Good Pasture

“As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
imageTherefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. ” ~ Ezekiel 34:17-22

Last Sunday, I read a funny status on a friend’s Facebook wall. She mentioned that her pastor had related a story about one of the first international missions conferences, where missionaries from around the world had gathered: “Apparently, at this conference, the Dutch missionaries were so shocked and offended by the heavy make-up worn by the female American missionaries that their cigarettes fell right out of their mouths…” Of course, I liked that status, as did many others, because it was chuckle- worthy.  I even went so far as to comment on it, quite radically, I thought, because my comment was something along the lines of ” I  have often wondered who decided smoking was a sin.”

I meant my comment to be  funny, but I admit I was trying to be a bit of rabble-rouser.  I think in the “family of God” as we so often like to call ourselves, we are very quick to judge and point out the mistakes of others. I was not present for the sermon my friend listened to last Sunday, but I  suspect it may have embraced the lack of grace we often exhibit towards those we meet daily.

Literally, seconds after posting my comment on my friend’s wall, I received a private message from someone who was very concerned about me. He wanted to make sure that I knew for sure that smoking was indeed a sin, along with other things that    would “desecrate our bodies which are God’s temple.” I was exasperated by this private admonition because I felt misunderstood, but  I care for this person, and because I did not wish to offend anyone else, I quickly deleted my comment from my friends wall.  And so…the musing of these thoughts in my own head began…

I know smoking will lead to an early grave. So can gluttony and slothfulness, so, rest assured, my rather careless commentary did not mean that I am  on my way out to the nearest gas station to buy a pack of smokes.  I might add, that some “sins” like gluttony, slothfulness, and slander, are not given equal time in today’s church as some other “unpardonable” offenses.

When I read “The Cost of Discipleship,” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and an upstanding Christian leader during the Nazi-era, I learned that he was a chain-smoker. I guess this was a time in history before smoking was considered sinful. The Bible doesn’t mention smoking either. So, as an aside, since reading this book, I have wondered who decided smoking was a sin, and when it “became” a sin, and why we as a church love to condemn people if they engage in what we think is sinful or inappropriate behavior. My intention is not to spend too much time on the debates of the particular sins or offenses; I only wish to remind all of us that we need less judgement and more love and grace.

Reading this passage from Ezekiel this morning made me weep, because it so perfectly put into words how I  often feel when I think about the church today. I see  many people who are hurting, and tired, and they may be pushed aside or ignored by the self-righteous. We as a church, are quick to drink all that Christ offers us, and then we muddy the waters with our own pious rules and regulations. When someone we might find disreputable is in our midst, we trample them with our words and over bearing ways, and before you know it, they will not ever cross the thresholds of our churches again. We forget that judgement is reserved for God; our only mandate is to love as He loves us; to offer to others the same grace that we received from Him.  That’s all. It’s so simple  that it escapes us.

“When I lose my way, And I forget my name, Remind me who I am. In the mirror all I see, Is who I don’t wanna be, Remind me who I am. In the loneliest places, When I can’t remember what grace is.”

~ “Remind Me Who I Am” Jason Gray

 

Remembering My Friend Tuula

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“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” ~ Luke 22:42

A childhood friend passed away a few days ago from a particularly difficult bout with cancer. She and I were not terribly close, but we knew each other because our parents were friends and we grew up in the same small town. She and I both moved far from our families in our adult years, and over the course of time in this modern world, we kept in touch through Facebook.  I last saw her a few years ago at my brother’s wedding. She was too young, in my mind, to have suffered from this horrible disease. She had so much to live for, and I think her family would agree, she had so many more things to experience. Why was she taken from this life so soon?

I was at work when I received the news that she passed away in hospice care. Of course, I cried when I heard the news, and then I went on with my day, thinking about how strange it was , that one minute, someone who was loved and cherished by so many could be here among us, and then the next minute, she is not. Still, time goes on, not stopping for any of us.

