Tag Archive | The Message

God’s Garden – and Mine

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I think God laughed a little at my lazy approach to gardening on the deck this summer, but decided to bless it anyway. The lettuce did very well in its bed of Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix. We’ve had several salads, and the lettuce keeps coming back when I cut it. It’s not quite as sweet and tender as it was a month ago, but it still makes a good salad. We had a few little radishes, but I think I made the mistake of planting too many seeds too close together. I wanted to get as many radishes as possible out of my bag of Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix. A couple weeks ago I pulled out the remaining radish greens with their scrawny roots, and planted the rest of the radish seeds from the package. I spaced each seed more appropriately, and this crop is coming up nicely. We’ll see if July is too hot to grow radishes, or not. It’s all an experiment.

IMG_1268The three tomato plants are doing very well. I transplanted each plant from the Deerfield Greenhouse into a larger pot filled with Miracle-Gro® Potting Mix. We’ve been eating fresh-picked tomatoes almost every day for weeks. Wonderful! A few of the leaves on two plants are starting to turn yellow, so I don’t know how long our prolific tomato harvest will last, but we’re certainly enjoying it now.

Fortunately, God has blessed us most from the gardens of our friends who still live in the country and have really big gardens. They have brought us asparagus, beans, cucumbers, different varieties of tomatoes and radishes, and various kinds of summer squash. And black raspberries!

Can you believe that the same God who thought up the idea of asparagus, lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, and tomatoes, also created black raspberries! And just think about all the produce that is yet to come as gardens continue to mature this summer and fall!

God spoke: “Earth, green up! Grow all varieties of seed-bearing plants, every sort of fruit-bearing tree.” And there it was. Earth produced green seed-bearing plants, all varieties, and fruit-bearing trees of all sorts. God saw that it was good. It was evening, it was morning – Day Three. [Genesis 1:11-13 The Message]

I’m discovering that God thought about nourishment for all of creation, not just us. This morning I went for a short walk in our back yard, near the pond. Lots of wild milkweeds are in full bloom. I expect to see many happy butterflies fluttering around any day now.

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Five years ago I wrote about “An Abundance of Tomatoes and Thistles” in this blog. I just discovered (by trying to follow an inactive link) that my blog posts from 2011 are no longer available on the Internet. (I switched blogging applications in 2012.) Here’s a flashback to when Whispering Winds was an active retreat center, and I was learning to share “my” tomatoes with God’s chipmunks. (This blog post is also included in my first book, LISTENING FOR GOD: 52 Reflections on Everyday Life.)

August 22, 2011:
This is a good year for cherry tomatoes at Whispering Winds. In the spring I planted a couple plants of my favorite variety, “Sweet 100” and one new variety that was simply identified on the tag as “large red cherry tomato.” For the past few weeks Charlie Chipmunk and I have been sharing an early abundance of the “large red cherry tomatoes” and a few of the “Sweet 100’s.” Charlie has decided that every tomato he tastes is worth eating in its entirety – no more taking one bite out of the tomato and then moving on to the next one like he did last year. This way, there are plenty of tomatoes for both of us, and for our guests, too. Unfortunately, Charlie has figured out that the “Sweet 100 s” are the sweetest of all tomatoes, so he gets most of them. But the “large red cherry tomatoes” are good, too, so everyone is happy.

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Charlie Chipmunk keeping a close eye on the tomatoes in the raised bed at Whispering Winds.

This is also a good year for thistles. That might not seem like a good thing, unless you’re a goldfinch, or someone who loves to see goldfinches. They’re my favorite songbird. Seeing a goldfinch perched on top of a bright purple thistle blossom reminds me of taking walks with my mom and seeing goldfinches perched on thistles along the roadside. She called them “wild canaries.” I’ve seen more goldfinches this year than ever. Almost every time I take a walk I see one or two, and smile, remembering my walks with Mom.

Late summer is a time for enjoying the abundance in God’s creation – the abundance of cherry tomatoes if you’re a person or a chipmunk; the abundance of thistle seeds if you’re a goldfinch.

I love the sights, sounds, and tastes of summer. As I walked around the pond this morning snapping pictures of the milkweeds with my smartphone, I was startled by the splash of a frog leaping into the pond right next to me. I guess I startled him, too. Then I started listening more closely to all the birds singing.

