Enter Into Joy

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“Now this is what the Lord Almighty says, “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough. You drink, but you never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.  This is what the Lord Almighty says, “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but it turns out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin while each of you is busy with his own house.” ~Haggai 1:5-9

I read the above passage this morning, as I was drinking my  coffee.  I wish I could say this is a daily ritual of mine, reading Scripture while drinking coffee, alone and quiet in my kitchen.  It used to be, but somehow Life has become very busy, and my morning visit with my Father has often been left by the wayside.

This passage was a part of the message that the prophet Haggai had for God’s people in Jerusalem. God had rescued them from exile in Babylon and brought them home.  Eventually, as time went on, the Jewish people let themselves forget what God had done, and that He was their reason for living. They became apathetic and confused. The prophet Haggai was sent to remind them that they needed to re-examine their priorities.

I can relate to what happened to the Israelites in this period of history. My “busyness” and my attention to only myself, has led to the apathy I feel. It pains me to say this out loud, but it is the truth. I feel as if God’s house around me is in ruins. In my last post,  I wrote about the vulnerability I felt regarding worship  with my church community.  It has been three months, and I have to admit, I have not been to services.  I know that lack of support in my life contributes to the sense of hopelessness that threatens to overwhelm sometimes.  I am not taking care of “God’s house” in my life, and it is reflecting on me in other ways.  I am being robbed of my Joy. This is leading to other unwelcome feelings of anger, resentment and bitterness , and quite frankly,  I have had enough. This morning’s time reading my Bible helped me realize that I have not been myself, and now I know why. Forgiveness and change are mine for the asking, and I can go forward, unafraid.

“So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”~Matthew 6:31-34

This is work; it is not easy. It can even be frightening. “Entering into the joy of the Lord” (Matthew 25:23), and rejoicing in His forgiveness, is a choice; a decision.

My son made the teapot in the picture on this page above,  and the angel is a friend’s gift to me. She told me it was called “The Angel of Hope.” She had her reasons for choosing this particular gift for me, and I remember our friendship fondly whenever I look at it. My angel and my precious teapot take up valuable real estate on my kitchen counter. In my turmoil and angst this morning, as I looked at these lovely gifts,  I was reminded of the love I have for my family and friends, and of the love they have for me. God wants us to take joy in Him, and in the community around us. This is how He whispers Hope and Joy into our souls.

“The joy of the Lord is your strength”~Nehemiah 8:10

Tilma Annikki

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Tilma Annikki Halonen

March 25, 1937-August 5, 2015

My mother immigrated to Canada from Finland as a young girl, and landed in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.  She worked as a chambermaid in a small independently motel business, and eager to meet other Finnish speaking young people, she started attending the Finnish Pentecostal church in that same city. It was here where she met Jesus as her Saviour, and where she also met my father, her future husband.

My father always told the story of their courtship with a sparkle in his eye, and as young children growing up at home, we heard this story often, and never grew tired of hearing it.  He had written down his version of this whirlwind courtship with my mother, and had me read it aloud at her funeral just a few days ago, and of course I did.  It was my honor to do so.  Her health had been declining over the last couple of years; she had had multiple surgeries and had suffered a couple of strokes.  This last one she could not recover from, and she died peacefully in the hospital with my father and my sister at her bedside.

My dad remembers how, more than 55 years ago, he and a couple of his buddies had been away in Toronto, and upon their return to the Soo, they had heard that a new girl from Finland had begun attending church.  They, of course, being normal boys, decided to go to the very next service in order to check her out.  He maintains that as soon as their eyes met, it was love at first sight, and the other fellows didn’t stand a chance.  He and my mom were inseparable after that.  As a matter of fact, he made sure of it, because the very next Friday, he bought her a ring, and she accepted it.  The only thing was, he had neglected to actually ask her to marry him; it was just simply clear to him that she would be the mother of his children.

When we were growing up at home and heard this very romantic story, my mom always interjected in this part of the storytelling. When she accepted the ring, for some reason, she didn’t understand it was an engagement ring.  I suppose because she was new to the country, she thought it was a friendship ring of some sort, and it wasn’t until their friends and acquaintances started congratulating them on their engagement, that she realized what had happened.  By the time she had gathered her nerve to give the ring back, she realized she was smitten by my father’s good looks and charm, and decided to go through with the wedding, which took place on September 17, 1960.

My father  went on to say that the Lord had blessed them for 55 years with 5 children and 9 grandchildren. He added that despite some hardship, he had an abundance of wonderful memories with my mother; he loved her with all of his heart, and he would miss her. He relinquished her into the arms of her Savior where He was waiting for her with open arms. Dad was at peace with her passing. He knew she was finished with her pain and suffering.

When my brother called to tell me of my mother’s passing, I thought of many things I would have liked to have told her, or done with her one last time, and then I realized how futile those thoughts were.  One of my husband’s and my favorite Bible verses is found in Isaiah:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”

He  often reminds our children of this valuable lesson: there are only two things to take away from the past: lessons learned, and good memories.

With this in mind, I was reminiscing about my childhood, and the memories I had of my parents.  The years of my adolescence and the years I spent in college, before I moved away from home for the final time, seemed to be the most significant years for me, as I remembered conversations with friends and neighbors. These years were financially difficult, but I remember often we had someone, usually a friend of my older brother’s staying on our couch for one reason or another. The door in my parent’s house was always open; there was always an extra pillow or blanket; a cup of coffee, or a bowl of chili to share with anyone who needed it. We lived on the shores of a lake; my parents ran a small business with a convenience store , coffee and snack bar and dock rental for boats.  I think we gave away more cinnamon buns and coffee than we actually sold; our profit margin could not have been very large.

