Monday, December 12, 2016

“How many lessons of faith and beauty we should lose, if there were no winter in our year!”
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

I found the above quote on the back page of GARDEN GATE magazine this fall and it caught my attention.  The garden photo accompanying the quote pictured pristine snow adorning an urn of greens and berries.   With our warm fall we Minnesotans were wishing for the beauty of a white Christmas,  frosted window panes, one horse open sleighs, sledding on hills of soft snow and digging forts into mounds of snow gathered from the yard……..and the neighbor’s yard and the other neighbor’s yard.  At least that’s what my grandsons, Soren and Kai, do.  Minnesota winters are gorgeous.  Their beauty restores our faith in a creator who fills our hearts with wonder and awe.  Bring winter on!
But wait.  Perhaps there is another message here.  When the temperatures dropped to the single digits this week and the winds whipped the snow in horizontal paths I wondered if Elsa was back using her powers to bring on a frozen Christmas as she did in Arendelle.  Minnesotans love beautiful snow and winter activities but there is also the discomfort, the shoveling, the danger of hyperthermia.  All is not well in Arendelle when the snow stays too long or the winter is too harsh.  Some Minnesotans pack up and leave for awhile.  Not a bad idea if you can do it.  Others tough it out.  We are descendants of the Vikings after all.  We have  invented tools to help us survive;  snow blowers, snowmobiles, snow plows, down outerwear, down comforters, and the list goes on.  Flu shots, kleenex, Vicks, and heating pads help manage our health concerns.  We build our strength so we can push our grocery carts through the Cub parking lot and walk the dog in the sub zero weather.  Maybe Thomas Wentworth Higginson was suggesting that when we have survived the tough times we realize how blessed we are to have God walking beside us through the deepest snow and the coldest winter.  With God by our side we can appreciate the beauty around us and know we are cared for. 

Bring on winter!  Should we feel sorry for those who lounge on the beaches, garden all year long and  never freeze their fingers?  No, but let’s be hardy Minnesotans and learn to love our mukluks, long underwear and jumper cables.  It helps us appreciate spring.  Thank you, God, for the seasons, even winter!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

 Ahhhh or Awe?

I love Christmas!  As soon as the smell of turkey is out of the house I’m ready to move on to Christmas.  It is such a sensuous time of year.  The smell of almond and ginger, the tinkle of bells, the warmth of the fire and the sight of twinkly tree lights and glowing candles bring ohhhhs and ahhhhs to my lips!  I enlist my older grandsons to help arrange my Dicken’s Village.  We plug in the lights and scatter the polyester to mimic the snow that must come before Christmas.  In recent years I have put up a faux tree in the family room.  Although it doesn’t smell like pine and it’s branches don’t bounce with life when the cat paws at the bottom it allows me to have a beautiful tree the entire season without the mess of needles on the floor.  At school, children giggle as they talk about Santa and secret wishes.  Ohhhh………Ahhhhh!
These are manmade ahhhhs which are fun but temporary.  When the decorations are taken down in January they disappear.  There is another kind of awe.  It is defined by psychologist Dacher Keltner as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale, that transcends our current understanding of things.”  This is the awe that we feel when we see the birth of our own child or the rainbow after a devastating storm.  True awe brings us together, refocusing our attention from me  to us as we experience a common phenomenon.   We stop to fully take it in.  It can change our way of thinking.  We can smile with others who share this same moment.  Being out in nature, whether in the wilderness or in an urban setting, searching for the unusual and amazing, can change our day.  The wonder of a spring flower pushing up through frozen ground, the vast number of stars in the Milky Way or the intricate work of a spider web can fill us with awe.  Doctors believe this same feeling can lower our blood pressure and make us healthier and happier people.
In Luke 2 we read Luke’s account of the Christmas story.  Read through the story and look for moments of awe.  We meet the shepherds watching over their flocks of sheep.  In verse 11 an angel appears to them and says, “for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord….(vs. 13) And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!’ ”  Surely that was an awesome sight, one which still moves us today as we read the story and imagine the angels.  The angel told the shepherds to go to Bethlehem to find the child.  They “went  with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger.”  (vs. 16)  How amazing that must have seemed to them!  The babe was there just as the angel said it would be.  Likewise, the wisemen followed the star from the east.  They arrived in Bethlehem and saw the star shining over the stable. Matthew 2:10 tells us, “When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy; and going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother and they fell down and worshiped him.”  These are some of the moments that fill all of us with awe, bringing us together with one focus on Jesus, the Gift of God’s love.  This is the gift of Christmas that slows us down, makes us think, and allows us to live happier lives because of this awesome gift of love.  

