Tag Archive | joy

A New Year… A New Word!

2018 is the fifth year that I’ve chosen a special word to be my focus for the new year. Unlike making up new year’s resolutions, choosing a special word can be an inspiration for the whole year, not something to measure yourself against until you fail, and then forget about. At least that’s how it’s been for me.

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Last year my special word was HOPE. I chose that word because I was worried about the future. The 2016 elections were so negative. How would our politicians ever be able to work together again for the good of the country? National and even local politics are not usually such a strong influence in my personal, everyday life, but last year was different. I was really scared about many things happening in our country. I needed to have HOPE that things could get better.

One of the first things I did to try to better understand what was going on nationally, was to read Hillary Clinton’s book, What Happened. It was a fascinating book, and much to my surprise, it was the first thing to begin to restore HOPE for me. To view her perspective on what some of the opportunities are for making the world a better place for everyone to live in – all countries, all races, all religions, all socio-economic groups – was inspiring. Even though she lost the election, she didn’t give up HOPE. She realized that she needed to refocus, to figure out how else she could bring about some of the improvements our world needs. And she kept her HOPE that improvements could happen, even with the political situation as it was. Definitely an inspiring book!

2017 ended for me with another great book on HOPE, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, by Joan Chittister. This book is actually more about struggle than HOPE, because struggle is where HOPE is born. There’s a lot to think about in this book, and I’m sure I’ll read the book more than once.

I actually considered holding onto the word HOPE as my special word for another year so that I could study in greater depth the relationship between struggle and HOPE in my own life personally, as well as in the political, economic, and moral struggles our society is engaged in these days. But, then I remembered that every word I’ve had as my special word for a year stays in my mind with heightened awareness – I think forever! I still look for JOY in every day (my 2014 word). My 2015 word of GRATITUDE comes to mind every night when I go to bed and think of what things I’m especially grateful for that day. My 2016 word of KINDNESS has me thinking every morning about what opportunities I may have that day to be especially kind to someone. There’s every reason to believe that I’ll continue to think about the relationships between the struggles I’m facing and how they will strengthen the HOPE I want to see grow. I’ve decided to choose a new word for 2018. I may come back to HOPE, or any of my other special words some year, but not yet.

A special word that’s been creeping into my thoughts that last few weeks is PEACE. Not so much “peace” in the Middle East, or with North Korea, or Russia, (although that would be great), but “PEACE” – the word that I used as a closing on my Christmas Cards. The PEACE that is the calmness that I feel when I sense that God really is in control of everything. The PEACE that St. Paul wrote about to the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:4-7 NRSV]

I guess these verses really encompass all the special words I’ve been focusing on over these 5 years. Maybe I need to spend some time thinking about my “special word vocabulary” as it continues to grow.

May God’s PEACE be with you. Happy New Year!

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Winter sunset at Christmas Mountain

When Floey Scolded Me…

Floey - thoughtful faceI was sitting at my desk, clicking away on my computer. Floey came trotting up to me and sat down. “Hey, what are you doing, Mom?” she asked.

“Oh, hi, Floey. I just bought two new kindle books on Amazon.”

“You what???? You just organized 2,000 books on your bookcases throughout the house, and you just bought two more books?”

“Well, I bought digital books, Floey, so they won’t take up any physical space.”

“But, don’t you have enough to read already? I can’t believe you bought two more books. Does Mim know?”

“No. I haven’t told her yet. But let me tell you the titles of the two books I bought, and explain why I bought them.”

“Yeah. I think you had better explain.”

“Floey, do you remember what my special word is for this year?”

“Hmmm. I remember my word. It’s MEOW. I want to learn how to communicate better with the cats in the neighborhood this year. That’s why I chose MEOW for my special word. But I’m not doing very well with it. The cats seem to have gone into hiding. I don’t even see them any more to try to communicate with them. Hmmm. But I don’t remember your special word. What is it?”