My father also sold firewood on the side. He cut down the trees, dragged them out of the bush, cut the logs and split them, and delivered whole cords of wood to whoever would buy them. We also heated our own home this way. It goes without saying that my mom and all of the kids helped him with this hard work.

I remember a conversation with a neighbor who marveled at how hard my mom worked alongside my dad splitting and preparing the firewood.  He told me he admired her grit and strength.  He said he did not know of another woman who could work as hard as a man, and be as devoted to her husband.  Another neighbor told me once, that as hard as he tried, he could not entice my dad to have a sip of beer or to utter a cuss word.  He had seen my dad get frustrated and lose his temper, but he had never heard him swear, and he had admired him because of it.  Hearing the admiration of my parents’ neighbors at a young age made me realize they were also worthy of my respect and admiration.  They preached love and acceptance in the community they lived in, and they did it without words.

Last weekend, my mom was in the hospital after she suffered her stroke, and it seemed as if she would recover.  I was at her bedside with my sister and brothers, and my father urged us all to go home and be with our own families, but my sister refused.  She adamantly decided to stay until the end of the week; nothing could make her go home.  It was a good thing she decided to stay because she was a wonderful support for my father when my mother passed.  I realized then, that she possessed the same resilience and determination that my mother did.  Some would say she was stubborn, I suppose, but she saw what needed to be done and she did it.

My mom was never one to raise her voice and lose her temper.  I see that quality in my brother Tim.  He is very patient and even- keeled most of the time.  I have never seen him lose his temper either.  My other brother Ray is now a dad to young children, and I love to watch him with his family; the doors of his home are always open to his neighbors and friends; and I see my parents’ gift of hospitality in him as he shares what he has with those around him.

I have spent many hours in conversation with my mother, in phone and in person.  She was never too tired to talk with me or to listen to what was on my heart.  She was kind and empathetic, and when my brother Brian calls me up on the phone, it doesn’t matter what he is going through himself, he is always quick to ask me first how I am doing.  He is very selfless that way, and I believe that is also a gift he has received from my mom.

It so true that we can’t choose our families, and no one family  is flawless, but I am so blessed to have mine.  As we laid my mom to rest this weekend, the time we had together was a sad time, but it was also a time of celebration.  We celebrated the blessing of having Tilma as our mother, and we celebrated as we knew she was at peace.

When my friend Carri found out my mom had passed, she gave me an incredible verse from the Psalms to read.  It comforted me at the time, and it comforted me again, when my dad so lovingly stated that Jesus was awaiting her at the gates of heaven, with open arms.

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“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” – Psalm 116:15

Tomorrow Isn’t Promised. Enjoy Today.

image“I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.  That everyone may eat and drink , and find satisfaction in all his toil–this is the gift of God.”–Ecclesiastes 3:12

It was one of the first warm days of our spring, and here I was , with my arms wrapped around my husband’s waist, perched on the back of his motorcycle, winding along the shores of Lake Minnetonka, with the warm breeze shining on my cheeks, or so I imagined.  I couldn’t really feel the breeze on my face because I had the visor down on my motorcycle helmet . I hadn’t yet  gotten enough nerve to let go with one of my arms in order to  peel the visor back , because I was that terrified.  As I started to realize how glad my husband was to simply have me along for the ride,  I started to relax, and finally enjoy myself.

Years ago, when we were first dating, my husband rode a motorcycle, and I thought that was very daring of him, and yes, I admit it, part of my initial attraction to him.  I used to ride with him on the back of his bike too,  and I don’t remember being afraid.  Youthful innocence, maybe?  When we became engaged, he sold his motorcycle.  I am always quick to point out that it was his decision to sell it , not mine, and that I had nothing to do with it.   In  hindsight, I realize that I had everything to do with it.  What a sacrifice this was for him to make; we were young and didn’t have a lot of money, so he sold his beloved motorcycle in order for us to have a little extra as we began our new life together.

In our household, over the last few years, we have been battling illness; or rather, my husband has been battling illness, so we have been there, battling right beside him.  When things seemed at their worst as far as his health went, I remember reading this verse out of the Psalms to him (147:3) and the promise in it brought us both to tears:

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

After recovering from his illness, and other life’s circumstances that exhausted him in many ways, my husband decided he wanted to embrace life and begin enjoying it again.   Who could blame him?  Certainly not me.  Of course, he decided to buy a motorcycle, and quite frankly, I wish he hadn’t had to wait more than 25 years to start riding again.  I only had one stipulation.  I wouldn’t ever get on the back of that thing with him.  I had become comfortable in my uneventfulness; I was content to Iive in fear of all things related to motorcycles, and I adamantly refused to ride with him.

My husband has enjoyed his motorcycle for two summers now, and whenever the nice weather came, he took his bike out for a spin, and when he came home, he  very gently lamented  that  his only regret was enjoying something so much, and not being able to share it with me.

Of course, this couldn’t go on forever.  Finally, I relented.   I mustered up the courage and I went for a ride with him just a couple of days ago.    We only went for a drive around the lake, and stopped for a cup of coffee.    At some point during our cruise, I realized, it was okay to experience rough times that might cause some fear and anxiety; after all, it’s during these desert times  that God speaks softly to us.  However, it was time for me to let go of my fear and embrace more of what life has to offer.  Later that day, I read my husband’s Facebook status, and this is what he posted:

“Life is short and tomorrow is not promised.  Find something you like to  do and do it today.”

This was a good lesson for me.  I’m going to start enjoying more todays.