Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Shepherds Story 

The moment Halloween is over it seems all the world begins to scurry about making preparations for Christmas.  Never mind Thanksgiving.  That gets lost in the shuffle.  If we put a few colored leaves in the pot of pine branches on the front steps that will have to do.  It’s all about decking the halls for the arrival of ……..Santa? ……..Jesus?  Sometimes it’s hard to tell.
For most of us, our Christmas season is orchestrated  down to the last song to be sung and dessert to be eaten.  We adults try to control the social calendar.  There is not time for spontaneity .  Music, shopping, baking, decorating, and entertaining must be done.  The Christmas pageant must be rehearsed and presented to the “oohhs" and “ahhhas" of the audience.  By Christmas night we are thrilled but exhausted. 
Now, flash back to the first Christmas night.  It had been an ordinary day.  Mary and Joseph had been on the road all day….again.  It was difficult to find a place to stay in the bustling town of Bethlehem.  There were many families returning to this town, home of their ancestors, to be counted in the census.  The innkeeper was busy boarding and feeding his clients.  In the stable, the animals were bedding down for the night. Out in the fields, shepherds were quietly watching their flocks.  
Imagine the flood of emotions that jolted the shepherds to attention when an angel appeared to them.  “Fear not,”  she said, for surely that is the first emotion that overwhelmed them.  Awe may have come next as a  “flash mob” of angels suddenly appeared in the heavens, praising God and saying, 
Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth, peace good will to men.  

As if this heavenly chorus was not enough, the angel told them that a Saviour, God’s son, had been born.  They could find him wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  Could that be true?  They left the fields and went to Bethlehem in search of the child.  Surely doubt must have filled their minds only to be replaced by joy when they found the child, exactly as the angel had described it!
The shepherds couldn’t wait to tell others what they had experienced.  We, too, know the feeling of wanting to be the first to tell.  Spreading the news, others were astonished.  Finally, the shepherds returned to the stable praising God for all they had heard and seen!

That is an amazing story.  As fun and blessed as our Christmases are, none can be more emotional then the day Jesus was born.  Fear, awe, doubt, joy, excitement, and praise enveloped the shepherds all in one day.  By Christmas night they (like all of us today) were thrilled and exhausted!  For them it was for all the right reasons.  Let’s make our Christmas more like theirs this year, with less personal control and more time to be surprised by the birth of God’s son!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Thanksgiving Rock 

My fascination with rocks began when I was in elementary school.  My friend and I would walk the mile home from school searching the roadsides and empty fields for pretty rocks.  We filled our pockets and small paper bags with these treasures and plotted where we would hide them for later recovery.  Unfortunately, we buried some of them in fields that were scheduled for new home excavation.  We lost many precious treasures that way!  My interest didn’t wane as I grew older.  During our family camping trips I spent hours combing rocky beaches on Lake Superior looking for agates.  In Rocky Mountain State Park and in camp grounds along the way I found interesting specimens to take home.  When my parents moved out of their home into an apartment I found some beautiful rocks my dad had stashed in the garden near the raspberry bushes. ( I guess I come by this rock collecting thing naturally.)  I adopted them for my garden.  
This summer my husband and I traveled to Ireland with some of our family.  Once again I was captivated by rocks I  found along the trails we hiked.  I took pictures of some of them.  When I snuck a couple in my suitcase to bring home I was the laughing stock of the family for a day or two.  I get it.  There are classier things to bring home as souvenirs.  All this got me wondering why rocks are special, not just to me, but to many people.  Admit it.  You have collected a rock from a significant place sometime in your life.  My interest was justified when Wayne Roosa, Professor of Art History from Bethel University, explained that rocks have been used for centuries to mark significant places.  For example, in the Old Testament, they marked places where they felt God, creator of the vast universe, made a connection with man, as small and insignificant as he was.  Some of these were single stones set on end.  Others were more elaborate alters made for worship.  The rocks I brought home from Ireland were from our hike up Croagh Patrick, a 2,500 foot mountain. In the fifth century, St. Patrick, it is said, fasted at the mountain summit for the 40 days of Lent.  It is now a sacred pilgrimage for thousands of people each year.  I am not thinking my rocks are sacred but they do remind me of this very beautiful and  sacred place that I was fortunate enough to visit.
The onset of the Thanksgiving season made me wonder if our country has any stone monument that can be considered a significant place, where the veil between God and man became thin. I recalled an East Coast vacation with a visit to Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.  My mother-in-law, also a teacher, and I insisted on making this stop there, in spite of pouring rain.  We found the rock housed on the beach under a gazebo type structure.  To our amazement, it was a medium size, very ordinary looking rock, nothing like I imagined as a child hearing the  story of the Pilgrims’ journey, stepping off the Mayflower onto Plymouth Rock.  Perhaps, however, this ordinary stone has become infamous because it marks the place where persecuted Christians found a new world where they could worship as they pleased.  God met them there, they felt his presence and marked the spot with a stone.  Their hearts were filled with thanksgiving for God’s immense blessings.  Their three day celebration the following year became our example for pausing each fall to give thanks for food, family, friends and faith.  Our Thanksgiving traditions become our virtual pilgrimage to this rock monument recalling God’s presence in our lives and the blessing it is to worship as we please.  

