Archive | December 2013

Another Year-End Conversation with Abbey

Abbey-Marian

Abbey had been sitting on the floor next to the patio door, staring out at the pond for a long time. It was snowing again. Big flakes were drifting down, adding to the eight inches already on the ground. I wondered if she was as tired of the snow as I was.

Marian-Abbey faces bronzeI called to her, “Hey, Abbey. A penny for your thoughts.”

“Oh, hi, Mom. My thoughts are pretty deep today, just like the snow.” She smiled with that comment. “It’s New Year’s Eve today, and I’ve been thinking back over all that’s happened over the past year.”

“That’s a lot to think about, Abbey.”

“It sure is, Mom. It’s been quite a year for all of us. Have you been thinking about everything that’s happened, too?”

“I sure have. A year ago, as I anticipated what both the highlights and the challenges of 2013 might be, I thought a lot about getting my first two books published, but I had no idea that I’d get married!”

“Yeah. That was quite a surprise!” Abbey continued, “State and national politics really do affect us on a personal level. Just think, Mom, you and Mim lived together 40 years before you could get legally married. I bet you’re really thankful that you’re finally married.”

“That’s for sure!  But you know what, Abbey? You’re very right about how much politics on the national and state level really affect our personal lives – even beyond the gay marriage issue. I think almost everyone in our country – at least most of the people I know, including most of the people in my family, have very strong opinions on almost every issue that’s in the news. That includes religious, social, environmental, economic, health care, and education issues – you name the topic, and everyone holds a different opinion. What’s so sad is that the local, state, and national news coverage of these issues seems to encourage polarization rather than understanding. Very few people are interested in trying to understand why someone thinks differently than they think.”

Cousin Piper

Cousin Piper

“You have a point, Mom. Piper is so Republican, it’s no longer fun to play with her. Just because she gets all the treats she wants, and she’s in perfectly good health, she thinks it’s okay to be oblivious to the needs of all the other dogs in the world who don’t have a home and loving family.”

“But, Abbey. That’s my point. You and Cousin Piper used to have fun playing together. You should try to understand why Piper feels the way she does. You don’t have to agree with her, but you should at least try to understand how she feels. And, even if you don’t agree with her, you can still love her and play with her.”

“I suppose, Mom. But she’s so arrogant – thinking she’s so right and I’m so wrong.”

“Well, how about you? Don’t you think you are right and she is wrong about everything?”

“Well, yes. But that’s different. I really am right!”

“I think you need to try a little harder to really understand why Piper thinks like she does – and why you think differently. Some of the highlights of 2013 for me are conversations I have had with some of my nieces and nephews. I hate to say it, but most of them are Republican, too. But we have had some really good conversations – both face-to-face and by email – about why we each believe some of the things we feel very strongly about. It amazes me that we all share the same cultural and religious backgrounds, yet we hold such different opinions on every issue that’s in the news. But it’s good to talk about our shared values and differing opinions. The more we talk, the better we understand each other, even if we all “stick to our guns” on every issue. The more we understand each other, the more we can respect each other’s opinions. And, most important, the more we can love each other, and not be distracted by our differences.”

“Wow, Mom. You really feel strongly about trying to understand each other, even when you know you’ll never agree.”

“Yes, I do, Abbey. But most important, we need to keep loving each other. I hope you and Piper can get back to playing together, and still be friends. The Bible says that love is the greatest gift. The most important thing for us to do in our lives is to love God and to love each other.”

“You’re right, Mom.”

“But Abbey, I’ve been doing most of the talking. Tell me about your deep thoughts – the one’s I’m paying you a penny for.”

Tucker - our next door neighbor

Tucker – our next door neighbor

“Well, my thoughts are kind of related to your thoughts. Over the past year, I’ve gained quite an important new insight. You know how I sometimes bark aggressively at other dogs. I’m just trying to let them know that I’m the boss around here. They need to know that. That’s all. I’m not mad at them. Well, Tucker, the dog who moved in next door last summer, he barks a lot and sounds pretty aggressive. Whenever I go out the front door, if he’s already out in the yard, he barks ferociously at me. I don’t want to fight him, so I just ignore him. But that made me realize – I really don’t like being barked at. And that made me think – I bet all the dogs I bark at don’t like being barked at either. I never thought about that before. Seeing a barking dog from the perspective of the dog being barked at, gave me new insights. I think I might try to be a little more soft-spoken to the other dogs in the neighborhood. That’s my biggest new insight of 2013, and my resolution for 2014.”

“That’s good, Abbey. 2013 has been a very good year for both of us. Now onward to 2014.”

Happy New Year!

Mim, Marian and Abbey wish you a Happy New Year!

Mim, Marian and Abbey wish you a Happy New Year!

