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

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

Blessed Release…I Am Not In Control

image“The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel.”–C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Sometimes I feel very strongly the things that I must do, whether it is to give someone an encouraging word; whether it is to write something down for others to read; or whether it is simply to knit something for someone, and pray for that person while I am knitting it. When this urge  to do these things comes upon me, I cannot describe it any other way, except to say that I must do it , or suffer all sorts of unrest and anxiety. In my younger days, it was quite simple really.  I just followed this God-thing within me. As I’ve grown older, it has become easier to second guess myself and wonder what it is that compels me to be this way, instead of just doing what I know is required. I have felt a need to have all things, by outward appearances anyway, in order first, before proceeding with anything else.  I have also come to a place in life where it has been difficult for me to listen to the promptings within me, for fear of being misunderstood, or mislabeled.

In the mid nineties, DC Talk was a popular Christian band and also one of my favorite musical groups. One particular album of theirs, “Jesus Freak”, was one that I played over and over , and over again, in the cassette deck of my car, as I drove to and from work. I loved that song, “Jesus Freak”.  I was not ashamed of those words, and I wanted the world to know. I even had a bracelet, fashioned from a leather strap, with a metal plate on it with the label “Jesus Freak” stamped in it.  I wore it proudly, and I hoped passers-by would see it and wonder. I’m sure they did.  I’m sure they saw it , and wondered.  I think  If my husband had let me, I would have driven around with a fish bumper sticker on my car; I was THAT devoted.

Things were so very black and white for me. I had a very clear idea of what I thought was right and wrong, and I didn’t question what was taught from the church pulpit. I was a Sunday school teacher, I prayed for my own children  daily, and read books with titles like “How to Raise Godly Children”. I was sure that if I did all the “right” things, my life would turn out perfectly and God would continue to pour out His blessings upon me.

Since then, life’s circumstances have taught me that people will indeed disappoint me, and because of this, I have had to deal with more anger, bitterness, and resentment than I thought it was possible for me to own.  I have become a little less sure of myself and I am not as eager to share my thoughts with others.  Sometimes I worry that I cannot follow through with the things God requires of me, and the lyrics of one of the  other songs DC Talk used to sing ruminates in my head : ” What if I stumble , what if I fall?  What if I lose my way and I make fools of us all?”

I recently had a conversation with a close friend who happens to be a Registered Nurse. We were talking about suffering from the effects of anxiety,  and she told me about a website, Anxietynetwork.com, where I read about ANTs, which are Automatic Negative Thoughts. This is an actual psychological term for something that I think I deal with quite often. Who knew there was a real term for the  angst going on inside my head?  Anyway…for some people it’s common to have a negative thought and to beat yourself up about it , and then not follow through with anything good that you may feel led to do because of these negative thoughts.  I am oversimplifying this whole process, but this happens, and apparently, I am not alone. 

I am by nature a worrier.  I cause myself all sorts of unnecessary angst because of it.  Some dear friends of mine recommended a daily reading , “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young, which I started in the New Year.  It has helped me to enjoy the peace He offers in His Presence. It is Lovely. It is through this process of learning once again, to find peace amidst the turmoil of Life, that I have taken time to reflect and wonder what it is that has happened to me over the course of these years that have gone by. More importantly, despite all of this, I have learned that God is indeed real, but He is not who I thought He was.  He is much more loving and full of grace than I could have  imagined. It is because of His Faithfulness that I am still here, still struggling with Life, but still here, still breathing.  I have relearned Love and Forgiveness, and lyrics like  “Blessings are not just for the ones who kneel” (U2’s City of Blinding Lights),  move me in a way that was not possible before.   I don’t need to worry  people will realize that I am not in control at all.  I had forgotten the rest of the lyrics of the song, “will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?  What if  I stumble and what if I fall? I hear You whispering my name. You say My love for You will never change.  You are my comfort and my God.”

It’s totally okay for me to not have all my ducks in a row before I venture out and do the thing that is required of me, whatever that may be.

” The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God , and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” — II Corinthians 10:4-6

Who is this Proverbs 31 Woman Anyway??

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“A good woman is hard to find, and worth far more than diamonds.  Her husband trusts her without reserve, and never has reason to regret it.” –Proverbs 31:10,11-The Message

Over the years I have spent an inordinate amount of time pondering the words found in the 31st Proverb.  There is a lot of pressure in these words for women who strive to be their best, whether it is in the role of wife, or mother, or both.  I don’t believe  the intention of this Proverb was to create pressure, but I have a tendency to obsess about all kinds of things, and this is one of them.

A lifetime ago,  I was  a busy young mother of twins, running a household which included a cat, a dog, and at that time, a hamster named Isabella.  I found it very difficult to carve out time to even read Proverbs 31, never mind ponder its deeper meaning, so when I stumbled upon the above caricature in a magazine, I felt I could really relate to it.  I wish I could remember which magazine article I cut it out of so I could give the artist proper credit, but unfortunately, I don’t.  I was so deeply moved by the fact that I actually felt like the woman in the caricature, so I  framed it , and it has been sitting on a desktop, or kitchen counter of my house for the last 17 years, reminding me that it is ok to feel frazzled and not quite in control of all situations.

It is laughable now, when I realize how I fretted about little things when my children were little and their problems and battles were  little also.  I had no idea really, about the things that were in store for me when the teenage and young adult years were to come along.  In His wisdom, God has shielded us from knowing what is to come in our future, because it is true that we could not bear it if we knew.

As Mothers’ Day approaches this week-end, I find myself reminiscing about the years gone by, wondering how I could have done things differently, to spare my children and myself some of the pain and heartache we have gone through over the last couple of years.  My husband and I had very set ideas of how to raise our kids, and we were very strict in many ways.  We wanted to give them very clear guidelines to live in what we knew to be a very black and white world.  We also wanted them to think for themselves, and to ask questions when they were unsure of the answers; confident that they would find their way in life.  I did not realize that the answers to the questions they asked would be quite grey, not black or white, and I suppose this is where the conflicts began.  I often joked, as my children  grew into young adults, that we taught them to ask questions but I wish they came up with different answers.  This, when I discovered some of the choices they made; when their choices were different from the ones I would have had them make.  I also joked, that I miss the control I thought I had.

However, now that my kids are young adults and the dialogue between us is at a level that is somewhat open and honest, I am happy to say that they have both taught me a lot about acceptance and responsibility.  They are not content to follow the rules of society and the norm if it hurts someone in the process; they are ready to speak out when they feel something is wrong.  I wish I had been this brave at their age.  I love my children fiercely and I am very proud of who they have become.  I am proud of their non-conformism.   I would not change them for the world, and I am grateful for all they have taught me.  I would not be who I am today if it were not for lessons learned from the both of them.

I have grieved my rigidness and my mistakes in parenting, but of course, there is nothing that can be done about the past; we can only move forward:  “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?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” –Isaiah 43:18,19

I can keep striving towards the rest of the Proverb:  “Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades.  The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God.” -v.30 – The Message

The bottom line is that I cannot do this on my own, and I have wasted too much time in trying.  God is my Helper and my Comfort.  I need only to breathe.  The rest, as they say is up to Him.

“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

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.