Wednesday, December 24, 2014

On Christmas Eve...

All is truly calm, not bright though, it's overcast and dark. But not in my heart. My heart is bright with happy anticipation. Tonight, eons ago, a baby was born. And He is Christ the King.

Alas, I wasn't able to send a Christmas card to everyone I know and love so if you didn't receive from me, please know I'm thinking of you...all my cyber friends and family...and wishing you the most joyous Christmas ever. My traditional Christmas letter reads more like one of my why not share it here...

Dear Ones,

2014 –What a year! And, just like every other year it was well-balanced. There were joys and sorrows, delights and despairs, happiness and hardships. More than any other year I am aware that life goes on… until it doesn’t. I didn’t expect my mom would die so quickly after her cancer diagnosis. Her cheerful spirit and my rose-colored glasses led me astray. Yet in spite of the sadness, I (we) had a hallowed season of saying goodbye to Mom. I felt like she was teaching me, by good example, how it’s done. She passed gently and peacefully. And I am lucky in this…I do not grieve as those who have no hope in heaven.

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him… 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. (I Thessalonians 4:13-18)

That was last year, December 2013, and soon 2014 will be last year. Oh my, what do I have to show for it? For one thing I’ve got my husband to hang out with full-time, and he seems delighted about it. He officially retires at the end of this month, but vacation started November 6th. In that time there’s no end to the fun he’s having: shot a turkey, drove us to Florida for 2 weeks, had Thanksgiving here with our two grandsons and Aaron (2nd son) and Amy, Adam (3rd son) and Alicia, and he hunted every single day for the past 2 weeks. He relished the pure joy of being outside communing with God and nature. His commitment to the hunt paid off when he harvested a big doe. There will be meat on our table all winter long. A successful hunt (or not) matters little. In his words, it beats going to work.

How do I like having him at home? I’m in housewife heaven. He shares the household duties like a champ and he’s such good company. (Yeah, I know, I married well.)

2014 found us tackling some home renovations. We moved our bedroom downstairs to the room we started out in 40 years ago and added a master bath. In our living room we had a new hardwood floor and 2 six-foot sliding glass doors installed. One door faces the front yard, the other faces the back, each offering spectacular views. On cold days we lay a fire and enjoy the ambiance – which is especially delightful during the holiday season with stockings hanging from the mantel.

We’re grateful every day for what we have: each other, our home, the fields and woods that surround us, a pool in our backyard, our eleven year old dog, Phoebe, our grandchildren, adult children, in-law and in-love children as well. We’re thankful for our families on the Bruce side and the Henning side. We are blessed with church and church family, both our new church and the old. How fortunate we are to have friends near as well as those far away. We rejoice in life and the giver of life.

Make no mistake, it’s not perfect (that would be heaven), yet we see God’s hand and His goodness in all things. My dad is doing well, though he misses Mom every minute of every day. Our kids are healthy and reasonably happy as they make their way in the world. Nathan still lives in San Jose, California, where he works at his church as an associate pastor, office manager, and worship leader. At the same time he continues his education.  Aaron and family still reside in State College. He serves as lead pastor at the CMA church. Amy is busy being a full-time mom and pastor’s wife. Their boys, Grant (7) and Maxwell (4) are precocious, adorable, and absolutely delightful children.  Adam is a captain in the Army reserves. He and Alicia live outside of Butler in West Sunbury. Both are gainfully employed in government jobs. And, they have 2 chickens named Terry and Red, who provide both eggs and entertainment. David is in Colorado, working full time and pursuing his music career part time. His band Chasing May keeps him busy following his heart’s desire. 

That’s a glimpse of 2014. And now, onto a new year with great expectations for 2015… the best is yet to come! May that be so for all of us.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Much love to you from us,
Tom and Betsy

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

In church this morning we lit the 4th Advent candle and sang:

Light one candle to watch for Messiah
let the light banish darkness.

He shall bring salvation to Israel,
God fulfills the promise.

Light two candles...
He shall feed the flock like a shepherd,
gently lead them homeward.

Light three candles...
Lift your heads and lift high the gateway
for the King of Glory.