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Learning to communicate (Internet image)

“Well, Floey. That’s the problem. I didn’t remember it either. It’s supposed to be the word I’m concentrating on all year, and I simply forgot it. I remember my special word for 2015. That was GRATITUDE. I couldn’t forget that word because every single night before going to sleep I thought about everything that I was grateful for that day. Gratitude was always on my mind. And the year before, 2014, the first year I chose a special word, my word was JOY. That word was also on my mind all year as I kept on the lookout for moments of joy everywhere. But I actually forgot this year’s word! I couldn’t believe it. I had to look back on my blog to the first of the year and re-read the post about our special words to find it.”

“Wow! That’s terrible, Mom. I can’t believe you forgot your special word!”

“I know. Fortunately, I had my blog to go back to so I could find it. My word for this year is KINDNESS. Now why do you think I forgot that word?”

“I don’t know, Mom. It sounds like a good, inspiring word to me.”

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“Well I’ve been thinking about this for a couple weeks – when I happened to think about our special words and realized I couldn’t remember my word. I think part of the reason I forgot it is that I never set up any ritual around the word that would prompt me to think about it this year, like I did with GRATITUDE as my word last year. So I decided maybe I should try to find a book about KINDNESS that would trigger my mind to start thinking about it.

Floeys Face 2Now that I’ve sorted through all 2,000 books that Mim and I own, I tried to remember if any of them were specifically about KINDNESS. You know, I couldn’t think of even one book that had KINDNESS as the major theme.”

“Really? That’s hard to believe, Mom. Are you sure?”

“I’m sure some of the books address kindness in passing, but none of our books have kindness as the main theme.”

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Our built-in bookcase holds less than half our books.

Floey just shook her head slowly from side to side. “So is that why you went to Amazon?” she asked.

“Yes, Floey. I went to amazon.com and searched for books on kindness.”

“I bet hundreds of books popped up. Right?”

“Well there were a lot. The list started with lots of children’s books, but then it moved on to adult books.”

“How did you pick out the two books you chose?”

“Well first, I checked to see if any of my favorite authors had written any books about kindness. I thought maybe Debbie Macomber or Philip Yancey or Max Lucado might have written books on the subject, but no luck – at least no books that I could find. Then I started reading the book descriptions and reader reviews of the books on Amazon.” One of the books with the best reviews was THE POWER OF KINDNESS: THE UNEXPECTED BENEFITS OF LEADING A COMPASSIONATE LIFE by Piero Ferrucci. The author is an Italian psychotherapist. The Dalai Lama wrote the preface to the book, which I considered quite an endorsement. The Publishers Weekly review of the book said,

41XJHAHAgmL[Ferrucci] writes in a soothing, humane manner… Laced with stories from religion and philosophy, anecdotes from patients and personal experience, the book explores how Ferrucci’s ideas can be applied to everyday life. In “Forgiveness,” he describes how a Holocaust survivor was able to forgive those who murdered his family and explains that forgiveness is the only remedy for unspeakable suffering. In the section on service, he suggests small ways one can benefit the lives of others, such as telling a joke to lift a friend’s spirits or offering to make dinner for someone who needs time to rest. Ferrucci offers a fine reminder of how good, and how easy, it is to be kind.

“I don’t know about you, Floey, but I like to learn knew things – to explore new ideas – by listening to stories, not just theories and explanations. Real stories. Apparently, that’s how this book is written, which is one of the reasons I chose it.”

“Well, Mom. It sounds like this is the perfect book for you to read. So, why did you buy a second book?”

“Well, I have a secret, Floey. I don’t think I’ve ever told you this about myself. Here goes… I come from an Evangelical background. I grew up in a conservative little Methodist Church, and I even graduated from Wheaton College – the alma mater of Billy Graham. Graham was even my graduation speaker.”

“Wow, Mom! You mean you come from the Religious Right? Really?”

“Well, yes, Floey. That’s where my roots are. And, even though many Evangelicals would refuse to claim me as one of their own because I don’t agree with some of their values, I still think that many Evangelicals really love God and are honestly trying to live the kind of life God intends for all of us to live. For that reason, I keep reading some Evangelical authors. I can learn from them – even though sometimes I’m horrified by what I read. Usually that’s not the case. Usually they have thoughtful insights to share.”

