12/31/2012

Good-bye 2012

The East Coast is about to ring in 2013. I just got the boys in bed after coming home from a party at a friend's house. I don't know if I'll stay up for the next hour and a half.

2012 was quite a year. There is plenty I'm glad to have behind me. Plenty of struggles, hurts, sorrows, pains, etc. But, of course, there were a lot of great things. I went from being a substitute teacher to having a regular job. We had some good camping trips and a trip to the Boundary Waters. We had some good trips to visit family, including our extended family reunion in Pana, Illinois. My book was published. There's a lot of things I'm sure I'm forgetting.

It was a year of natural disasters, terrible atrocities, wars, the Olympics, an election, and plenty of other news (much of which wasn't really newsworthy). But 2012 is about over, and we are about to commence a new year.

Time is an odd thing. It is strictly dependent for us upon our rotation on our axis and around the sun. Time is completely different everywhere else in the universe. A day on Venus is longer than its year (243 earth days for one Venus day compared to 225 earth days in one year there). On Jupiter a day is less than 10 earth hours. The light we see from the sun is eight minutes old. If we could see what was going on around the nearest star, we'd be looking several years into the past.

It only makes sense that God is outside of time, even if we can't comprehend what that is even like. Time, as Albert Einstein taught us, is relative. It's an odd thing. It's very important, yet means very little.

But it matters how we spend our days, what we do with our time. Each minute is a gift. I too often abuse or waste those gifts. But sometimes, on a rare occasion, I do well with it. I use it to love God, to love my neighbor, to love my self.

I can't change the past. Though I regret some of it, it still remains what it is. But time doesn't have to be wasted completely. I can learn from it. I can strive to do better with it. I can let the tough times or the times of failure be times that I grow from.

As Captain Picard said in Star Trek Generations, "Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment, because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we've lived. After all Number One, we're only mortal"

May time be a good companion with you in the years ahead.

12/30/2012

The Sixth Day of Christmas: Churches in CommUnity

I have a lot of fond memories of church growing up--things I miss:
  • singing in the church choir next to the old men who could really hit the low notes and teach me to sing in Swedish
  • getting the brown paper bag with peanuts, an apple and a Hershey's bar after the Christmas program was done
  • going to Christmas Eve (or a really early Christmas morning) service and seeing all the extended cousins
  • gathering for Sunday School opening songs (and the little brown church we put our birthday money in) before going to our separate classrooms
  • Fourth of July church picnics with a ice cold tank of watermelon and cans of pop
  • the older generation who passed on so much wisdom and love
Plus, on Easter morning all the churches in town (three of them--plus one from the country) gathered together for an Easter sunrise service which the youth of the churches put on. We also gathered together for baccalaureate and in the summer we all held a worship service under the tent at the Threshermen and Collector's Show.

***

Tonight three other churches in Northeast Minneapolis gathered together with us for "Christmas One." It was named that because a) it's the first Sunday in Christmas, and b) four unrelated churches were gathering together in unity.  One of the pastors reminded us that if we're going to accomplish what God wants us to do in our part of the city, that we can do it best by working together--that God doesn't just want each church to do their own mission. He wants us all to do His mission.

I confess that as an introvert, I don't really like large crowds of new people. I'm not a good mingler. But it was still fun to come together. We packed bags with some treats for kids in a local school. They took donations for a clothing ministry. And we all joined in worship, singing Christmas carols and partaking in the Eucharist.

Now, it's not the same as small town churches where everyone knows each other coming together, but it was still a good experience. It's not very often that four churches from differing theological backgrounds in a metro area come together for worship.

***

Today is also the Feast of the Holy Family--the sixth day of Christmas observed as a celebration of Jesus' earthly family. It seems a fitting celebration for today. The young, virgin Mary. The likely older Joseph. Betrothed to one another, but God steps in and throws a wrench in their plans: Mary accepts God's will and becomes pregnant with His Son. Joseph knows this won't go over well with their culture. Everyone will think she's been unfaithful and runs a high risk of being stoned to death. He's not sure he can believe what she tells him about the Holy Spirit impregnating her, but he is an honorable man who doesn't want to see her die. He intends to divorce her quietly and send her away to have the child. But God convinces him that it is all divinely orchestrated. Joseph stays with her, and they raise God's Son together.

Unity in a family is not easy. Especially when there are those "secrets"--like your virgin wife being impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Especially when you're raising the Son of God. Joseph and Mary without a doubt had their share of struggles. But they stayed together and seem to have done pretty well with raising the young Messiah.

I mean, sure He got in trouble with the law, rubbed the religious leaders the wrong way, and disobeyed social norms (like not talking to women and avoiding lepers). But otherwise He turned out all right. He did save the world, after all.

12/26/2012

Christmas: Day 2

Today is the Feast of St. Stephen--also known as the day when good King Winceslas went out. Stephen was the first martyr in the Christian church. Paul (Saul) was on had, giving his consent to Stephen's death because he felt that the followers of The Way were a threat to Israel and Judaism. They were too counter-cultural, too revolutionary. Their community was stronger and tighter than any Paul (or the others who were there stoning Stephen) had seen before.

Stephen's offense? False witnesses claimed that he had said Christ would destroy the temple and change the religious traditions of Moses. And in many ways, they were right. Jesus' Way was a threat to their traditions. He was a threat to empty actions--sacrifices that didn't mean anything, prayers that were hallow, lives that didn't truly desire a relationship with God. Jesus' Way wasn't going to let the poor, the orphans, or the widows go neglected. His Way came to bring justice, peace, righteousness, and love. By all accounts, it was a threat to their traditions (just as it might be to many of our traditions in the church if we were honest).

***

I spent almost all of Christmas Day in bed sick. I awoke in the morning with a nasty stomach bug. I was able to come downstairs for a few minutes to be with the family while opening presents. I promptly returned to bed. I didn't get to watch the boys play were their new gifts, I didn't get to read the Christmas story, I didn't get to light the 5th candle on our yule log. I slept until after 4 that afternoon. It was by far my worst Christmas ever (and I know several other families were in the same boat--thankfully I was the only person incapacitated in our family).

Thankfully it was over by that evening, though I haven't had much energy today and have had a number of headaches and soreness. It has not been a fun Christmas.

I know for many people Christmas is a dreaded time of year. They feel lonely. They lost a loved one. There are too many painful memories from childhood. Religion left them disillusioned and disenfranchised. For whatever reason it is far from being "the most wonderful time of the year."

***

I find it interesting that the day after the birth of Jesus we acknowledge the death of the first martyr in the church. There's this tough juxtoposition: a cute baby wrapped in swaddling clothes who came to bring peace on earth, goodwill, and ultimately life, and then there's this righteous man who followed Jesus and was stoned to death because of it.

