Monday, December 28, 2009

Little Big Foot: Home Again

Dee Anna Hanson was headed for Texas. Feeling the tension that always seemed to accompany her when traveling, she eased herself into an aisle seat, fastened her seat belt and rubbed some of the stiffness from her shoulders as she absently listened to the flight attendant recite the usual safety instructions. She was hoping that she might be able to nap a little on the plane. The last two days had been a blur of preparations, phone calls, and packing. What a relief it had been that the weather had turned slightly warmer. Bad weather in the busiest travel week of the year would have made it all much more difficult.

Passing the first few months in a new location, Dee Anna had, somewhat to her surprise, found herself growing comfortable returning to the less formal worship style typical of North Woods Chapel. There were times she still missed the quiet elegance of Eastside, but all in all she had been pleased with the congregation and with her adjustment. She was sharply disappointed to miss the beginning of the Christmas season at her new church.

She had arranged for a retired minister to preach and to be on-call for the next Sunday. She had lined up readers and candle lighters for Advent and distributed the appropriate scriptures. She had determined that Madeline would be able to stay with her best friend's family for a few days and had called the Halvorsens to cancel their Thanksgiving plans. She had called Brother Young right away, and he had reassured her that if she needed someone to come up to Little Big Foot for a longer period of time, he would work something out. She told him it would probably only be a few days, adding, "You know how my mother likes to make everything a major disaster."

Dee Anna took a deep breath as the engines of the 757 grew louder and her hands involuntarily clenched as the wheels of the airplane left the ground. The most dangerous times in an airplane, she knew, were the take off and the landing. She slowly breathed out and relaxed her hands. It is safer to fly in the sky, she reminded herself, than drive on the highway. At least that's what they say.

A few days. "Oh Lord," she prayed silently, "please, please let it be only a few days." Then, feeling ashamed that her thoughts had been about her own discomfort, she added, "And, God, please let Daddy be all right. Please let Mom..." What should she even ask? "Please help her, God." She closed her eyes and added, "And please help me to act like an adult woman and not a ten year old."

She took another slow breath and smiled at the man next to her who was nodding kindly, his large mustache curving upward in a second smile. "No need to worry, young lady." He launched into an explanation of modern aircraft, adding that he was retired from Boeing Aircraft. Dee Anna listened enough to nod at the right times, but her thoughts were already taking her to the small brick house set back from the highway, the house in which she had spent the first 18 years of her life.

She saw the stiff, coarse Texas grass, brown now in the winter cold. She heard the squeak of the windmill, long past functioning, but still turning in the wind. She pictured her mother, red hair twisted into a bun at the nape of her neck, green eyes piercing. She pictured her father, shaving and singing on a Sunday morning, round face red and shining.

How long since she had been home? She thought back, feeling a mixture of sadness and shame. A long time. Three years? Four? It hadbeen just before Madeline was to enter kindergarten at Eastside. Michael had come too, at her mother's insistence. She remembered the phone conversation in which her mother had scolded her for not bringing her new husband home for all this time. Her mother, she knew, had been hurt by her apparent rejection. What had she been afraid of?

Ah, she knew exactly what she had feared. She wanted her little family, Michael and Madeline, to know nothing of the world of her childhood. She feared Michael's opinion of her parent's house, the church, her mother's religiosity, her good-ol'-boy father, her brother--all of it. She winced inwardly as she recalled her father's jovial racism, her mother's stubborn insistence that Michael needed to revise his view of a certain television evangelist, Madeline's innocent questions that had led to disapproval, and conversations that had left her exhausted and angry.
She was aware that her parents had disapproved of her marriage to Michael, believing him to be a near apostate, and she had hoped he would never have to deal with any of it. That had been a foolish desire, of course.

Her seatmate stood to visit the airplane lavatory and she leaned back gratefully, closing her eyes and pretending to be asleep. When he returned she kept her eyes closedm and he remained silent.

Her thoughts drifted back to her family home. On the morning they were scheduled to depart, her father and Michael had carried the suitcases to the rental car, and stood talking in the early-morning Texas sunshine, watching Madeline chasing a butterfly. Inside the house, there was a short but bitter exchange with her mother who was disappointed that her daughter had chosen to continue to live "up north, disapproved of how she was raising Madeline, and most of all disappointed in her choice of a husband. She had, Dee Anna knew, hoped her daughter would return to Texas, renew a slight high school romance and marry their pastor's son. It had left Dee Anna mortified to realize that both her husband and her father had come back into the house and so heard every critical word.

There had been no more visits with her parents. There had only been very occasional phone calls. She had tried, over the years, to keep in touch with Phil, but he seemed to grow more and more distant. What little she heard was not encouraging.

Dee Anna had always known the day would come when she would return home once again. After all, she couldn't stay away forever. But her parents were both healthy and she had expected they would both live a long time. And as for her brother, Phil...