Last Saturday was the perfect day to enjoy summer with all our senses. I grilled really long hotdogs from Jones Dairy Farm in nearby Fort Atkinson, Mim cut up a fresh cucumber into a vinegar and sugar water mixture, and all of us – Carolyn, Anna, Martha (the three 95-year-olds), Floey, Mim, and me – had a picnic on the deck, with sweet, juicy watermelon for dessert (plus a few Oreos).

God certainly knows how to delight our senses!

Happy Summertime!

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Floey served as Anna’s foot rest, and enjoyed a soothing back massage throughout lunch.

God and I Planted a Garden. And it was Good.

D400-0068-091.JonWarrenGod spoke: “Earth, green up!
Grow all varieties of seed-bearing plants,
Every sort of fruit-bearing tree.”
And there it was.
Earth produced green seed-bearing plants, all varieties,
And fruit-bearing trees of all sorts.
God saw that it was good.
It was evening, it was morning – Day Three.
[Genesis 1:11-13  The Message]

One of the delights of summer that I’ve enjoyed every year of my life (except maybe the first year) is eating fresh vegetables from the garden. Sweet corn was my favorite. Then plump red tomatoes were my next favorite. And leaf lettuce, spinach, radishes, carrots, peas, beans, and cucumbers. And all kinds of melons. There were a few things I didn’t like – especially onions and beets – but most things were delicious.

I can remember helping Mom and Dad plant the garden in the spring. The first gardening job I was taught to do was to place bean seeds in the inch-deep trench Dad had dug with a hoe. Then Mom covered the seeds with her hoe. It was fun for the whole family to work together on the project. But the most fun of all was watching the seeds sprout and grow into little plants, and then grow bigger and bigger until we started to pick the “fruits” of our labors and eat our first radishes and lettuce.

Danny and Marian - husking corn

My brother Danny and I spent many summer days husking sweet corn for Mom to freeze.

Every year Mom found something new in the seed catalog to experiment with. Some of the experiments were wonderful successes. Others were not. One success was the first year she tried planting zinnias so that we could have lots of cut flowers throughout mid to late summer. Every year after that we always had lots of zinnias.

One failure was a mixed flower border mat. It was a special paper, one foot wide and ten feet long, covered with seeds. It came rolled up in a mailing tube from the seed company. The instructions were to unroll the mat on the ground where you wanted a border of mixed flowers to grow, cover it with a thin layer of soil, and water it regularly. I don’t think even one flower sprouted. This easy flower border was just too good to be true. It was Mom’s worst failure of all her gardening experiments.

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I love all the bright colors of zinnias, especially the unexpected light green ones.

During the twenty years I lived in Chicago, I still was able to enjoy fresh vegetables from the garden. Mom and Dad kept planting huge vegetable gardens (and more and more cutting flowers) even when there were just the two of them living on the farm. Throughout the season, Mim and I made frequent trips to Wisconsin to load up on vegetables and flowers.

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Mom sending fresh-cut flowers from her garden home with me to Chicago.

In October of 1986, Mom passed away. In the spring of 1987, Dad still planted two huge vegetable gardens. All the rest of us still had to eat…. (He skipped the cutting flowers.)

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Picking vegetables for me to take home to Chicago

The year Dad died (1991), he had finished planting his two huge gardens before he got sick. When he was in the hospital, he kept asking Mim and me to check on the garden. The new potatoes should be just about ready to dig. He died on June 19, and he was right. The new potatoes were waiting to be dug up. Mim and I spent most weekends for the rest of the summer of 1991 driving from Chicago to Wisconsin to tend the garden (and clean out the house).

The next year Mim and I moved to the farmhouse, and we planted our own garden. We bragged that our garden was the same size as the whole lot of our two-flat in Chicago – 30 feet by 120 feet (half the size of my dad’s gardens). We obviously grew more vegetables than we needed, but that meant we had plenty to share. We also had plenty of cutting flowers.

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Part of our crop of pumpkins

When we moved from the farmhouse to the condo in 2007, we gave up gardening. I’ll admit, I miss it. So this year I decided to try an experiment – just like Mom might have tried. I have a tiny garden on our deck. I got the idea from something I saw on Facebook. I purchased two bags of Miracle Grow Potting Mix. I punched lots of little holes on one side of the bags, and placed that side down on a grate on top of a small table. Then I cut the top off the bags, and planted two rows of lettuce with one row of radishes between the lettuce rows. I also have three potted tomato plants.

