Sunny Pathway

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thoughts on the Bethlehem Innkeeper



If the innkeeper of Bethlehem had had any inkling of Joseph’s and Mary’s identity that first Christmas, he would have cleared his entire establishment to make room for them.

He didn’t. And in spite of all the sermons about how the poor fellow missed out on the occasion of his visitation, he was probably meant to do what he did. Perhaps—like Pharaoh—he was chosen for his hardened heart. God’s plan was served by the man’s lack of understanding.

The innkeeper couldn’t understand without a revelation. And he wasn’t looking for the Christ-child at the moment. He was just too busy.

I’m not especially busy with Christmas preparations this year. Everything seems remarkably simple because we’re having no overnight visitors and no younger children—our North Dakota grandchildren are all teenagers. But, although some of the excitement is lower-key, the joy remains. I’m so looking forward to Christmas Day with two of our children and their families.

Just the same, I’m busy. With writing projects. Writing projects that I hope are centered on God. In the middle of this, I need revelation to truly celebrate the birth of God's Son. Reality is, even if we’ve walked with God for years, we need more and more revelation. Unless our hearts are open to receive Him, we’ll miss our visitation.

When it comes to revelation, one size doesn’t fit all. Each one of us is unique, and we all need a personal touch. I found Scripture that offered great blessing for me. You might want to try it on to see how it fits you.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation . . . God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. (Col. 1:15,19,20a NLB)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Working at Organization on Two Fronts

I've been working on compiling the "Thoughts for Inspiration" blog material. Not a Christmas-type activity and a huge job, almost overwhelming because there is so much material is it's so diverse. But there's been a wonderful perk. I'm reading Scripture after Scripture, and I'm filled with joy over God's goodness and provision. So it is preparing me for Christmas.

On the side, I've also read from Psalm 119 recently, spreading it out over days because I've been reading a lot of Scripture while working on my project and because the psalm is long.

The psalm is also repetitious, like life, but I've discovered it re-creates the longing to follow God's Word. Not until the final verse is there admission of sin: "I have wandered away like a sheep; come and find me, for I have not forgotten your commands." (Ps. 119:176 NLB)


In an entirely different vein, when I posted recipes from our condo potluck last fall, I didn't include my crock pot stuffing recipe. There were seemingly enough recipes at that time, so I saved it for Christmas. Now I've almost forgotten it and most of you probably have your Christmas plans in place. I'll include it anyway, perhaps for next year? Sorry I'm not more organized.

We'll have just our North Dakota offspring and their families with us on Christmas Day this year. Compared to the last two years, that won't seem like a lot of people and there won't be little children, but we'll have a good time.

I've found in recent years that I like to prepare ahead. My daughter and daughter-in-law help with the cleanup and somehow it all works even if my physical energy is limited.

The featured centerpiece: turkey on the grill which is Ken's department. I don't even get involved in the slicing.

In the oven I'll bake a cheesy potato casserole, green bean casserole, and sweet potatoes (one of the recipes posted from the potluck). No last minute hassle here.

Because the top shelf of the oven is filled, I make stuffing in a crock pot. It's incredibly rich, but oh-so-good. Recipe below.

From the refrigerator, seven layer salad and a fruit salad (both made the day before).

Then there'll lefsa (we are of Norwegian descent, you know), flat bread if my daughter brings it, a vegetable relish tray with dip, and I'll try to remember pickles and olives.

I'm not sure about deserts at this point. If I feel like it I'll make pies that morning. If not, the girls will surely bring some baked goodies and I'll add the frosted pretzels I bought ready-made plus ice cream. (I do have my limits.)

For evening, left-overs plus sweet soup, tea rings, herring, and cheese slices. I suppose I'll be too full to enjoy that, but in many ways, that's my favorite type of meal.


Crock Pop Dressing - I found this recipe on another site a couple of years ago and have used it ever since. Nothing was said about copyrights, so here you are:

1 cup butter or margarine, melted
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery
1/4 cup fresh parsley (can substitute dried)
2 cups canned mushrooms, drained (can use fresh)
2 eggs beaten
13 cups cubes of dry bread
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sage
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. marjoram
2 and 1/2 to 3 and 1/2 cups chicken broth or enough to moisten well

Melt butter or margarine in large fry pan and saute onion and celery until soft. Mix with remaining ingredients, tossing well. Pack in large crock pot. Cover. Cook on high for 45 minutes, then turn to low and continue cooking for 6 - 8 hours.

Hints:
I try to remember to dry my bread, but not too much. It makes the cubing easier if the bread is neither hard nor soft. I cube my bread the day before, makes the early-morning assembly a snap.

We like dense breads. I made corn bread and used it for over half the recipe. I also add quite a bit of a fairly-heavy brown bread, and I ended up with a slice or two of white bread (which was rather dense as well).

I stuck with 3 and 1/2 cups broth but added a small amount of water. It should be soupy. The moisture will absorb into the bread.

I think the crock pot I use for this is 3 and 1/2 quarts, but I'm not sure and the box is long gone.

I keep thinking I'll try adding raisins or cranberries, but I only make this for special occasions and then am afraid to experiment for fear of ruining it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

View from our Deck on a Sunny Winter Day

I love snow days. Days when the world around you shuts down, when you're comfy in a warm home with day-to-day pressures removed. We have so much to be grateful for. Puts things in perspective when thinking about families losing their homes.

I posted a picture from our deck window yesterday. The wind blew stronger later on, but posting another picture of blowing snow seemed a bit silly. Here's the way our world looks today.


With wind patterns the way they are, snow falling in front of our garage ends up elsewhere. Nice, except that we have to drive through hard drifts to get out of our condo area anyway. The north side or front of the building is snowed in, as is our street. The picture below is of the street behind us which is cleared privately by the residents. Funny, because although it's clear, no ordinary car could traverse the avenue it leads to and that must be traveled to get out of the neighborhood.



Why is it such a big deal, anyway? Perhaps because on snow days I excuse myself from responsibility. Why do I do that? It was a perfectly good day, an opportunity to catch up. May major accomplishment was watching the 1949 version of Little Women with June Alyson, Janet Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret O'Brien, and Peter Lawford. We taped the TCM rendition on Friday night, after watching the 1933 version with Katharine Hepburn. (Also a wonderful movie, but without as much emotional attachment on my part.)

I don't know how old I was when my parents initially took me to see the movie. They weren't into movies. The only movie I remember prior to it was Bambi, and my major memory from that event was the large dark room with people coughing.

But seeing Little Women that first time was glorious. I'd read the book and when we left the theatre, like everyone else, I emphatically declared the book was soooo much better. And yet, the images of the four young girls and their friend Laurie were the images I carried of the characters during later re-eadings of the classic. I even adjusted Elizabeth Taylor's age to fit Amy's true age.

After engagings in something so affirming, I hate to admit I then spent several hours playing computer games. Something I rarely do anymore. They're a waste of time! And yet, satisfying. Today I'm invigorated, ready to go.

Of course, if I really want to go someplace (to the post office to mail presents!) I'll have to wait until our avenue is plowed out.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

View from our Deck Window during a North Dakota Blizzard



View from our deck window. Ken just took this picture. He wanted to record what we can't see. We'll have to take a picture on a bright sunny day to record the difference.

Saving My Baby's Dolls

As promised by the weather-woman last night, a blizzard rages outside this morning. I doubt if we’ll make it to church. But I'm snug in our condo and decided it would be a good time to blog.

This is the season when parents of little girls look for the perfect doll to set under the Christmas tree. Perhaps this poem will touch a chord.


Saving My Baby’s Dolls

We cleaned closets before she left. Oh, she cried,
do you remember when I gave her freckles?”
And there they were—blue dots created
with the help of a ball-point pen, scattered
across the cheeks—fifteen on the right,
eleven on the left. She smiled a loving smile.
I still think she’s cuter with freckles.

Here’s Mrs. Mouse. See the knot I tied
in her tail. I could never get it out.
Pause.
Then, You don’t have to save the dolls.
And later, I think Debbie gave me Mrs. Mouse.

Someday your little girls would love to see
their mother’s dolls.


No they wouldn’t. But I want to keep
my rabbit bank—the one Dad bought
in Philadelphia. Look where the fur
is rubbed off the cheek. It looks painful.

One by one, all but the bank found a place
in the discard pile.

And I remembered dolls with cracked skin
in my mother’s attic. I was twenty when
I threw them away. I decided they had no value—
and my little girl never asked to see the dolls
her mother played with when she was little.

My mother had saved my dolls,
and I wanted to save hers.


I rediscovered this poem a couple of months ago when looking for something to send to a poetry contest—I needed a piece to keep my goal of submitting at least one item to either a contest or a publication every month. It was just a rough idea, so I cleaned it up a bit, and then decided I didn't want to work with it further.