Her thoughts were interrupted by the stewardess asking Mustache Man if he would like something to drink. She kept her eyes closed, and in a few minutes she was actually asleep.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Little Big Foot: The Phone Call

Sighing, Dee Anna eased her shoes off and wiggled her toes, scrunching up into the couch pillows and closing her eyes. Charlie snored softly at her feet and she smiled. It had been an interesting week, starting with the annual burger bash and concluding with preparations for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

A long and tiring day, she mused, but a good one.

Earlier, she and some of the North Woods Chapel members had decorated the sanctuary with garland, white lights, and a lovely carved nativity set. Dennis Whitewater and one of their sons had hauled in a large and fragrant tree, which had been cut in the woods in back of Jim and Lorene Johnson’s house. Others had decorated the tree with blue and silver ornaments and Marla Whitewater had directed the whole thing with her usual artistic flair. Dee Anna had been pleased at the turnout and at the pleasant results, which only awaited the Advent wreath and candles to be complete.

Then she had helped sort the Thanksgiving food the churches had collected, piling an array of items into about 20 large cardboard boxes. The Baptist pastor, Rodney Brach, had come down with a sore throat, so Chad had volunteered to take his place helping to deliver Thanksgiving food boxes. He had rounded up a group of young people who had taken several boxes to doorsteps in town and in the surrounding area.

Dee Anna had discovered that there were many more people in the area than she had first thought. There were the people in town, and then there were many people who lived in homes, some luxurious and some glorified shacks, that were tucked along the numerous county roads that twisted and turned in the miles of thick pine forest that surrounded the town and its two lakes.

She pulled the ottoman closer to her chair with one foot, and thought about the Halvorsens. They were among the families who lived in an almost-hidden little house on a dirt road. She and Madeline were invited to share Thanksgiving with them, and she was a little apprehensive, wondering if they would have turkey or if venison would be the main course.
Thanksgiving and then Advent—first Christmas season away from Madison and Eastside Methodist Church with its beautiful sanctuary, its candles and its pipe organ.
Dee Anna changed the direction of her thoughts. Not thinking about Eastside, not thinking about Michael.

She had ordered a wreath from the Boy Scouts, and she was a little concerned that it would not arrive in time for the first Advent candle lighting. She wondered if she could just set up the candles with no wreath, or if she should use a fake one and then switch.

The phone rang, interrupting her thoughts and causing both her and Charlie to jump. Madeline called from the kitchen where she was making popcorn with two friends from church. “I’ll get it, Mom.”

Dee Anna closed her eyes again. “Hi, Grandma! Happy Thanksgiving!” Madeline was saying.
It was her mother calling. Well, might as well get the obligatory holiday call over now, Dee Anna thought as shifting her feet to the floor and rising a bit stiffly. “Am I getting old? “ she wondered. “Just some decorating and box packing, and I feel like an.…” Madeline’s voice cut into her thoughts. “Mom, it’s Grandma. She sounds upset and I think she’s crying.” Madeline stood with the phone extended, her hand over the mouthpiece.


Chad noticed it was growing colder as he shifted the last box onto a set of steps in front of a dreary little house. The house sat far back from the road at the far end of Main Street. It looked deserted, but he rang the doorbell and waited a moment before heading back to the church van. “Okay, that’s it. Thanks, everyone. Now, let’s head over to the church for something hot to drink!” As the van pulled away, the door at the house opened and a bearded man stepped out to retrieve the box. Light sleet began to fall.

Chad drove the few blocks to North Woods Chapel, passing the Ben Franklin store, the Fire Department and the Police Department, where they saw two men with an extension ladder stringing lights on the big pine on the front lawn. Chad rolled down his window to wave and yell, “Hey Dave and Joe, Happy Thanksgiving!” He was feeling full of holiday cheer. He liked doing good things for people, and he had enjoyed the teenagers. Feeling the pellets of sleet, he closed the window quickly. “Seems we might be in for a little bad weather.”

The teens in back were getting rowdy; the novelty of their charitable deeds had worn off and they were ready for some fun. Chad liked them all, but he was glad he could soon turn them over to their parents at church. He was thinking of maybe heading over to a friend’s home for some Wii. If he was fortunate, maybe the friend's sister would be there too.

The passed the two Lutheran churches and North Woods Chapel came in sight. The lights in the basement shone into the darkness. Chad pulled in front of the wide glass doors and suddenly remembered how Dee Anna had looked as she had pulled up to the church in her dusty red Falcon, looking wide-eyed and distressed and clad in an oversized shirt and flip flops. He smiled at the recollection, noticing that the lights were on in the parsonage living room. He wondered what Pastor Dee Anna was doing for Thanksgiving.