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So far, my garden is thriving. We ate our first tomato last week, and I picked three more yesterday. We feasted on our first fresh-picked baby lettuce and mixed greens salad for dinner last night. Mim has been thinning out the radishes a little by eating some as sprouts. I think I can declare this experiment a success.

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Ripening tomato almost ready to pick.

For flowers, I bought a “hanging basket” of petunias from a garden center and placed it in an old wooden wheelbarrow. It doesn’t provide any cutting flowers, but I placed the wheelbarrow on the patio right outside my office – so I have a perfect view of them when I’m sitting at my desk.

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In the second creation story of the Bible, the one that focuses on the nature of God and man and woman rather than on the seven-day creation process, God is revealed to be a gardener.

At the time God made Earth and Heaven, before any grasses or shrubs had sprouted from the ground – God hadn’t yet sent rain on Earth, nor was there anyone around to work the ground (the whole Earth was watered by underground springs) – God formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man became alive – a living soul!

Then God planted a garden in Eden, in the east. He put the Man he had just made in it. God made all kinds of trees grow from the ground, trees beautiful to look at and good to eat….

God took the man and set him down in the Garden of Eden to work the ground and keep it in order….

[Excerpts from Genesis 2:5-15 – The Message]

In the process of writing this blog post I googled “garden quotes” to see if I could borrow the words of someone else to express the profound amazement and delight of gardening. Lots of excellent quotes popped up on my screen. Here are the three that got the most “Amens” from me.

I think this is what hooks one to gardening: it is the closest one can come to being present at creation. [Phyllis Theroux]

If you’ve never experienced the joy of accomplishing more than you can imagine, plant a garden. [Robert Brault]

I think that if ever a mortal heard the voice of God it would be in a garden at the cool of day. [F. Frankfort Moore]

I know all these statements are absolutely true. Even when the garden is a tiny one on a deck.

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Solving Problems

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Unfortunately, I don’t have my “Sunday School Papers” any more, but this is what they looked like.

As a child, I went to Sunday School faithfully at 9:45 every Sunday morning from the time I was 3 years old. I don’t remember much from the first few years. The earliest memory I have of Sunday School was sitting around a small table with all the other kids while the teacher told us a story. Then she sometimes gave us a picture to color or another craft to do, like folding construction paper into a basket or something else. At the end of the hour, the teacher gave us a “Sunday School Paper” to take home with us – basically an 8-1/2 by 11 sheet of paper folded in half like a booklet. The front page was covered with a full-color picture that illustrated the Bible story of the day. The rest of the “Paper” was the story itself. I loved getting my “Sunday School Paper” to take home with me. My mom read the story to me again before bed that evening.

I thought about my childhood Sunday School memories one day last week because I read a Bible story designated in the “Christ in Our Home” devotional booklet published by Augsburg Fortress (following the revised common lectionary). It was the story of Elisha and the poor widow from 2 Kings 4:1-7. I don’t remember reading or thinking about that story since I heard it in Sunday School back in the 1950s. I remember clearly the picture on the front of that week’s “Sunday School Paper.” (See below for a similar picture.) Here’s the story in The Message paraphrase.

One day the wife of a man from the guild of prophets called out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead. You well know what a good man he was, devoted to God. And now the man to whom he was in debt is on his way to collect by taking my two children as slaves.”

Elisha said, “I wonder how I can be of help. Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Well, I do have a little oil.”

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The picture on my “Sunday School Paper” looked a lot like this.

“Here’s what you do,” said Elisha. “Go up and down the street and borrow jugs and bowls from all your neighbors. And not just a few – all you can get. Then come home and lock the door behind you, you and your sons. Pour oil into each container; when each is full, set it aside.”

She did what he said. She locked the door behind her and her sons; as they brought the containers to her, she filled them. When all the jugs and bowls were full, she said to one of her sons, “Another jug, please.”

He said, “That’s it. There are no more jugs.”

Then the oil stopped.

She went and told the story to the man of God. He said, “Go sell the oil and make good on your debts. Live, both you and your sons, on what’s left.” [2 Kings 4:1-7 MSG]

Once I got beyond the Sunday School memories, I started thinking about this story from the perspective of how God solves our problems for us.