Faith has a lot of tough components to it. Most of us don't have to face martyrdom, but its reality is present for many throughout history. And I think martyrs have only been able to face death because of the hope they carry with them. If not, faith is worthless. (Well, not worthless. I think most people would agree that the principles Jesus wants us to live by--like loving our neighbors--still have a lot of merit, even if those people don't believe in Jesus.)

Hope says that this life isn't the way it's supposed to be--that we can make it better, but it will only become perfect on the other side of death. In Heaven there will be no sadness, sorrow, death, pain, or sickness. We will be God's and God's alone. We will be able to grow without the shackles of this world. The old world order will be gone, and a new one--a perfect one--will be in place.

I think that's why, as Stephen was facing death, he was able to say:
  • “Look, I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
  • “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  
  • “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Only a man with hope would be able to face death in such a way. I know that I need such a hope to make the tough times of this life manageable. Someday, it will all be good again. Someday.

12/24/2012

Christmas Eve

 We were in Iowa this weekend for Christmas with my family. My parents have been gathering us all together for the past few years to have time together as a family. We were in Okoboji at a hotel with a waterpark, which the kids all love. And we all get time together, which is better than presents.

***

We're home for Christmas this year. It started with the Christmas Eve service at church. It's one of my favorite services: candles, carols, the Christmas story, being surrounded by church family, hearing the children sing.

I made some soup and bread for supper. We gathered around the table, lit our Advent candles on our yule log, drank some (non-alcoholic) glogg, and read our Advent devotion for the evening.

We opened one of our family presents: a Ticket to Ride board game. Then, with some Christmas music on the stereo, we tried our new game--which we enjoyed. 

***

Over 2000 years ago this night (okay, so it most likely wasn't in December when the first Christmas occurred, but tonight is when we celebrate Jesus' birth) that a young frightened mother and her poor husband were facing a new journey in their lives. It wasn't how they expected their life together to begin.

As Mary felt her first labor pains, she doubtless was scared to be going through childbirth in the midst of a stable--a crude home for livestock was to be where her son, the second person of the Trinity, was to be born. It was not how anyone would have expected God to enter the world, for the King of Kings to make his entrance into humanity.

Yet, on this night, the waiting was over. Love came down. The Savior was born. God became one of us, all because He desires us. He yearns for us to spend eternity with Him. His Son would become our ransom from death, our way to life.

This night changed history. Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

12/23/2012

Advent 4: Hoping

When Hope Was Born

God did love the world so--
So deep I can't comprehend--
That He himself took on flesh
And humbly to earth did bend.

As a frail and needy babe,
He became like us, born of flesh.
God came down, born a man,
Humbly in a lowly crèche.

Within that newborn infant child
Are all love and joy we can find.
For in that crude manger bed
Was born the hope of all mankind.

Without hope the world is dark,
It seems like all is lost;
But all has been ransomed and redeemed,
For Christ's blood has paid the cost.





***

I like the idea of hope. I need the idea of hope.

Each day I see so much despair, hurting, brokenness, and struggle. I know this isn't how it is supposed to be. Each day, I have so many struggles, so many burdens I can't carry. I need the hope that I will be made whole someday.

Pastor Jan mentioned at church tonight that "hope is a function of struggle." Without struggle--without hardships--hope cannot exist. Hope would have no meaning. We've heard before how the struggles of life are good for us. They build things like character, perseverance, and hope. Of course, it matters how we proceed through our struggles. Sometimes we give up. Sometimes we give in. Sometimes we take the easy way out. Not to give us an excuse, but we are human. We don't always do the right thing. I don't always do the right thing.

But the right thing in difficult times is to persevere--to keep on doing the right thing. The right thing is to forge ahead knowing that life isn't meant to be ugly--that someday it will be redeemed, made new and perfect. The right thing is to cling to hope--not in a way that we give up, but in a way that we move ahead. Hope makes us vulnerable. It requires us to give up control. It necessitates that we place our trust in God.

This isn't always easy.  But in return God gives us strength ("but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength" (Isaiah 40:31)). This is why we wait. This is why we struggle through Advent. The newborn King brings us hope. He gives hope. He is hope. In this times of waiting, longing, and struggling, hope keeps us going. Until He returns and hope is fulfilled.

12/19/2012

I Wrote a Book

I'll confess that I have mixed emotions. I'm very excited to have my name published on a book. At the same time, this isn't quite the book I want to write (I know that doesn't make sense--it's one I did write and was compelled to write). What I want to write is a great novel--a story that conveys great truths in adventurous ways. I want to write something accessible to all people. This isn't it. This book is fully targeted at people who want to live a little differently from the rest of the culture and more fully in Jesus. That's not going to be everyone. I accept that.

Still, I'm excited. It was a long process, and I probably would have done it a little differently at times, but I got where I wanted to be. And hopefully, getting one book published will be a stepping stone to other things.

I don't remember when I first wanted to be a writer. It wasn't in college or before then. I remember getting a really bad mark on a paper and not thinking I could write. So it's been since then. Probably in the last decade as I've found I enjoy writing through blogging.

And I've always enjoyed reading. Maybe a little too much. I confess to being a bibliophile. I love books. I think writing flows out of that. I do find great value in books--as an educator I know that reading skills are huge. I may have to rearrange my bookshelves so that a book with an author with the last name "Wenell" isn't alphabetically on the bottom shelf.

Currently the book is available through Wipf & Stock, my publisher. Eventually, it will be released on Amazon and even for Nook. I'm working on building a website for it, too (not that I expect much, but I'd like to connect further with readers).

I do have to note that I had no hand in the cover design. I'd like to take credit for it, but I can't. I didn't really have any say in it. So with that in mind, I'm quite pleased.

Anyway, check it out if you feel so inclined. I'll even sign it if you buy one.  :)

12/17/2012

What if Linus is Right?

What if Linus is right? In A Charlie Brown Christmas our favorite bald-headed boy is roped into directing the Christmas play as part of Lucy's 5-cent answer to Charlie's (there is one point in the show where Lucy calls him only by his first name) dilemma about finding the meaning of Christmas. In the midst of dealing with the frustrations of directing a bunch of unsupervised children, Linus tells Charlie Brown the story of the first Christmas from the gospel of Luke:

Linus Van Pelt: "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, 'Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.' And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'"
[Linus picks up his blanket and walks back towards Charlie Brown]
Linus Van Pelt: That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

What if that is what Christmas is all about. Not getting--or even giving--presents ("For God so love the world that He gave His only beloved Son"). Not shopping, caroling, or even decorating trees. It's not even about family or being home for the holidays (consider that because of Jesus' birth, his family had to flee their country to take refuge in Egypt).