Gus Williams hefted the box to his shoulder and carried it to his tiny kitchen. “Hey boys, lookee here! We’ve got a turkey!” Two pre-teen boys tromped down a narrow stair to stare at him in the glare of the florescent light fixture over the counter. The short one rubbed his eyes and said sleepily, “Well, where the hell did that come from, Pop?” The taller one just smiled. “Don't swear, said Gus, "Come on, help me sort out all this stuff, boys. Looks like we’ll save the corned beef hash for another day.”


Dee Anna felt a mix of emotions as she stared a moment at Madeline. Impatience fought with concern and concern wrestled with hope and hope shoved irritation as she took the phone from her daughter’s hand. “Hello, Mom” she said, a note of caution in her voice. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

Her mother’s voice sounded tired and old as she said, “It isn’t likely to be a happy day any time soon, Dee Anna. You need to come home. Your father had a heart attack. I think maybe he’s going to die.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Stepping Across to the Other Side

So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all... And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel." Genesis 3:14-15

In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phillipians 2: 5-10

This looks like a welcome--but it could also be a farewell.

Today I sat at the bedside of a dying woman. Her name is Shirley. Her grandson had asked me to come and pray with him and for his grandmother. He dearly loves her, and she was a significant influence in his life from the time he was born. He was very sad, as he knelt at her bedside, cried and caressed his grandmother's hair. He has never known life without his grandmother in it.

She was outwardly unresponsive, her breathing so shallow as to be almost imperceptible, her hands already growing cold to the touch. It made me get teary-eyed too, partly because my heart went out to him in his grief, and partly because the last time I was in a nursing home it was to be at the bedside of my own dying mother just about one year ago. The scene felt all too familiar.

One of her daughters was there too, a woman I know slightly. We talked quietly about her mother and memories as people do at such time. Other family members arrived and after a while I decided it was time for me to go. I had never met Shirley, and I wasn't exactly there in an official pastoral capacity, so I wasn't sure of what I would say or do. I asked the Holy Spirit to help me as I went over to Shirley's bedside, touched her cheek and spoke to her. I felt oddly connected to her, thinking of the time when it will be me who is about to cross over to "the other side" and wondering how old Trinity will be, who will come to say goodbye...all thoughts that passed through my mind in just a few seconds.

I told her that I know it has been hard for her, formerly an active and vibrant person, to have been imprisoned for five long years in a body made disabled by a severe stroke. I told her that family members were arriving and that she would be hearing their voices as they came to say good bye and tell her they love her. I told her not to be afraid, that even as family gathered around to say good bye, that family on the other side were gathering as well, preparing to welcome her with hugs and love and joy. Then I prayed for her to have a peaceful home going, comfort for the family, and so on. There were tears, and comments about how they would not wish her to stay, but how they would miss her.

What does this have to do with Christmas?

I kept thinking of what my mind had pictured as I spoke to Shirley--a woman about to take a journey of no return. The idea of family, friends, angels--and Jesus waiting to welcome her with open arms--seemed so real. I could picture it as I drove through snow-covered and dark countryside on my way home.

Then I thought of something I have never really considered before. What must it have been like when the reverse journey was about to take place? How strange it must have been as the Anointed One was about to take a journey of no return, so to speak. What must the conversation have been? How did it seem to people in Heaven--think of Moses, Abraham, Sarah, Esther, Isaiah....and how did it seem to the angels to watch and wait as the moment came closer and closer? What did they feel? Sadness mingled with joy? A sense of impending loss?

And what about the One about to take that journey, aware of his purpose, aware that he was going to fulfill a divine destiny of crushing the serpent's head and reconciling humankind to God--and also aware of all that was about to be left behind. Intimate fellowship within the Godhead, constant connection, beauty, perfect love, harmony, peace, all these would soon be lost as he lost conscious awareness of just who he was. And power. What must have been the scene as the one who created us prepared to submit to his creation, to become helpless and dependent--a human baby!

I was aware of the mystery of life and death and the unknown as I stood in a room in an ordinary nursing home and sensed the nearness of God. And how much greater still is the mystery of incarnation! One loving group was saying good bye, and others were being prepared to say hello and to welcome a new life into loving arms: a baby boy, the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, GOD with us!

What must it have been like at the moment of departure when those on "the other side" were saying good bye and preparing for a change like none other? And then the Eternal Word emptied himself, stepped out...and became flesh and dwelt among us.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

December 20th

It was December 20th that my dad went home to Heaven. It has been about two decades since that happened, but I still miss him and wish I could hear his voice. I inherited his love of teaching, his compassion, and his loyalty.