When Tuula and I were kids, our families would visit each others’ houses,  and we and our sisters  had such fun, giggling and spying on our older brothers, while they annoyingly chased us away and locked us out of their territory. At that time, none of us had any idea of the journey that Life would take us on; where it would lead us. I didn’t stay in close touch with Tuula, but I know she lived in various cities across Canada with her husband, and served others as a pastor’s wife, and as a daycare provider. Her Facebook profile showed a very cheerful, smiley woman, who loved children. When she received her cancer diagnosis, she seemed very brave, and trusted God for strength and comfort. I wonder if she ever wished that He would take “that cup of suffering” away from her? I know she and her loved ones prayed for healing for her cancer. Instead, God chose to whisper to her by name, and call her home.

I have often cried out in my own journey in life, and have asked God to “take my cup of suffering”from me, yet here I am, still muddling through various trials from day to day. I wonder why we as humans have to go through the things we do. I do not mean to be misunderstood; I know I am blessed in many ways, but life is not easy at times. I cannot pretend to understand why. I do realize my story is entwined in the story of others, and the telling of it is  not complete.  I only know that it is my story; it is unique to me.  My children, my husband, and the people I meet from day to day are in my path for a reason. He may not take my cup from me, but He will give me strength and hope for the next day. I have only to stand up, straighten my shoulders, and look up, so I can hear Him whispering my name.

“When you don’t move the mountains I’m needing You to move, When You don’t part the waters I wish I could walk through, When You don’t give the answers as I cry out to You, I will trust , I will trust, I will trust in You!” ~”I Will Trust In You”-Lauren Daigle

“but I trust in You, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” ~Psalm 31:14

Waiting

image“Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart”`Ps.27:14

 

I love this photo that I snapped of our trusty lab, Musta, staring out the window, waiting for her daily walk.  She looks like she thinks she’s never going to get one.  It was a rainy day, and the weather was horrible, so instead of taking her first thing in the morning the way she had been accustomed to, I chose to wait out the rain instead.  It was better for her, and for me, and, it was better for our little dog, Oliver who is terrified of the rain. Musta didn’t understand why she had to wait for her walk that day, but in my head I had a perfectly good reason, and the reason was best for all involved.

Sometimes I realize I am just like my puppy Musta, towards my Father God.

How many times in life have I found myself impatiently waiting for something, and wondering when the big thing would happen? I’ve been praying and praying and praying, and it seems as if nothing is happening and my prayers are falling on God’s deaf ears, and I hear nothing in response. Nothing.  Not even a hopeful maybe. Several weeks, even years can go by, and after the prayer is answered, I realize how silly I am; and if I hadn’t waited so long, the prayer could not have been answered so perfectly. I would have had to settle for something much less perfect for me, something that in hindsight, I would have been much less satisfied with.

This past fall, I couldn’t understand why it was taking  so long to get my license to practice my profession in the State of Georgia.  I had filled out the appropriate paperwork, and instead of the three or four weeks I thought it would take, the process dragged out to more than three months.  I was beyond frustrated. I felt very inadequate, and I was taking it all very personally. However, almost as soon as the State of Georgia granted me my license, I found a job that was beyond my expectations, and was more wonderful than I could imagine. Oh the joy, (the joy!) when that prayer was answered! My coworkers are awesome, and my job challenges me in new ways every day. I am excited to go to work and I don’t have to drag my feet when I get out of bed every morning. It is a blessing  I would have missed out on if I hadn’t had to wait until this particular job was available to me.

There is a story in the book of Daniel, where Daniel has a vision regarding his prayer life. (Chapter 10, verse1-13, ) He had fasted and prayed for 3 weeks and heard nothing, and then finally an angel broke through and let him know that his prayer had been heard “as soon as he set his mind to gain understanding , and to humble himself before God.” Daniel had to wait three weeks to realize his prayer had been answered, because  the angel had to fight powers in the unseen world in order to get to Daniel and help him.