Consider who the angel says is born to the shepherds: a Savior (someone to save us from all the trouble we get ourselves into), Christ (meaning "anointed"--meaning a King to reign from a Heavenly throne), and Lord (someone we kneel before and give control to). The angels know this is reason to praise God. They know that this birth will one day bring peace, and that His birth is for the greatest good of all humanity.

So how does these good tidings change our Christmas? Does it mean we need to get rid of family gatherings, presents, Christmas trees, and general holiday mirth? Definitely not. But it should change our hearts. Our focus should be something greater than making a list of things we want. Most of all, our focus should be on the One who came at Christmas.

And that is the good news. God came down and dwelt amongst us; Emmanuel: God with us. He is present. We are not alone. He knows us. He loves us. No fear, great joy, peace, good will, and glory to God.

What if Linus was right about Christmas? I think that sounds like good news. Very good news.

12/16/2012

Advent 3: Rejoicing

I didn't get to hear the message tonight during church; I was helping with our Kid's Chapel program. The children heard part of Isaiah's letter to Israel. I took the 1st-3rd graders and we did a little mock interview with me as Isaiah learning about him being a prophet, what being a prophet means, and what he prophesied about. We talked about him writing about the coming Rescuer-Servant-King-Light-Lamb-Shepherd (there were a few more parts to the name, which I am now forgetting). We read about God telling Isaiah about the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. And the children said how they know Him as Jesus.

Rejoicing is not easy for many this time of year whether because of events in the past or current news. It's often not easy on a regular day with all the stresses of family, work, and life. No, rejoicing can be very difficult to do in the present. But rejoicing in the future--maybe that's what makes rejoicing possible. Consider the lyrics of this familiar Advent hymn:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
 
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.


We can rejoice knowing that Emmanuel--God with us--shall come to us (because He has already and has promised to return). We can rejoice knowing this life isn't the end--that death's dark shadows shall be put to flight, that the path to misery will be closed. Rejoice!

12/14/2012

Evil Visited Newtown Today

Only after driving home from school with my boys tonight did I hear the news of what happened at another school in Connecticut today--though the radio dj didn't share the whole story out of concern for children who might be listening. So it was later this evening that I heard the whole news about the events.

Much as like the President, I didn't take the news lightly. I have two sons the same ages as many of the victims. I work in a school with hundreds of children I care about. I simply can't imagine having to live through such an event. I can't imagine being a parent of one of the children. I can't imagine being a young student who witnessed it all. My heart hurts.

In the midst of Advent, in the midst of waiting for the Savior's return, it is clear how much we need Him. The world doesn't need Jesus by way of telling them, "You need Jesus." While it may be true, that isn't the way we need Jesus. The world needs Jesus by having His people be His hands and feet.

Long before today happened, clearly the gunman needed help. His mother needed help (it sounds like she was probably a single mom who raised a son with needs she maybe didn't know how to meet). The victim's parents need people to be there for them in their grief and anger. The children who survived will need people to provide them safety, security, and a lot of love. There are a lot of people in Newtown, Connecticut, who need Jesus.

There are a lot of people everywhere who need Him. Our neighbors. Your neighbors. The children in my school. And I don't say they need Jesus tritely. But I don't believe that more metal detectors in schools, tighter gun control laws, or better access to mental health are going to fully solve anything. And I'd love to say that if we were all caring neighbors, reaching out to those who don't get reached out to, that it'd solve everything. And while I do believe that love is the answer, I know that even so, we'll still have troubles in our world.

Waiting during Advent becomes all the harder to do when news like this comes to us. This is supposed to be a time of peace, joy, and love. Now, for far too many families, it is a time of mourning, anger, and distress. As the governor of Connecticut noted, "Evil visited this community today." Indeed it did. Unfortunately, in some form or another, it has visited every community.

Those lights on our Christmas tree remind me that Jesus is the light of the world and that He calls his people to be light in the darkness. There is much darkness in need of light. Even so, come Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Come swiftly.

12/09/2012

Advent 2: Waiting

It's been snowing all day. It's still going. We have the potential to near 16 inches. Church was cancelled tonight because of it. Our pastor posted a message about longing on the church website so we could "be present" even though we couldn't gather (I haven't gotten to listen to it yet, but I hope to get a chance to in a few minutes).

My wife has been gone all week at a conference in California. It's been a long week. Our oldest son has been under the weather all weekend. Nothing has been bad, but it's been draining. Unfortunately the snow has delayed her flight a little. So I wait a little while more.

Advent is about waiting. We identify with the waiting of God's people for their Messiah to come. We read about Mary and Joseph awaiting the birth of their son, the Christ. We await the return of Jesus. For four weeks, we wait for Christmas to arrive.

I've said before (as well as have others) that it matters how we wait. In waiting for my wife's return this week, I had some successes and some failures. I know I snack more than I need when I feel the stress of taking care of everything by myself. I probably didn't handle all the things with the boys as well as I could have, either. But we also did well at keeping on track: four loads of laundry washed and put away (another in the machine right now), bathrooms cleaned, countless dishes washed, sidewalks shoveled of snow. We celebrated St. Nicholas Day, making cookies and taking them to neighbors. I got our youngest to two birthday parties. We got some gifts for family members. I got to bed at a reasonable time each night, and I reached out to others when I needed. There were things I could have done better, but for the most part I tried to wait well.

We wait for Christ to return. We wait for our brokenness to be healed. We wait to be made whole. We wait for peace. We wait for there to be no more pain, sadness, or sorrow.

We can wait idly; we can wait actively. I think we are called to balance both--just as Christ spent time being and doing. But we can be and do in not-so-healthy ways. The healthy way to be and do as we wait is to keep focused. To keep our eyes on Christ. When we wait in the overflow of His love, we wait well. Our waiting pours out to those we are around. They are touched by that love.

I need to be reminded--sometimes frequently--that how I wait matters. Sometimes I do it poorly. Sometimes I do it well. There is grace and forgiveness, of course, but life is best when in the moment, I am waiting well.

Snowy Sunday

1. I believe our neighborhood must have the widest sidewalks of any city.

2. I'm not sure why I shovel them when everyone walks on the street anyway.

3. For some reason I had the song "How Deep the Father's Love for Us" in my head this morning while I was shoveling.

4. I should have written myself a note a month ago to take the snowblower in for a tune-up when I thought of it. Living on a corner lot is not fun with several inches of snow on two sidewalks (plus a driveway) without a snowblower.

5. Still, shoveling is good exercise.

6. I've had a sick 8-year old this weekend (just a fever and fatigue)--I'm sad we can't be outside playing.

7. If Monty Python taught me anything, it's to always look on the bright side of life...I love the beauty of a heavy snowfall.


12/06/2012

St. Nicholas Day Revised

 My wife is gone all week at a science conference. It'll be a regular thing for the foreseeable future. This means we're revamping our St. Nicholas Day routine as she'll likely be gone this day every year. It works kind of well this year because we're doing a larger family gift instead of a gift on St. Nicholas Day and one on Christmas Day for each of them.