Ken's sister, Karal, died early in December about thirty years ago. Yes, she was young, and yes it was a sad and distressing tragedy. Earlier today I got out my mother's little wooden recipe box for the first time since she died (last January) and seeing the box full of recipes in her handwriting with notations like "really good" or "Mama's" (my grandmother, gone for nearly sixty years) or "Pauline's." Pauline is my aunt, the best cook EVER, who was the last of eight children to pass away, just a few months ago. And one of my sister Darliane's recipes popped up as there well. I think I will never stop missing her.A couple of my sister Paulette's too. She is still alive and well and living on Planet Earth, but circumstances of our lives have made it so we rarely see one another.

I'm heading to the kitchen to make our family's traditional holiday bread. Find it here. I'm going to try adding craisins to one of mother is probably rolling over in know!
And in a few days I'll make Ken's mother's famous Julekaga...and I'll miss her too.

It made me sad and nostalgic and lonely for those I love who are no longer here--also thankful for people in my life. What a blessing to have a husband who loves me, Kris and her little family living only 10 miles away, and to know that our son, Josh, will be home for Christmas. This is our first Christmas with Ken's brother, Kevin, for more than thirty years. He is fragile, but he is here, and there was a very long time when we thought we would never see him again. Maybe someday his other brother, Keith, will decide he wants to have family. We continue to pray for him.

We've also recently heard from two neices we had lost contact with: HI KANDICE and KIMBERLY!

Give someone you love a hug soon!

Christmas is HOPE of life and love eternal.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Into the Big Snowy Woods

For days now, Trinity has been telling me she wants to go walking in the "big, snowy woods where there are scary dogs and scary cats and scary squirrels too." ?

Today the temps were only just below freezing, which feels quite nice after it has been below zero for a while. So we headed to a small ski hill that is bordered by woods. Trinity was the trailblazer, leading the way down a barely-there path and calling back to us, "Just follow me! I'll show you the way into the woods!" A couple of walking sticks made for easier going. Trinity had a ball, and we did too, in our own grandparent kind of way.

At Nutt Ski Hill

C'm On, Papa and Grandma! Follow me!

Time for some sledding!

It's snowing...can we make some hot cocoa with marshmallows in it?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christian Hindus...or?

This survey, if correct, confirms my strong suspicion that most American (Western?) Christians are not only biblically illiterate but also are unaware of even basic Christian doctrine. When over 2 in 10 people who say they are "Christian" also say they believe they will be reincarnated again and again...I don't even know what to say!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Letter from Jesus

I do not know who wrote this, but I like it! Thanks, Ruth, for sharing it with me.

It has come to my attention that many of you are upset that folks are taking my name out of the season. Maybe you've forgotten that I wasn't actually born during this time of the year and that it was some of your predecessors who decided to celebrate my birthday on what was actually a time of pagan festival. Although I do appreciate being remembered anytime.

How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate my birth, just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Now, having said that let me go on. If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting my birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn If all my followers did that there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. You can remember me anytime you see any tree. Decorate a grape vine if you wish: I actually spoke of that one in a teaching, explaining who I am in relation to you and what each of our tasks were. If you have forgotten that one, look up John 15: 1 - 8.

If you want to give me a present in remembrance of my birth here is my wish list. Choose something from it:

1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way my birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know. They tell me all the time.

2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.

3. Instead of writing the president complaining about the wording on the cards his staff sent out this year, why don't you write and tell him that you'll be praying for him and his family this year. Then follow up. It will be nice hearing from you again.

4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of my birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.

5 Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.

6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don't know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile; it could make the difference.

7. Instead of nit picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a "Merry Christmas" that doesn't keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn't make so much money on that day they'd close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families

8. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary-- especially one who takes my love and Good News to those who have never heard my name.

9. Here's a good one. There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no "Christmas" tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don't know them, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to the Salvation Army or some other charity which believes in me and they will make the delivery for you.

10. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in my presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.

Don't forget; I am God and can take care of myself. Just love me and do what I have told you to do. I'll take care of all the rest. Check out the list above and get to work; time is short. I'll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love and remember.

I Love you,

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

December '09 Odds & Ends

We are having a blizzard. This is what I woke up to at 7 a.m., and I couldn't really open the door but managed to stick the camera out. It is still snowing. I have lots of work I brought home from the office, and I'm going to put on a pot of soup later. Don't you wish you were here? ;-)

Ken made an excellent Santa at my office open house last week.

The tree is up, most of the presents are purchased or made, and I'm trying to enjoy my laid back December. There are advantages to not being a pastor in December.

I think I should go put some Christmas music on.

What are you up to today?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Purple Hair: an Advertisement, I Admit It

I am currently employed at Veritas Financial Services. I am seriously impressed with their passion for speaking the truth about some common investing myths and for taking on the traditional broker/dealer establishment.

Not only are they salmon swimming upstream, so to speak, and if you are invested you might want to find out why, but some visits and comments would be good for my financial security. :-)

See our new blog (yep, I'm the admin person) here.

And find out what happened when my hair turned purple, here.