Top 10 Christmas Carols and my new favorite

1965 Singing Christmas Tree

1965 – The first Singing Christmas Tree in the Methodist Church in Cambridge. That’s me – the short one with glasses in the middle of the front row.

What are your favorites – your top 10 Christmas carols?

I made a list of mine. It was hard to stop at ten, but I did it. Then I went on the Internet to see if I could find a list of the most popular Christmas carols. Chris Wilson compiled a list of favorites for the TIME NewsFeed. His basis for identifying the favorites was the number of times the carol has been commercially recorded since 1978. (The article was dated December 18, 2013.) Here’s the list, along with the number of times the carol has been recorded:

  1. Silent Night (733)
  2. Joy to the World (391)
  3. O Holy Night (374)
  4. What Child Is This? (329)
  5. Away in a Manger (300)
  6. O Come, All Ye Faithful (296)
  7. Ave Maria (270)
  8. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (236)
  9. The First Noel (234)
  10. Angels We Have Heard on High (220)
Aunt Edith at the piano.

Aunt Edith at the piano.

The list is very similar to my own list – only a few differences. I included “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” and “There’s a Song in the Air.” (This last one is on my list because I can still hear my late Aunt Edith singing it. I’ve always loved that song, especially the way she sang it with her beautiful, clear, high soprano voice.)

Last week, at the women’s worship service in the county jail, we had a Christmas Carol sing. The chaplain provided a fairly extensive song sheet, and invited the inmates to choose the songs to sing. The first carol requested was “Silent Night.” The chaplain said we would save that for the last song to sing at the end of the service. The next song requested was “Joy to the World.” Then, “O Holy Night.” We sang most of the songs on the “Top 10” list, plus several others. It was so much fun to sing all those old Christmas carols together!

Mim directing the family Christmas program on Christmas Eve.

Mim directing the family Christmas program on Christmas Eve.

What’s so special about singing Christmas carols? I think many of us have a shared childhood experience of singing these songs with friends and family, at home, school and church. We also associate these songs with all the excitement of Christmas, including school programs and church pageants. Many of the songs have words that tell the story of the birth of Jesus. Some of the images are quite vivid – like

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head;
the stars in the sky looked down where He lay,
the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.

Other songs are just fun to sing – like the “Glo—–ri-a” in “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

One of my new favorite Christmas Carols is “Before the Marvel of This Night.” The image is so fresh and exciting. The setting of the song is the angels in heaven getting ready to go to earth to sing to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. They are as excited as can be about what they are getting ready to do. Here are the words:

Before the Marvel of this night,
adoring, fold your wings and bow,
then tear the sky apart with light
and with your news the world endow.
Proclaim the birth of Christ and peace,
that fear and death and sorrow cease:
Sing peace, sing peace, sing gift of peace,
sing peace, sing gift of peace!

Awake the sleeping world with song,
this is the day the Lord has made.
assemble here, celestial throng,
in royal splendor come arrayed.
Give earth a glimpse of heav’nly bliss,
a teasing taste of what they miss:
sing bliss, sing bliss, sing endless bliss,
sing bliss, sing endless bliss!

The love that we have always known,
our constant joy and endless light,
now to the loveless world be shown,
now break upon its deathly night.
Into one song compress the love
that rules our universe above:
sing love, sing love, sing God is love,
sing love, sing God is love!

© 1981 Jaroslav J. Vajda

It’s Christmas Eve today. Can’t you just imagine what it was like for the angels getting ready to announce Jesus’ birth to the shepherds? Don’t you wish you were there? Over the centuries since then, composers have written plenty of angel carols that describe the angels brightening the sky and singing “Glo——ri-a” but this is the first carol I’ve heard that captures the excitement the angels felt.

Hope you feel some of that excitement today as you sing or listen to your favorite Christmas carols.

Merry Christmas!

"Awake the sleeping world with song"

“Awake the sleeping world with song”

Success! I finally memorized it!

child playing piano 2“Jesus loves me, this I know … “That’s the first song I memorized as a child. That’s a song little children still memorize today. Sometimes when I’m practicing the piano or organ at church, a little child will timidly walk up to me to watch me play. I’ll stop what I’m playing and invite the child to play a key or a pedal so they can find out what it feels like and sounds like to play a note or two. Then I’ll play “Jesus loves me.” Without exception, the child will smile. Sometimes they sing along. I think it’s a universal truth that it’s both comforting and fun to respond to something we’ve memorized.

“God bless our food. Amen.” That’s the first table prayer I memorized. I repeated it before every meal until I went to kindergarten and learned “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let this food to us be blessed. Amen.” For the past 60 years, I’ve repeated this prayer before meals.

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands …” I remember memorizing “The Pledge of Allegiance” in first grade.