“I get it. Your second book is by an Evangelical, right?”

“You’re right, Floey. The second book is LOVE KINDNESS: DISCOVER THE POWER OF A FORGOTTEN CHRISTIAN VIRTUE by Barry H. Corey. Here’s a paragraph from the description of the book on Amazon:

510aS5svVvLDr. Barry Corey, president of Biola University, believes we tend to devalue the importance of kindness, opting instead for caustic expressions of certainty that push people away. We forget that the essence of what God requires of us is to “love kindness.” In this book, filled with stories from his travels around the globe, Barry shows us the forgotten way of kindness. It is a life that calls us to put ourselves at risk. A life that calls us to hope. A life of a firm center and soft edges. It is the life Christ invites us to follow, no matter what the cost.

“I can hardly wait to start reading these two books, Floey.”

“Well, I bet you won’t forget this year’s special word again.”

“Since you’re having a hard time with MEOW as your special word, do you want to adopt mine, Floey, and we’ll go on this journey into KINDNESS together?”

“Hey, that’s a great idea, Mom. Why don’t you start reading the first book to me this afternoon.  I don’t think I’m ready to hear from the Evangelicals yet.”

“Oh, Floey. We’ll work on opening up your mind to finding goodness (and kindness!) everywhere. Trust me…”

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The Joy of Being a Piece of the Puzzle

iStock_000017949838XSmallI’m drafting this blog post on Thursday morning. I plan to post it on Tuesday, my usual day for posting to WhisperingWindsBlog.com. I’m writing this post so early because I plan to spend a few days at our Christmas Mountain timeshare, and I want to spend my time reading, walking, and putting together a picture puzzle, not writing. I want to simply relax.

For that past 14 years that Mim and I have been doing assisted living in our home, most of our vacations have been taken separately, so that one of us is almost always at home to be able to care for our residents. We’ve learned that the most enjoyable way for us to take separate vacations is to go to a nearby timeshare, splitting the week between us. This time, I’ll go to Christmas Mountain Sunday afternoon. Mim will meet me for lunch on Wednesday and then I’ll go home, and she’ll stay at Christmas Mountain till Saturday morning.

Putting together a picture puzzle is something that relaxes me, and I often do one at Christmas Mountain. As a child, putting together a puzzle was an activity I often did with my grandma. She always had a card table set up in her living room with a puzzle in progress. We spent many hours together enjoying each other’s company as we worked on this shared task.

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Grandma and me in her living room, playing with her cat. I don’t have a picture of us working on a puzzle.

As I was thinking about which picture puzzle to take with me to Christmas Mountain this time, my mind wandered to an email I received a couple weeks ago from Tracy, a friend from church. Although she didn’t use these exact words, she marveled at how we are all pieces of a big puzzle that God is putting together. We may not know exactly how we fit into the big picture, but God does. Let me provide the background of our email correspondence.

For the past several years, our church (Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison, WI) has published a booklet of Lent Devotionals – 47 one-page reflections, each written by a member of Messiah. Catherine Puisto, Coordinator of Children’s and Family Ministry, has led this annual project, and has done an amazing job with it. Middle schoolers, teenagers, and adults all contribute their writings. Mim and I look forward to getting the booklet each year, and we usually pick up a few extra copies to share with some of our friends.

IMG_0929The devotional for Maundy Thursday, March 24, was written by Tracy Frank. The verse she was assigned to reflect on was Mark 14:34. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’”

I’ve read the story many times about Jesus going into the garden to pray just before his arrest and crucifixion, and how he asked his disciples to stay awake with him during this agonizing time of trial, and how they fell asleep. But, I’d never thought about the event quite the way Tracy wrote about it. Here’s part of her reflection:

Who is grieving? Are we awake?

In the story of the life of our Savior, Jesus agonizes over His coming death with deep grief and sorrow. He calls on his friends to stay with him and keep awake for he knows what is coming. The disciples, not understanding the depth of his sorrow, fall asleep and cannot be trusted to be there for him. Can you and I be trusted to keep awake for Jesus?