I have been thinking a lot about waiting lately; it is so easy to tell others to trust God and to wait for the right thing to come along…in actual fact, I know waiting is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It is a lesson that I have to relearn daily, even though I live with the blessings of answered prayer in my life daily. Now, my life is not nearly as complicated as Daniel’s. I am not being thrown into prison, into a fiery furnace, or a lion’s den because of my faith in God.  My life is not as complicated, to say the least. However, I am trying to navigate this difficult modern world that we all live in, and to do that, I have discovered that my only real defense is to pray continually , and this old story from the book of Daniel helps me. I believe God hears my prayers, even when I don’t see the evidence of that right away. As I write this, I am waiting for another prayer to be answered. I wonder how long it will take, and how many tears I will shed as I kneel and speak to my Lord about this one? I know He hears me. He might answer other prayers in the meantime, before He answers. I trust that He knows best. I think that is why this photo of my puppy whining in the window touches me. She is waiting, and so am I…

“For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”~Isaiah 41:13

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”~1 Peter 5:7

 

 

Mothers and Daughters

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“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot… a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend.”~Ecclesiastes  3:1-7

I have spent an inordinate amount of time on the phone with my daughter over the last few weeks. I speak with her almost daily  about anything under the sun.  My conversations with her remind me of conversations I had with my own mother when I was younger, and had moved away from home.  Whenever I was missing her , or wanted to share my day, or ask about a recipe, she was only a phone call away, and always willing to spend a few minutes with me. Now my conversations with my daughter are very similar.  They can consist of only a few words, or they can be quite lengthy.

I have had much time over the last few months to think and contemplate in a way that I have not had time to do in the past, and for this I am grateful.  It has been a rare gift for me, and one that I have treasured. This time has allowed me to settle in to our new home,  to rest, to reflect, and to grieve.

I have always been busy studying, working, or being a wife and mother.  Not since the carefree days of my youth, have I had this much time at my disposal. After my husband and I moved to the state of Georgia, and after I finished unpacking our boxes, I would have loved to dive in and look for a job, but I couldn’t. I was not licensed  to work as a dental hygienist in this state, until last week.  I was waiting for the board of dentistry to grant me my state licensure, and I’m relieved to say that finally, they did.  Now I have started applying for jobs, so although I have enjoyed this time , I need to get back to work.

In the last three and a half months, I have joined a book club, attended church, become friendly with our neighbors, and socialized with my husband’s coworkers, all with the intent to establish roots and nurture new relationships.  People in the South are welcoming and friendly. It’s impossible to walk our dogs without having someone walk by, or drive by without a neighborly “stop-and-chat”.  I love that about our new neighborhood. I wish I could pick up the phone and call my mom to tell her all about it.

Just a couple of weeks ago I had one of those moments; I was baking some Finnish coffee bread because  I wanted to send a care package to my kids.  The  yeast-based dough grew exponentially, and spilled over onto my counter top.  I vaguely remember having a conversation with my mom about baking bread in warmer climates, and how the humidity and warmth can make the yeast work double time.  How I wished I could call her up and tell her she had been right about that.  Why is it that these simple things cause me to tear up on such a regular basis?  My daughter loves to cook and bake and  she will often call me for quick cooking advice, or to discuss recipes.  It reminds me of how my mom and I used to be. I loved being able to call her at the drop of a hat, and tell her the most mundane things; it didn’t matter that we rarely saw each other or that so many miles separated us. 

Our move to from Minnesota didn’t go swimmingly; the moving company was terrible.  So many things were broken , furniture was scratched or dented, my husband’s  dumbbells and toolbox are missing; lost forever.  These things are insured and replaceable, but the whole ordeal is annoying, and I would have loved to call my mom and complain to her about it, but fortunately for me, my daughter is willing to listen to my woes, and for that I am grateful. 

I was unpacking a crate of my mother’s China, which she had gifted to me several years ago.  She had been downsizing her things; she had no use for it and wanted me to have it.  My mother passed away just one short month prior to our move, and with that wound still fresh, I was unprepared for the onslaught of emotion that I was hit with when I unraveled her China from amongst the brown paper packing.  So many memories of my mother’s Sunday roast dinners and Christmas turkeys with all of us gathered around the dining room table sharing a meal.    Unwrapping her China was a grim reminder of how unavailable she was to me now; how I could not call her to share my experiences in this new land that I find myself navigating.  I couldn’t handle it anymore; I had to wrap up her China again and put it away where I couldn’t see it, where I could deal with it another day. Procrastination, in the guise of another project, was in order.