Typically, my first approach to solving a problem is to try to look at the situation rationally. What are some possible solutions? Which solution is best, given the circumstances? And then, how can I go about implementing the solution? If I were in the situation of this poor widow, I’d try to reason with the lender, appeal to his mercy, and try to barter some services that my sons or I could provide over time. This assumes, of course, that I would have the power to negotiate – a rather unrealistic assumption for a woman in Bible times (actually in our times, as well, if the villain in the story is an institution like a bank or the IRS). Relying on my own approach, I’d probably lose my sons.

Mim confesses that when she is in a terrible situation where she doesn’t see any solution, she finds herself wishing the antagonist dead. She would never do anything to make that happen, but she just wishes that they would somehow die accidentally or of natural causes. She realizes it’s just wishful thinking, and if she were in this poor widow’s situation, her approach would have the same result as mine – she’d lose her sons.

374549_origThis widow had a much better approach, which is probably why the story found its way into the Bible. She went to Elisha, a man of God, for help. Elisha and God had a simple solution for her – get her sons to round up lots of empty jugs, and fill up all the jugs from her little flask of olive oil, and then sell all the oil to pay off the lender. God would keep the oil flowing until all the jugs were full.

This solution focused on God and God’s people helping the widow meet her needs. My solution and Mim’s solution focused on addressing the demands of the lender, a subtle difference.

As I think about this story from the perspective of the widow, the message is clear – TRUST GOD. Obviously, God loves the widow and will take care of her. She just needs to ask for help.

When I think about the story from the perspective of Elisha, one of God’s people, the message is just as clear, we need to HELP THE PEOPLE WHO NEED HELP, whether it’s making donations to a food pantry or helping out in a homeless shelter. God’s people need to be available to those in need, just as Elisha was.

The picture on my “Sunday School Paper” told a very important story. I’m glad I was reminded of the story last week.

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An image to remind us that God will supply everything we need… and perhaps, sometimes we may need to serve as God’s hands.

 

 

A Litter Reunion

Floey - thinking hard about something, lying on the couch with her legs crossed, as usual.

Floey – thinking hard about something, lying on the couch with her legs crossed, as usual.

“What’s on your mind, Floey? You’ve been staring off into space for a long time,” I asked.

“Oh, hi, Mom. I didn’t notice you come into the room. I’ve been thinking about tonight.”

“Oh, yeah. Tonight’s your big night. You’re going to see all your litter mates again for the first time since your adoptions. I bet you’re excited.”

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Just over a year and a half ago, Floey and her litter mates must have looked a lot like this.

“In some ways, I am. I can hardly wait to see them. All six of us will be together again for the first time in over a year. But I’m sure we’ve all changed a lot. I know I have. What if I don’t like them? What if they don’t like me? We all played together the first six months of our lives, but then we were moved away from the Indian reservation in northern Minnesota where they wanted to shoot us, and a rescue group brought us to Wisconsin to find new homes. Over the next few months we all went our separate ways. What if one of my brothers or sisters has turned into a really mean dog? I don’t want to play with any mean dog, even if he or she is a sibling.”

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Floey’s imagination gone wild…

“Wait a minute, Floey. You mean to tell me that you will stop loving one or more of your siblings if you don’t approve of the way they act tonight?”

“I guess so, but only if they deserve it, Mom. If they growl and snap at me, and act like an enemy, I’ll be very disappointed, but I won’t play with them. With five litter mates, I’m sure I’ll find someone else who’s nicer to play with.”

“Oh, Floey, don’t worry about this. I bet they’ll all be nice dogs. I’m sure they were all adorable pups just like you when they were chosen to be adopted. You’ll have a great time playing together again tonight.”

“I hope so, Mom. I think you’re probably right, but I’m a little worried anyway. What if …”

“Floey, since you have a nagging little concern about the ‘what if’ possibilities, I think I need to tell you about what I read in Jimmy Carter’s devotional book this morning. He referenced Matthew 5. Here are the verses he referred to from THE MESSAGE version. Jesus said:

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. …

Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.

[Excerpts from Matthew 5:38-48]

Jimmy Carter went on to explain, “The command to ‘love your enemy’ is both startling and unique to the Christian faith; no other religion has a parallel teaching… Christ commanded [us to have] … a self-sacrificial love for other human beings [and dogs], even for those who may never love you back or who may not seem lovable.” [“Through the Year with Jimmy Carter”]

Floey-Marian faces selfie“Mom, does that really mean that if one of my siblings has turned into a mean dog, that I need to pray for him?”