The images aren’t strong enough—but the only thing I could add without going beyond the reality of my memory would be Mrs. Mouse’s red jacket, and I didn't want to go beyond the memory.

The conflict isn’t strong enough, either. Adding to that would become complicated if I wanted to remain true to circumstances. I had discarded my dolls when I helped my parents move—I was 18. Less than a year later my mom died in an accident. Several years later I helped my dad’s new wife go through the attic of her new home and we found my dolls. Mom had somehow salvaged them. I threw them away a second time.

So many years later, when our daughter discarded her dolls, she was leaving to teach ESL in Indonesia. Her dad and I knew we’d probably sell our house before she came home. When she decided to throw them, I remembered my mom’s seemingly foolish nostalgia—so I didn't secretly stash them someplace to save them—and regretted it later. I hadn’t understood that Mom kept the dolls for herself—for her memories—not for me.

It just seems that adding or subtracting to make this a more effective poem would subvert it’s personal value. I already lost the dolls, and I don’t want to lose the memory.

I’m quite sure my little girl—now grown up with a little girl ofher own—doesn't mourn the loss of her dolls. She does, however, keep the rabbit bank on her desk. When we visited her lately, our granddaughter showed it to me and pointed to the cheek without fur. It looks painful, she stated soberly. My reaction might have disappointed her. I smiled. Memories are a precious commodity.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Could I Explain Revelation?

Someone asked me to further explain the revelation concept I refer to so often in my blogs.

First, it isn’t knowledge acquired through our mind or emotions.

Mental knowledge is received through the senses and by all the things we’re taught at home, in school, via books or television, etc. When we reason, we use our mental knowledge to come to conclusions—and that also fits into mental knowledge.

We know things emotionally, too—what makes us laugh, and whatever fills our emotional needs. The person without emotional responses and knowledge is a sad person, indeed. Sometimes emotional needs influence our thought process. We call that type of thinking rationalization rather than reasoning, and it isn’t quite reliable.

While revelation knowledge might seem outside the norm, it’s more common than people think. There are things we intuitively know without being taught. Our constitution says some truths are self-evident. That’s a type of revelation. For example, people are born with a sense of justice. Even small children have a sense of being fair. One can reason about the benefits of being fair, but in the end fair is revelatory knowledge. One person said we know in the knower. I laughed when I heard that, but the phrase—the ability to know in the knower has stuck with me nevertheless.

Sometimes revelations are truths we initially learned with our minds—and then God revealed them to our knower and they become part of our makeup. I think I wrote in a blog once about how God revealed that He made me the way He wanted me—and that I was perfect in His eyes. Now, prior to that day I would have agreed with the God doesn’t create junk axiom and been willing to theoretically apply it to myself. But when I received it as revelation I knew it in my knower and it’s brought great peace. Since then I’ve doubted it mentally a few times, but when I reflect I know that I know God loves me as I am. It’s part of my makeup.

When we received these types of revelation, they’re usually basic doctrine. No one can argue with them because they are consistent with Scripture. However, people might be offended or put off by a bold statement.

Sometimes revelations give deeper understanding of God’s Word. Reading in the Psalms the other day I came across, Pray for peace in Jerusalem. (Ps. 122:6a) Praying for peace in Jerusalem is often interpreted as praying for the nation of Israel and I have no problem with that. But when I read these verses I suddenly remembered that God’s people of the Old Testament are representative of God’s people—His Church—today. We’re instructed to pray for peace in Jerusalem literally—the physical Jerusalem—and we’re also instructed to pray for the spiritual Jerusalem—the Body of Christ. In other words, we are to pray for peace between Christians. And for peace between Christians and the rest of society. I was pondering divisive circumstances that morning, and felt God gave me insight through the verse.

And then there are revelations that seem to come out of nowhere. They’re the hard ones. Like the time I felt God told me I should stay in Indonesia after our daughter’s wedding. She and her new husband went on their honeymoon, Ken returned to the US for his job, and I was alone in a strange country. No one was happy but everything worked out as I followed God's leading.

And there was the time I felt God told me to publish Avenues. I was so shocked that I told Him I’d give it two years. When I began I had no idea what I was doing, but every time I came to an impasse, He somehow showed me how to deal with it. From the time I started working on it until the day I closed the books, the time span was two years, give or take a couple of weeks. I’ve wondered a few times what would have happened if I hadn’t limited myself in the beginning.

On those two occasions I was absolutely sure God spoke. Not that I heard a voice or that it was confirmed by any other source. I just knew in my knower. Without question.

Most of the time, however, revelation comes as a prompt, an impression. Sometimes I run them past others—usually Ken. Sometimes I reject them, decide it was my ego or some other inner voice. Sometimes I step out, follow them as gentle leadings to see where they take me.

I feel Paul referred to this sort of knowing when he wrote, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil:2:12b,13 ESV) Paul wasn’t with the Philippians at the time, so they couldn’t ask him for direction. They had to hear from God for themselves, and if their revelation was fuzzy they would have to test it and determine His voice. In fear and trembling.

Perhaps these blogs are my best current example of a response to this type of inner knowing or revelation. I think my spirit, i.e., my knower, received direction and I’m testing what I believe is His leading. I’ve learned over the years that He doesn’t always speak loudly; He usually comes as a quiet inner voice. I’m trying to listen and respond.

Could I be wrong? Yes. That’s where fear and trembling comes in.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Our New Car


We purchased a car yesterday. A gently-used (less than 14,000 miles) 2008 Taurus, originally purchased as a rental vehicle in April.

At his core, Ken is frugal. The cars of our past were mostly economy models, at the low end of the spectrum. (We’ve had three Escorts. The third, currently our second car, boasts 236,000 miles and runs like a charm! The car we replaced was a Windstar—nothing fancy.)

I’ve had no problem with economy cars until recent years when comfort became an issue for medical reasons. Seats that don’t fit and support my lower back cause pain.

So this time we took a different approach. Let me tell you, the process was exhausting because we didn’t know exactly what we wanted and North Dakota weather didn't cooperate. It was cold out there. The car we finally bought wasn’t available when we began looking, however. Had we pushed—bought before we went on our two most recent trips—we’d have paid more for something we might not have liked as much.

Of course, buying a car in today’s economy is scary—and we’re even considering an extended warranty. This has to be an act of faith in light of the precarious nature of the automobile industry.

But we need a dependable car, and I’m glad we’ve finally made the decision so we can deal with other aspects of living.

Here’s a neat end-result I didn’t think of ahead of time. By considering my needs, Ken is blessed with things he’s wanted—a little more power, dual climate control, heated seats, readout of the exterior temperature, top-of-the line stereo system, etc. In fact, it will take time before we figure out all the features. When we finally parked it in the garage, Ken looked at me and said, You picked out a nice car. That was scary, too. I feel the burden, the responsibility. But I’m handling it, and I can tell he’s tickled.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Scary Scenario

Blogging is about the blogger, because bloggers write what they know and, what they know—or at least think they know—is themselves. I am the ever-present subject material. In fact, by definition a blog is an online journal.

I’d read the definition before I started blogging, but it didn’t compute. My approach was weekly personal essays.

As many of you know, I started not one but two blogs, each with a different emphasis. Writing two essays a week was do-able—as long as they remained my focus. When I began adding other activities, however, the load became heavy. I've a new writing objective and am having trouble getting to it. We’ve had a few wonderful trips—even an incredible visit when we met family in Ethiopia. To complicate matters further, we've had car problems. And Christmas is fast approaching.

While visiting our youngest daughter last week I thought about blogging. I thought about my readers, the number has dropped slightly. And I thought about the fact that I've been struggling with full-scale weekly essays. I shoved the concerns away because family is more compelling, but I did think about it coming home Friday evening.

Ouch. On Saturday morning I woke up thinking I should close Sunny Pathway. Hard, because unlike Red, Red Berries which has very few readers, Pathway has developed a limited following. Nevertheless, I knew I couldn't abandon Berries. Even though I’m struggling as I push my way through, I feel strongly impressed to finish writing on spiritual armor.

I told Ken, washed clothes, ran errands (including picking up new glasses), shopped for groceries, made decisions on Christmas decorations for our deck—all the stuff of daily life—and went to bed early.

At 2:30 I woke up with Sunny Pathway on my mind. Confused, I made my way to my computer and began looking at the blogs I usually read but hadn’t, because we’d been gone much of the last two weeks. Then I looked at some I visit less often. Then I read the Bible, prayed, and went back to bed.

Yesterday, Sunday morning, I woke up with the impression that I should continue, not with essays but with something closer to a journal.

This is a scary scenario. When I journal for myself, I'm prone to sloppy writing. Things like unclear pronoun references. Maybe I'll learn to correct myself as I go. Wouldn't that be nice.