Everyone around us has a story and many people have stories of deep, deep grief. I can’t imagine the grief held by a woman whose 12 year old son was shot dead by police while playing with a toy gun in a park, or the grief of parents running with their children from their home country because of war, or the grief of a mother whose newborn child has a disease with a diagnosis of only months of life. We live among this kind of pain yet sometimes we don’t respond to the calls of God to live fully awake. …

As Christians we are to trust that God can transfigure grief into joy and we are called to offer grace and compassion to those in pain. …

Maundy Thursday, the day I read this reflection, was a day I was scheduled to play the piano for the women’s worship service in the Dane County Jail. During the time of testimony when we go around the circle and share what’s on our mind loosely related to the Scripture we have just read, I shared Tracy’s reflection – that God has asked each of us to be on the watch for others who are grieving or struggling through difficult circumstances so that we can support them in their time of need.

One of the inmates seemed to be particularly teary that day, and everyone seemed very attuned to her, as well as to what I was saying. I later found out from the chaplain that the teary woman had just found out the day before that her brother had been killed, and she was in the depths of grieving that loss. The women sitting in our worship circle could easily identify with being asked by Jesus to sit together in support of this woman who was grieving.

The next day I emailed Tracy to tell her how her reflection had been used. She responded with, “Thank you for sharing Marian. Could have never guessed when I wrote it that it would be shared in this way. Thankful that God used the thoughts from my heart to connect to women at the Dane County Jail through your words and sharing. Humbled!”

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Pieces of God’s puzzle. That’s what came into my mind as I thought about picture puzzles today. We may not have a clue about how we fit into someone else’s life story, but God knows just how we all fit into the big picture.

Yes. I agree with Tracy. It’s very humbling. And sometimes a source of great joy. I’m glad to be a piece of the same puzzle as Tracy, and Catherine, and Chaplain Julia, and Mim, and my grandma, and you, and everyone else who has touched my life…

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Meow?

Floey smiling profileFloey came running up to my desk and stood beside me. “I’m ready, Mom. Let’s get started. I can hardly wait to start blogging about my special word for 2016.” Floey was wagging her tail so hard and fast I was afraid she might knock the landline phone off my desk.

“Okay, Floey. We can get started. First, tell me about how it worked for you to have the word PLAY for your special word throughout 2015.”

“Sure. PLAY was a good word for me for 2015. I didn’t really need to be reminded to play for myself. I’m not even two years old yet, not till January 24th. So, taking time to play comes natural to me. But, you know, most of my human friends are lots older than I am, and they forget to play. So my focus last year was to help everyone else remember to take time to play. It’s been good for all of us.”

“Oh, you are so right about that, Floey. What’s your new word for 2016?”

“I think you’ll be surprised at what I chose.”

“Whether I’m surprised, or not, doesn’t matter. It’s your word, the word that has come into your heart and mind as the truly special word you want to concentrate on this whole upcoming year.”

“Okay, Mom. Here goes. My word for 2016 is MEOW.”

“MEOW? Really? Why did you choose that word, Floey?”

“Well, Mom, as we walk through the neighborhood, we run into a few cats. I’d like to become friends with them, but I don’t know how to communicate with them very well. I try to sniff them in greeting, and they don’t seem to like it. One cat even growls and hisses at me. At best, I sometimes hear a questioning MEOW. I figure that I need to learn how to become friends with cats. Having MEOW as my word for 2016, I’ll be focused on learning how to communicate better with my feline neighbors. I know we can all become friends if we try. My cousin Sadie sent me a picture of her cuddling with Lola, your niece Emily’s cat. I want to become friends with cats, just like Sadie does.”

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Floey’s cousins Sadie and Lola

“I’m proud of you, Floey. Some dogs and people just decide to not like anyone who is different from themselves. I’m so glad you want to learn to be a friend to someone who is different from you.”

“Good. Glad you approve of my word, even though I don’t need your approval. How about your word, Mom?”