“Yes, Floey. I think it means that you need to pray for him, and play with him, too – be nice to him, kind of like Jesus said to give him a present of your best coat.”

“Wow! That might be hard. What if he bites me, or grabs my collar and drags me?”

“Well, that probably won’t happen. Remember, your litter mates are probably all just as nice and fun-loving as you. But if one of them is overwhelmed with all the excitement, remember that Mim and I, and all the other adopters, will be there, too, and we’ll see that no one gets hurt. For all of us, our dogs are our best friends, and we’ll take care of all of you. Oh, and most important, God will be there, too! Your Mama Dog will probably be standing right next to God, the two of them watching all of you playing together.”

“OK. I’ll stop worrying, and just be excited about our first reunion,  6:30 tonight at the dog park. Are you going to bring special treats for me and all my new/old buddies?”

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God and Mama Dog watching the play date.

The Gift of a Lifetime

Florence (Floey) Nightingale

Florence (Floey) Nightingale

Floey was sitting in the living room, in front of her house (crate), looking up at the painting on the wall.

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Floey admiring her portrait

“Mom, can you believe it? Kitty painted a portrait of me! She’s such a wonderful neighbor. I just love to go see her. She often gives me MilkBones, but I can’t believe she loves me enough to spend weeks painting my portrait.”

“You’re right, Floey. We have some pretty special neighbors.”

“Kitty is so talented. I know you gave her a couple photos of me to help her get started, but she made me look so regal. I feel like I’m the queen of the Stone Meadows Condominium Community. I guess I’m really special.”

“You are special, Floey. You have the gift of being friendly and loving to almost everyone you meet. You are the four-legged queen of the neighborhood.”

“Yeah. Except kids. I don’t always like kids. I never know what they’re going to do – pet me or poke me, pull my tail or fall on top of me… I’d rather stay away from kids. Maybe that means I’m really not all that friendly. Maybe I don’t deserve to be called ‘Queen of the Neighborhood’ after all.”

“We all have different talents, Floey. Your talent is bringing joy and love to adults, especially senior adults, like Kitty, and like all the people who live with us for assisted living. That makes you queen of the senior neighborhood. That fits the regal look Kitty painted of you.”

“I guess you’re right, Mom.”

Horses by Kitty“Kitty is very talented at painting pictures. Remember the painting of two horses in the pasture that  hangs above my desk? Kitty painted that, too. She gave it to me as a gift one day when I saw it hanging in her house and I told her how much I liked it. But you know what, Floey, Kitty says she’s not a very good painter, that she’s just an amateur.”

“Really? She’s a great painter. The portrait she painted of me shows me as a special dog. She painted me to look like the dog I want to be – regal and refined, with my front paws positioned only as a truly refined lady dog places them. That’s how I always try to sit, you know.”

“Sometimes it’s hard for us to recognize our own talents, Floey. God has given at least one talent to every one of us. Eugene Peterson paraphrased what the Bible says about God’s gifts to us this way:

Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful: wise counsel, clear understanding, simple trust, healing the sick, miraculous acts, proclamation, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues. All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.  [I Corinthians 12:7-11 THE MESSAGE]

“I think it makes sense to add more examples to this list. To some people, God gives talents like painting pictures and being friendly.”

Kitty and Floey

Kitty and Floey – the best of friends

“I see what you mean, Mom. God has given Kitty the talent of painting, among other gifts, and God has given me the gift of being a good friend to lots of people in the neighborhood. How about you, Mom? Do you have any talents? Did God give you any gifts?”

“I think God gave me the gift of being able to play the organ and piano just well enough to help a congregation sing praises to God. I’m not talented enough musically to play on a concert stage, but that’s good, because if I had that much musical talent I’d have to dress up in fancy clothes and travel around to lots of big cities to perform. I wouldn’t like that. God gave me the talents that would be just right for me.”

“Hmm.” Floey looked at me thoughtfully. “I guess that makes sense. I can’t picture you in a fancy gown and high heels walking out on a stage to play a Beethoven sonata on a great big concert grand piano. But I can see you sitting on an organ bench, dressed in slacks and a sweater and wearing flat organ shoes, playing some hymns while the people sing along to worship God.”