But I prepared myself by changing the visual format. I want something lighter, easier to read. The other template made for an attractive blog, but the print was dense and the brown along the sides seemed heavy. In the process I deleted the picture and am unsure about including it again.

Writing in a journal format means I won’t try to maintain a schedule—even though blogging experts say fulfilling expectations with regular postings is essential for building readership. Perhaps there will be periods when I’ll write daily—followed by periods when I’ll write weekly or less frequently. As I said, this is all scary.

Consider yourself warned. Because I feel I'm led to continue, I'm trusting I'll have something to say of value. I hope I'll have something to say of value. Postings will probably be short. In addition to my ideas, I plan to include gleanings from my daily devotions. That should broaden my subject matter beyond myself a bit. But self is always present. We’ll see how it goes.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Enjoy the Season

I use a stat counter to monitor the number of people who read my blogs. During the past two weeks my readership has dwindled. Have my posts been too long? Too introspective? Do I need to make changes?

Well, yesterday I realized I’ve stopped reading the blogs I normally check, too. ‘Tis the season to be busy.

And we’ve been busy. Last week Ken and I took a four-hour road trip to visit our oldest daughter and family. A very good Thanksgiving holiday, indeed. Fun to be with them and we even accomplished some dreaded Christmas shopping. We came home Friday.

Today Ken and I are flying to visit our youngest daughter and family who live in Las Vegas. We haven’t seen them for just over a year and they won’t be home for Christmas. Ken found an inexpensive flight designed to entice gamblers and we’re taking advantage of it—although I doubt we’ll see the inside of a casino. Again, we’ll be home Friday. ‘Tis the season to be busy.

I could blog about this wonderful family of ours. When they were growing up in our home, at different times I was certain I'd ruined each one. Now I’m thrilled to realize they’ve all turned out beautifully. Actually, it sounds like bragging, but they’ve lived to flourish. If you knew me—us—you would know this is God’s grace.

The truth is, only God, people—and sometimes country—are actually important. And when it comes to people, family are at the top of the list. I've always known this but didn't always know it consciously, and I didn't live it consistently. I'm so glad God is larger than my failures.

That’s my statement this week. It needs no explication. Enjoy people, especially your family. And enjoy the season.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanking God for the Small Things

We had a wonderful pre-Thanksgiving sermon on Sunday. I came away with thanksgiving in my heart.

After that, my thoughts on Thanksgiving seem a bit strange and I feel foolish sharing them. But, I’m thankful for my fuchsia composition book. I'm especially thankful because it has lime-green polka dots. There are other colors, too—as you can see from the picture—but I like the lime-green against the fuchsia. Such an interesting and unexpected color combination.



Don’t misunderstand. I’m thankful for the basics: God, family, country. In fact, there are times when I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for them, and I understand these blessings make me rich beyond most people’s comprehension.

I’m also excited and thankful because my rheumatologist reduced my steroid prescription from 10 mgs per day to 5 mgs per day—and that I’ve experienced only minimal discomfort so far. (He said the Remicade would take care of it, and apparently it has. I’ve even been able to skip the bedtime snack some nights.) But I'm holding these feelings in check. Perhaps I’m afraid to get excited about health issues. I could make bold statements of faith, but has God directed me to go that route? I'm reluctant. I feel His message on the subject has been to look to Him and leave the outcome to Him.

However, on another level altogether, I so enjoy looking around and thanking Him for those little things—the small pleasures that bring smiles and encourage me. Things like my fuchsia composition book. I use it for journaling.

Since I’ve been blogging, I don’t journal as much as I did. But I still use it to record extraneous thoughts—and to record bits of info I think I might want or need. It's always in plain view, my fuchsia composition book with lime-green polka dots. And since God saw fit to create colors, I think He's pleased when I enjoy them.

So, with a joyful heart, may I recommend that you Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise his name. (Ps. 100:4 NLB) Enjoy His blessings. Enjoy His colors. Recognize Him as your source and thank Him for the little things.

(We leave tomorrow to join our oldest daughter and her family for the Holiday. Blessings, and have a great Thanksgiving.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Trusting God for Weight-Control

I have a weight problem. In fact, I’ve had a weight problem so long that I barely remember life without it. But for several years, in response to God’s direction, I’ve been losing. Then, last summer, because an attempt to change my medication wasn’t working, my rheumatologist prescribed steroids as a temporary measure. After brief periods on larger amounts, the dosage was reduced to 10 mgs on August 29.

This is my second experience with steroids and I learned the first time around that I must eat. If not, my stomach goes wild; stomach ulcers are a threat. And so, I’ve gained ten pounds. On a normal day, I try to not think about it, but on Sunday I happened to catch part of a feature on a woman weighing almost 700 pounds. One line from her story caught my attention—she began gaining weight during her recovery from hepatitis.

This may sound like an excuse, but it’s my reality and I think others would benefit by hearing my story. My weight gain began when recovering from hepatitis while I was in my late 20s. The objective was eating protein to rebuild the liver. Even in the hospital, while hooked up to IVs, I ate two eggs, bacon or sausage, cooked cereal, two slices of toast, and a large glass of milk for breakfast. Instead of lunch and dinner, I ate two dinners. In the afternoon and before bed, fabulous snacks. With activity curtailed, I looked to food for stimulation.

When sent home, the recommended diet followed the same pattern. Because I wanted to get well, I followed it. Six months later my doctor declared a full recovery. I’d gained 30 pounds.

In a reasonable world I’d have returned to eating the way I ate before and lose the pounds gradually. Instead, I went on a reduced-calorie diet. I think I lost about 25 pounds.

During the following year I gained about 35 pounds—something like that. I do remember for sure that I went up and down for years—the numbers were always a bit higher on the scale when I went up than they had been before I went down. The yo-yo effect.

The last time I was satisfied with my weight occured over 20 years ago when I lost an amount I can’t remember for our youngest son’s wedding. Many told me I looked great.

You’d think I’d have been motivated to keep up the good work, wouldn’t you? Truth is, by that time I’d forgotten how to eat normally. I either dieted and lost or I ate and gained (and felt guilty). Eventually, I gave up. I remember telling Ken that I couldn’t live that way anymore.

I don’t know how high my weight finally climbed. I was too depressed and too defeated to address the issue—even for reasons of health—so I stopped getting on the scale. I remember thinking the Bible used food as a metaphor for God’s blessings. If food was a blessing, why was it a problem? But I don’t remember praying about food.

(I’m sorry—but relieved—that I can’t post a picture from that era. We didn’t have a digital camera then.)

Then a friend—a large friend—approached me about joining her and others in a program called “Weigh Down.” There I faced a horrifying reality—food had become a sort of God in my life. I looked to food for comfort, for excitement, for fellowship. And this is what I want to highlight. If you have a weight problem, however it started, it indicates a deeper problem.

In the program we had freedom to eat anything at any time—if we were truly hungry. We went through a process of identifying true hunger and then volume-control became key. I can’t say how many pounds I lost because I didn’t know my top weight; I went down several dress sizes.

Well, the program came to an end, I was sidetracked by an event, lost my focus, and gained about 15 pounds. I was afraid to try anything that might begin the yo-yo effect again, so I visually monitored my food intake and stopped gaining. No fun, but it worked.

Then steroids entered the picture and I learned about a churning stomach. But this time I knew God could intervene. When the steroids were removed from my list of meds, I prayed desperately and I felt God gave me a directive: Don’t eat anything in the evening after dinner.

That was it?

Sometimes a little difference makes a big difference. Although I didn’t lose by making that change, I stopped gaining. It was a start, and I knew God was interested in my weight, that He would help me.

Three months later I prayed specifically about food again. This time I felt He suggested I stop eating salad dressings. I was primed for this—was tired of bottled dressings and a friend had been promoting alternatives. I lost a few pounds after that adjustment. Today I totally enjoy salads by dressing them with oil, balsamic vinegar and seasoned salt.

The next thing He impressed upon my heart was giving up soda. That was hard, but today I only drink soda for a special occasion. On a normal day, I don’t miss it. Although I don’t understand the chemistry, after that change my appetite seemed to decrease and my weight continued moving down slowly but consistently—until my recent experience with steroids when it began going up again.

There have been a few other changes—some temporary. I believe God was in some of them. My tastes have changed somewhat.

Tomorrow I see my rheumatologist and, because I’ve stabilized, I’m hoping he’ll begin weaning me off the steroids again. Perhaps because of that silly TV program—I was never even one-third of her weight—I’ve been thinking about it. Whatever happens, whenever I go off steroids, I know I’ll think of dieting—be tempted to kick-start the process of losing pounds quickly. But I can’t. Dieting puts the focus on food. Yes, I need to control food. I can only do that by putting my focus on God.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all your do, and he will show you which path to take. (Prov. 3:5,6 NLB)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Heart to Heart, Spirit to Spirit

The most important aspect of life is connecting with another personality—heart to heart or spirit to spirit.