I had some decorative wall hangings that needed a coat of paint, and as little effort as I could muster.  Painting is not my forte, and I remembered a friend telling me about  a product called chalk paint, which sounded wonderful.  No primer was necessary; just a coat or two, and a light sanding, and you’re done.  Exactly what I was after.  I googled where I could buy this wonderful product, and it turns out, a retailer was very close to me, so off I went.  An antique dealer sold this paint, and google maps pointed the way.  I walked into the store, and on the display case right near the front door, what did I see?  Chalk paint? Certainly not.  It was an entire set of “The Friendly Village ” by Johnson Brothers, my mother’s  China pattern! As soon as I recognized it on the display case, I walked up to it and started bawling my eyes out. As I was standing there, wiping the tears and mascara out of my eyes,  a very worried looking antiques proprietor came scurrying over to me asking, “Ma’am, ya’ll doin’ ok?”  I responded, “Yes, I’m fine.  I’m just here to buy chalk paint!’ My goodness gracious…..I am not one to usually cause such a scene….

My daughter called me that day and I was able to tell her all about it.  I love that I can talk to her about these things. I love my baby girl. I can’t be sure but I suspect that she was crying too, on her end of the phone, as I told her my story.

In the end, when my mom got very sick, I felt very guilty for being so very far away from her, because I was unable to help her in the way that I wanted to. When I called her, I would apologize profusely. She would tell me, over and over again, that she understood, and not to worry, but that did not alleviate how I was feeling. After I moved from Minnesota to Georgia, I also felt guilty for leaving my children behind. The fact that they are young adults should have assuaged my guilt, but at the time it didn’t.  Now I see that they are thriving and doing well; perhaps they are doing even better than they would have if we had stayed and helicoptered them their entire young adult lives.

It wasn’t until recently, after my  mom passed, that I realized- life circumstances happen and sometimes we cannot control them, no matter how much we would like to.  This is just the way it is, and my mom  understood. I am sure she would not have wanted me to suffer the guilt I felt inside my own head. I was the one who felt guilty for  reasons that were out of my control, and I needed to let it go.  My  mom immigrated from Finland to Canada and was far from her own mother; of course she of all people understood how things were. I know she may have liked it if we lived close by, but we didn’t. She enjoyed our telephone visits, and she loved it when we had a chance to visit in person even more.  I now get it that she understood me in more ways than I ever gave her credit for. I wish I could have shared this epiphany with her before she passed. Our conversations would have been that much more peaceful, at least for me.

“I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”~Jeremiah 31:25

Does The Heart of God Weep?

image“God’s Message:

“Cursed is the strong one who depends on mere humans, who thinks he can make it on muscle alone and sets God aside as dead weight. He’s like a tumbleweed on the prairie, out of touch with the good earth. He lives rootless and aimless in a land where nothing grows.  But blessed is the man who trusts me, God, the woman who sticks with God.  They’re like trees replanted in Eden, putting down roots near the rivers–never a worry through the hottest of summers, never dropping a leaf, serene and calm through droughts, bearing fresh fruit every season. “The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out.  But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be. “-Jeremiah 17:5-10; The Message

I have mentioned before that writing has become very cathartic for me, but I have also come to notice that if I let myself, I can become quite obsessive about this work of mine. Sometimes I am surprised at how many people actually read my posts and comment, and at other times, I am even more blown away when people have absolutely nothing to say; this,  when I think I have made a very profound point or observation. Often, ( in my head, ) I anticipate my blog creating a social media frenzy after I have posted it,  and then am quite crestfallen when this does not happen.

I realized this morning, as I was thinking about these things, that perhaps this is how our Lord might feel. He has written pages upon pages of posts to us; pages of wisdom and love and instruction, because He wants to spend time with us, because He loves us, because He created us. He wants to teach us, and to show us He loves us, and to guide us; He has wisdom to impart. I wonder if He feels alone and rejected when we barely skim the pages of what He has written. We are too busy to spend time reading it properly; we don’t have time.  I wonder if He feels sad when we don’t take the time to let Him know we appreciate what He has to offer; that perhaps we love Him in return? I wonder if we are making His heart weep?

“Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed, save me and I will be saved,  for you are the one I praise.”-Jeremiah 17:14

*photo credit Erika Pieniniemi

This One is For Jeremy

imageJust a Thought About Faith

“Yesterday, life was so simple,

Today, it is so complicated,

and tomorrow, if and when it comes,

Holds something quite mysterious,

Possibly bringing with it, more problems, or complications.

Yet I will not fret, 

But stand in faith in the Lord,

For He will surely guide me, 

Through any hardships I encounter, 

And through whatever troubles befall me.

So in His strength,

I will battle against

Whatever attempts to get me down;

and override it with love,  joy, and peace,

Which I will receive, from the Lord.” –Belinda Mah

I have spent the last weeks moving to a new state and unraveling my old life out of cardboard boxes and brown paper, trying to make it fit comfortably into this new land of peaches and pecans. As I was unpacking, I came across some old journals of mine. In 1982, I had been so moved by this poem written by Belinda Mah, that I penned it into my journal. Now, as I read it, I was reminded of the comments my son had written in my previous blog post.  You see, he had made some rather raw comments, and he also noted that he was interested in memories and thoughts that resonated with me as a young person.

I wondered then , if he thinks I led a rebellious crazy adolescence , riddled with partying and social experiences in my college years.  Little does he know what a straight arrow I truly was, and how I was ridiculed for it in those years, and how it didn’t bother me in the least.  I had sold my life out to Jesus in every aspect and I was not ashamed.  Everything was so straightforward and simple.  I saw what the effect of over-indulging in alcohol had on my older brother, and I was not interested.

I grew up in modest circumstances, and finances were a strain for my parents. We always had enough and we always knew that my parents loved us. We could depend on them to help us out when we needed; as long as what we needed was within reason and within the family budget.  When it was necessary for me  to apply to  college after high school, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life, and deadlines for college applications were approaching.  So, I did what I had learned to do; I talked to God, and I let Him know, that I needed to know, what I should do with the rest of my life. In my naiveté , I believed an answer to that prayer would come. Then, one day, my dad came home from the dentist after having his teeth cleaned, and he said, “That would be a good job for you, my dear!” That was it.  I decided that was my answer, and armed with that, I made an appointment with my high school guidance counsellor and told him I was going to be a dental hygienist. It was a program which accepted only 12 applicants at each of three colleges in the province I lived in, and each college had 1500 applicants, so of course he tried to persuade me to apply to a different program. I insisted I had prayed about it, and this was an answer to prayer…I’m sure that poor man thought I was a nut case.  I really did not take the time to understand how impossibly slim my chances were of getting into dental hygiene school were at that time.  Miraculously, I was accepted at two of the three colleges I applied to.

Tuition for this program was not extremely high, but it was high enough that my parents could not afford to pay what was required to send me to school the following fall. My grades were good, but because I had applied to a community college and not a university, I had not applied for any scholarships, nor were any available to my knowledge.  I was devastated, and I attended my graduation ceremony with a heavy heart, thinking I would not be able to go to school the following fall. Still, I continued to pray, hoping for a miracle. Imagine my surprise when I received two unexpected scholarships at my graduation ceremony; exactly the amount I needed to pay my tuition  for my first year of college. God is good, and He answered many simple prayers for me in those years of my youth; these were just two examples. These are just a couple of memories that resonated with me as I read some of my early journal entries from years ago.

It wasn’t until much later in life, as an adult, when I was hurt by people who professed to love God, but later I learned were blinded by their own self -interests, that I started to question everything I had been taught about God by the church.  I even questioned His existence, but blessedly , I have come to realize that He is real; He is just not who I thought He was, and He loves me.  I don’t have to be perfect; I am screwed up, and He loves me anyway.  That is where grace comes in and it is beautiful.

These days, I get tired so easily.  This move to Atlanta. has just drained me and squeezed me in ways I could not have thought possible.  I love to be here, but I just can’t imagine a time when every cardboard box and every piece of brown paper will be gone and everything will be in its place.  In the old days, when our family re-lcoated in a move such as this, I think I can honestly say that everything was in its place in less than 2 weeks.  What is happening to me?  It has been almost a month, and I am still not done. The move itself was agonizing. Things are not falling into place as quickly for me as far as my job goes. I am tired. I am worn out.