So, last night the boys decided to make cookies to give to neighbors. Unfortunately, we ran out of flour so we only made one batch of spritz cookies. Which made for no variety of cookies. (With my wife gone, I also wouldn't have had much time to make other cookies after they were in bed if we did have more flour.)

Today we bagged up the cookies. The boys made little cards to put in each bag that said "Happy St. Nicholas Day." They had wanted to do it anonymously, dropping off the cookies on their doorstep, ringing the doorbell and running. If we lived back in small town Iowa, we'd do that, but we thought we'd play it safe and let them know who the cookies were from and that they were safe to eat.

Advent is about slowing down and taking the time to reflect. It is the antithesis of the Christmas busyness and consumerism rampant in our society. Truthfully, with my wife gone, making cookies last night added to the busyness of the week. But Advent is also about looking outside ourselves, as well as within. And so we took the time to make some cookies (and the time afterward to clean up a messy kitchen). I think it's just as important to do something like that as it is to take the time to sit with our Advent devotions each night as a family.

******

We did revise one of the cards--Anders drew a Good Friday picture complete with blood dripping from Jesus' wounds. He had realized afterward that it might be the best picture to use with our neighbors...still, it's a good picture. And most of all, I'm proud that they are getting into the spirit, that they know that the giving is the more important than giving, and that Christ is the reason for it all.

They know that St. Nicholas isn't about reindeer, gift lists, and who's naughty and nice. They know he gave to those in need because of his love for God. They might have a little confusion about Santa Claus (mainly because of movies and Christmas specials), but over all they know that Christmas



12/02/2012

Advent 1: What if Longing is Good?

Advent. It's here. To some that mean a lot; to others, not so much. In many churches it is a time when we prepare our hearts for Christmas. We recognize the waiting that happened before the Savior came.

At it's heart, Advent is about waiting, and waiting produces longing. Pastor Jan Bros shared at church tonight that in longing we become present with that which is unfinished yet in ourselves and in the world. That celebrating Advent is only possible for those who are aware of their brokenness. That since God is already aware of the longing in our heart, we are able to enter into the darkness of longing and know He is present.

I often run from longing. Longing for something produces discomfort. It often comes with ache. And I know that the things I long for aren't going to happen in the immediate future (at least not in their fullness): being on a vocational path, having obedient children, being a good father, being a good husband, having a good marriage, having brokenness healed, being whole, the fulfillment of hopes and dreams. Some of these will come over time...others will be along wait. But when those places of longing are accompanied with waiting (which is most of the time), I tend to repress my acknowledgment of the longing I have.

But what if God were present in the longing? Would I be able to face it? Because, of course, He is present there. Pastor Jan noted that in being present to our longing, our hearts become a manger of prayer. We make a place for God to dwell, and we turn to Him for the fulfillment of our longing aches. Indeed, the ache becomes a place of contact with God.

Part of Advent is acknowledging the longing of waiting for Christ to return. I wonder if I don't long deep enough for His return because I am too comfortable in this world (though it's not true comfort--there's plenty of needless pain and hurt--but more familiarity that comfortableness). I think that one of the things longing does--longing for justice, longing for restoration, longing for peace--is that it keeps me focused on Christ and being ready for His return.

So I'm going to give longing a try this week. I'm going to try to acknowledge the aches rather than ignore them. I'm going to try to acknowledge God's presence as a light in the darkness and talk with Him about those places of longing.

Somehow, even in the midst of the scariness of doing that, I think it'll be a much better start to the Advent season than making lists of wants,  spending time shopping, or rushing to and from events.

11/26/2012

Think Big

"No idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered."
     - Winston Churchill

11/22/2012

Thanks

Nearly 400 years ago a group of colonists from England came to start a new colony in America where they could have religious freedom. The winter of 1620 was a rough one. Half of the conolnists did not survive the winter. It was only from the help of the local Wampanoag tribe that the colony survived. They taught the colonists how to raise native plants to eat and find animals to hunt. Their first harvest festival brought together about 50 colonists and 90 natives in a three day celebratory feast (along with games, sports, dancing, and singing). (There is, of course, plenty of bad things the Europeans brought against the Native Americans, but for this feast--at least in our idealistic history that I want to give hope to for one day--both colonists and natives are in community with each other, in a peaceful relationship.)

As was in their religious nature, they gave thanks. This was not relegated to one day. It was part of who they were.

We put up a large sheet of paper on the wall where we've been trying to write at least one thing we're thankful for each day. It's fun to see it fill up.

It's not a new practice. Each night we include "What are you thankful for?" as part of the boys' bedtime routine. Books like 10,000 Gifts remind us that thanksgiving can change our daily attitudes.

Last night we drove to Madison, Wisconsin, with a young woman from China (a colleague of my wife's) to have a celebration with my in-laws. It's been interesting to see her experience Thanksgiving for the first time. I'm sure in her eyes it is mostly about family and food as we gather. My in-laws don't to anything overtly religious other than praying before the meal. They don't have any big family traditions of going around the table and sharing what each is thankful for this year. But they gather together and enjoy the time with each other. We take a walk, we play games, we laugh, and we talk. And though none may voice a list of gratitude, it is clear that we are thankful to be together and enjoy the each other's presence.

As we wind down the evening watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving specials, the juxtaposition of the constant Black Friday commercials convincing us that what we gave thanks for is not enough--we need more. Giving thanks is not easy. Our busy schedules prevent us from taking the time to realize what all we have been giving. Our capitilistic society keeps telling us that we need more to be happy. Contentment is fleeting.

I know for me that I need to take more time throughout each day taking note of what I have been giving, of what I have to be thankful for. I have much. God has been good. For all I have--for my family and friends, home and health, provision and protection, forgiveness and grace--I am thankful. Today and each day.

11/18/2012

Of Children, Frustration, And Shoeboxes

I've been having plenty of frustrating moments with Nils lately. Not a lot, but enough to know that I am not always responding in the best ways. He does a lot of not-listening. He does a fair amount of outright disobeying. He does a large amount of dawdling. Today after 10 minutes, he did not have is shoes on, and don't often have the time to sit and make sure he's doing what he's supposed to be doing, nor do I have the permission to always be late to places like work. Maybe all of this is normal for six-year olds. I really hope not.

I know I'm not responding well. His actions frustrate me more than they should. And I know he's hearing way too much negative things from my mouth than he should, too.

I was reflecting at church tonight that my focus is off. I am frustrated because he's not obeying. And that's legitimate is many ways, but I realized I don't want a kid who just obeys (as nice as that may be). There will be times in his life where he shouldn't obey--times when he needs to stand up against his peers, stand up for what is right, stand up for justice. And obedience is just an action. It's something we train dogs to do. I'm not a trainer; I'm a parent.