Ken and I attended several special sessions at a local church this week. On the one hand, we learned nothing new. We might be able to say the conference wasn’t for us.

But it was, because our hearts were touched—by the way the speaker connected to his audience and by the way he somehow made me realize anew the importance of connecting to others. At one point he shared a story about taking one of his sons on trip when the boy was 4 years old, a son that tragically died at the age of 22. The child needed correcting all day for wandering or for generally putting himself in danger. But when the day was over he buckled himself into the center section of the truck's bench seat so he could lean against his dad, and then he proclaimed it had been the best day of his life.

The father/speaker’s point was that he loved being with his son and didn’t dislike the son when he needed correcting—and that our Father in heaven feels the same about us. God loves to be with us and doesn’t dislike us when we need correcting.

I agree with and appreciat his point, but came up with my own point: connecting with another personality makes life worth living. Be that person God or another human. You could see it in the father’s face and hear it in his voice. The memory was life to him, even after the son was dead.

I skipped church on Sunday morning. After a Friday evening meeting and three meetings on Saturday, I moved slowly. But God and I had a special meeting while Ken was gone. I asked Him five questions that have been plaguing me. He didn’t specifically answer any of them, but He gave me one big answer that encompassed two of the questions and touched on the others. I was more than satisfied—mainly because I felt we had connected.

I read a book recently titled Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. Bell makes several points, but in the end, the book is his story—his testimony, so to speak. The portion that spoke to me was the section on asking God questions. The types of questions he referred are no longer issues for me—questions about God’s nature, evil, etc. I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I’m content with the revelation I have. Except as it relates to my current daily life!

While reading the book, however, I realized I had been slow to come to the Lord as a young woman because I didn’t dare ask those unthinkable questions. When I finally got mad enough to question Him loudly and angrily, He met me. The same is true now. I can suppress frustrations, pretend everything is fine, but reality is that I need to be honest with God about the things that bother me.

On Sunday morning I was honest. And we connected.

I’m not going to tell what I thought He said. I have to walk it out first. But I do want to say that sometimes one moment of connection can sustain a person for a long time.

When Ken and I were dating, we had a special evening. Ken visited me regularly the summer after my mother died in a car accident. One weekend we went to a drive-in movie theater—does anyone remember those?—to see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. It was cooler than usual that evening so I made hot chocolate as well as popcorn. Somehow, magic was in the air that night. Nothing monumental happened, we simply connected to each other, heart to heart and spirit to spirit.

There have been many times when I've drawn upon that memory—when it sustained me. (Even though, when finally we saw Seven Brides for Seven Brothers again, we both wondered what had been so special. Certainly not the movie. It was the magic of being together.)

I believe this is true in our relationship with God as well. It was true for Abraham who waited and waited for God to give him the promised son. People have come up with various answers as to why God took so long to answer Abraham's prayer, but the Bible doesn’t provide that information. There are things we can’t figure out on our own—or demand to know.

Yet asking clears the air.

I would never recommend staying home from church. I’m not even willing to say it was right to stay home Sunday. I’m only sharing one story out of a lifetime of stories. Left alone, however, I drew from some of the sustaining moments God has given me over the years. Then I asked some of those troubling questions. The heavens could have been silent. I knew God didn’t have to meet me or answer my questions.

But He did.

Since then? Well, last night I had two incidents with the car—while on my way to a meeting I had had questions about. Did I misunderstand God’s message? Or am I being tested?

Nothing is ever easy. So I have to draw from the sustaining encounter. Almighty God let me feel special, connected. Awesome.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A New Project

Today is election day and I don’t want to write about it. But after realizing it might be harder to avoid the subject tomorrow, I decided I’d better not postpone Sunny Pathway until morning.

My big focus the past week has been overcoming jet lag and coming down from the adrenalin high of visiting our family in a foreign country. To be honest, after arriving home a week ago on Sunday eve, I barely pulled myself together to write last week’s blogs.

This last Sunday, however, I came out of a fog and began working on something I’ve been thinking about for several months.

For twelve years—from July of 1981 through June of 1993—I wrote a short, short weekly column.




It began when I was writing a monthly personal column with a gentle Christian slant for The Back Forty. The publisher of the Daily News of Wahpeton, ND, - Breckenridge, MN, asked me if I’d be interested providing a weekly column for the church page of that newspaper. I thought through aspects of the project, wrote samples, and submitted them to him. He came up with a title—Thoughts for Inspiration—and a format. And we were in business.

From the beginning I tried to write ahead—fewer deadlines that way. Usually I could do one in the morning and one in the afternoon—two days a month seemed sustainable. Occasionally I spent several days on one short column. No problem. Research and soul-searching was part of the joy.

But eventually the columns became familiar territory. And all sorts of events occurred with one common denominator—they kept me busy. In time, I could churn out four or five columns after our evening meal and drop them off in the morning. The excitement was gone.

Even worse, I realized one day that I no longer consistently prayed for Thoughts. This was Christian material. What had happened? Something had to change. And when I humbled myself that day to pray, I felt God told me I needed to give up the column.

Hard. Really hard to give up something that had meant so much—more than my other writing because the focus was God and His Word. The final blow came when I realized the columns had become part of my self-image.

I cleared my decision with Ken. Then I wrote several months ahead to give the publisher time to find something else, made an appointment with him, and told him my decision.

I wasn’t done writing just yet, however. Among other things after that, before Ken and I retired I published five issues of a Christian tabloid-size paper I called Avenues.

While closing down Avenues I had a strange impression. I felt that someday I’d publish the Thoughts columns. I paid attention to the idea because it came out of nowhere, but the only kind of publishing I understood at the time would require a book or a magazine format—hard copy publication. Impossible. I didn’t have the money or knowledge to take on such a project; I put it on hold.

When I developed serious health issues, we moved from the lake into a condo in town to make life easier. During quiet times I began exploring the internet—and Ken grew so tired of me encroaching on his space that he decided we needed a second computer. Wow.

I somehow discovered blogs—and started a couple of my own even when not quite sure what a blog was. And I realized blogging was a form of publishing! I could publish my Thoughts columns on the internet!

That’s what I plan to do. I’ll publish them daily, Monday through Saturday beginning on January 1, 2009. I’m using the original name—Thoughts for Inspiration. Because they don’t quite fit the devotional format, I added a subtitle—Daily Words of Wisdom. Hope that isn’t too grandiose.

I’m more excited about this than I was when I began my current blogs. Just the same, at some point on Monday morning, while rereading the columns—all 624—I thought I might give up the idea. I’d started Sunday evening and realized I’d be at it not only all Monday but most of Tuesday (today) as well. I needed a confirmation that this was right if I was to continue. I asked God if He was really in this—and I told Him I could give it up—even if I’d be embarrassed because I’d contacted the Daily News and received permission for reprinting them,

Several hours later I wondered whether I should publish five each week, one for each work day—or six, one for each day but Sunday—or seven. And somehow, I knew in my knower that six was the number. It took at least another half-hour before I realized I had my confirmation: God provided direction for the details because He was in the big picture.

After that, everything went better. Now I’m thinking the biggest challenge will be organizing and deciding what will be published—I won’t need all 624. But even though that will be frustrating, it will be satisfying.

I'll need to collect more photos as artwork (I have some). I'll need to find a server who will send them out as emails so I won’t be tied to that daily chore. There’s the gruesome job of typing (or keying-in if you are part of the younger generation) them into the computer. And the dreaded proof reading. Not so great.

Just the same, I’m eager to launch this project that seems so special. Lots of work and lots of prayer. Hopefully, there will also be lots of fun.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ethiopia: A Recap of Our Experience

Repost from another blog - by Solveig.

Any account of a country based on a nine-day visit is inadequate. We spent all of our time in Addis Ababa, making our exposure even more limited. But I’m unable to transition away from our trip just yet—so, one more blog post on Ethiopia. I've included quite a few pictures because they add so much.

In a sense, mountains define Addis. They rise above the Sahara and the jungle to create a high, rugged plateau. Elevations in the city vary from 7,000 to 8,000 feet. That gives an idea of the terrain. Temperatures are consistent throughout the year, reading in the low 70s during the day and mid-50s at night. It cools quickly; I wanted a sweater or jacket every night. Could a climate be more ideal?

But my dominant impressions involve people. I came away with a different understanding of servants. Marta has two close friends from childhood. One married a man of means, the other did not. We were blessed by both as they moved in and out of the guest house where we stayed while there—helping, serving. The privileged and the not-so-privileged worked together. During breaks, seated on traditional stools in the kitchen, they laughed while eating traditional food together with Genet, Ted and Marta's nanny/maid. The gals were beautiful and I'd love to provide a picture but feel I need to respect their privacy. Although social distinctions are real, they aren’t as divisive as I thought they would be. Servanthood and hospitality seem to be key cultural responses that cross social boundaries.