Enjoy your Christmas oohs and ahhhs this December but focus on the AWESOME story of Jesus’ birth.  It is the awe that doesn’t go away when the tree comes down in January. This is the story that can calm our anxious thoughts and bring us together as Christians to focus on Christ not us.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


We have a favorite snack time prayer at Preschool.  It goes like this.

Thank you God for feeding me. 

When I have lunch every week with my grandsons, Henrik and Karl,  we say the same prayer before lunch and Karl, the two year old, immediately asks, “Does God love peas?”
“I think so, Karl,”  I say.  “God made peas.  I’m sure he likes them.”  And off we go eating our lunch, thankful that God loves peas.  It’s good to be thankful for something every day!
I recall a time a year or so ago when there was a Face Book challenge going around asking face bookers  to list three things each day for a week they were thankful for.  Twice I took the challenge and I finished the week feeling blessed to have so much good happening in my life.  In a day full of negative and discouraging news about hurricanes battering our coast line, political candidates bantering each other with accusations of dishonesty, shootings in neighborhoods close to our homes and hunger on our streets as so many of us prepare to over- eat at our Thanksgiving tables, listing three positive things a day helped keep my perspective on life in balance.  Yes, there is still good happening in the world!  
The little details of our daily lives go unnoticed most days but they are the very details that are God’s miracles, sent as evidence of God’s presence with us.  As I was working in the Preschool garden, gathering the last of the produce and pulling the dying plants, I noticed the earth worms and the richness of the soil that sustained our garden.  What a blessing that dirt is to our preschoolers and the hungry who benefit from the veggies grown here.  I was thankful for the many Preschool families who helped care for our garden over the summer and our church who encouraged us to create this garden dream of ours!  As teachers, our school staff delights in watching so many of the children  laughing and playing with toys, many of which were donated from church members who once watched their own beloved children play with these very toys.  They wanted to pass the love along.  At school, we take our Preschool classes outside to walk among the trees behind Salem to reach the park.  The trees are changing from green to yellow, orange and red.  The children’s eyes fill with wonder.  Leaves float gently down, twirling in the wind and landing on their heads and jackets.  It makes them giggle and twirl in mimicked excitement.  I’m thankful to be there witnessing this delight!  
These little details of my day help me escape the negatives around me.  God is good and so are the people and things he has created, even peas.  Out of curiosity, one day, after our A-B-C Prayer and the usual question, I decided to ask Karl to say the prayer for me.  He did.

Thank you God for making peas!

Now I understand the question.  Yes, Karl and I are thankful for peas and for feeding “me,”  and all the little details of our lives that make God’s presents known to us.  I challenge  you to join Henrik, Karl and the your preschooler thanking God for little details of your day that make you smile or wonder about things.  It will make you and your Thanksgiving happy!