“Well, you remember that my special word for 2015 was GRATITUDE. I wrote about that word a few times last year on the blog. It was an excellent focus for me for the year. Even though 2015 had its ups and downs, there was always something to be grateful for. Having GRATITUDE as my word for 2015 has changed my life. I now have a new habit – thinking of things that I’m grateful for each night as I lie in bed waiting to fall asleep.”

Gratitude Rock

“That sounds like a good thing, Mom. Do you think you will keep on thinking those bedtime thoughts in 2016 when GRATITUDE isn’t your special word for the year.”

“I’m sure of it, Floey. In 2014, my special word was JOY. I was always on the lookout for seeing moments of JOY all around me, and I’m still on the lookout for joyful moments. It’s a habit that’s stuck. I’m sure my new GRATITUDE habit will stick, too.”

“So what’s your new word going to be, Mom?”

“I’ve decided on KINDNESS. This year is going to be a year with an abundance of hate spewed out of lots of mouths. It’s a presidential election year – where it seems to be acceptable to be nasty. In order to offset the excess of hate and nastiness, I’m going to be on special lookout for moments of kindness – both to observe and to do.”

Kindness - colorful flower

Just then Mim came down the stairs into my office. “Your timing is perfect, Mim. Floey and I are working on my blog, and we’re talking about our special words for 2015 and 2016. I remember your special word for 2015 was WAIT. Was that a good word for you last year?”

“It sure was. I keep thinking I’m ready to move on to the next phase of my life – retirement, but for a variety of reasons I can’t move on yet. I have to WAIT until the timing is right. It’s been good for me to WAIT for God’s timing, and to think about WAITING as part of God’s plan for our lives. A time of WAITING is important for learning, for growth, and for other things to be happening. It’s been good to think about the blessings of WAITING over the past year.”

“The phrase ’the blessings of WAITING’ is quite a foreign concept in our culture,” I responded.

 

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“It sure is,” Mim replied. “But I’m really glad I chose the word WAIT for 2015. It was a good word to ponder throughout the year while different things happened – like selling the farmhouse. We were ready to sell the farmhouse eight years ago, but the timing wasn’t right. God wanted us to WAIT until this year – and for good reasons:  The farmhouse provided a place for people to spend time alone with God when the farmhouse served as Whispering Winds Retreat Haven. A few years later the farmhouse provided a home for a family needing a place to live for a couple years. And although we had no inkling this would happen, in eight years some friends would be ready to buy the farmhouse and begin a new ministry there. The timing was right for them in 2015. It wasn’t in 2007. Back then we didn’t even know these people. It’s obvious now that there were lots of good reasons for WAITING that we didn’t know anything about eight years ago.”

With a twinkle in her eye, Floey said, “I can’t WAIT any longer. What’s your special word going to be for 2016?”

“My new word is one you may want to think about, too, Floey. It’s PATIENCE. Last year I focused on the blessings of WAITING. In 2016 I’ll focus on my feelings while I wait. I hope to learn to be more PATIENT.”

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“Okay, Moms. I think we’ve almost finished writing this blog post about our special words for 2016.  I’m going to change from concentrating on PLAY to learning about MEOW. “

I interjected, “And I’m changing my focus from GRATITUDE to KINDNESS.”

And Mim concluded, “And I’m going from WAITING to PATIENCE.”

We all One Perfect Word book covertook a minute to re-read the post, and then I added, “You know, this is my third year of having a special word instead of coming up with any New Year’s resolutions. I’m so glad Debbie Macomber shared the idea in her book, One Perfect Word. It’s the best new practice I’ve picked up in decades! She summarized the practice very well in the first chapter of her book:

When we choose one single word … and spend a year with it, I’ve found that the Lord takes us by the hand and walks us through the year, teaching us about that word, about ourselves, and even more, about God Himself.

“Let’s begin our adventure of living and learning our new words for 2016 – MEOW, PATIENCE, and KINDNESS.”

Floey jumped up at that. “Let’s go looking for cats, Moms. I’m ready!”

Mim replied, “I don’t think there are any cats outside today – it’s too cold and windy. Maybe tomorrow. I think we ALL need to learn a little about PATIENCE this year, not just me.”