Village Blacksmith“Under the spreading chestnut tree the village smithy stands …” I think I was in fifth grade when I had to memorize this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  I was surprised to hear my mom recite the whole poem when I was trying to memorize just a couple verses. She’d memorized it in grade school, too.  She also had memorized “October’s Bright Blue Weather” by Helen Hunt Jackson and just about every other poem I was assigned to memorize in school. She remembered them all.

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 KJV) That was one of the first Bible verses I memorized in Sunday School. Apparently a lot of people memorized that verse, because nowadays you even see it posted on billboards.

Throughout my grade school and high school years my mom had my brother and me memorize one Bible verse a week. She wrote a verse on top of a chart. The days of the week were listed below the verse, across the top of a grid. All the chores Danny and I were supposed to do every day were listed down the left side of the grid. The top half of the grid was Danny’s. The bottom half was mine. Every time we completed a job (like make bed, wash dishes, etc.) we were supposed to read the verse on the top of the chart, and then write its reference in the grid. By the end of the week, the grid was filled and we had memorized the Bible verse. If we could still recite each verse by the end of the month, we would get a prize. As I recall, we had a 100 percent success rate. The first verse we memorized this way was Ephesian 4:32, “Be ye kind, one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (I think my mom’s real motive for having us memorize this verse was to help us remember to be nice to each other and not to always be squabbling.)

Memorization. Is that a thing of the past? Do we still memorize anything?

I thought about that quite a bit last week. I really wanted to memorize a short reading by Joan Chittister that I’d come across in my daily devotional reading. It was really hard for me to memorize two simple sentences, much harder than it seemed to be in my youth. I finally memorized the 20 words, but I’m making myself repeat those two simple sentences several times a day, until I’m sure I won’t forget the quote.

What are those 20 words that I’m struggling so hard to memorize? Here’s the quote:

We are not born simply for the sake of personal survival. We are here to make life better for everyone.

That was the daily reading in “The Monastic Way” for last Thursday, December 12. That was also the day that some of the women inmates at the worship service of the Dane County Jail were talking about how much the other women in their cell block were helping them learn how to live better lives. That kindness was giving them hope for a better future. It was a perfect illustration of the principle Joan Chittister was stating – that I’ve finally memorized. “We are not born simply for the sake of personal survival. We are here to make life better for everyone.”

helping hands 12-17-13

I Look Forward to “Church” in Jail

Advent Wreath w HOPE text

Last week I participated in one of the most inspiring worship services ever at the County Jail. As usual, I was there to play the piano, and the chaplain and inmates welcomed me into their circle of sharing. Last Thursday afternoon there were 13 women inmates plus Chaplain Julia and myself sitting on wooden chairs arranged in a circle inside the chapel of the jail.

We began our worship by singing a new Advent hymn, “View the Present through the Promise.” (Same tune as “Go, My Children, with My Blessing.”) Then we went around the circle, each of us reading a verse or two from a reading in Isaiah and a reading in Luke. After the Scripture readings, the chaplain invited us to share what, if any, hope and peace we were feeling – hope and peace being the themes for the first two weeks of Advent.

This is a “congregation” that really cares about each other, and it shows. One woman said, “We were just talking about hope and peace in our cell block this morning. We were talking about the nine gifts of the Spirit. I am so thankful I am in a cell block with all these wonderful women. We all get along, and we really care about each other. I am learning so much that will help me live a better life when I get out of jail. Because of this time in jail with these caring women, I have hope, and that gives me peace.”

Another woman said she was glad to be among such loving people, and that today was her 39th birthday. I stepped back to the piano and we all sang “Happy Birthday” to her. One of the inmates, an older woman (the one who knew the “nine gifts of the Spirit”) led us in singing a second verse, “May God bless you …”

Later in the worship service, when we were praying for each other – each of us praying for the person sitting on our right – the “birthday girl” prayed for the person next to her saying, “Catherine is one of the kindest women I’ve met. God, please bless her. I am so proud of her and so thankful that I know her. She is so caring, and and is so good to all of us. As proud as I am of her for being such a kind, loving person, God, I can’t imagine how proud of her You must be. Amen.” Spontaneously, all the inmates in the circle repeated an enthusiastic “Amen.”

I am always inspired when I see the love of Christ reflected in the lives of these incarcerated women. When the service was over and Mim picked me up in front of the jail, I told her “It feels like I’m back at Whispering Winds hosting retreats, and that a group of nuns just invited me to join them for their retreat time.”

Even though it was a cold day, my heart was nice and warm from all the love I felt inside the jail chapel. Hope and peace can definitely be found within these walls. “Surely, the presence of the Lord is in this place.”

Advent Candles - 2 lit - PEACE

A Christmas Letter from Abbey

Abbey-Marian

This morning as I was sitting at my desk Abbey came over to me and sat down. “Mom,” she said. “I have a favor to ask.”

“What’s that?” I responded.