Thursday, September 22, 2016


        The first days of school are both stressful and exciting for young children and parents.  There are lots of emotional ups and downs as we try to figure out how we will survive without  each other for portions of our day.  As a mom I wanted to be brave and smiley as I sent my children off to kindergarten, thus being a positive role model, giving them confidence in their ability to start this new adventure in independence.  I didn’t have to do this for preschool.  I just took them to work with me.  I was lucky that way.  However, with each child I recall wiping a tear and wondering who I would talk to during my lonely lunch hour.  I wondered if they missed me during the day…….or even thought of me at all.  Did they have a secret plan for connecting with me when they were lonely? 
My two and a half year old grandson said something recently that made me think maybe kids have their own way of staying connected when we are away.  Over Labor Day weekend, my daughter had to work at the State Fair in the Eco Experience building.  She works for the Polution Control Agency and that is just part of her responsibility.  She also had a wedding to attend on Saturday night.  My son-in-law and the two boys were coming to the cabin with the rest of the family.  On Friday night Britt was explaining to Karl that she was not going to the cabin with him but she would see him on Monday when they got home.  Karl got especially snuggly then, rubbing his face against hers over and over and touching her face and neck, which he often does when he is falling asleep.  Then he said, “Now I will smell like you, Mommy.”  Was this Karl’s way of taking a little of Mommy with him to the cabin when she wasn’t there?  My “mommy heart” wants to think so.  
Karl’s actions remind me of one of my favorite books, “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn.   In this story, Chester Raccoon is reluctant to leave his mom and head off for his first day of school.  But Mommy says she has a secret which she will share with him.  She takes Chester’s hand in hers and kisses the center of his hand.  Chester feels a special warm feeling go up his arm into his heart.  Now, whenever he feels lonely he can press his hand to his cheek and think, “Mommy loves me.  Mommy loves me.”  Chester loved his “kissing hand.”  It made him feel safe.  The next day when Chester was saying good bye to Mommy before going to school, Chester said he had a surprise for her.  He took Mommy’s hand, spread open her fingers and kissed the middle of her hand.  Now she, too, had a kissing hand!  Love goes both ways in a connected family!   

Parents, you are so important to your children!  There is no one who can take your place.  God gave them to you and He gave you to them.  What a blessed gift.  Thank you for sharing your children with us this year!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

MAY 2016

Our April curriculum was a celebration of many contrasting world environments.  We studied farms (planting,) rain forests, deserts and oceans!  Each of these has their own characteristics that are essential to the survival of all species of the world, including people, yet they are so diverse.  In spite of the differences, each place produces animals, insects, and plants that are important to us and each  was created by God.  
April 22 was Earth Day, a celebration of our precious planet and a reminder that we need to care for God’s miraculous world.  Britt Gangeness, environmental educator from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, taught us three things we, even preschoolers, can do to keep our local water clean.  We can pick up our dog’s poop, water our trees to keep them healthy (they shade the ground so don’t need to use as much water) and rake grass, leaves and dirt away from the streets so they don’t get washed into rain sewers to be carried to our rivers and lakes.  The idea is that wherever we are and whoever we are, we can do our part to protect our world resources. 
Rainforests seem so far away and out of our control, but we filled a grocery bag with items derived from  rainforest plants, animals and insects such as medicine, tea, cinnamon, chocolate, rubber items, coffee, avocados, etc., and we realized that we are very dependent on rain forest products.  How would we get along without chocolate, coffee and rubber bands? In addition, trees clean our air and provide oxygen for us to breathe.  We certainly need to respect and care for our trees.  
The desert, on the other hand, is dry and hot but it has benefits of it’s own.  There is so much to learned from the way plants and animals of the desert survive in this hostile environment.  The oceans  are a new frontier.  Certainly we are familiar with the delicious fish and seafood we enjoy from the ocean!  However, the depths and shallows of this watery environment have many unexplored nooks and crannies we have yet to visit and benefits we have yet to learn about.  What we do on land affects the water quality in the oceans and consequently the health of the plants, animals and vegetation there.  Since the oceans cover 2/3 of the planet it is important that we recognize our responsibility to care for this environment, too. 
All that being said, the most important resource in this world is, in my opinion,  our young people.  They are the ones who will continue to care for God’s world in the future.  They will figure out how to responsibly use it’s resources to benefit all people.  As I grow older I am more aware of the importance of finding cures for disease and mental illness.  I depend on continued research to find ways of feeding the world without cutting down rain forests and polluting or melting the oceans.   As adults we are responsible for raising these children and enabling them to accomplish all of this.  We need to educate them and discipline them and tell them God’s story of His love for them.  Mostly, we need to love them!  In 1 Corinthians 13:13 we read,
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 
Nurture your children as you would nurture your garden, feed them, prune them when necessary, but mostly love them.  They are God’s best creation!
Life without love is like a tree without blossoms and fruit.