And I said, “Let’s be extra KIND to each other today. Let our adventures of 2016 begin!”

Floe-Marian faces 2015

No Vacuum in this Mind

Vacuum - smilingMy mind is incapable of tolerating a vacuum. It always finds something to be anxious about, or some problem to be solving, or at least some imminent decisions to be mulling over. Often there are multiple urgent thoughts competing for my attention. Then my mind might start thrashing – a technical computer term that kind of means jumping from one thing to another so fast that nothing constructive gets accomplished.

I’ve had some major ponderings in my head this year. One of the biggest topics on my mind throughout the first few months of the year was getting a new car. My 2003 Camry and Mim’s 2003 Matrix were both running pretty well, but my mind decided it was time to start thinking about a replacement for at least one of them. Online, I narrowed my information gathering to 12 models. Then Mim and I started actually looking at cars in dealerships. On April 13, we made a decision on the spot to get a car that wasn’t even on our list – a Prius V. Fortunately, we love the car – especially how spacious it is and the great mileage we get. But most important, since April 13, there’s been one less thing in my mind to be mulling over.

Prius VBut never fear, another major topic took center stage in my mind. For the next several months, my mind worked overtime thinking up all the details I needed to consider for selling our farmhouse. On August 20 we closed on the house, and I could check that topic off my mind’s active list.

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven

Whispering Winds Retreat Haven – our farmhouse

Jumping into its place was refinancing our condo and changing banks. We’ve been unhappy with the new management of our long-term bank in Cambridge for a few years, but we knew that changing banks is complicated these days. As of October 12, we are happy customers of Johnson Bank – mortgage, personal, and business accounts. One more thing checked off my mind’s list.

Those are just the big things my mind has been dealing with this year. There are always plenty of little things competing for attention in my mind. This morning my mind is “paging” (another old mainframe computer term) among selecting a new transport chair for one of our residents (the hard rubber wheels are starting to break down on hers after four years of hard use);  finding a new wallet for myself (the leather is starting to come apart); selecting a new computer (probably a MacBook, to replace my Windows laptop that seems to be sputtering again); and choosing a new word for 2016 (I really like choosing a special word instead of having new year’s resolutions. My word for 2014 was JOY. 2015 is GRATITUDE. I’m thinking of KINDNESS for next year but I haven’t decided yet – there’s still more mulling to do in my mind.)

I don’t know why those four items came to the forefront of my mind this morning, but that’s what’s in there.

MacBookThe quote to ponder in last month’s The Monastic Way pamphlet was, “The things we love tell us who we are,” by Thomas Aquinas. Joan Chittister’s pamphlet of daily musings about this quote focused on the choices we make and what those choices say about us and what we love.

Joan Chittister

Joan Chittister

On October 17 she wrote, “No one is born whole. We all get to be wholly mature, developed persons as a result of the choices we make every day of every life. ‘The self,’ the great educator John Dewey said, ‘is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.’”

Well, my mind is certainly busy working on all those choices I think I need to make. As I’ve been writing, a few more things popped into my mind to think about – like what books should I take along with me to read next week for another short Christmas Mountain getaway…

Obviously, my mind is going to keep busy making decisions, big and small. That’s okay with me.

Joan Chittister ended her October pamphlet by saying, “Choice is the holiest of the virtues. It preserves the best of the past and creates the best of the future. Victor Frankl writes, ‘Everything can be taken away from a person but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’”

An Odd Gift

Some forty years ago, I received a really odd gift from my parents. I had recently graduated from college and was living in a small town in Connecticut. I had become a high school English teacher. My parents gave me, as a gift, their used manure spreader. It wasn’t a particularly practical gift for me. Since I was in the process of furnishing my first apartment, lots of other gifts would have been much more practical.

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This is kind of what my manure spreader looked like. It was definitely the oddest gift I ever received.

I can still picture Mom and Dad grinning at me when they told me about their gift. Dad had just retired from farming (mostly). He had sold the cows, and they no longer had chickens. Mom had already retired from her secretarial job in Madison, and they planned to spend a couple winter months down south each year as long as they could travel.