“Will you help me write a Christmas letter to send to all my friends? I don’t have fingers like you have, and it’s really hard for me to type.”

“I guess I can help you, Abbey, but why do you want to write a Christmas letter?”

Edith and Abbey sharing a special moment together on the couch.

Edith and Abbey sharing a special moment together on the couch a few years ago.

“I want to keep in touch with my friends. I have some really good friends that I don’t see very often any more, and I want to let them know I still think about them, that I miss them, and that I’m thankful that they have been part of my life. You know, sometimes we see people all the time, and we become really close. And then, something changes, and we don’t see them very much any more. Remember when Edith used to live with us? Margaret and Don and Holly, Cammi and Lizzy came to see us a lot during those four years. When Mary lived with us, we saw a lot of Laura and Steve and some other wonderful relatives. I really want to keep in touch with all these friends and many more. Sending them a Christmas letter is a good way to do it – that is if you will help me.”

Abbey Snowman and Tree 2“Okay, Abbey. I’ll help you. How should we do this?”

“I’ll dictate, and you type. You can be my secretary, Mom.”

“Okay. Dictate away…”

Dear Friends,

It’s here! Time to get ready for Christmas! On Thanksgiving I spent the morning going through my mom’s address book, thinking about each one of my friends, and thanking God for bringing each dog, person, and even cat friend into my life. On Friday, I jumped into the Christmas Spirit along with everyone else.I didn’t go out shopping, but I studied my favorite catalogs over and over again – the World Vision and Heifer International catalogs. I’d love to pick out ducks and chicks and rabbits and goats and even cows to give to people who need them, and buy these gifts in the names of each of my friends. But unfortunately, I’m mostly dreaming about it. My allowance doesn’t add up fast enough to be as generous as I’d like.

Christmas music is filling the house, and I love it. When my moms aren’t singing and playing the piano, the seasonal music channel on TV is on to be sure we don’t forget that Christmas is coming. Our Christmas tree isn’t up yet, but I heard my moms talking about when to decorate. AND they also talked about baking cookies! I can hardly wait for those smells to begin!

Abbey Profile 2As I look back over last year to bring you all up to date on my life, I think my biggest news is that my moms got married. That may not seem like a big deal to most of you, but to me, and to them, it’s important. Some of the other dogs in the neighborhood make fun of me for not having a real family. I know that’s not true. My family is just as real as their family, and it always has been. Now I can prove it. I can show my moms’ marriage certificate to the other dogs. I know it’s all about love, but it’s nice to have proof that our family is just as legal as theirs.

The other big news is that I am finally starting to look like an older dog. My hair is graying, and getting thinner, and I stumble sometimes when I walk. If I had only two legs, like some of you, I’d probably use a cane, but with four legs I do pretty well. Whenever I lay down, I move slowly so I don’t jar my hips too much. It hurts to get old, no matter what your species. But the good part of aging is making good use of all the wisdom I’ve learned from my life experiences. I try to act humbly, but I know I’m the wisest dog in the neighborhood.

Some of my wisdom comes from music, and thinking about the words of some beautiful songs. My mom got another new hymnal this year, and I discovered this song in it. I just love the images. It’s such a comforting song. That’s why I want to share it with you. It’s my Christmas present to you (along with perhaps a couple ducks given in your name to World Vision.) Merry Christmas!

IF I FLY AS BIRDS AT DAWNING

If I fly as birds at dawning, travel to the farthest sea,
You are there, my God, my Refuge, there to hold me lovingly.
In my time of desolation help me feel Your presence near.
Send a light amid the darkness, bringing hope to calm my fear.

In my mother’s womb You formed me, piece by piece with tender care.
Secretly You placed within me words of life for me to share.
God, Your thoughts for me are boundless, more than I can ever know.
They will comfort me forever. What a debt to You I owe!

Keep me faithful, full of wonder, as my days on earth unroll.
Walk beside me, and protect me from those who would wound my soul.
Search me, test my inmost being, Root out all my selfish ways.
Lead me on to life eternal. I will praise you all my days.

Words by Edith Sinclair Downing. ©2009 Wayne Leupold Editions, Inc.

Merry Christmas and Lots of Love and Joy!

Abbey

P.S.  On a somewhat lighter note, one of my God-given responsibilities as a canine is to be a guardian of comfort and joy. With that in mind, I also want to share another hymn. This is from my own hymnal, HOLIDAY HOUNDS by Laurie Loughlin, © 1996.

Thanks, Mom!

Thanks, Mom!

DOG, REST YE MERRY, GENTLE ONE

Dog, rest ye merry, gentle one,
And when you wake, we’ll play.
Then you can jump on all the guests
Who come for Christmas Day,
And save us all from feeling sad
If our thoughts go astray,
Oooh, guardian of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy,
Oooh, guardian of comfort and joy.

(Tune: “ God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”)