Then there's the pervasive poverty. Remember that Ethiopia was ravaged by famines; its infrastructure was destroyed by Mengistu’s communist government. I asked Ted about the necessary room for the many make-shift dwellings built by squatters. He said the unthinkable: Outside. Active beggars approached cars in the streets and the homeless draped ragged blankets or tattered plastic sheets against more stable structures for shelter at night.

Many come from rural areas, looking for a better life. There are very few jobs for these people, they must create their own employment. Many not only survive but thrive because entrepreneurs are a resilient bunch. Whether new to the city or whether long-time residents, they set the pace and are key to the future. Large modern buildings connect to each other not by wide walkways but by tiny shops built of rusted corrugated metal and other discarded materials. Many consist of a shelves lining a backdrop, but many others extend inward with larger display areas. A small percentage include make-shift dwellings attached to the back.


Whatever their current status, the shops wouldn’t be there without a measure of success. Because they’re small, they specialize. Perhaps in clothing or light fixtures or bathroom fixtures, or whatever. Some have more permanent quarters with metal grates similar to those we see in shopping malls that expand at night to protect the shopkeeper's investment. Marta said the best prices for the freshest fruit were found in these shops.

Marta wanted Ken and I to wear traditional clothing for the baptism. Ken and Ted were outfitted in a small shop that was completely enclosed—indicating someone was doing well indeed. We shopped for me in an area that I thought looked less prosperous, but the stores carried exquisite, high-end goods.

I thought the area looked less prosperous because sheep occupied a large fenced-in area across the road. However, that was also a place of business: buyers left with purchase in tow on a leash of some sort. The gals smiled when I asked who killed the sheep. I learned some go to a butcher, others are slaughtered in the homes. Ted explained later that all animals are slaughtered according to Old Testament law. He also said, They eat fresh meat.




A smaller sheep market regularly set up business about a block from the guest house where we stayed. Here Ted and Simon look them over. Again, an entrepreneur found a place and a way to make a living.






Because land is expensive, houses are multi-level to make use of space; townhomes are common. Built of concrete, these structures will be around long after American homes are gone. And look at the floors in our rented guest-house—made with exquisite craftsmanship from local materials.

But again, in a developing country, problems are the norm. Ken tried to find the source of a leak in our bathroom and determined it couldn’t be repaired without breaking into the wall. The rooftop tank, built to improve water-pressure, regularly ran dry. The small water heater in our bathroom was inadequate. There’s nothing quite like running out of hot water during a shower—and even worse, just after lathering your hair. Ask Ken. Nevertheless, they’re building houses, sturdy houses. People are moving up in the world.



.

The building on the right was our guest house. Although violent crime is rare, apparently property crimes are not. All private property is surrounded by eight foot fences topped by barbed wire or broken glass. Flowering shrubs that climb up and over the edge soften the visual impact.




Yards consist of courtyards that provide places for washing clothes and places for little boys to play.



Here's a picture I took that I'm especially proud of, a Sheraton walkway with a vista of the city peaking through.

Altogether, it was a time of sensory overload.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ethiopia: Precious Moments

A baby’s smile. Wow. During our first meeting, our granddaughter Salome (pronounced Sal-oh-may) looked at me intently while I gazed in admiration. Then she sighed and turned her face; no amount of chatter from me could capture her attention again during that encounter.

That afternoon, however, she seemed to recognize me. Surprised to see this face again, she made sounds, her whole body involved in the effort. I was awed by her perfection before; now I reveled in her unexpected response and expressed delight. And then she smiled.

Do I need to tell you I was smitten? Later there were days when I approached her, smiled—and she smiled back without any enticement on my part. How could she identify me and my facial expressions so accurately? Ken had a similar experience. She was open to relationships. Does she miss us now that we’re gone? I've promised my children to publish only non-identifiable pictures of the grandchildren and I think this qualifies. Sorry that I can't give you her smile.


Meanwhile, her older brother—just 2 years and 2 months old—generated a wonder all his own. When we saw Simon last Christmas he communicated without expressing himself verbally. He understood us when we spoke in English and somehow we understood his responses, often illustrated by body language. Now he’s learning to speak three languages as part of his daily life—English, French, and Amharic (language of the Amhara people, the largest ethnic group of Ethiopia). I had a hard time recognizing the specific language being spoken—even when it was English—let alone understanding what he meant.

Also, although Simon remembered us, we needed to forge a new relationship in new surroundings, and it took time. Now the joy wasn’t a smile—that came readily when playing hide-and-seek or some other game. Now the joy was sharing a picture book when reading to him or feeling the pull of his hand when walking down an Ethiopian street. It took time, but we had precious moments. Here he's playing in the courtyard. (Note the basin on the left filled with pungent chopped ginger left to dry in the sun.)


Marta wanted Ken and I to wear traditional garments for the baptism. Although a photographer took many pictures, we won’t have access to them until later. So for this picture we dressed ourselves here at home with no one to help drape the shawls. Then we asked a neighbor to take the picture. We won't dress this way when we attend church in North Dakota this Sunday, but I thought we looked rather impressive when ready for the baptism.


Boys are baptized when 40 days old, girls when 80 days old. Salome was one of four, two boys and two girls. I suspect baptisms occur almost every day.

There’s no way that I can describe the details; I’d surely get something wrong. First of all, there's the building itself. A beautiful structure with a separate attached building just for baptisms. Here's a pictue of the outside:



Four priests were involved, each with specific roles. Anointing with oil was included. There was much chanting in ancient Geez. Everything was liturgical and outside our experience—but it was so normal and comfortable for those who grew up in that tradition. I’m glad we have a God who meets us wherever we are, in all cultures and within a variety of doctrinal expressions.

After the baptism it was back to the guest house for food. Lots of it—of the traditional variety.

When we visited Ted and Marta in the United Arab Emirates about a year-and-a-half ago, we went to an Ethiopian restaurant one night for Ethiopian food. A unique experience. We thought they probably engaged in such activity on special occasions—similar to our eating lutefish and lefsa at Christmas.

Not so. Ethiopians eat Ethiopian food every day. Imagine that.

The mainstay of the diet is injera—a large, pancake-shaped, sourdough bread spread across the plate. Made from a locally-grown grain, it’s not generally available in places other than Ethiopia. Soft, spongy, and malleable, it functions as the primary eating utensil as well as a food.


In a typical meal, large pieces are cut and rolled. Individuals help themselves and roll the injera open across their plate. Then prepared dishes and sauces—some very spicy-hot—are spooned onto it. Smaller pieces are torn from the edge or from an additional piece with the right hand. These are used to pick up morsels of the prepared dishes and sauces which are then placed in the mouth.

Could you follow that? Although sauces stick to the right hand, the left hand remains clean, ready for picking up beverage glasses or for spooning more sauces onto more injera. Ritualistic washing before and after the meals are often part of the process.

Simon loves injera, would eat it plain when his mom gave it to him. Ted must have enjoyed it as well for he ate freely with finesse. And I enjoyed it, even though I frequently used my left hand to help out. The sour flavor of the bread is strong, but it blended with the hot sauces. Ken doesn’t care for spicy food at any time and struggled with both the taste and the mechanics of eating without utensils.

Because the kitchen of the guest house was not set up for traditional cooking, Marta’s older sister and servant prepared much of the food. The aromas that arrived with the food that morning prepared me for the feast to follow. It turned into a great time—even through I didn’t understand most of what was said. People who couldn’t make the 12:00 baptism kept dropping by all afternoon. I especially wanted to visit with a pleasant older lady—to no avail. On the other hand, several younger men opened doors for conversation.

Ken’s reaction to the food continued to be problematic. In addition to Ethiopian food at home, we ate out in several Addis restaurants (where we also enjoyed traditional music and the traditional dances of several tribes). But at home Marta took to cooking pasta for him and he was selective with sauces. On one of the final evenings we were invited to friends who prepared an European-style dinner and also provided utensils—a special blessing.

So, it was good to be there and now it’s good to be home. Ken’s recovering. And although I didn’t react as he did, I’m recovering, too. A trip of such magnitude took something out of us. But obviously, it was worth every bit of energy expended.

For more on our visit to Ethiopia, check out my Red Red Berries blog.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church

Repost from another blog - by Solveig

Ken and I are going to Ethiopia for the baptism of our granddaughter. But, as I am wont to do, I've been researching, learning as much as I can about the country and about historical information related to our special event.

I'm probably sharing less than one-fourth of the information acquired. Picking and choosing was difficult. Because I'm motivated to look at different Christian expressions, and because a Christian event is the centerpiece of our visit, this post will focus on the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church.