What I need to refocus my desire on with my children is love. That's really what I want. I want them to love me. I want them to love others. I want them to love God. Now, obedience is typically an outcome of love--but it's not the main goal. So what I need to focus on is teaching my son to love. I can't do that by getting impatient at him or yelling at him. I can do that through being patient and sowing more words of affirmation and blessing than I do frustration.

* * * * *
Today the boys and I finished making purchases and putting together shoeboxes with toys, toiletries, and clothes to send to children overseas for Christmas (and, ironically yes, the yelling over the shoe dawdling episode occurred as we were trying to leave to do this). It's something we've been doing the past three years as part of our Advent "routine" to instill a greater sense of benevolence within the boys. We want to stress that Christmas isn't about commercialism and making lists of toys we want. As they get older, I hope we can do things like volunteering at a soup kitchen.

So, we're taking conscious efforts to teach our children to love and think beyond themselves. I just need to show, model, and do it more. Children everywhere need to hear words of love spoken to them far more times than words of anger, frustration, or even impatience. Of course, "out of the heart, the mouth speaks." So the important thing to do when dealing with my children is to make sure I'm building up my heart with the same things that I want to come out of my mouth. I want to speak words of love, patience, and affirmation to my children; I need to make sure my heart is abundant with those ideas.

11/12/2012

About Those Holiday Decorations...

Recently we got the film The Nightmare Before Christmas from the library to watch. None of us really liked the movie much, but it was an interesting juxtaposition of the fear-mongering of Halloween trying to get in on the joy of Christmas. I read that it was inspired from seeing Christmas displays in stores immediately after Halloween.

I've had a few friends and acquaintances mention getting up Christmas decorations around their homes already. Forgive me friends, I mean no offense, but don't rush the holidays.

Getting ready for the holidays isn't about "getting in the spirit" or enjoying the mood that comes with them. Each holiday has it's own meaning, which we often loose in the commercialism of them. And, yes, holidays have changed over time. Most holidays we celebrate today were rooted in pagan festivals. Christians redeemed many pagan holidays to mark the rhythms and celebrations of the Bible.

Halloween, unfortunately, overshadows All Saint's Day--a day to remember our loved ones and other saints who have passed away. We miss the blessing of grieving and remembering when we focus on the fear, the costumes, and the candy.

Thanksgiving becomes overshadowed by Black Friday. We moved rapidly from giving thanks for what God has given to trying to get as much more as we can on sale. Thanksgiving itself often becomes "Turkey Day" with added focus on football.

The word "holiday" is a contraction of sorts of "holy" and "day." Holy, meaning separate, set apart. They were meant to be meaningful and different. I encourage you to savor each day (not just of the holidays, but of each and every day).

Christmas doesn't start until December 25th on the church calendar (unless you're from one of the groups who use the Julian calendar and celebrate it on January 6 or 7 or even the 19th). Those twelve days of Christmas we sing about? Those stretch from December 25 until January 6.

The rest of December is pretty much under Advent. Advent is about waiting. We wait for Christmas just as the world waited for the Christ to come and save. Practicing four weeks of waiting is good for us--good for the soul. So is practicing Thanks-giving (a focused day of giving thanks to remind us to be thankful each day for what we have).

We don't put up our Christmas decorations until St. Nicholas Day usually (though sometimes it happens on Santa Lucia Day). We do this intentionally. I know of some families who don't do anything until right before Christmas Day.

I'm not trying to tell you when to put up your decorations, or when not to. But I am encouraging you to not rush the holidays--to take the time for each one and to mark it in meaningful and special ways.

Right now for me (and my family) is a time of giving thanks. Thanks for our veterans. Thanks for our democracy. Thanks for all I have been given.

And then, in gratitude, I will wait. I will wait for Christmas to arrive. I will wait because instant gratification helps no one grow or savor the moment or appreciate the arrival of what has been given. I will wait because my body and my soul needs time to slow down and be present.

To everything there is a season.

11/10/2012

Of Birthdays, Elections, and Hope

Six years ago our youngest son Nils was born. There was snow in the air for the first time that fall as we drove to the hospital early that morning. It was not an easy time in our lives. My position at the Bible camp I worked at had been cut two months earlier. Opportunities for work was slim. We were about to have a second child.

But we had hope. We were in a church community that was praying for us and taking care of us. God was providing for our needs. We knew a job would come along at some point. And we knew that our new-born son was coming into a family that would love him, no matter what.


This past week Americans voted for the president, national and local leaders, and various state laws and constitutional amendments. As with most elections in the past few decades, it was ugly. Mud was slung. Division was clearly more abundant than unity.

In Minnesota were were faced with a marriage amendment which pitted those who don't want the definition of marriage to be change against those who want gays and lesbians to have the same freedoms. We had a voter ID amendment that pitted those that wanted fair, un-fraudulent voting against those who were looking out for the rights of minorities and the elderly. Many felt very strongly about both sides of both amendments. And, I believe, both sides had valid points (the outcome wouldn't have been so close to 50-50 if not). Unfortunately, we didn't look for common ground. Unfortunately, both amendments caused a lot of hurt, as well as a lot of name-calling. As did the presidential election--and every other election on the ballot.

We had months of ugly political ads. And the the election was over. The disunity didn't end. I hated the election results as much as the ads leading up to them...it's either smugness, despair, or naming segments of voters as idiots. Democracy only works if we allow people to vote their conscience with respect that we can differ. It's not easy to acknowledge that if our vote "wins," another person's "lost" and to respect them without rubbing their nose in it. We have become a nation of poor losers and arrogant winners. It seems that for a while we are going to be politically divided, rather than trying to find middle ground where we can all move forward.

In the midst of the election results, I never heard anyone mention Peurto Rico's non-binding resolution to become the 51st state. Many of the islanders want change, and at least a fair number think that becoming more fully involved as a united state, rather than a territory, would be beneficial. I hope they're right.

Nils had his whole birthday party planned out. Crafts, games, activities. He had drawn out an elaborate obstacle course to make in the yard. Then he made a 3-D model of it. He knew what he wanted for his party, and he made it happen. He also knew his friends whom he had invited and made sure it would be fun for them as well.

His world is very different than the world I grew up in. As a white male, he is in the minority in our neighborhood. His teachers are from the Netherlands, Mexico, and Somalia. He is surrounded by the inner city instead of cornfields. The future he grows up in will be different, too. Clearly the political and moral tide will continue to change over time--for good and for bad.

My hope lies not in the election or the political decisions to come. My hope is in my children and their friends. I hope they can do better than we do sometimes. I hope they can work together to find a way to bring equality and justice, righteousness and peace--and to do so while staying true to who they are and to their moral standards. I hope that just as they are able to play together as children that they can work together as adults...male and female, black and white, Christian and non-Christian.