“Today, it is so complicated”,  but I will wait for God’s timing. I can use this time to pray, not just for myself, but for my children. It is a difficult world that they need to navigate,  and I do  not envy the blurry lines that separate right from wrong, that I could not even imagine when I was their age.

I love both of my children and I have a heart for young people, but today, I bless my son, and I pray for love, joy and peace for him, as he finds his way. I pray that he will learn to listen for the soft, gentle Whispering in the desert.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” -Isaiah 55:8,9

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out-plans to take care of you, not to abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” -Jeremiah 29:11-14 The Message

*art credit J. Pieniniemi

This One is For Sauli

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“Far better it is to dare mighty things and to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, for they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” — Theodore Roosevelt

A few weeks ago, my husband asked me why I hadn’t written anything on my blog, and I gave him my exasperated reply, “I have writers’ block!”  He literally laughed out loud at that, and so did I. It is hilarious to think that I consider myself a real writer, but here it is; I cannot write unless this burning within me takes control and urges me on.  I never know what will bring it on, but I can only imagine it might be what drives a painter or a sculptor to create something beautiful and breathtaking. At least that is my hope and desire. I do not write because I have a need to expel my verbal diarrhea. I write because I want to share something that might cause pause in my readers’ day.  Creativity in any given form, whether it is music, art or written, adds life to our world; we cannot let it die. We must nurture it so that we might breathe, and not simply exist.

These thoughts were swirling through my mind as I finished my morning swim, and I was walking back to our house. I noticed today, for the first time, that through the busyness of our summer, the cat tails in our pond had matured, the sumacs along the tree line had begun to turn red, and some of the leaves on the choke cherry tree in our front yard had begun to turn orange. Fall in all its glory is arriving, and with that, we will be leaving this wonderful state that fits us like a comfortable old shoe, and venture out into parts unknown.  We have sold our house and bought a new one; in a couple of short weeks, I will be swimming in a new pool in a much warmer climate.

With the knowledge that our time here is coming to a close comes much excitement for our future, and some bittersweet feelings about leaving our children behind.  I have felt some sadness and anger in waves from each of them, and I know that is warranted, and yet it causes my heart to churn.  I have kept my children close over the years; the apron strings have not been loose, so it will be hard to let go.

I left home when I was much younger, and I remember leaving on one  long cross country trip in particular, with my brother and sister; something like that would have been unheard of when my children were in their teenage years.

During the summer before I entered tenth grade, my parents thought it might be a good idea to let me take a road trip to Kelowna, British Columbia, with my brother and sister, who were twins, and four years older than I was.  We lived in the small town of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and had made the trip out west by car many times during summer vacation to visit our Uncle Eddy and his family, but this was to be our first time alone.  To this day, I cannot fathom how my father and mother were brave enough to allow three teenagers to travel cross country alone; but they did, and we were fine. We had a glorious time.  We loved our Uncle Eddy.  He was a mechanic by trade, and an entrepreneur by spirit; that is, when we went to visit him that year he no longer had his mechanic’s garage, but was running a urethane foam insulation business from his shop in Kelowna.  While we were visiting him, he spray-insulated my dad’s Dodge van for him. (I remember spending the trip back to Ontario picking off the bits of bubbly foam insulation while I was lying in the back of my dad’s van)

That summer, we spent a lot of time in my uncle’s office while he worked.  He had many inspirational quotes typewritten on pieces of paper and thumb tacked to his office wall.  This is where I discovered, for the first time, the above quote by Theodore Roosevelt, and I was so profoundly moved by it, that I memorized it for a tenth grade English assignment.  Since then, I have “owned” this quote and it has inspired me on many different occasions.

As our time in Minnesota quickly comes to an end and we find ourselves jumping through endless hoops of paperwork to get everything in order for our move,  I suppose it is only natural for some doubt to set in, and we, my husband and I , find ourselves wondering just exactly what it is we are doing and why we are doing it.  So many of our friends and colleagues have never moved from one job to another, never mind one city to another.  They are firmly rooted in one place, close to their friends and family, and are very comfortable with their surroundings.  As we prepare for the changes that are coming, we are a little excited, and quite frankly, a little bit intimidated at what awaits us. We have moved multiple times over the years, but somehow, this latest move has me rattled. I find myself feeling a little bit jealous of my friends and acquaintances who have never moved and who are firmly rooted in their surroundings.