There are aspects of the church that Western Christians considers unusual: Most Ethiopian Christians believe the Ark of the Covenant resides in the Church of Mary of Zion in the ancient northern city of Axum, Ethiopia. This treasure of antiquity was initially built according to plans given by God to Moses who placed it in the Tabernacle. King David brought it to Jerusalem and Solomon placed it in the Temple. Perhaps better known among the general public today for its notoriety in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it is nevertheless one of the most sacred religious artifacts of history.

Common wisdom of Western Cultures has said for centuries that the Ark was carried to Babylon after the Babylonian siege where it was subsequently lost, so the possibility of its being lost in a remote mountain village doesn’t register with many minds. But no one knows for sure and I found one source which said Ethiopian stories are not impossible.

Stories. There are several accounts and they don’t agree. I thought the most plausible version builds on the Biblical account of priests and officials who escaped by night while fleeing during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. This account says they took the ark with them and landed in Egypt. Later, a smaller group took the Ark up the Nile and then to the city of Axum in the highlands of Ethiopia. Not unreasonable. If the priests tried to save anything, they would have saved the most important article of the temple—the Ark. They were probably aware of a Jewish presence in Ethiopia that would welcome them, and priests were the only group authorized by the Torah to carry the Ark.

Another story, one with historical implications, is that Solomon fathered a son with Makala, Queen of Sheba, during her visit in Jerusalem. After she left, he had a vision in which a greater display of glory followed Makala’s son Mendelik than the son who would reign in Judah. Solomon ordered a replica of the Ark sent to Ethiopia, but a priest exchanged the replica with the real Ark before transporting it to Axum. Sacred literature reports their physical encounter as well as his

vision.Both of these stories occur long before the advent of Christianity and neither explains how possession of the ark was eventually transferred to Christians. (For centuries, a priest has been chosen while still a child for a lifetime position to protect the ark. The current priest trains the child. Only appointed priests ever actually see the Ark. This practice is consistent with Old Testament Law. It also rules out the possibility of verification.)

Although there is evidence of an earlier Christian influence, Christianity became the dominant religion in Ethiopia during the 4th century after two brothers, sole survivors of a ship stranded on the coast of the Red Sea, lived their faith among their captors. Because they could read and write, they became slaves in the court. As they quietly practiced their faith, the queen was converted and she encouraged them to influence her son, Prince Ezana.

When Ezana became king, he released the brothers and sent them to Egypt. One returned to Syria but Frumentius was trained, ordained, and appointed as a bishop by the Egyptian bishop. He then returned to Ethiopia where he baptized King Ezana and many officials. Soon after, Ethiopia became a Christian nation, the second Christian nation in the world after Armenia.

Of course, Islam made an appearance. Because the Ethiopians gave refuge to Mohammad and his followers when they sought refuge in 616 AD, Mohammad instructed followers to respect the Ethiopians, but Islamic inroads eventually came through Sudan. Today the Ethiopian city of Harar is considered the fourth holiest Muslim city and there are other important Muslim cities in Ethiopia as well.

Because ties with European Christians were lost after Islam dominated North Africa, the Ethiopian church has a unique history. It developed theological doctrines of its own, accepted books as Scripture that aren’t in the Western cannon, and honored/honors saints not known to western Christians.

But central doctrines remain intact. They believe salvation comes by grace through faith in the person of Jesus. They look to His sacrifice on the cross and to His resurrection from the grave. Ethiopian Christians share defining doctrines with Christians everywhere.When we visited our son and daughter-in-law in Abu Dhabi, I attended an Ethiopian Orthodox service and found it exciting even when I didn’t understand the language. Although a high church with elaborate rituals, they trilled during a hymn. On the way home I asked my daughter-in-law Marta about the sermon and felt blessed because the message spoke to my heart.

Today Ethiopia is an island surrounded by Muslim nations. About 45% of the people are Christian, about 45% are Muslim, and the rest are Jewish or they adhere to historic tribal religions. The government is secular.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ethiopia: Displaying God's Beauty


Repost from another blog - by Solveig



The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. (Ps. 19:1,2 New Living Translation)

When I attended college in the late 1950s, two students from Ethiopia graced our campus. Although different from each other—I suspect they had different ethnic backgrounds—something set them apart from almost all other students, Black or White.

Much has happened in Ethiopia since then, but when becoming acquainted with our Ethiopian daughter-in-law, her sisters, and the nanny/maid, I recognized in them what I had noticed then. Although my sampling is ridiculously small for making a sweeping generalization, let me point out that Ethiopians weren’t sold into slavery by slave masters. Although they had slavery within their country, it wasn’t based on race. It was more like being a serf than chattel. Their history doesn’t even include poor immigrants (my personal background) struggling to find their way. These people don’t need to prove their value because their self-worth is an intrinsic part of their self-image. And they have a proud history.

I can't visit a country without engaging in research. This material was written before we left. By the time it is posted, we'll have been in Ethiopia about a week. We'll head for home on Saturday, October 25th.

Political Background—Ethiopia is the only African nation never colonized by Europeans—although Italy tried and failed when Ethiopia defeated them in the battle of Adwa in 1896, the first major battle in which a Western army was defeated by a non-Western army since the Medieval Ages. Mussolini’s Italy invaded in 1935 and was defeated by the British and Ethiopian Patriots in 1941.

But the history of modern-day Ethiopia began around 1,000 BC. Makeda, Queen of Sheba, was queen of the ancient kingdom that became present-day Ethiopia. Her son Menelik, believed by Ethiopians to be the son of Solomon (see post from October 10), established himself in the city of Axum and founded a kingdom located strategically between North Africa, sub-Sahara Africa and the Middle East. Aktum dominated African-Asian trade for over 1,000 years, and an ancient Persian writer identified the four great powers of his time as Persia, China, Egypt and Aktum. At one time the borders of the Aksumati dynasty expanded to include what is now Yemen and parts of Saudi Arabia.

Ethiopia (the Greek-Roman name) or Abyssinia (based on the Arabic name Habasha) remained in power—with two interruptions—until rebels overthrew and killed Haile Selassie in 1974. That’s almost 3,000 years. Details are confusing and more than this blog can handle.Although Selassie did much to modernize his country, a famine weakened his reign and the Dergs with a socialist ideology and military tactics seized power during a period referred to as the “red terror.” During that time Mengistu rose within the party to become the leader and the government officially adopted communism. When the Soviet Bloc fell apart, the Derg government fell apart.

Goals of the current government (elected, but not without controversy) include diversifying the economic base while improving agricultural methods and production.

Multiple Languages—Amharic was the official language of Ethiopia for centuries, but the policy was changed recently to acknowledge the value of tribal languages. Most government documents are printed in Amharic and English. There are an estimated 77 to 84 languages from a variety of linguistic families, some with no written form. (When I began writing again I read an essay by a journalist who covered famine relief in an African refugee camp. At night she heard what sounded like singing. She learned the music came from a remote Ethiopian tribe with an unwritten language that chanted their history at night to teach their history and legacy to the children.)

Geographical Features—Because it’s located near the equator, Ethiopia includes some of the hottest areas on earth. Yet some of the mountains are topped by snow or ice caps. Much of the country consists of the central highlands with plateaus divided by mountain ranges and the Great Rift. Addis Ababa is ca. 7500 feet above sea level (see picture above). Plateau temperatures are moderate year-round.

About 80% of the people live on small farms located on steep mountain slopes. Coffee originated in these mountains and remains the largest export.The Blue Nile—which eventually joins the White Nile to form the Nile—originates in Ethiopia’s highland. But the Awash River runs into the Danaki Depression (-125 m) where it disappears in a series of lakes and salt deposits.

I’ve seen so many pictures of the Danaki Depression, one of earth’s principle geological features, in the National Geographic and other magazines. Three legs of the earth’s crust— two edges of the Great Rift and the Red Sea Plate form a triangle with sides separating from each other between 0.3 to 0.8 inches every year. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common in the area.But other lowlands located along borders feature additional diversity—desert in the north, jungle and grasslands in the south, and grasslands leading into the Depression on the east. Nine parks located at all elevations protect the unique environments and the unique species that inhabit them (including an almost-extinct subspecies of elephants, black-maned lions, wild ass, camels, rare wolves, rare antelope, baboons, and rare goats).

Archeological Discoveries—I can’t stop without mentioning Lucy—skeletal remains believed to be three million years old. You’ve probably seen pictures of her, too. Anthropologists tell us human life originated in Ethiopia and migrated from an area near Addis Ababa to spread around the world. In 1973 a group of paleontologists working along the Awash River discovered over 40% of the skeleton of a woman who walked uprightly, and they nicknamed her Lucy after a Beatles song they were listening to at the time. The National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa displays the skeleton.


Reverence for the Lord is pure, lasting forever. The laws of the Lord are true; each one is fair. They are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold. They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb. (Ps. 19:9,10 New Living Translation)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tomorrow We Leave for Ethiopia!

