Farewell to “The Farm”

We always called my Grandparent’s house “The Farm.” Purchased in the early 1940’s, it was home to their six children and their home until they died. It was a beacon of love for the growing extended family and housed not only holiday celebrations, but an every Sunday family tradition during the school year when everyone gathered  for Sunday afternoon football, games of euchre, and heaping helpings of Grandma’s goulash, green beans, corn and homemade bread.

The house was already old when my Grandparent’s bought it. The stone basement walls, the tree-timber beams and hand made nails presumably were produced from the land itself. When my mother lived there as a child it was heated by a wood stove in the kitchen.  Water was hand pumped from a well in the backyard. There were no indoor toilet facilities and baths were taken in a galvanized laundry tub with water heated on the stove.  Modern plumbing didn’t happen until around 1948.  Heat was provided by a coal burning furnace during most of my childhood, only replaced with a modern furnace under Grandma’s extreme protest some 40 years later.

The 10 acre  plot of land ran all the way down to the river, and hosted a pine forest, planted by my Grandmother in hopes to sell Christmas trees. They quickly grew to a tall dense forest, but supplied fresh trees for most of the family every year.  All that remained of the original apple orchard was one surviving tree in the cow pasture when I was a kid; the rest destroyed by frequent lightening strikes. Several black walnut trees grew in the backyard, producing smelly green balls that turned your hands black. Grandpa used to gather them and strew them in the driveway, collecting the treasured nuts once the hulls broke down. Winter nights were spent digging the meat from the shells as he listened to the radio or watched television.

My earliest memories of “The Farm” included an old wooden barn, which blew down in one of Michigan’s violent windstorms. It was replaced by a neat cement cow barn, with one large box stall for Grandma’s pet cow, Josie. There was a pen for Petunia, the pig, next to the run where my Uncle’s hunting dog Judy lived. Freddy, the shaggy farm dog, lived in a doghouse under one of the walnut trees.  I grew up drinking fresh raw milk, straight from the cow, and strained through a cheesecloth and enjoying the best home-made dill pickles on the planet.

Grandma grew a huge vegetable garden and filled the land around the house with giant, brightly colored flower beds.  She cursed the weeds and worked the loamy black soil early every morning. Afternoons were usually spent canning,  using her produce to host  Sunday family meals.

“The Farm” and the people who lived there formed me.  Although they are long gone, their memories live on.  I still make Grandpa’s favorite cake, a yellow sheet cake frosted with vanilla icing and topped with shredded coconut.  One bite takes me back to visits in Grandma’s sunny kitchen, listening to the grown ups talk and playing with Grandma’s ever present kittens.  Gingerbread  Windmill cookies have the same effect.

Grandma carried most of her recipes in her head and shared her knowledge as special gifts.  I treasure her baked beans, mushroom and cabbage, and potato salad recipes.  One bite is all it takes to erase the years.  Like her, I am an avid home canner and love to cook from scratch, just as Grandma did.  And, I love having a cat.

Grandpa died in 1972,  and Grandma in 1995.  After Grandma’s death, the farm was sold to people who built a large new home back toward the river and the original farm house was abandoned by the new owners.G. Small homestead 2 Continue reading

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Trust Walk

It was a hot, sunny summer day and family was in town, so we decided to spend the day at the beach. It sounds so simple, but a day at the beach actually includes lugging lawn chairs, umbrellas, towels, blankets, sand toys, sunscreen, snacks and drinks from the parking lot across 400 ft of blistering sand to the water.  There is a lot of stuff to carry!

We set up, enjoyed the water and sunshine and wore everyone out as we dug in the sand and played in the surf. When it was time to head back, we “broke camp” and gathered up all of our belongings, with my husband taking the lion’s share of equipment across the long, scorching beach.

Something happened to my husband on the trek back to the car.  He became so dizzy and lightheaded that he handed the keys to our son and asked him to drive us home.  On the short drive home he became drenched in a chilly sweat, despite the hot day, and began vomiting.  When his left arm began to hurt, he decided he needed to go directly to the hospital.

When you walk into an emergency room and say the words, “Heart Attack,” people respond immediately.  He was rushed back to a bay and hooked up to electrodes, amid other blood draws and tests.  Eventually it was decided that he would spend the night for observation and have more tests in the morning.