Khalil Gibram

Friday, April 1, 2016

APRIL, 2016

This isn’t a story about being rescued from an African jungle but rather from a scary ski slope on Andesite Mountain in Big Sky, Montana.  It was lightly snowing as my husband, daughter, son-in-law and their boys cruised down Ponderosa, my grandsons choosing to negotiate  the short pines growing along the right perimeter of the slope.  It had been the perfect ski day so far, just enough fresh snow to make the run fun but not so much that our thighs complained by the time we got to the bottom of the hill.  We rode the quad lift to the top of the mountain and looked down at the village below.  A potty break was needed by some so the decision to change directions and head down to the village was agreed upon by all.  
We headed down a catwalk to where several appropriate runs could be found.  My husband and daughter headed toward Hangman, an intermediate run.  I heard my grandsons, 12 year old Soren and 10 year old Kai, calling from behind me, “Follow us, Pammy, (my grandma name.)  We’ll show you a shortcut.”  
Why not,  I thought, so off I went following behind the boys.  It didn’t take  many seconds for me to realize I was headed down a mogul slope interspersed with tall pine trees.  I never took “Skiing Moguls 101”  when I learned to ski and as I began to pick my way down the hill I wondered if I was about to break a leg flying off a mogul or smash my head on a tree that refused to move out of the way.  As I had these thoughts spinning in my head, one of the boys flew by me hollering, “Isn’t this fun!!”  I was not feeling the fun.  
I was exhausted by now and unsure of my ability to get down in one piece.  Wanting to give up, I stopped and began taking off my skis, convinced that walking down the mountain was easier than falling  down it.  I took one ski off and heard a voice from below me calling,  “Don’t take off your skis, Pammy.  It won’t be easier that way!  Put them on and follow me.  You’re doing fine.”
Looking down hill I saw my son-in-law, Andy, waiting to rescue me from this crazy situation.  He patiently waited as I took what seemed to be at least ten minutes to get my ski back on.  That’s a real task on a snowy, steep bank full of moguls.  
“Just follow me.  We’ll go this way and take a wide turn here and then there and get down to that groomed area,” Andy said.  He moved slowly enough for me to follow his path until I reached the comfort of the groomed trail.  A huge feeling of relief came over me.  At that moment Andy was my favorite son-in-law!
This is how my life goes from time to time, I’m too anxious to stop and ask for help from someone wiser then myself.  We have laughed about the Congo rescue.  “Put your skis back on, Pammy,”  has become a catch phrase in the family to mean “don’t give up!” 

Life is full of “Congo Rescue”  moments.  I am reminded of Psalm 46:1, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  My dilemma on the ski hill is a trivial example of need, but, in trivial or serious life experiences God is our strength and help if we are listening for Him just as Andy was there to advise and direct me in my time of trouble.  We need not give up with God on our side, we need only to listen for Him on our daily walk in life.