Light four candles...
He is coming, tell the glad tidings.
Let your lights be shining!

Yes, light the candles, banish darkness. Be the light of Jesus in the world and cast out hardships, sadness, injustice, hopelessness. We might could do that, with God's help, if we let our lights shine. Or even just get out of the way and let Jesus shine!

Preparing, watching, waiting...the Messiah is coming. Meanwhile, I'd like to pray for myself something the Pastor prayed this morning for all of us, "Lord, free (me) from any sin that would obstruct your mercy." Amen! 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent...Season of Preparation

As I ready the house, decorate the tree, attend Christmas cantatas, buy and wrap presents, write my Christmas letter, and think about baking, I admit, it's easy to overlook the reason for all this busyness.

I'm preparing to celebrate the birthday of a baby who is Christ the King, Savior of the world, the Prince of Peace, Jesus. 

His rule is peace and freedom, and justice, truth and love.

But I have to tell you, the Prince of Peace has gotten a bad rap. His followers are far from perfect, far from able to mirror Him, but not for lack of trying. Sometimes the harder we try, the farther off the mark we are -- giving fodder for skeptics to judge Him wrongly. But in spite of us and our mistakes, He remains perfect and the redeemer of all mankind.

This Christmas season, as in seasons past, I hope for peace and goodwill among all people of every tribe, nation, and faith. I believe that one day the hills and valleys will be leveled and bumpy roads made smooth. I believe in the power of a loving God who has made a way for humanity to eventually and finally get it right.

Every Christmas season I see the potential for it to happen. People who are kind and giving, loving and cheerful. I hear of folks who go out of their way to help the down trodden. I see people making efforts to love their neighbors. And it's contagious. Goodwill breeds goodwill! I too am moved to join the ranks of do-gooders as I see people blessing people, giving up old grudges and prejudice, caring for the marginalized and those less fortunate. Ambassadors and servants one and all to the Prince of Peace whether they know it or not.

"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'" Matthew 25:40

This Sunday we light the 3rd advent candle. We are half way through the waiting season, the time of preparing, and then, ready or not, Christmas comes. I'm so glad God didn't wait for us to be ready, to be cleaned up, with our homes and affairs and our lives in order, before sending our Savior, our Redeemer, the Prince of Peace. Yes, there will be peace on earth when He comes to rule in truth and justice and love.

Forget the cookies, and presents, and decorated trees... Prepare ye the way, in your heart, for the Prince of Peace.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

November Retiree

So far retirement is great. Tom's been busy, busy, busy doing whatever he wants. Traveling to see our kids, cutting and stacking firewood, shearing Christmas trees, helping around the house (be jealous, women, be jealous), and shooting a turkey. Yep, he's thinking this retirement thing is alright! 

November 3rd was my firstborn son's 41st birthday. And I want to know, how could I possibly have children anywhere near 4 decades old? 28, 34, 39 and...well I don't have to say it again. 

I was a child when I had him, wink, wink. But really, I kind of was -- I turned 21 in October of 1973, and Nathan was born in November.

November 1st and 2nd Tom and I spent with our second son's family. I'm not sure there's anything better than grandson time. They are such good boys and smart and fun, and absolutely-- above average -- just like all the children who live in Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegone. 

We went to church with them on Sunday and, as always, my son delivered quite a good message from his series, Life on Mission. (feel free to click and listen). This was a couple days before retirement, so we had to get on home so Tom could go to work on Monday. But before leaving town we stopped to see my brother Tom and his wife, Anne, and we were lucky enough to visit with our nephew, Tommy as well.

The day after retirement... Son #3 invited us to dinner. Alicia is a wonderful cook and it's always a treat to go there. Adam and Alicia have chickens -- two hens, named Terry and Red. They're like pets. We hadn't made the trek to Butler for quite awhile, so, although we've eaten their eggs before, this was the first time we met the chickens.
We did not have chicken for dinner. We had pork and avocado pasta and roasted brussel sprouts. Everything was delicious.

The sun goes down, the chickies follow their "mom" to the hen house. Time to go to bed. 

There seems no end 
to the fun to be had 
in retirement. 