If it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and walks like a duck, you would suspect it is a duck, but all tests showed no sign of a heart attack.  They released him in the afternoon with the diagnosis of “most likely acid re flux” and advised him to follow up with his primary physician.

The primary physician disagreed with the ER diagnosis and ordered MORE tests.  These failed to show anything that could have caused the “episode” but did reveal a rather significant partial blockage of the small intestine.  He was referred to a GI specialist.

This is scary stuff.  Most Googled remedies toss around the word “FATAL” way too much for our comfort.  The GI Dr. ordered even more tests and scheduled a colonoscopy  a couple weeks out. 

It is hard not to “future trip” when frightening medical reports surface.  It is a real battle to keep your focus on Jesus and daily renew your mind, making the choice to trust Him, no matter what the results.  (In reality, what other options are there?)

We received the results of the very detailed testing just before my husband was wheeled back for the colonoscopy and the findings were good.  After the colonoscopy, the GI Dr. spoke with us and said, ” I have no idea what showed up as a partial intestinal blockage, because everything looks fine.”

How often do we carry stuff we don’t need to carry when we hear bad news?  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11: 28-30  We can trust him in the middle of bad news.  1 Peter 5:7 instructs us to cast all our anxiety on him (Jesus) because he cares for us. Despite the struggle to keep my focus on Jesus, I was incredibly relieved to hear the Dr. say that the blockage was gone and everything looks fine!

Someone asked me, “So, was it a miracle or a smudge on the film?”  I don’t know.  I DO know that I serve a great big God who is fully capable of performing miracles.  I have seen God’s hand work in miraculous ways many times in my life and in the lives of others.  And I know that with Jesus there is peace in the midst of frightening medical reports and an uncertain future.

This incident just provided another opportunity to practice my “Trust Walk;”  just another opportunity to trust Jesus.

 

 

 

And The Lord says, “Trust Me.”

My trust muscle is getting stretched some more today. It has been a grueling summer of selling our home (twice!), moving cross country, and a blur of packing and unpacking. I have purged, and packed, and wept as I have let go of items of sentimental value, and said good-bye to dear friends and a house and property that I loved.

On the flip side of all that stress, is the awesome revival of a dead dream. I lived here before and hated leaving my church, my friends, my home, and my life. And now, years later after all hope was gone, The Lord opened the door and made a way for me to return. But, my joy today is tempered with a dose of frustration.

And, this frustration is over a house! I want to be settled into a “forever house” with a yard for a garden. For months I have been long-distance stalking home sales via the internet, but was never in a position to seriously look, until now. I have watched most of the homes that I have liked and could afford to buy progress from “for sale” to “pending” to ultimately “sold.” Apparently my tastes must be similar to most other home buyers; the houses I like seem to be snapped up in a hurry.

Today’s pending home sale was the last home on my original “watch list.” It has an accepted offer and is no longer officially on the market. Sales contracts sometimes fall through; I personally experienced it this summer on the FIRST sale of our home. The Lord is faithful, and ten days later we received an even better offer and were able to close the sale.

This is another opportunity to trust Jesus; another opportunity to reflect on His faithfulness, restoration, and love for me and not get tangled up in the weeds of circumstances. But, silly human that I am, I tend to be short-sighted and lose focus on the big picture. My gerbil-brain forgets all of the times The Lord has provided for me time and time again. I get caught in the thistles of here and now and am easily distracted. But He is faithful, and The Lord says, “Trust me.”

Remembering Lester

I had a boyfriend in ninth grade whose name was Lester. He was a big, husky kid with a rough and tumble attitude who played a defensive position on the Jr. High Football team; academics were not his strength, and teachers warned my mother to keep an eye on her sweet, studious little girl because of her fascination with this big, bad country boy.

Neither of us was old enough to drive, so our “dates” consisted of holding hands at high school football games, dancing at school dances, and talking for hours on the phone after school. Sometimes he would phone me and play records for me to listen to. His favorite was “Baby, I need your Loving” by Johnny Rivers. Sometimes he would even sing along. At fifteen, I thought it was terribly romantic.

A little rural church held a monthly youth outreach called “Teen Club” and Lester, his cousin, my best friend and I were regular attendees. The youth pastor and his wife were achingly young, fresh out of Bible College and tried their best to connect with us, but we listened in boredom to their sermons and quickly found an excuse to escape from the church basement, board games and lemonade into the night where we could horse around under the streetlight in front of the church. We were rowdy, disinterested, and I suspect, discouraging for the young ministers.