When we were younger—I hate it when I say things like that!—life more or less flowed along. I didn’t worry about details until I had to and we somehow managed quite well.

These days we need to plan ahead or we’re in trouble.

Tomorrow we leave for Ethiopia. Throughout the planning process we’ve had our good days and our bad days. Yesterday was almost good—I accomplished more than I could, actually—but not enough. At this writing it’s 11:00 a.m. and I still need to pick up two Christmas presents, wrap them, and pack. I need one more miraculous day.

Ken brought the suitcasesout and put them on the bed, waiting for my input so we can figure it all out!


There are so many things to think about. We’ll be moving into another culture, one that’s historic and full of nuances. For the most part, clothing and music will be western. We’ll see poverty (it takes time to recover from the famines we all heard about on the evening news), we’ll see ancient art expressions, and we’ll experience strange foods (although Ted promised that we won’t be expected to eat raw meat). I'm especially looking forward to being with family for our granddaughter Salome's baptism within the culture of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The trip itself has caused me to think soberly a few times. We'll be on the plane a long time with long layovers in Amsterdam. We’ll also be making a brief stop—won’t have to get off the plane—in Khartoum, Sudan. I woke up one morning thinking the plane would be hijacked for sure. Then I remembered we can’t be so intent on survival that we fail to enjoy life. This is daily living at its most exciting. God is in our hearts and He'll be with us in the good and the not-so-good.

I’ve written ahead for both blogs. Next week, this blog will feature another aspect of living in our condo—the annual potluck (well, we’ve had it a few years). I’m including some great recipes. When we’re home again, I’ll no doubt write a bit about our trip.

For those who follow Red, Red Berrries, I've changed the focus to provide interesting material on Ethiopia. It’s on my mind these days.


The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand. Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned . . . . (Ps. 37:23,24 New Living Translation)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Making Pancakes

Retirement has its funny moments—and its fun moments. But you need a bit of history to appreciate this story.

My husband Ken has never thought of himself as a cook. Although his oatmeal is exceptional, although he does a superb job when frying eggs, and although he occasionally grills tasty cheese sandwiches.

It’s his mindset, even though for a brief season (one school year, to be exact) he prepared an entire meal for our family on a regular basis. I worked full-time that year while all four of our children were still home—three as high schoolers and one as a pre-schooler. Everyone had to help. Our oldest daughter—whom we paid to babysit our little girl after school—prepared two evening meals, our two sons each had one night, and Ken covered Friday. We ate Dad’s hot dogs, boiled potatoes, and heated vegetables every week through an entire school year and no one dared complain.

After that I convinced him to occasionally grill, and he’s become fairly adept. So upon retirement, when we decided he should assume more of the household responsibilities, meals seemed a reasonable option. Even to him. Hence, the day he decided to make pancakes for lunch.

He was mixing batter from scratch when I ambled into the kitchen to find the man who was, after all, my source for all things computer-related—and asked a computer-related question.

Silence.

Thinking he didn’t hear, I asked again.

More silence.





Then this mild-mannered, loving husband scolded me. Not loudly or vehemently. It was the controlled, steady voice that grabbed my attention. My question had broken his concentration and he had poured a tablespoon of baking powder into the flour canister rather than into the mixing bowl.

Shame on me—I had to suppress a giggle. When, in a spirit of well-meaning helpfulness, I offered a suggestion, he said—and I quote, “I don’t need your advice.”

More shame on me. Because after making a swift retreat back to my computer, I convulsed with more suppressed, silent laughter.

And Ken? He salvaged his batter—I’ll never know how—added fried eggs and fruit to the menu, served lunch with a flourish, and was so proud of his accomplishments that he forgot to scold me again.

The pancakes were better than my absent-minded, thrown-together versions. He drowned his in syrup, I slathered mine with plain yogurt and sprinkled sugar on top. Umm, good.



Our meal over, we laughed together. He even laughed when he read this. Best of all, he’s been our chief pancake-maker ever since.

I wrote this some time ago when I was experimenting—trying to decide if I could maintain a blog. When I recently asked if I could use it—and if he would help me stage pictures, he agreed. We did it today, and had some of those funny and fun moments all over again. Oh, well.

But he was willing, and that’s special. Truly, retirement has its funny moments—and it can even be fun.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Too Much Excitement?

Believe it or not, this car spent the weekend in our garage. A neighbor didn’t think it was really ours. Hmmm. Wonder why. Our son-in-law Jerry is driving it onto a trailer in this picture.




But first I have to tell you about the rest of my week.

On Wednesday Ken drove me to Grand Forks to see my rheumatologist because I’m beginning Remicade infusions for Rheumatoid Arthritis—again. I prefer driving myself—I don’t want to lose my driving skills and I enjoy singing at the top of my voice when I’m alone. This was a traumatic event, however. When I mentioned I wouldn’t mind a driver, Ken volunteered.

(Remicade is one of the new biologic drugs and I’d been doing so well that my doctor asked if I would like to try life without it for a season. I did well for over a year.)

On Thursday I made a major decision concerning my Red, Red Berries blog and spent much of the day organizing and writing. I even posted that night—very late—after attending my writer’s group.

And on Friday morning the post was featured in the Google Alerts under “Spiritual Armor." Now I didn’t quite dance down the hall to find Ken; I just scurried as fast as I could scurry. (Of course it was gone Saturday, but for what it was worth, I enjoyed the moment.)

The big event of the day or week or month came when our oldest son called Friday to hear what the rheumatologist said about meeting them in Ethiopia. Earlier, he and his wife (she is Ethiopian and they live in the United Arab Emirates) had invited us to meet them for their baby girl’s baptism. Ted’s weekend begins on Friday so he called for the verdict and we set the dates for some very long plane rides.

After lunch Ken and I sat by the computer together to order the tickets. Prior to this I’d been saying, “We might go to Ethiopia.” Suddenly it was, “We’re going.” Big difference.

At 9:30 p.m. that evening—in the dark—on a trailer pulled by a semi—down our quiet neighborhood street—a driver delivered the above-mentioned Corvette to our address. This isn't Jerry's first Corvette, but it's the first he's had delivered to us, an arrangement that saved delivery costs. Ken went down immediately.

Now, in a pinch, this husband of mine can repair a car with the best of them—I’ve seen him do it. But Corvettes are outside his experience. By the time I arrived and exclaimed, “Oh, it’s red!” the fellow delivering the vehicle wondered about our connection to it. I felt obliged to explain.

“Oh,” he said. And a neighbor who understood the features of the specific model came to admire and enlighten us. Then the driver told us how to open the doors, how to start the engine—little details like that. Because the seats are low, I decided I didn’t want to risk getting in—I might have trouble climbing out. So the neighbor rode into the garage with Ken.

By Saturday my energy levels were way down, but I had scheduled myself to participate in a 24-hour short-story contest—I wanted to fulfilled my personal commitment by submitting a written piece during the month of September. It turned into a fun exercise, even though I didn’t finish until 11:00 p.m.

On Sunday I broke my parents’s rules by working on the sabbath. Actually, I relaxed by cleaning the bathrooms and doing a few things in the kitchen.

Yesterday, Monday, I shopped (there are things to buy for a major trip and jeans aren’t appropriate for women my age in Ethiopia). I reviewed my stash of fabrics and cut out a skirt. But everything stopped when Jerry picked up his Corvette. Although I’m not a car buff—am more interested in color than model, design, or motors—I admit it's beautiful. Here's Jerry checking connections before for the ride home. That's Ken looking on.




Add all this excitment to the excitement generated by a building project next to our condo and the fact that we’re Twins fans. (We feel obligated to keep up on their run for the division championship—and won’t know the outcome until tonight, two days after the regular season is over.) And, of course, a financial crisis.

This morning, Tuesday, I kept an appointment for vaccinations necessary because we’re going to a relatively undeveloped country. I’m believing we’ll be ready for a great trip. We’ll meet a granddaughter for the first time, reacquaint ourselves with her brother, enjoy their parents, and experience another culture. WOW!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The God-Given Desire for Creativity

God is the most creative person alive. I suppose that’s hardly news, but you may not have thought of it that way.

Here’s another thought: because we’re created in His image, our creativity reflects Him.

Ken and I built a lake home (literally), and that required a great deal of creativity. Of course, our major creations together are our four children. On a less grand scale, I create meals every day.

Looking beyond myself, salesmen create sales, accountants create ways of interpreting sales, mathematicians create formulas the rest of the world doesn’t understand, engineers design stuff, contractors build stuff. When I taught for a vocational college I encouraged some of my students by telling them they created when they repaired things that didn’t work. It’s an important concept.