It is in these brief moments of uncertainty that I remember this quote by Roosevelt, and I remember that not everyone is hard-wired the same way.  The restlessness that is a part of us has challenged us to move forward and make these changes in our life, and it is too late to turn back now. We will go forward, unafraid, and lean on the One who has breathed this change into our lives.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”-Romans15:13

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

A Mothers’ Heart

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      “The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” – Exodus 33:14

In my last blog I wrote of restlessness and change, and since then, I have found out, that once again, we are moving. I have always told my husband that if he had the opportunity to work in Atlanta, then he wouldn’t even have to ask me; I was there, because I want to be a Georgia Peach. I love to read, some of my favorite authors write about the South, it is filled with history and charm, and people from there seem so darn friendly. Never mind that I have never been to Atlanta, except to change planes in the airport (what a harrowing experience), or to drive through the state of Georgia on the way to Florida a time or two.  Over the years, my husband has told me time and time again, when we’ve had this fictional, moving to Atlanta conversation ,  that I can’t possible become a Georgia Peach, because I am a Canadian, and I don’t understand what I am talking about.  There is a culture difference between people from the South and people from the North, that I don’t understand, apparently.  People (from the North) keep telling me that, whenever I tell them that we are moving.  I do think I have a vague idea about it, and I am sure I will come to understand more as time goes on, because now that fictional conversation has become real.  Somehow I knew it in my bones; I knew I would live in Atlanta someday, and it will happen as soon as we tie up the loose ends here in Minnesota and just go.

This is a different move for our family, because we won’t be taking our children with us, and why would we?  They are grown now and have begun lives of their own.  They have jobs and friends that tie them to this community and this state, and we are the ones severing the cords and pulling away.  It seems backwards to me when I think of it.  Aren’t children the ones who are supposed to move away from home, not parents? When I wrote about change in my last blog post, a friend of mine suggested my angst might be caused by God calling me closer to Him.  I have to confess, I had an idea that  my husband was contemplating a change of some kind that might take us away from our children and that created some unrest and anxiety for me.

Will they be okay without us?  Have we prepared them adequately to survive without us in the same state?  These are the questions that are haunting me as I prepare in other ways for our move; as I have painters and floor guys come and give me estimates for our house to prepare to sell it, and as I study in preparation for out of state licensing exams, so I can work outside of the state of Minnesota. With so  many things to do it is hard for me to focus  on one thing at a time.  I should be studying or sleeping, and I am blogging.  Yesterday when I washed my face, instead of a facial toner, I used nail polish remover on my face.  It was quite uncomfortable.  I don’t recommend it.

As I think of all of these things and prepare for our move, I pray and I remember a visit with my sister.  She was visiting me  and we went shopping together in the Mall of America. My sister loves jewelry, and when she can, she enjoys buying pieces of jewelry to splurge and to pamper herself when she is on vacation, or on a trip away from home.  She had bought herself a pendant for a necklace, made of blue glass, shaped like a heart.  It was rather large and pretty, but totally unlike anything I would ever wear, because it had my sister’s name written all over it.  She and I are quite different when it comes to our tastes, as most sisters are, I imagine.  At the end of our weekend visit together, my sister told me, in no uncertain terms, that she felt very strongly that she was to leave the pendant with me.  It was mine, she said.  Over the course of the weekend, I had shared with her some of the angst of my motherhood, and she told me that this pendant represented my mothers’ heart, and it was for me.  Now , you have to understand.  My sister LOVES jewelry, and when she bought this pendant for herself, she really wanted it.  When she gave it to me, she really thought I should have it; it was a God thing.  My sister is not a mother; and for her to think of this was a little uncanny to say the least.  I strung a ribbon through the pendant and hung it on my bedroom wall.  When I see it, I think of my sister and her tender heart as I pray for my kids.