Lester and I did not remain an item for long. We dated on and off during my freshman year, but ran in different circles for the rest of my high school time. Over the years I lost track of these people who were once so important in my life, but recently reconnected with my girlfriend from those Teen Club days. She and I both have a committed relationship now with Jesus Christ, so perhaps some of those seeds were not sown in vain. I don’t know what happened to the boys.

I heard from her last week and she sent me a copy of Lester’s obituary. The article said that he passed away, surrounded by family, in his sleep. It sounds like a long illness, perhaps cancer; the paper didn’t give any details. But it made me remember him, and those days back when I was fifteen.

Ministry has brought me in contact with many teens who remind me of my fifteen year old self. Those youth who come to events with ulterior motives, whose interest is focused on some guy or girl and who have perfected the high art of flirting are found in every church. And I think of that dedicated missionary couple, faithfully sharing the gospel with their unruly, uncaring audience.

I write this as an encouragement to those discouraged, frustrated youth workers. Keep sowing the seed; be faithful. I don’t know if Lester or his cousin ever accepted Jesus, but two of those boisterous teens did, and one grew up to be a pastor. Your job is to faithfully sow the seed; the Holy Spirit’s job is to make the seed grow. Keep sowing because you don’t know which of those seeds will sprout. You are making a difference, even if you cannot see immediate results.

Rest in peace, Lester. I hope some of those faithfully planted seeds helped you find Jesus.

Catching a whiff of memories

Isn’t it funny how scents can trigger memories?  A summer breeze wafting past my neighbor’s cow barn transports me back to happy childhood summer afternoons playing in my Grandmother’s cow shed.  The smell of fresh tar immediately transports me back to the days my Dad sealed the outside of the basement walls of the house he built when I was four.   And if you open a box of crayons around me, my brain takes me back to the hallways of Flora List Elementary School.  

Today I walked through a classroom here at the church and something I smelled took me back to my Aunt Patty’s farmhouse kitchen!  I spent a week at her house when I was six years old and she made blueberry pancakes for breakfast.  I was startled when that whiff of something in the classroom instantly “took” me there and my mouth began watering, remembering her cooking.  

The sense of smell is an interesting thing that is directly linked to our taste buds.  Hold your nose and you won’t notice the taste of something that has an unpleasant flavor.  Yet, constant exposure to an odor will dull one’s sensitivity to it.  I have talked to people who live in towns with paper mills or oil refineries.  After a while, they don’t even notice the odor.

Just as people who smoke cigarettes don’t notice the odor of nicotine clinging to their clothing, or a pretty perfume seems to lose its scent to the person wearing it, we can easily become immune to the common smells that surround us day to day.  In the Bible days, a shepherd spent his life so close to his sheep that he would begin to smell like them.  I’m sure the shepherd didn’t notice the sheep-smell, but everyone else probably did.  

As Believers in Jesus Christ, we are called to spend so much time with our Lord that we begin to smell like Him.  We may not even notice it, but those who don’t know Him will.  My prayer is that we leave a fragrant scent of Christ’s love where ever we go, so that when people “catch a whiff” it will trigger a pleasant memory and make them hungry for more of Jesus, much as I am now hungry for my Aunt Patty’s home-made blue berry pancakes!

Easter has always been a BIG DEAL for me.  When I was little, and too young to understand the real significance of the day, Easter  meant getting a new outfit and a break from the everyday routine.  There was the traditional hunt for colored eggs, a breakfast of chocolate and jelly beans, going to church, followed by lunch at my Grandmother’s.  The whole family would gather at her rambling country farm house, enjoy a luncheon spread of ham, potato salad, baked beans and pie, then spend the rest of the day flying kites in the pasture.

As a child I never thought about all of the behind the scenes work that Grandma did getting ready  for  Easter.  The house was always clean, the sideboard  loaded with a variety of freshly baked pies, and a big meal of delicious food  made from scratch.  She must have worked long hours in preparation.

I have hosted a number of Easter family gatherings and can certainly appreciate Grandma’s efforts. While my pies may not have been made from scratch as Grandma’s were, I always made sure the house was clean and tried to prepare enough food for whatever size crowd I was expecting.  There was always an air of anticipation and growing excitement as the day drew closer, looking forward to the seeing the people who would be coming.