And this was only day 3.

We've only just begun!!! 


Thursday, October 23, 2014

October Speeds By

Goodness...those beautiful trees are mostly bare now. The lawn is carpeted edge to edge with golden leaves. If they weren't grass killers I'd want to just let them alone. But alas, they turn brown and then snow falls on them and in the spring it's even more difficult to rake them up. I know this from experience.

The pool is closed up, covered up, all safe and snug until spring, which is to say the water lines are blown dry then plugged so they won't freeze and burst, and the safety cover is in place. We closed the pool at the end of September this year. That's the earliest ever. I'm glad not to have to scoop leaves out before every swim, but I miss the swims!

With the pool closed I have to settle for my hot tub. You didn't know I had a hot tub did you? I hear one of my kids in particular getting very excited. Wait. Whoa. I'm totally misleading you. Here's my version of a hot tub...
Thanks to our recent remodel we have, what is to us a rather extravagant master bath. This old tub spent several decades in the barn and a few years out in the elements. We looked into having it re-glazed -- to the tune of 500 bucks, and for another 500 they'd clean up the outside too. Instead, Tom watched a YouTube video, bought a kit from Home Depot, and refinished the entire tub for less than $100. The faucet set was a bit pricey, but hey, we saved enough on the tub to splurge on the hardware.

At the end of a hard day..."Dear Claw Foot Tub, with or without Calgon... take me away." I can read for hours in this tubby. Hence the clock. If the cooling water doesn't remind me to get out, the tic-toc clock does.

But right now, today, this very minute it is gorgeous outside. The sun is shining, a slight breeze is blowing, it's quite warm for October. This is a good day to get outside and work on fallen leaves. And then, and then, and then,.. I'll soak my weary bones, and read a good book for as long as I want. Oh I can hardly wait!

"Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while." 
(from Mark 6:31)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How Rejection Feels

Personally I don't know rejection. Not in a big way, not really. But who knows when that dump truck might visit me. A friend wrote this blog post more than a year ago. It touched my heart then, it's on my heart today...

So This is How Rejection Feels

I had a big argument with someone very close to me today, a mentor. Someone I love very much. She was angry at me for my blog, saying I am being unfair to Christians who are kind and loving, that it goes both ways, that we hear only stories of Christians’ anger toward LGBTQ instead of love.
She told me about a Christian woman who had served two gay men for years in her printing business, but finally said she could not print their wedding invitations because it went against her beliefs as a Christian. And they sued her. (I wondered if she ever printed invitations for weddings for non-Christians or second marriages.) Sigh.
It hurts to be at odds with someone I love. I don’t know where it will go from here. And I have lost other friends. Even my kids have been unfriended because of my blog. That doesn’t really seem right, does it? Dissension on a tough topic is not really welcome among Christians.
But all the while, these words came to me: I am not called to be fair. As a Christian, I am called to share the love of Christ regardless of the response. I am called to go two miles with someone who required only one. I am called to love my neighbor. If someone sues me for my shirt, I am to give him my coat as well. I’m called to be the love of Christ, even when it requires great sacrifice. I am the one with the Spirit of the Living God in me — it’s the very least I can do. I am to give to others out of His overabundant love. If I am taken advantage of, oh well.
I know as I write this how outrageous it sounds, to love so radically. But Jesus said outrageous things, until the religious leaders killed Him. I don’t have the answers to the questions around this issue. But I do know the way we treat each other has to change. People who discover their same-sex attraction invariably plead with God to take it away (because of the rejection they know is coming), but He rarely does. Many who go through “reorientation” become self-loathing and suicidal. (When has a Christian become suicidal because of their treatment by (an) LGBTQ (person)?) Some people come to peace with their same-sex attraction. Some seek a longterm same-sex relationship. Some commit to lifelong celibacy. Jesus calls us to love people where they are, not where we wish they were.
My calling always is to help people find peace on the Tree of Life rather than clinging to the Tree of Knowledge. I’m sorry if you are a Christian who is offended by what I write. I can’t help it. I’m not writing it to offend; I’m writing to extend the love of Christ. We have no excuse to do otherwise. I pray that you will join me.
Read more:

This reminded me...some time ago there was a lot of hubbub on Facebook about LGBT people and their Pride parades. A friend or two of mine shared memes about their own right to have Pride parades or special days to celebrate being straight. Well guess what? We've got the right, but you've missed the point. Thank the God who made you that you don't need a special day reminding you, you're okay and very much loved just the way you are.