“Isn’t it wonderful, Floey, that God has given us all such different gifts?  We’re all special, and God gave each of us just the right gifts for us to live together as a community, sharing our gifts with each other.”

“You’re right, Mom. I’m especially thankful today that God gave Kitty the gift of painting, and that she used that gift to paint a portrait of me. And I can use my gift of friendliness to let Kitty know how important she is to me and to let her know that I love her. I think that’s kind of what the Bible is saying, right? God wants us to use our gifts for the benefit of everyone. That’s why God gave us all different gifts – gifts to share with each other.”

“Right, Floey. God gave you the gift of understanding as well as the gift of friendliness.”

“I guess it’s OK that God gave the gift of liking to play with kids to other dogs instead of to me. I’m still queen of the senior neighborhood, and my portrait proves it!”

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And God Said …

clock - 3 00And God said, “Marian, wake up.”

And I said, “But God, it’s only 3:00 a.m.”

And God replied, “Of course I know what time you think it is. But you have a lot of work to do before the funeral at 11:00 this morning.”

“O God, go away. More sleep is what I need most to be ready for the funeral. Let me sleep.”

“Marian, you can’t go back to sleep. You need to get on the Internet and find some music that you can play, that Mim can sing, and that the grandson of the woman who died can strum his guitar to. I’ll help you find the right arrangement to download.”

“O God, I really need some sleep. I’ll tell you what. If I’m still awake at 4:00 I’ll get up.”

That’s the way my day started a couple Saturdays ago. By 4:00 a.m., I was still wide awake, thinking about “Morning Has Broken.” So I got up, went to my computer, and searched for Youtube videos of that song to hear different arrangements. Then I went to musicnotes.com and downloaded the Cat Stevens version of “Morning Has Broken,” transposing it from the key of C up to E-flat to put it in a better range for Mim to sing.

Morning has broken 4 croppedLet me backtrack and tell you the whole story of what I’ve learned about how we should treat bullies (pushy, persistent people) who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

At church, the Sunday before the funeral, Pastor Jeff asked Mim and me if Mim could sing and I could play the organ for a funeral later that week. It would be either Friday or Saturday morning. The woman who died, had chosen the music she wanted – “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art” for the congregation to sing, and either “In the Garden” or “Morning Has Broken” for the soloist to sing. The musical requirements should be easy and straightforward. We agreed to do it, and I suggested to Pastor Jeff that if the family was having a hard time choosing between the two possible solos, to suggest that Mim sing “In the Garden” and I would play “Morning Has Broken” as part of the prelude. We already had that music, so we wouldn’t have to find and learn anything new. If Mim needed to sing “Morning Has Broken” I would need to search for an arrangement that would work for us.

Later in the week Pastor Jeff called me to say the funeral would be on Saturday, and that the family wanted “Morning Has Broken” for the solo. I was a little disappointed, but I immediately started looking for a vocal solo with piano accompaniment for “Morning Has Broken.” Meanwhile, Mim started fighting off a cold, so I knew I had to come up with an arrangement that was well within her singing range, which is high soprano. I quickly concluded that my best option was to enter a fancy hymnal arrangement from the “Celebration Hymnal” into my SongWriter software, and use the software to transpose and tweak the music. The process took me about four hours, but both Mim and I were pleased with the result.

Motorola SmartphoneFriday morning, as I was out walking Floey, I got a phone call. (Mobile phones are not always a blessing.) The caller was “Jack,” the son who was assuming primary responsibility for planning his mother’s funeral. ”Jack” wanted his son “Alex” to play his guitar along with us on “Morning Has Broken.” Thinking about the style of the arrangement I had just created, I told him I didn’t think that would work out very well. But “Jack” knew it would, because of how beautifully both piano and guitar shared the accompaniment on the Cat Stevens version of the song. I tried to tell him that was not the version of the song we were planning to do, but after about ten minutes of conversation, I realized “Jack” was not going to take no for an answer. We ended the conversation with a compromise that we would all get together 45 minutes before the funeral to try playing together. If it worked, that’s what we would do in the funeral. If it didn’t sound good, we wouldn’t. At least we would have tried.

