever heard from Him: “My child, your sins are forgiven as soon as asked. My call on your life is so you may be as close to Me as possible at all times. Together we will tell the Good News that will set everyone free if only they will accept it. I love you. I made you. I have a plan for you. I accept you because of your faith and not because of your works (although I do love your works too). I planned your jobs, both the beginnings and the endings. I planned your businesses for you. It’s all a journey, and you are never alone. I will always be with you, no matter where you go. I know your doubts and your fears, and I grieve that you suffer with them when you don’t need to. Your doubts and fears accomplish nothing – cast them off and trust Me for the journey!”

This journey. This life.

Anything, Lord. Anything.

cherries

cherries

Those of you who know me also know that for many summers I would be out of town for work for five weeks. I am now semi-retired and no longer hold that job, and this is the first summer in 19(!) years that I am at home.

Amazing what you can find out when your life changes that drastically.

I found out that our little farm is a total joy now that I have regained the strength and stamina to work outside.

I found out that I like running errands with my husband instead of the ‘divide and conquer’ approach that our busy lives used to require.

I found out that chickens love strawberries.

I found out that we have two pie cherry trees in our yard.

Now, how did we live in this house for five years and NOT know that we have two (two!) cherry trees? Because we were away during cherry season every year — we would leave town before there was any fruit on the trees and return long after it was gone. We thought those two trees were some kind of ornamental shade trees that bloomed for a few days in the Spring.

Imagine our delight in finding fruit this year and then further discovering that these are pie cherries.

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Yesterday my husband and I spent about an hour together harvesting the ripe cherries, and there are still many more to go! Canning commences soon, and I’m planning this winter’s cherry cobblers already!

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To me, these cherries, these newly uncovered treasures, are a symbol of a life that has become more intentional. I’m no longer working full time, chasing a ‘career.’ I’m not out of town on a business trip every month or so. I don’t accumulate frequent flyer points anymore.

I’m home.

Home to enjoy slow evenings in our bucolic backyard, meals on the patio, Bible Study in the shade. Home to harvest strawberries and make strawberry jam. Home to gather the herbs before they bolt, drying them for freshest flavor through the winter months. Home to laugh at the antics of our chickens and dogs and horses, to enjoy the births of two foals and to get to know them as they grow. Home to watch the rest of the garden growing at a prodigious rate, anticipating the harvest of potatoes, corn, beans, squashes, and tomatoes that is to come.

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Charley cooling off in the underbrush. Because fur coat.

I didn’t know how terribly stressed and rushed I was until it all came to an abrupt end. And when the dust cleared, I realized that I now have the privilege of living my dream. For me, home is the place that I belong (and I don’t say that to imply that every woman belongs at home – I’m saying that for me, and me only). It turns out that canning and freezing, providing good and nourishing food grown in our own garden, are passions of mine. Good health and helping people recover theirs is a passion. Learning as much as I can about our amazing bodies and how they respond to nutrition and environment is a passion.

It turns out that my former job was not a passion.  Even though there were many aspects of it that I  enjoyed and many people involved whom I really liked, in the end it was a j.o.b.

God is faithful. Romans 8:28 tells us that all things (ALL) work together for good in the lives of His followers. I was forced to make a very drastic change, but God turned a seemingly negative situation into what is arguably one of the most positive changes of my entire life.

That was brought home to me in vivid and glorious color yesterday when we discovered the cherries.

Where’s your place? What’s your dream? Discovered any cherry trees lately?

 

 

 

spring

Blubbering.

That’s what I’m doing on this beautiful Spring day. I’m blubbering.

My car stereo is playing “The Butterfly Waltz” as performed by Brian Crain. Such pretty, springlike music — I just love it!

And today it made me cry.

Or rather, the combination of a warm, sunny day and the lilting violin strains made me think about how much my mother loved this time of year.

And that’s when I started blubbering.