Love is what gets us into the kingdom of heaven. God's love, Jesus' love. If you know that, share it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My Sister, Kathy's Tribute to our Mother

All she left was a smile; one smile that was one hundred thousand million smiles, each sunnier than the one before. It was the out-pouring of her charm and it came as naturally to her as breathing. She bluffed even doctors and nurses with that blooming smile, even when she was in pain and discomfort, her pleasant and cheery grin would spread across her face and light up her eyes in greeting: a radiant, glorious smile, full of fun and mischief.

And you can see that smile on the face of each of her seven children, we all inherited it and, truthfully, it comes as natural as breathing to every one of us, too. It has helped each of us. People have known from that smile what they knew from Gloria’s: that they are liked, simply and cheerfully liked, no matter who they are, that smile tells them that there is something likable about them. And so, as it is a catchy smile, they always smile back.  (Well, except for some real ornery ones, but none of them are here today!)

When she died, and so many friends and acquaintances sympathized with me in palpable sincerity, all I could say to them was: “She was my mother, she taught me to smile”.

She taught us, her tribe of seven children, a lot of things and we all used all of what she taught us to our individual best. We will go on cherishing our merry, starry memories of our mother and loving her forever. 

And her love and her very being will shine out through us... all the days of our lives. May our smiles be continuing cheer for our Dad.

That's a lotta smiles to keep you going Dad. A lot of smiles and a lot of love.

Today would be our mom's 84th birthday. I am lucky enough to share her birthday month. We always compared if the leaves were prettier the first week of October or the middle of the month. Some years my birthday week had the most spectacular color, some years her's did. This year it was all her's, and that makes me smile...and makes me miss her all the more.

Happy Birthday, Mom. Thanks for giving us so much love. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Praying Mantis, A Talent Show, and a Sermon

It was a great Sunday. While out for an afternoon walk on this sunny afternoon it seemed appropriate to come across a praying mantis in a prayerful pose along the side of the road.

He should be praying that he doesn't get run over by a car. Probably he's praying the guy hovering way too close to him with some strange gadget isn't about to do him harm.

We left him in peace, enjoying his sunbath.

At our church it's the season to be reminded of good stewardship practices. This morning's sermon didn't revolve around stewardship, but we had a stewardship event after church, A talent show following a pizza luncheon showcased some of the fine talents within our little church. The acts ran the gamut of silly to serious...all fun, touching, telling, and inspiring. Sunday school children sang and played instruments. One little boy asked if he could pray and blessed us all with his heartfelt words that we would all have a fun time and be safe and that God would be with everyone. (Something like that. I was too enamored by his adorable presence and sincere heart to remember exactly what he said.) Adults sang, told stories, gave testimony and played instruments as well. Each participant offered their talent to make the point, we all have special ways to honor God and bless people. Each person's offering, no matter how small or large, blesses the whole body, our church, and/or our community.

But before any of that...during church... a sermon from the gospel of Matthew chapter 22. Jesus told a parable about a royal family's wedding banquet. First, invitations were sent out by the king for his son's wedding. But, lo and behold no one could come. (so of course, a little ditty from days gone by began playing in my mind...)

I cannot come...I cannot come to the banquet,
Don't trouble me now.
I have married a wife,
I have bought me a cow.
I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum,
Pray hold me excused, I cannot come.

While that was going through my head, the pastor moved on in his message. He must have told the part about the king being incensed and telling his servants to go to the highways and byways and ask them to come in. His feast was ready and the banquet must begin. So they brought in all kinds of people, the good and the bad, until the wedding hall was filled. The good and bad part got my attention.