As a retired farmer, Dad no longer had a need for his manure spreader, nor most of his other farming equipment. However, my sister Nancy’s school-age kids were becoming more and more interested in farming after having moved to a 7-acre farmette a few miles from Cambridge. Dad gave them his old red “H” tractor to get them started with farming.

The old

The old “H” tractor

Dad gave his smaller and newer Ford tractor to my brother Danny with the understanding that he could still use it when he needed it. Danny was starting up a landscaping business and could make good use of the Ford.

Working up the soil for his last garden

Dad driving his little Ford tractor – working up the soil for his last garden – 1991

My parents felt they couldn’t just give the tractors to Nancy and Danny and not give me anything, so they decided I should get the manure spreader. Fortunately, Nancy’s kids had recently bought a small herd of goats to inhabit their barn. They quickly learned they needed a manure spreader, so I was able to sell it to them for a couple hundred dollars – which enabled me to buy more furnishings for my apartment in Connecticut. The gift proved to be practical after all.

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Manure spreader and tractor working together again.

What brought this gift to mind again was a trip that Mim and I took to Minnesota last weekend. It was Mim’s 50th class reunion from Kenyon High School. For about five hours on Friday we drove through western Wisconsin and southern Minnesota farmland to get to Kenyon. We saw lots of fields of golden ripe corn and soybeans ready to be harvested, many fields in the process of being harvested, and a few fields that were already bare. As we drove by some of the bare fields, Mim asked, “What’s that awful smell?” I agreed the smell was very strong and unpleasant. Then I saw a truck and some tubing in one of those fields and I figured it out. They were spreading aged, liquefied, and concentrated manure from the large dairy operations on the fields to begin to fertilize the ground for next year’s crops.

Mim and I talked about how it used to smell back in the 1950s and 1960s when farmers spread manure on their harvested fields. The odor wasn’t pleasant but it wasn’t nearly as strong as what we smelled on Friday. But what we smelled, and figured out, brought back very pleasant memories of the most unusual gift of my lifetime – a used manure spreader. Mim said I had never told her that story before. Even though we’ve lived together almost 43 years, I guess we still don’t know quite everything about each other.

Spending many hours in the car last weekend gave me lots of time to think. One of the things I thought about after telling Mim this story is GIFTS – gifts I have received, gifts I have given, and gifts I know about that other people have given or received.

Heifer CatalogThe children in the Sunday school of the Presbyterian Church in Cambridge where I play the organ a couple Sundays a month, regularly raise money and also invite the congregation to join them in making donations, and then they go shopping in the Heifer International catalog and decide which gifts to buy for families that need just those gifts – chickens, ducks, rabbits, honeybees, goats, or even a heifer.

Similarly, the Lutheran Church (ELCA) on the national level has created a program called “Good Gifts” where you can donate money and choose farm animals to give to a family in need. Last year, instead of giving Christmas presents to the people who work for us in our assisted living business, we donated money to the “Good Gifts” program in their name, so that a needy family somewhere in the world could receive a cow to help them live a better life. I know one year my brother’s grandchildren “gave him” several different farm animals for Christmas through the “Good Gifts” program. He was happier with those gifts than anything else he was given for Christmas that year.

After spending quite a bit of time last weekend thinking about odd gifts, practical gifts, generous gifts, and the whole concept of giving gifts, I encourage anyone to do the same thing – to think about your lifetime of giving and receiving gifts. I really enjoyed remembering the gift of the manure spreader, and lots of other good gift stories of my lifetime. It reminded me of James 1:17, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above …” [New Revised Standard Version]

I guess thinking about gifts ties in nicely with my word for 2015 – gratitude. I’m grateful to God for the many gifts I have received in my lifetime – even the manure spreader, and especially the gift of the foul smell this weekend that brought back these wonderful memories. I’m also grateful to God for the opportunities I’ve had to give gifts and be able to share joy (my special word for 2014) through gift-giving.

2 children w goats

These children received the gift of a goat through Heifer International. Through these gifts they also received the gift of milk, and the gift of hope for a brighter future.