I know we don’t “get over” loved ones — we just learn to live without them. I’d say I’ve learned to do a good job of living without my mother. And it still surprises me when grief comes out for another bite.

My mother adored Spring. Lilacs and daffodils were her absolute favorites. Watching the mountains and fields green up was lifeblood to her after the long winters of central Pennsylvania.

During my single years I frequently took a long weekend in April to head out to Mom’s place and share the Spring weather with her. I’d arrive, work-weary, and she’d ask me what I want to do. Inevitably I’d say “nothing at all.” And she’d answer, “Then nothing is what we’ll do.” Her house was so quiet you could hear the clock ticking. Together we sat on her porch, talking or just staying quiet, just being.  Together we’d cook dinner and do the dishes.

It’s a respite I cherished and still miss when Spring comes out to play.

Happy Spring, Mom. The daffodils are out. Miss you always.

celebrate

I just read something this morning that reminded me — or rather, made me realize for the first time, truth to tell — that we instinctively celebrate.

When was the last time you punched the air, high-fived someone, jumped up and down, applauded? Did you even think about it before you did it?

No. You didn’t.

Because it’s an instinct. Merriam Webster defines instincts as “a way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is not learned: a natural desire or tendency that makes you want to act in a particular way.”

We have lots of instincts, most of them related to survival. The instinct to celebrate is a particularly nice one, when you consider it.

And you could make the case that it does help us survive: It expresses and releases positive emotion, it encourages others, it draws us together, it makes you smile when you’re doing it.

Celebrate!

For we are fearfully and wonderfully made! (Psalm 139:14)

 

 

dissolution

I was listening to Amy Grant’s “Better Not to Know” on the way home from church this morning, and it struck me how much more that song means right now than when I first heard it a few years ago. Right now I’m watching Satan have a field day in the lives of people I love, and I’m hating every moment of it. And as Amy sings, it was better not to know that any of this was coming. 

Marriage is hard. Being married every day is hard. I know. We’re married to flawed human beings — and we ourselves are flawed human beings. It’s a messy combination, this flawed+flawed. The sum can’t be anything other than….. flawed.

But God ordained marriage for the human race. He meant for each marriage to represent His perfect relationship with His Church. He intended earthly marriage to be more than the combination of two flawed human beings, and only He can make it so through grace, mercy, and forgiveness: three things that we receive in abundance from God and thus should be extending to our spouses over and over again.

 

At our peril do we forget that God is first and foremost at the head of the marriage. Because if we forget it, we’re stuck depending on just our flawed selves and our flawed spouses. And that’s not enough to get through. Life is too painful, and pain comes from all sides, not just from our spouses. Friends cause pain, co-workers cause pain, parents cause pain, children cause pain, complete strangers cause pain. Worst of all, we cause ourselves pain. Because we’re flawed.

 

Only by keeping God first are we enabled to look past our flawed spouses and past our flawed selves, because we’re looking at our perfect Lord and Savior instead. The flaws recede into the distance when Christ is the Head. The pain that strikes at us over and over again is mitigated and relegated to a proper perspective when we’re focused on what God would have of us in each and every painful circumstance.

 

Am I saying that you have to stay married? I’m saying only this: that the only Person on whose advice you should rely is Jesus Himself. Don’t rely on your hurt feelings. Don’t rely on your well-meaning friends. Don’t even rely on your pastor or your counselor. Don’t rely on the technicalities of the legal system. Don’t rely on just a cursory review of Scripture, either. Seek God and His purpose for your life, delving deep into His Word and making prayer the first consideration all day long. He has a purpose for your life and the only way to find joy in the midst of everything else that’s going on is to seek that purpose and His grace. Because then you will also have found the answer.

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“These tiny stems became these trees,

With dirt and storms and sun and air to breathe…..

Like you and me.

And some fell down and some grew tall,

And those surviving twenty winter thaws

Have the sweetest fruit of all.”  (c) Amy Grant