My greatest hope is that Nils will love his Creator and find his purpose in who he was made to be. I know he loves God...I pray that it grows more deeply in him as he grows older. That he may know the Christ who loved everyone, who challenged unjust systems, and who preached repentance as well as forgiveness. That he may live out that love in bold ways.

I love you, my six-year old Nils. And I pray that you may find hope as you grow up as well.

11/04/2012

The Mind and Repenting

Etymologically, the word "repent" mainly means "regret"--that you feel heavy sorrow for something. I've often heard that theologically it means to turn around and walk a different direction--that you do a 180. Both of these are true and helpful definitions. We, of course, need to be regretful of the wrong we do and stop doing sinful actions.

But sometimes stopping and turning around isn't enough. I was reading a fiction book last night that described repenting as not only stopping and turning, but resetting our minds. It isn't enough to just stop sinning or walk in a different direction. We need to look at our thought patterns, trying to understand why we turn to sin in the first place. If we don't do that, we will most likely return to our sins.

Of course, there's more to it than that--we need the Holy Spirit's help and to confess our sins. But personally, I'm finding this idea of needing to change our thought patterns as well as actions helpful. I know I've got sinful patterns in my life that I try to stop, but keep coming back to because I don't look at my thought patterns. Now, I just need to be more mindful of my mind in all this.

10/21/2012

Beholding Creation

"Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life."
     -- Rachel Carson (on a sign at Eastman Nature Center in Maple Grove, Minnesota)

10/20/2012

An Apt Metaphor

It was foggy when I woke up this morning and got in the car to head on my way to spiritual direction at church. It was a thick fog. The kind you have to wipe off the windows of your car. I could tell the sun was up somewhere, but I couldn't tell where.

When I left my spiritual direction group at church an hour and a half later, the fog had mostly lifted. A very thin veil was left which the sun was shining through. That's how spiritual direction can be. The fog lifts; the sun is shining.


10/19/2012

On Race

The last two days were MEA weekend in Minnesota (actually it's Education Minnesota Professional Conference, but everyone still refers to the old Minnesota Education Association acronym) when teachers have the opportunity to attend a big teacher's conference. Basically, it means a fall vacation weekend (more people travel this weekend in Minnesota than on Thanksgiving) for most people.

We had two days of an inservice at school. This meant having to find places for the boys to go since I've usually been able to go somewhere with them (I'm very thankful for my sister April and our friend Sara who each took the boys a day). Our Montessori school is a charter school serving North Minneapolis. That means we're very diverse--both economically and racially.

When your community becomes more diverse, it comes with more tension and conflict, but it is quite worth working through for the sake of not having just one group's viewpoint on everything. For example, the adults in my Kindergartner's classroom are from the Netherlands, Somalia, and Mexico. His friends come in a variety of shades of skin pigmentation.

Our workshop the past two days centered around racism, cultural diversity, and white privilege. Race is a created social construct. There are more differences within a racial group that between groups. Race was created to separate people. With that said, though race isn't real, racism is. Racism happens when one group has power over another.

I don't like the thought of "White Privilege"--that as a white person, I have certain privileges other people don't have. It makes me feel defensive, feeling that I haven't contributed to racism. But the fact of the matter is that I do have privileges my colored friends don't have. I may experience racism toward me in my own neighborhood and not always feel safe, but I have the opportunity to move to neighborhoods where I do feel safe (and I don't have to worry about the rent being unfair to me because of my skin color or having to prove myself). I don't have to worry if I get pulled over by the police that I will be detained or face anything bigger than a minor traffic violation. When I speak or do something, people don't usually attribute anything I say or do to my race.

I see the struggle in my neighborhood. It's hard for kids to have hope to escape when they don't have good educational opportunities. Or if they do have good opportunities, they struggle because they don't get enough sleep at home or their parents aren't around to support them. Yes, some of this is because of the poor decisions that are made. Some of it is because of class--poor parents have to work more so they're not around for their kids. And class issues are strongly rooted in issues of power.

There's a lot of deep layers of things. And it's easy to think that I'm not related to the cause of those issues--which may be true. But I also have privilege that others don't have. And if I'm not helping correct that, I'm still a part of the problem. I don't like it, but it's there. I'm not sure how to deal with that entirely yet. I don't have solutions. But I'm aware that I can't keep my eyes closed.

10/15/2012

Pictures from the Wilderness in Autumn

A week and a half ago the boys and I took off for a hike while Beth was away on a field trip. We had thought about going camping, but the nights were quite cold and their sleeping bags aren't much for warmth. So we took off to explore a nearby state park that we hadn't been to before. It was a cold, crisp day, but the hiking warmed us up a little. We're working on conditioning the boys for more outdoor times like these for future hopes of backpacking and going to the Boundary Waters. Someday.

I wish there were more weekends like those in the fall. We've been battling with colds and such recently. And many weekends get full with other things that work their way into the schedule. Plus there are all those outdoor jobs that need to get done yet (putting the garden to rest for the winter, raking the leaves, winterizing the house...). The autumnal season is way too short in the upper midwest.
But excuses can't be made. Nature is there. It beckons. 

I read somewhere recently that "wandering in the wilderness" is often used as a way of showing felt separation from God. When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness for forty years, they were often trying to do their own thing and neglecting the very God who was leading them out of slavery and into the promised land.

And the wilderness can be that. I can be a place of trial, darkness, harshness. Jesus certainly felt some of that during his 40 day fast. Elijah and Elisha certainly felt that at times in their confrontation of pagan  gods and practices.  
 

But the wilderness is not just that. Most of the time I like to wander in the wilderness to reconnect with God. I feel Him most present there where I can see the wonders He has made. Not that I'm always mindful of His presence...but I do usually feel refreshed and renewed. Christ often went there to escape the pressures of the crowds and to find renewal in the prayerful presence of the Father.

The wilderness is important for those reasons. Whether we feel connected to God or feel like He's nowhere to be found, the wilderness--with all it's wildness and untamedness--is a place of beauty and wonder. We are connected to the dirt from which we were formed. We are reminded of our frailty, our weakness, our place in the world, as well as our power and the impact we have with each footstep we take.


And so I hope for more fall days to get outside and enjoy the wilderness. As Tolkien told us, "not all who wander are lost."

“All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, a light from the shadows shall spring; renenwed shall be blade that was broken, the crownless again shall be king.” 
 - J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

10/04/2012

Night-Time Gratitude

Some days with the kids are rough. I think any parent would agree to this.

But I'm grateful for moments that put it all into perspective.

Last night at 3am, Nils came and woke me up because he wanted to give me a hug. I admit, I wasn't ready for it--usually a middle of the night wake-up is because of a bad dream or sickness or something like that. And I don't necessarily need to be shown love from him at 3am again, but it was a touching gesture.