I know in my Mothers’ Heart, as I pray for my kids, that moving is the  right thing for our family, and He will care for each one of us.  I am reminded of the story of Hannah praying for God’s blessing, because she was barren, and couldn’t have a child.  Finally, God blessed her and she gave birth to Samuel, and then right after Samuel was weaned, she turned around and brought him to the temple so that he could be trained by the priest Eli to serve God.  It was quite a sacrifice for a mother to give.  While Samuel was away from his mom at the temple, he learned to listen to the still, small voice of God, and he became a mighty voice for Him.  This story has been ringing in my heart, and maybe, God has something to say to my kids without me buzzing around getting in their business.  I have to let go of them and cut the apron strings.  That’s pretty hard for me because I like control, and I will miss them in my daily happenings.   So…maybe my friend was right.  Perhaps God can use this restlessness to draw all of us closer to Him.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” Ephesians 3:20

The Breath of Change

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“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” -Isaiah 30:21

I have been thinking about the things that I have shared in the last month, in my last posts, and I am reminded that they are all connected, and each blog seems to lead into the next one.  Of course, that makes sense, as I am writing about my Life, and my musings  from day to day. I feel as if I have been trapped in the wilderness for years, and now, finally, I have heard The Breath of Change speak my name; He is speaking softly to me in the desert, and letting me know it is time…time for what? I am not sure.

This is a photo I took almost a year ago, close to my home.  When I  took this photo, my husband didn’t understand why I liked it so much. “They are just weeds; they are not even flowers, ” he said.  He is right, but still, I love this photo. The scene speaks of serenity to me.  It is along a favorite walking trail of ours; we walk here almost daily with our dogs.  However, this peaceful meadow and pond look quite different now.  If you could see beyond the pretty landscape of the pond, you would see it has been developed with new homes.  The pond is still there, and it is still home to quite a few ducks and geese.  The “weeds” and wildflowers are gone, the trail is manicured and paved, and many beautiful new homes have been constructed in the meadow where we used to see deer run freely, and where we could let our dogs run off leash. Our walking trail is not quite as peaceful and serene as it used to be, and although I selfishly think it has been ruined, the new homeowners  appreciate the change that they have paid for,  and now share with me.

The spring fragrance in the air, the baby goslings swimming in the pond, and the changes in my walking trail have caused me to reflect on how things can change rapidly, before we know what’s coming.

“God is always faithful, and it is because of His faithfulness that you are here.”

These are the words that were spoken to me, and to my husband, by our pastor in a small church in Thunder Bay, Ontario, shortly after we had moved there  from Toronto. We had left  our friends, family , and everything familiar to us behind. The future felt very uncertain, and quite honestly, at that time, I had no desire to be there, in that place, at all. I only knew, that when my husband’s job transferred him, as it did so many times, it was my place to follow, and I did.  This happened more than 15 years ago; it is difficult to fathom that time has passed so quickly. I used to pray the words in Jeremiah 29:14 over our lives constantly, thinking that God would bring me out of the place “from where he had banished me” (Thunder Bay) and “bring me back to the place from which he carried me into exile.” (Toronto).  I did not embrace change very well in my younger days.

It was difficult for me to change things that were familiar to me and to give up things that I deemed precious, because I couldn’t take them with me when we moved, or because they were not useful to me in my new environment.  Over the years, I have found myself reflecting upon those words spoken to us by our pastor, and they have become quite precious to me.

“God is always faithful, and it is because of His faithfulness that you are here.”

The smell of the lilacs blooming bring change in the air, and I wonder what is in store for me.  I am at a crossroads in Life, and I wonder what this Restlessness is within me.  My children are grown, and my work schedule is hectic.  Why do I think there is more for me to do, and why is this not enough?  It’s laughable really, to be so bored and discontent in the middle of all this busyness.

I have become quite restless for some reason, and if I am not cautious, I will worry and fret unnecessarily. I must remember that in all things, God is in control. I am not, and I do not need to preoccupy myself with what is around the corner, or with what tomorrow may bring.  He has been faithful to me over the years.  He has always taken care of me and my family, and has provided peace amidst the storms of life. It is possible that the cause of this unrest inside me, is simply the Breath of Change.

“Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” – Psalms 27:14

“He says, “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” – Psalms 46:10