Saturday, March 5, 2016


The season of Lent consumes most of the month of March this year.  Lent is the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday.  For Christians this is a time to simplify their lives, to focus on prayer, fasting, acts of service and other methods of growing closer to God.  Some of us may give up something we enjoy for the season of lent, perhaps a favorite food (chocolate,? coffee?) meat on Friday, or a favorite pastime, to focus on Christ’s sacrifice for our sake and to repent for our distraction by worldly pleasures.  If we’re really serious we may consider giving up one of our devices, such as our cell phone.  That would be a huge sacrifice but certainly would leave more time for quiet  contemplation.  The point is to find more time to read the Bible, pray and grow in our walk with God.
When we were in Ireland last summer my family and I took a boat tour out to Skelig Michael, a pyramid island seven miles off the coast of the Kerry Peninsula.   This slate-and-sandstone rock is 700 feet high, one mile in circumference  and hosts no vegetation other than small  areas of grass in crevices between the rocks.  It was here, in the sixth-century, that Christian monks came to live the simplest of lives in order to be closer to God.  They left all the conveniences of civilization  which could have distract them from their goal.  They constructed simple stone, beehive shaped structures to shelter themselves.  They ate mostly fish, birds, and bird eggs and small amounts of plant life that could be grown on the meager land.  They traded bird eggs and feathers with passing vessels for candles, grain and hides for clothing and copying scripture.  Neither Viking attacks nor winter storms could chase them from their remote monastery for it was here that they could grow in their knowledge of God.  

It is almost impossible to imagine surviving in such conditions today.  However, this extreme lifestyle can be an encouragement to us as we strive to give up even the simplest of conveniences for lent.  We have too many excuses for delaying that moment when we really “look” at Jesus and see the anguish on his face as he prayed and the sadness in his voice when he said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  It’s uncomfortable to imagine the events of Holly Week as Jesus’ friends turned their backs on him as he was ridiculed by the leaders of the day and the crowds in the streets.  Like many Christians I find it too easy to hide behind the busyness of the Easter season, dying eggs, hiding baskets, and talking about the coming of spring.  However, I am humbled by the story of Skelig Michael’s monks.  I wanted to share their story with you so you, too, could see the contrast between their walk with God and our hectic lives.  I don’t want to live as they did on Skelig Michael but I do want to find a quiet place to meet with God on a regular basis to grow in my walk with Him.  I hope my story will encourage you to do that too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Thank goodness for belated gifts.  This year, the timing was perfect.  My birthday falls near Thanksgiving, the time of year when holiday pressure begins to mount.  Adding to the tension there was so much unfriendly, election year political banter, international terrorist attacks, and funerals and illnesses for several special friends.  I found myself feeling anxious and out of control at times.  My prayers became long lists of requests.
On Christmas Eve I received a belated birthday gift, “One Thousand Gifts,” by Ann Voskamp.  My first thought was, “What?  I don’t have time to sit down and read right now!”  But I did make time to get it started and I’m so glad I did.  This book may be a vehicle for finding a fuller, more positive Christian life.
Ann Voskamp begins her book with her childhood story.  Without giving it away, I’ll just say it is a depressing story.  I was ready to put the book down.  I didn’t need a depressing story.  However, in her subsequent search for a full, happy Christian life she discovered that giving thanks for even small things that delighted her, moved her, or caught her eye, helped her see God’s love in her life. Jesus modeled this many times in the Bible, even as He gave thanks for the bread and cup at the Last Supper in spite of his impending death on the cross.  Writing the blessings down each day, naming them, helped her remember them.  She could return to them in her difficult moments.  Looking for blessings made her slow her life down and live in the moment, appreciating the blessings God brought to her life.  She didn’t intend to be naive about current events but as she embraced God’s blessings she felt loved by God and she was able to be a messenger of God’s love to others.  Ann’s life began to feel full and blessed.
I’m still reading the book so there is more to learn but I want to move in this direction.  I was challenged on Face Book, in the past, to do something similar for three weeks.  I loved it and told myself I would continue until it became a habit.  I had good intentions but I fell short.
Then I received my second belated gift, a Christmas gift of two colorful journals and two pencils.  Now I have confirmation that I should begin my list of God’s blessings.  Valentine’s season seems like an appropriate time to recognize and receive God’s love and to gift God’s love to others.  I will begin by naming the blessings in my daily life.  You and your children are on that list.  I thank God for all of you!

Happy Valentine’s Day!