Tonight, Anders had a bit of a tantrum over his clothes for school tomorrow (he wanted to wear the same sweatshirt that he wore today again tomorrow). After he had calmed down, he called me back up to give hugs and kisses. Both boys wanted me to sing "Trygare kan ingen vara" (Children of the Heavenly Father)--the song I used to sing to them at bedtime when they were babies.

I need to remember these times with gratitude and cherish them. So even if reading this didn't mean anything to you, I needed the space to be mindful of it. Thanks for letting me share.

9/30/2012

How to Eat Humble Pie

At church we talked about humility as part of the Rule of Benedict in chapter 7 (and humility, of course, comes from the Bible in many parts of Scripture). I used to think I was pretty good at being humble (which is the first sign that I'm not really humble). I don't tend to think of myself as better than others; sometimes I can revel in my lowly status (second sign of not being humble).

One of my pet peeves is self-centered drivers. You know the ones: they zoom down the side of the road to get up to the front of the line when everyone else is patiently merging for the construction zone, they'll speed around you on the street only to turn at the next corner, they won't use their blinker or stop fully at stop signs or even stop at all on a red light. I get irritated by people who are clearly only thinking of themselves when they are on the road.

Of course, I've realized, I'm only irritated because those people often inconvenience me.

And as I get older, I realize that most all of the problems I create in life I do so because I'm being selfish. I'm focused on myself and my own desires rather than thinking about others or who my actions might impact.

The final twelfth step of the downward-climbing ladder of humility according to St. Benedict is "reached when a [person] shows humility in his heart and in his appearance and actions" (RB 7.145).

One might think that humility, like meekness, is weak--that it means letting people walk all over you. This is untrue. Christ calls us to love others as we love ourselves. We can't love others unless we're taking care of our own needs.

For example, I'm learning to be better about disciplining students at school. My tendency has always been to let some things slide. I'll crack down when it's serious, but I tend to turn a blind eye before that point because I don't want students to think of me as one of those "mean" staff people. Of course by not disciplining--by not correcting improper actions--I'm only thinking of myself. I don't want them not to like me. But the action that is helpful for everyone--including the misbehaving student--is to address the issues that are occurring. Humility means knowing my place. And when I'm a parent or working at school, that means I have the responsibility to correct students' misbehavior. When someone else in authority addresses me, it is my place to listen to them.

My ego gets in the way of God's will. I still turn to it way too often, but it does me no good. So, like most things, I've got a way to go. Maybe knowing that is one of the first steps to humility. (Though Benedict would say that the first step is "taken when a man obeys all of God’s commandments–never ignoring them, and fearing God in his heart" (RB 7.131).)

9/23/2012

Letting Go

There is an old story (sometimes thought to be from Aesop, but at least coming from 1st century Greek philosopher Epictetus) about a boy who puts his hand in a pitcher of figs and filberts, grabbing so many that he cannot pull his hand out. We all know the moral of the story--that he has to let go in order to free his hand.

Jesus talks about something similar a few decades earlier when He encountered a man with much wealth. The man falls at Jesus feet, wanting to inherit (or get) eternal life. He has kept all the commandments. Clearly, he is a good person, has done the right things, and can humbly come before Jesus. Jesus, with much love for the man the text tells us, tells him the other thing he must do to inherit eternal life is to give away all his possessions. The man leaves, dejected.

Hearing it in church, made me thing that today the story might go like this:

A wealthy business CEO (like Tony Stark--someone who does good things, is smart, and inherited the company fortune from his father) comes before Jesus. "Jesus, I'd like to gain eternal life. What can I do to get that?"

"Remember all those things your parents and Sunday school teachers told you to do? Do them."

"I have. I've run my business honestly. I've been faithful to my spouse. I've never hurt anyone. Trust me, Jesus, I'm a good person. I'd be a great fit for Heaven."

"Alright then," Jesus replies, "then you only need to get rid of all your possessions and wealth so that you can help those who have none."

"Oh, but I give to charity already."

"I mean get rid of it all. You're holding on to it too tightly." The man leaves, glumly.


Then Jesus turns to the middle-class house wife next to Him.

"How about you? Do you desire eternal life as well?"

"Yes, of course. And don't worry about me...I don't have many possessions. We have little in our bank account. We still manage to tithe ever Sunday."

"Good. Then you just need to let go of your judgmentalism, your envy, your emotional insecurity, and your desires for your children's future." She walks away, sullen.


Then He turns to me.

"And you...you need to let go of your fears, your hurt, your pride, your isolation, your intellectualism, your compulsions, your..."


Pastor Jan noted in tonight's sermon that we have to release in order to gain. We dispossess to possess.

We don't "inherit eternal life" or "get into Heaven." We can't do anything to merit it. And, in many ways, it's not the goal. We follow Jesus. We enter into a relationship with God. The Kingdom of Heaven is here...and not yet. But it isn't for those who are holding onto things. We have to come with empty hands to Jesus...or at least bring those things we need to give to Him. I don't necessarily like this idea. I find much comfort in some of the things I hang onto, but I can only call Jesus "Lord" if I have let go of those things and let Him have all of me.

9/22/2012

The Swing of Things

We're trying to get into the swing of things at our house--developing our new schedule this fall. This is the first time since having children that both my wife and I are working outside the home full-time. She's doing research and classes on her way to getting a doctorate; I'm working at the boys' school as a classroom assistant. I worked last year, but mostly substitute teaching. I could take a day off work each week to fit in appointments, run errands, and do things around the house.  That can't happen now.

It's an adjustment. I get up, get the boys ready, and the three of us head out the door together (most days...Beth is sometimes gone by then, sometimes not, and sometimes she gets them on the bus so I can get in an early appointment if necessary). I work at school all day, and then bring the boys home where it's time to figure out something for supper. There's usually laundry to do, dishes to wash, floors to vacuum, etc., as well as spending time with the boys in a more meaningful way than just driving them to school. Then there's getting in the time to work on some personal things, time to build our marriage relationship, time to do something relaxing and enjoyable for myself...

I know I'm experiencing nothing that most people haven't already experienced. Can we just take a moment to acknowledge how tiring it is to have two working spouses in the home? Because it's quite tiring. Being a full-time parent is tiring. Raising children and maintaining a household on top of working outside the home all day just compounds it.

And frankly, I don't want to spend every part of my weekend getting caught up around the house. I want to have some enjoyable time with the family. I want to get out and enjoy the fresh air. I want to participate in community events or spend time with friends. And then have time to just Sabbath like God desires for us.