The Goose Family is Home Again! Happy Spring!

3 in pondI got up from my desk and walked over to the patio door. “Oh, look, Floey, the Goose Family has returned.” A goose made a big splash as it landed on the water. The honking got even louder as another goose landed. “That looks like Gilbert and Gloria. Let’s go out and welcome them.”

“Who in the world are they?” asked Floey. “And what in the world are they?”

“Oh, that’s right, Floey. You’ve never met them. I’ll introduce you. Oh, look, here comes one more. That must be Grace. I bet Gregory won’t be far behind.”

I clipped Floey’s leash onto her collar and opened the patio door. Even though the sun was shining, it was a little cool to go outside without a jacket, but I couldn’t wait.

Floey looking at pond w ice“Welcome home, Gilbert! Hello, Grace! Hi Gloria! So good to see you again! Where’s Gregory?”

“Hi, Marian,” honked Grace. “Gregory will be here soon. He was busy teaching some of his favorite Lenten hymns to some teenage geese out in the countryside. He told us to go ahead and that he’d catch up with us later.”

Gilbert swam over close to the edge of the pond where Floey and I were standing. “Where’s Abbey? And, who is the new pup?”

1 walking on ice“It’s so good to see you again, Gilbert. This is Floey, short for Florence Nightingale, the nurse. Come on, Floey, you don’t need to hide behind my legs. The goose family shares the pond with us every summer. They’re wonderful neighbors.”

Floey peeked out from behind my legs. “Nice to meet you,” she said, but she stayed very close to me.

Gloria swam over to join our conversation. “Nice to meet you, too, Floey. But I’m anxious to tell Abbey all about our trip. Is she inside?”

“I’m afraid not, Gloria. Abbey joined her friends and family in heaven last November. She brightened our lives for eight years, but then she had to go home. Floey joined us shortly afterwards.”

Gloria responded, “So sorry to hear about Abbey. She was my best dog friend ever.” Gloria looked off into the distance for a moment. Then she turned back and looked directly at Floey. “I’m glad to meet you, Floey. I’m sure we’ll become good friends, too. Do you like to sing?”

Floey facing camera - icy pond behindFloey smiled. “I love to sing. And I have a really wide range – all the way from bass to soprano! Really! And I can sing every note in between, too. Listen…” She started with a low growl, then barked a few notes in her midrange, and ended with a howl that kept going higher and higher.

“Wow! We’ll be glad to have you sing with us,” she said to Floey with a smile. Then, she turned to me and said, “You know what song I think of whenever I’m sad, or when I think about a really good friend, like Abbey, who’s no longer with us? I think of ‘Near to the Heart of God’ by Cleland B. McAfee.”

Gilbert looked at Gloria, and nodded his head. Together they sang the first verse and refrain,

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.

Grace heard Gilbert and Gloria singing and she swam over to join them for the second verse.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.

As the goose trio was singing the second verse, another goose circled overhead, and then splashed down onto the pond. It was Gregory. He cleared his throat, looked knowingly at the three singers, and then sang the third verse as a solo.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

The four of them sang the final refrain together, a perfectly blended 4-part choir. Both Floey and I had tears in our eyes when they finished. I said, “That was just beautiful. I’m so glad you are all back home with us. Welcome, Gregory. Now that you’re all here, I know spring has come.”

“Sorry we couldn’t make it for the beginning of Lent like we usually do,” honked Gregory. “This has been a terrible winter, and we just couldn’t fly north for the longest time. We started out several times, but we always had to turn around and go back south. I’m sure glad we’re finally here.”

“That’s right,” chimed in Grace. “There’s no better place than the Whispering Winds Pond to sing all those wonderful Lenten hymns. They are such good reminders of how much God loves us. I think we need to get busy singing some more. It will be Easter in less than two weeks, and, as I recall, there are 81 hymns in the Whispering Winds Lenten songbook, ‘Songs about the Love of God.’ Now that we’re all here, I think we should start with ‘Let’s Just Praise the Lord.’ That should warm us up good. Floey, why don’t you sing soprano on this one…”

4 geese on pond