This year I will not be hosting a gathering with my biological family for the holiday but will be celebrating Easter with my brothers and sisters in Christ.  And, as Grandma or anyone who hosts a family gathering would agree, the days leading up to Easter are filled with activity.  Across the world, there is a flurry of activity as churches are being prepared for the celebration.  Woodwork is polished and dusted, floors buffed, paint retouched, weeds pulled, flowers planted and weeds pulled.  And, like any party held in one’s home, there is a growing anticipation and looking forward to the church family and guests who will be coming to the celebration.

Have a wonderful Easter.  Color and hide those eggs.  Nibble the ears off the chocolate bunnies for breakfast and feast with your family.  Celebrate all of the Easter traditions but never lose sight of the true significance of the day. Resurrection Day, or Easter, is about more than chocolate and candy, family parties, or new clothes.  It is the fulfillment of God’s promise to deliver mankind from the bondage of sin. Jesus’ resurrection, which we celebrate on Easter Sunday, is a forerunner of our own future resurrection.  1 Corinthians 15:20 says that Jesus is the first-fruit of those who have fallen asleep.  As He was resurrected, so can all who belong to Him look forward to our own resurrection someday.

In the days leading to Easter, many of us are  cleaning out the cobwebs and dust and polishing our homes and churches to receive guests for this celebration.  This is also an excellent time to do some spiritual housecleaning and receive Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior if you have never done so.  Romans 10:9 says “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.”    Without the cross and resurrection, Christmas would be a broken promise, but God has prepared a way for sinful man to be reconciled to Him through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Stop living your life by your own rules and embrace the richer, bigger, better life that Jesus paid for with His death.

Easter Preparations

Reflections

My snow-birding adventure in Florida is rapidly coming to a close. Winter is over. Tomorrow morning we will embark on a new chapter, as we walk through a door that the Lord has opened and follow His divine direction for our lives. It seems like a perfect time to review and reflect upon the past three months.

I am so grateful for my husband; he is my hero. He has sacrificed so much for my health and comfort; most recently in his decision to file for an early retirement and spend the winter in Florida, working via up-link from our tiny RV. He will not officially retire until the end of April and certainly would have been more comfortable spending his last months on the job in his office in Michigan! Adjusting to life in the RV has been a challenge mostly due to the confined space (and in sharing that space with the cats!). We call our Maine Coon “the House Monkey” because he insists on finding high spaces to inhabit and doesn‘t mind climbing over anything to reach them, including important papers. He has added many a wrinkle to my husband’s attempts to stay organized.

A job lead brought us to Florida’s western panhandle, but my first month in Florida was spent in physical recovery. I battled influenza, a urinary tract infection, and wrapped up January with a viral upper respiratory infection. Other than trips to the Santa Rosa Medical Clinic, my days were mostly spent in bed, listening to sermons or watching DVD’s on my laptop. The job lead fizzled, but I was too ill to care.

This snow-bird experience was not what I had imagined. While in Michigan, I envisioned a winter of summer-like days spent by the water with a book. The weather in January and February was too chilly for extended outdoor activities, I was easily bored, and missed interaction with people. Everyone stays inside when the weather is cold and wet, and only venture out to quickly walk the dog or do laundry.

By February I was feeling better and had my fill of campground life. I asked the Lord to open a door for me, and He led me to the Santa Rosa Pregnancy Resource Center where I became a “full-time/short-term volunteer.” It takes many willing hands to make a ministry function and this filled my days with a variety of activities, from addressing banquet invitations, answering phones, meeting with clients, sorting baby clothes, general housekeeping, and assembling baby equipment. I got to know wonderful godly women, help the ministry run smoothly, and be a blessing to others. The reality is, they were even a bigger blessing to me! I enjoyed every moment spent at the PRC. In this short time I have made friends that I hate to leave.

As I reflect on the past three months, I can say that God is faithful. He protected us from the many storms, answered a multitude of specific prayers, and showered us with innumerable blessings. Jesus came that we might have life to the fullest, and walking with Him is never dull!

Are you bored, frustrated, or lonely and wondering just how and where God will ever use you? Abundant life is waiting for you. I urge you to start investing yourself in others. There are many opportunities for service in your community; not all ministry happens in a church! Ask the Lord to lead you and direct you to where He has already prepared a place for you. You will be blessed beyond your wildest dream as you become a blessing to others. Listen for his voice and be willing to follow whatever He directs you to do. Life’s great adventure is waiting for you just outside your door!