So when I came back to the present, Pastor was telling the part where the king noticed a guy improperly dressed. He did not have on a wedding robe. (Side note, when he asked the kids during the children's sermon, what they would think if someone came to a fancy party with ripped jeans and a dirty tee-shirt. One youngster piped up right away, "Well I don't judge people's clothes." The pastor turned to us grown ups and said. "Good answer. My job here is done." Gotta love those kiddos and a pastor who can roll with it when kids say the darnedest things.)

Back to the sermon. The guest who appeared at the wedding without a proper robe was bound and cast out to a place where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. Whoa, no warning, no chance to go home and change, just're out, "For many are called, but few are chosen." 

The pharisees knew Jesus was speaking of them and they didn't like it. Nor would I, if I were them. And he wasn't talking about what kind of clothes anyone was wearing. The deeper meaning, my take away -- everyone and his sister has been invited to heaven. Those who don't refuse to put on the covering of Jesus are chosen.

I phrased that last sentence the way I did on purpose. The wedding guest who came improperly dressed made a choice to do so. It was a calculated, in-your-face decision, and he knew better.

These are my thoughts, not my pastor's words. I'm well aware you can't build a theology around a parable. But, you can build a theology around Jesus, his death and his resurrection -- an incredible demonstration of God's love for all people. He is not willing that any should perish. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Deep Thoughts for us Tragically Shallow Christians

Don't take that title personally. I'm not -- I know I said "us", but really it's not about you and me. It's about "them," those tragically shallow Christians. It's certainly not about anyone quoted in this blog post. I thoroughly appreciated Preston Sprinkle's commentary on some points from Rob Bell's book, Love Wins. As with any book there are points some people will agree with and some they won't. As for me, I'm fond of the premise: Love wins. How cool is that?

From a blog post by Preston Sprinkle over at Theology in the Raw...

Did you get that? The fullness of God is not in your individual heart and it’s not on some mountain meandjesustop away from civilization. It’s in the church—that messy gathering of broken, high-maintenance people that we “have” to go to every Sunday (and if you’re in the Midwest, every Wednesday as well). Paul goes on to call this church the temple of the Lord where “you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:21). Again, Paul prays that “you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19), which he already said resides in the local body (1:23). This is why God gave us spiritual gifts (Eph. 4:11-12), so that the body of Christ would be built up, made mature, and become unified where the “fullness of Christ” would radiate (Eph. 4:12-13).

Read more:

All week I've been pondering deep thoughts...yeah, me and Jack Handy. Was that his name? The Saturday Night Live guy.

My son, Aaron, preached a series called the Deeper Life, which I've enjoyed immensely.. I'm leading a Bible study next week on God's call on our lives "We Are Called". And my daily devotional readings this past week are all feeding the same theme. So all of this is coming together, converging on my heart and mind. And then this article by Preston Sprinkle. It kind of pulled it all together for me. "The fullness of God is not in your individual heart... The fullness of God is in the church." It's the church that keeps me from living a shallow Christian life.

Now, to tie that in with God's call on my life  -- the same for me as it is for everyone else -- to live in communion with God and people: simply doing what I'm led to do, which is often a matter of doing what is put in front of me, doing the next thing, then enjoying the blessing of a better life for it, and finally, finishing well. Because there is an end point for all of us in this world. It is appointed for people to die and after that...

Well, after that, I want to see God face to face and hear him say, "Well done."

But until then, I do want to live a good life, one that is pleasing to God. I want to love and help my neighbors along the way. All along the way, right up to the finish. Help my neighbors, no matter the disguise they wear.

So, that's what I've been thinking about, studying, and writing about in my secret notebooks. And if it's not too prideful to say, I want to be above average as a follower of Jesus. Especially after hearing this quote from A. W. Tozer, I want to be above average. I'll stop with this...another bit I borrowed from Aaron's sermon. He quoted A.W. Tozer. "To speak of the deeper life is not to speak of anything deeper than simple New Testament religion. ...The deeper life is deeper only because the average Christian life is tragically shallow."

Huh. How do you like them apples? I don't think the good preacher meant to insult any (or all) of us, he was simply making a significant point. And as for me, point taken.

I continue to be encouraged by the whole idea that love wins...It's a very basic thought. God is love, so yeah, He wins.