I knew a strumming guitar would not add anything of beauty to the arrangement Mim and I were doing, so I was pretty sure Alex wouldn’t be playing with us. But that got me thinking again about how pushy and persistent some people can be. In this case, I felt “Jack” was a bully who was going to get his way no matter what. He wanted his son to play his guitar with us, and that was that. I had suggested that his son play something else as a solo, but “Jack” couldn’t be budged from what he wanted.

“Jack” was acting just like a family member of another funeral I was organist for this summer. She wanted me to include waltzes and polkas in the preservice music for her mother’s funeral. I didn’t feel that was entirely appropriate for a funeral in a church, but I reluctantly agreed, and surrounded the “inappropriate” music with non-traditional arrangements of hymns that I considered more “appropriate.”

I talked with Mim about how I was feeling about these “bullies” who were adding such unnecessary complications to funerals. I wondered how I should treat people in this type of situation. What I think I was really asking was “How should I treat a bully who is grieving the loss of a loved one?”

Mim replied that she sometimes asks herself a very similar question, “How should I treat a bully who is dying?” Since we provide assisted living services in our home, we have often cared for people as they are dying. Occasionally, a patient or family member becomes quite unkind in the end, acting very much like a bully.

The MessageSo, how does God want us to treat these bullies? The Bible actually talks about that. The Message paraphrases Jesus’ words this way:

If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. …  I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best – the sun to warm and the rain to nourish – to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. [Matthew 5:41-45]

That’s what I was thinking about when I went to bed Friday night. I guess after about five hours of rest, God decided to be more direct with me and wake me up. That’s when we had the conversation I described at the beginning of this post.

Mim and I got to the church about an hour before the funeral. We met “Jack” face to face for the first time, and then we met his son “Alex,” a recent high school grad, just back from a week at music camp – for rock guitar. I gave “Alex” a copy of the music I’d downloaded, and we went to a piano in the lower level of the church to see if we could play together. Within 15 minutes of practicing, we felt comfortable in going ahead with it.

It was a beautiful funeral. The church was packed. We did “Morning Has Broken” after the time of family sharing near the end of the service. The congregation was delighted to see and hear the grandson strumming “Morning Has Broken.” “Alex” felt good about playing for his grandmother. It was the kind of good-bye God wants us to share when a loved one goes home. It was peaceful and beautiful. I hate to say it, but it was the perfect music for that funeral.

I’m really glad God woke me up that morning. Now I know for sure how God wants us to treat pushy, persistent people who are grieving, and bullies who are dying, and friends and enemies of all kinds – to love them, to pray for them, and to let them bring out the best in me, not the worst, just like God does.

Morning has broken 5

How Mean Is That Doggie in the Mirror?

Floey reflection closeupFloey, who will turn one on January 24, barks ferociously every time she sees her reflection – whether it’s in a mirror, in a window at night, in the shiny black refrigerator door, or in the oven window. She sees that same dog everywhere! She knows there’s a dog on the other side of that “window” and she wants her to come forward and either fight or play, or else turn around and run away. Floey just doesn’t understand why that dog doesn’t respond to her appropriately.

I’ve re-written some of the words of the song “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?” for her.

How mean is that doggie in the mirror?
The one that keeps following me.
How mean is that doggie in the mirror?
I wish that my friend she would be.

I’m a little surprised that Floey hasn’t figured out yet that the dog in the reflection is not going to respond to her. She keeps barking, and watching patiently for a response.

Floey sitting w patio door reflection

As I was thinking about what Floey must be thinking, I also thought about a devotional I wrote last week for a Lenten booklet that our church publishes every year. The Bible passage I was assigned to reflect on was Romans 15:5-6. Although I referred to the New Revised Standard Version in my devotional, I really like the language used in The Message:

May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir – not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!  [Romans 15:5-6 MSG]

woman in mirrorPutting those two thoughts together – Floey barking at her reflection and the Bible telling us to get along with each other – I thought about what my reflection is like, everywhere it’s seen. Do I reflect the image of a person who wants to get along with others so that together we can praise God?

Maybe, like Floey, I should think about that image I keep seeing in the mirror and on other shiny surfaces. What kind of image do I reflect to myself and to others? I decided to write another version of the doggie song for myself.

How kind is that person in the mirror?
The one that I see every day.
How kind is that person in the mirror?
I wish she would take time to play.

I thought a lot about what the last word should be. I debated between play and pray. Maybe I’ll sing the song both ways, depending on the reflection of myself I see that day.

Floey standing w patio door reflection adj