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

October 2015

There he stood by the picnic table, all 38 inches of his three year old body, waving the garden hose from side to side and over his head.  The spray from the hose scattered in many directions as he dramatically sang,  “Let it go, let it go…….”  For the moment, my grandson felt he had the powers, just like Elsa in the movie, FROZEN.  For months now, he has spent part of most days playing “Anna and Elsa,”  pretending to control weather and people with the wave of an arm.  He is Elsa, I am Anna.  He pushes me away when I come toward the picnic table, just as Elsa pushes Anna away in the movie so as not to hurt Anna with her powers.  
“Go away!”  he yells.  “ I don’t want to hurt you.”
Having powers  is exciting.  Creating what you want or doing anything you want to do makes you seem important.  It sets you apart from others.  People may envy you.  However, it doesn’t always make you happy.  Even my three year old grandson recognizes that.  There is something missing in Elsa’s life.  She is sad because she can’t reverse the damage she accidentally caused with her powers.  Now she lives alone where she can use her powers without restriction but there is no one there to nurture.
Aren’t we all like Elsa sometimes?  It would feel so great to just “let it go” and do anything we want without taking others into consideration.  If we could just go off by ourselves, who would care about what we were doing, what we looked like or what we were saying.  We wouldn’t know how many hearts we had “frozen.”  Being considerate of others is so much work.  Apologizing for mistakes we make is so humiliating.  Staying “uninvolved” would be so much easier…..until we began to feel lonely.  
Just like Elsa, we would eventually realize we need other people.  We have love in our hearts and we need to share it.  We don’t need to be afraid to show it even if we make an occasional  mistake.  Like Elsa, we will discover that “only an act of true love can melt a frozen heart.”  Love is what brings life back to our environment, our communities and our hearts.  That source of love doesn’t come from the wave of one’s arm.  It is a gift from God.  We all have the gift, not just a select few.  Let’s bring happiness back to our world. 
Playing “Elsa and Anna”  with my grandson always ends with hugs and giggles as it should.  If only life was always that easy! 

 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and 13

4Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance…….

13Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


One of my favorite Minnesota composer/song writers is Doug Wood.  I met him at an environmental education conference several years ago where he was the keynote speaker and entertainer.  As you might guess, the theme of many of his songs is the environment, Minnesota’s in particular.  However, one of my favorite songs of his is “Sarah’s Prayer.”  I would like to share it with you.  It is my prayer for each of you and your children as they grow and thrive in this world.

May your spirit be a free and gentle bird
May honesty and light guide every word.
May your thoughts stroll from the heavens to the sea
May the stars reveal their ancient harmony.
May your clouds be just to soften hurt and pain.
May your face be kissed with quiet summer rain.
May the mountains pluck the thunder form your sky.
May a flower grow with every tear your cry.

And everywhere you go, in everyone your know, Let there be love.

May your windy winter nights be safe and warm.
May the light of reason pierce the darkest storm.
May you know the silent secret of a lake.
May your wisdom grow with every step you take.
May your friends be good and true and always there.
May you always have a happy time to share.
May the hollow hurts of loneliness be few,
The surprise of understanding always new.  
And may the taste of life be always fresh and sweet
And may kindness flow from everyone you meet.
May the mystery of childhood be your home
As your spirit takes the years of life to roam.
And when the hour comes for you to rest
May the love of life be still within your breast.