Was there ever something you wanted to create but it seemed beyond you, out of reach? As a child I dreamed of writing stories or poems but when I tried, I was never pleased with the results. Although I achieved a measure of success writing for our small-school paper when in high school, I put it behind me—until I wanted a “little” extra money, answered an ad, and became a published writer in the field of journalism. When I returned to college, I wrote a few poems for a creative writing class.

Last Saturday, however, I went with a friend to a Book Release Party that was a new milestone. She and I each had a poem published in The Talking Stick, an annual literary journal published by the Jackpine Writers Bloc.

Not only was this my first experience with publication since retirement 11 years ago (other than my blogs), it was the first time I was ever published in a literary journal. A group of people had determined my work had artistic merit.

Now, I hope I’ve convinced you all writing requires creativity, but this was creativity of another kind and acceptance as a writer in a new genre was sweet.

When I began writing a few years ago, it was something of a health issue. I had no ambitions to write professionally again, but my rheumatologist asked me, as my condition improved, if I was doing the things I used to do. Well, I’d started sewing a bit, primarily to save money, and I was going to a pool for exercise. Helpful as these activities are, however, neither fulfilled me.

So I began writing. Almost immediately into the process, I realized I needed readers. Writing is, after all, a form of communication. That led me to a writer’s group—where at least the five or six members of the group would look at my work once a month. That led to writing pieces in different genres for meetings—personal essays, descriptive passages, short stories. That led to thinking about creating a blog or two. And along the way I began writing poetry.

The poem submitted to Jackpine wasn’t the first or the last submission I’ve entered in contests. I have eight more out there right now that I’m waiting to hear about, three that I’m sure are stronger submissions.

Why, at this time in life, would I pursue such a thing? I can’t quite explain it, but I feel writing has helped restore my mind and it's given me back to myself. I used to say I wasn’t a great journalist, but I was a competent journalist. Now I have to say I’m not a great artist, but even when I push myself and get tired, I revel in the effort. I'm creating in a manner than excites me: I'm responding to the God-given desire for creativity.

So here it is. Didn’t win any prizes, but it made the cut.


Clearing the Lake Lot

Gold and orange leaves imprinted against
a seamless gray sky. His chainsaw grinds
through fallen logs that crack and collapse
with soft thuds and he cries in anger
when a splinter pierces his glove.

I drag the scratchy branches littered around him
and throw them on our fire. Twigs and leaves
disappear in flame and sparks fly. I singe my hair
when I pass through smoky air to reach slivery chunks
of wood for special campfires. Loading them into
the squeaky wheelbarrow, I haul them to the edge
of our property and stack the pieces in a long,
low pile to mark our boundary.

Fatigued by mid-afternoon—done for the day—
we hunker together in silence on a rock to share
a thermos of hot coffee and pieces of dried fruit.
By turning into the wind we distance ourselves
from the fire. Whitecaps pound against the shore,
and we go for a walk on the hard, wet sand.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A New Development



I have a friend who arranged a huge bouquet of domestic field sunflowers for her coffee table. Totally unexpected and stunning. Several weeks later I saw an inspiring arrangement of artificial sunflowers. So, when equipment arrived to install infrastructure for a new development in the vacant lot next to our condo, I collected some of the wild sunflowers from the lot for a bouquet.




We’ve lived with this empty space in the middle of town, just to the east of our property, for five years—since moving into our twelve-unit building. Although the unit Ken and I purchased faces the west, we’ve experienced the lot’s proximity just the same.

The prospect of new neighbors has been more than exciting. Instead of the 60 units there will be 75 units—in a different configuration than we antaicipated. We’ve had meetings with city officials, usually younger than our children, to voice concerns. Some of them have been very nice people.

Here’s how how the lot in question looks when newly mowed. Trim and neat—not so bad. Do you see the Jackribbit?



When not newly mowed, individual grasses and wildflowers show their stuff. That’s not so bad, either. When learning how to use the camera, I couldn’t resist taking pictures. There are tiny scattered white flowers. Other plants dominate areas. Is this broom tail grass?




The empty space has provided a home for cottontails, jackrabbits, and an interesting prairie bird. The prairie birds—everyone in our building loves them—usually hide when the grass is tall and shaggy. I can’t imagine them surviving in a more civilized surround. Jackrabbits won’t either. Even now, a hefty percentage are hit by passing cars. Cottontails will continue to be a nuisance.

Most of us don’t feel too badly about what we’re losing; it’s what we’re gaining that concerns us. Our neighborhood will be different than we originally anticipated and different than we’ve experienced to date.

I’m inclined to think the builders and city might be making a mistake—that a good number of baby boomers will want our type of setup in a few years. North Dakotans love their wide open spaces, and our present arrangement doesn’t seem crowded. But demographics are changing and a larger number of people will want smaller spaces (just as they now want smaller cars).

Meanwhile, our home suits us. I plan to enjoy it as long as I live here.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Relationships


I read a novel recently titled The Shack by William P. Young. It addresses relationships, and because I was thinking about aging while reading it, I realized anew that living in relationships is a difficult aspect of growing older.

Mack, the protagonist, goes to a shack, a scene where his family experienced unspeakable violence, to meet with God—represented by a large Black woman named Papa. A small Asian woman named Sarayu represents the Holy Spirit—she floats about while emanating colors. And Jesus—finally, someone reasonable—by a 30-something man from the Middle East.

I had less trouble with the characters after Papa explains he/she is manifesting in a form Mack can accept—Mack had been abused by his father. But I understand my friend who quit reading the book because everything seemed, and I quote her, “so silly.” When Papa drops a large bowl of a substance resembling a batter, Jesus wipes her feet and skirt while all members of the godhead laugh easily. I understand Jesus cleaning up—after all, He came as a servant. I understand good-natured laughter. But why would God drop a bowl of batter?

And yet. And yet—the interaction between them somehow illustrates the theology of the Trinity in ways that brought life to me. Although One, they are Three who interact and live in relationship with each other. They desire relationship with each other, with Mack, and with all people.

Conversations between the members of the Godhead and Mack deal with the issues of Mack's life—specifically, why a loving God allows evil. I think the writer does more than a credible job on the subject, but I kept reading because I was interested in the relationships. Although, unlike Mack, I was raised in a loving home, when I read his story I felt his rejection. Stories will do that, they broaden our experience.

Every background has its perils. I was taught to treat other people nicely. Excellent training, I guess. I can’t even suggest a better way to do it. I do know, however, that I regularly seethed inside because I had no freedom of choice when interacting with others. So Mack seethed for one reason and I for another. Like Mack, at times I suppressed my personality. What bothers me most is that I didn’t give my children choice, either.

Perhaps this is why I've struggled with the maxims of the New Testament, but a quick reread of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is interesting. From a different perspective, it’s possible He wasn’t providing the people with a new, harsher list of rules. He was telling them to forget the rules and enter into relationship. Read it to see what you think. (Matthew 5, 6, & 7)

Like so many older couples, Ken and I especially struggled with our relationship after retirement. The truth is, during the busy years we had allowed our relationship to slide. Not that we disliked each other or didn’t function together. But somewhere along the line we had stopped sharing, had grown so far apart that we no longer took pleasure in each other’s company. Then we retired and had to become acquainted again.

To borrow a line from Dickens, It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Although relationships are of infinite value and they make life worth living, they're also demanding and at times irritating.

Ken and I intuitively approach life differently, but today he’s my closest friend other than Jesus. I’ve reflected a bit on how we navigated from there to here and can’t come up with an explanation—outside of that other friend I mentioned—Jesus. Connecting with Him somehow includes connecting with my husband—because God loves relationships. Paul said, You were his enemies, . . .Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. (Col. 1:22 NLT)

These days Ken and I have to work our way through things, deal with issues, see our personal failings, forgive for wounds inflicted, release the other to whatever, and love. It would be impossible outside of God’s grace. However, with him you [we] were raised to new life because you [we] trusted in the mighty power of god, who raised Christ from the dead. (Col. 2:12 NLT)


Don’t think I don’t resist, because submission includes releasing our will to each other. Submission, we’ve discovered, is mutual in relationship. Paul begins his teaching on husband-wife relationships with, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Eph. 5:21 NLT)

So how about God? Does He submit in relationships? You have to remember that I’m using Young’s book as a launching point, and only as a launching point. These ideas aren’t stated by him, but I believe God does submit. He submits to our will when He releases us to make our own mistakes while loving us anyway. He doesn’t ask us to do something He doesn’t do Himself.

Life is shaped by relationships—with our children, our birth family, our friends, our neighbors, etc. I’ve failed to a greater or lesser degree in all of them because I tried to live by rules rather than in relationship. Marriage, the most intimate human relationship, is a microcosm of the broader picture. I believe Ken’s and my return to relationship can only be viewed as an intricate, delicate journey wrought by an infinite God.

When God releases us, He also provides experiences to change us and lead us into repentance, forgiveness, submission, love. That's the miracle.