And everywhere you go, in everyone you know, Let there be love.

Douglas Wood, “Sarah’s Prayer,”  WISH FOR THE WILDS,  copyright, 1978.

Saturday, April 4, 2015


Returning from spring break, I downloaded 200 pictures from our trip to Montana into my computer.  They tell the story of the places we stopped along the way (Pompeys Pillar,) the weather (warm and dry, not the best for skiing,) the friends we were with and the activities we shared (skiing, snowshoeing, board games, shopping.)  I added them to the thousands of pictures that are already saved and organized into events and albums in my iPhoto gallery.  When I find the time I’ll make a photo book about our ski trip to share with family and friends. 
I’m a big believer in the cliche, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”   I guess that’s why I love picture storybooks, too.  Without wading through pages of text, looking closely at a picture reveals the details of the story.  In a photo, the facial  expressions of the participants exposes their reactions to the events being captured in the photo.  Revisiting a photo draws me into the “story” we made and the mood of the day.  A smiley face, sun on the mountain, and baby animals brighten my day.  The picture of my 94 year old dad kissing his new great grandson fills my heart with thanksgiving, tears and joy.  I may drive some people crazy with my camera but they all love seeing the photos and recalling the experience.  Photography is an art form that can bring families and friends back to a common experience and relive the feelings that surrounded them at that time.
In the weeks leading up to Easter I have been attending a Sunday School class taught by Wayne Roosa, Art History professor at Bethel University.  The class, entitled “Visual Expressions of Faith Over the Centuries,”  has been focusing on the importance of art forms, paintings and sculptures, to the people of faith.  Before the printed Word was available, the story of God’s hand in the events of history and Jesus’ life and death were only available through visual art seen in the synagogues and churches.  The details of the pictures told the story.  The expressions and the positions of the characters in the scene drew the viewer into the story and helped them understand the importance and intensity of the event.  When the text was finally available to common folks and they were able to read the stories, the paintings and sculptures gave emotional reality to the printed word.  They could revisit the stories each time they saw the art forms.  Once again I’m back to the idea that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”  

Easter images are all around us at this time of the year.  Look carefully at them.  Allow them to tell the story of God’s love, Jesus’ life, and the agony of his death on the cross.  Feel the intensity of the emotions on the faces of the figures in the image.  Let the visual story draw you into the experience this year.  It will make the joy of Easter morning all the more fantastic!

Thursday, January 22, 2015


As soon as Christmas clearance sales wind down the decor in stores turns to red and white.  Hearts and cupids dominate the display windows and seasonal isles.  I’m old enough to remember bringing a shoe box to school to decorate with doilies, tissue paper, construction paper and ribbon.  We cut a slot in the top so our friends could “mail” us Valentines on party day.  The night before the party, children spent agonizing hours selecting just the right card for each child in their class, not too mushy for the opposite sex (except for that special person) but still friendly enough to be kind.  I don’t think anyone uses shoe boxes any more but, at Preschool, we decorate white bags to collect  Valentines from our friends.  The tradition lives on.  
Some would say this is just a Hallmark holiday.  Retailers want our money.  They make us feel guilty  if we don’t lavish our loved ones with fancy cards, flowers, candy, jewelry, ......whatever!  There is that going on, no doubt.  However, I would argue there is a positive side to the day.  This is a chance for parents, grandparents and teachers to encourage children to show appreciation for the people around them, both other children and adults.  Children are born naturally egocentric.  They can’t take care of their needs themselves so they must depend on others to recognize their call for help and respond by feeding them, napping them, talking to them, cuddling them.  You know the routine very well.  As they grow, children become aware of others.  They want to socialize with others and be considered “part of the group.”  At home and with extended family they recognize signs of affection and we encourage them to return this affection with hugs, kisses, high fives or whatever is appropriate at the time.  Valentine’s Day is one of our opportunities to talk about thanking all our friends and family for loving us and being our friend.  (This doesn’t necessarily come naturally.)  Giving a simple purchased or hand made card can be a good way to say, “I appreciate you!”  The cost of the Valentine greeting is not the important thing. It is the thought behind the greeting that counts.  We can all give signs of friendship and love to those around us!  We adults can point the way to positive relationships and help our children see the good in others  more readily then the bad.

Happy Valentine’s Day all month long!