The first day of school (for the 5-year old--the 8-year old and I started the day before)
So I fully acknowledge that some sacrifices will have to be made. I won't be able to fit in all my plans or desires for the sake of keeping the household happy and sane. And maybe there are days when chores just get ignored for the sake of keeping all of us happy and sane.

We're still figuring it all out. But I'm already learning little of it matters if I get too busy to remember that God is present throughout it. Otherwise, I'm just letting faith become religion where I try and meet God on Sundays and during occasional prayer times.

His desire is for a relationship with me. He's present throughout the day. I'm working on grasping that fact in the midst of having five students ask for help at the same time or trying to a child on the autism spectrum back from his "emotional time" or figuring out what to make for supper while putting laundry in the wash. I'll get there...I know God's not going anywhere, and if He desires for a relationship with me, and I desire the same, I'm certain things will come together.

9/16/2012

Fall Family Time


Yesterday morning we packed up the car, met up with friends, and drove up to Wild River State Park to enjoy the weekend. It was beautiful weather--we never put the rain fly on (though we were tempted to for keeping in the heat in the tent over night, but we all stayed warm enough, I think). After getting the last two non-electric sites available (I really hate how camping has become a reservation-needed system), we set up camp, and the we headed to the Franconia Sculpture Garden. I appreciate that the artist create interactive works--and many that the kids can climb on.

Due to taking a relaxed pace with the afternoon, we ran out of time to climb on the rocks at Glacier Gardens in nearby Interstate Park (which the boys were wanting to do) or enjoy a hearty hike back at Wild River (which I would have enjoyed). But we made supper and then partook in a naturalist's talk on owls. Of course there was some marshmallow-roasting at our campfire that night along with a little star gazing.

Today we went the the Amador Apple Festival in the small town of Almelund, Minnesota (where we recently had the serendipitous discovery of a street named Wenell Lane). It was a nice small-town, community-oriented festival: food vendors (Swedish sausage on a stick, tacos in a bag, etc.), hand-made crafts, produce, and an assortment of apple-based products for sale. They were several historical buildings on site with displays as well as hands-on opportunities to live the past (making butter from cream, twisting twin into rope, harvesting prairie seeds). Old silent movies flickered on a wall in the barn; you could wait in line for a ride in a Model T as well. The boy got to try their first carmel apples (somehow they'd missed out on those--we've had apples with carmel dip, but not carmel apples).

It wouldn't have much mattered what we did. We had planned to have the weekend together as a family. It's beautiful fall weather, and while the trees haven't started turning much, we wanted to be outside for most of it. For us that means camping--or at least I personally like it when it means camping. It is good for our boys to be outside, to be active, to be with family and friends, and to be in God's presence. He is everywhere, but for me at least, He is much more noticeable outside. And I admit that I don't always take the time to note His presence, but I know that He and His creation leave their mark on my soul when I have been their presence. I hope that happens with my children as well.

9/14/2012

The Power of Humility

God created the world out of nothing, and as long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.
     - Martin Luther

9/11/2012

For Eyes to See

All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.
     -Ralph Waldo Emerson

9/02/2012

A Day Trip

 With all of us back to school in one capacity or another last week, we didn't get our lives planned enough to go camping, which would be how I'd like to spend a three-day weekend at the end of summer. So we planned for a day trip instead. And all-in-all, it was a wonderful day.

It was later morning by the time we got all the food together and some things done around the house. Our destination was Wild River State Park--just over an hour'd drive northeast on the St. Croix River. On our way we made a brief stop in the tiny little town of Almelund where we chanced to see a street that shared our last name (so we stopped to take a picture of course). They was a quaint little mercantile store that advertised Scandinavian pottery, so we stopped so my wife could peruse. It was mainly an antique store with a lot of Scandinavian items, along with a cafe nook, and a small grocery section. The owners we quite friendly and proud of their little town and its events.


After we arrived just down the road at the state park, we got out our cooler and had a picnic lunch. There were a number of programs going on at the park that day. We thought we'd try one on wild mushrooms. Unfortunately the presenter didn't have the right adapters to get her presentation to run on the park's computer and projector, and I think she got a bit flustered after that. She rambled quite a bit, and while she had some decent information in there, it wasn't enough to hold us captive (plus, we expected we'd be hiking and actually finding mushrooms). So we snuck out early and went for a hike. The hike was our main objective for the day--hoping to acclimate the boys to doing more hiking, hoping we could eventually do some backpacking. It wasn't overly long (just over 2 miles total) or strenuous; we enjoyed a walk along the St. Croix River. We stopped at a sandy beach near the end of the first trail for a snack, and the boys played in the river.

After we returned to our vehicle we headed down the road to Taylors Falls to find some supper. We ended up at an old-fashioned drive-in. The kids' meals included a coupon for 2-for-1 at the adjacent mini golf course, so the boys played a round. It took them a little while to get into the swing of things, but they enjoyed it, and each ended up with a hole-in-one (which they were quite thrilled about).

It was getting a little late in the day by that point, but we had thought about stopping at the Franconia Sculpture Park on our way home, but on our way out of Taylors Falls we saw a sign for a Glacial Garden, which we didn't remember seeing on our previous trips through town, so we drove in that direction to check it out. It was a part of Interstate Park right before the bridge to Wisconsin. The boys loved it--it was a trail through a rocky area with glacial potholes and other formations carved out from an ancient river bed. They kept asking today if we could go back so they could do some more climbing. While we won't be making that drive this weekend, we do hope to head back again soon for some fall camping in that area. 

On our way home we stopped so my wife could get a picture of the bright orange, nearly-full moon that was rising on the horizon. Our main--make that only--expense of the day (other than gas) was supper and mini-golf. An inexpensive day, but a great way to spend a Saturday in September--and I think a few memories were made along the way.

8/25/2012

End of Summer

I started back to work at school over a week ago now. The boys start this coming week. Though the calendar says otherwise, summer is about over.

I wanted to make the most of it this weekend. Even though it was a tiring week, and Friday was a long day, we decided to picnic and take in a concert at Lake Harriet. It's probably the last of the summer for us. The boys wanted to swim in the lake before the concert started (I waded out, but I'm afraid I'm a wimp in cold lake water).

The music was by S. Carey. If I knew much about the music scene these days I would have known that he's the drummer and back-up vocalist for Bon Iver. It was a good concert. Afterward they were showing Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? I know it's not a "family-friendly" movie, but we stayed for part of it, and the boys were really enjoying the humor in it. It was a beautiful evening, too. Great weather, few bugs, a starry night. Perfect.

I managed to score a pass to the Minnesota Zoo yesterday at the library. The boys had been wanting to go all summer. I hadn't seen a pass there in the last couple of months (and the museum pass program ends next week, which we're super sad about, but thankful we got to participate in it). Even with two free admissions, it cost us $30 just to get in. There was some special dinosaur exhibit the boys had also been wanting to see there. It turned out that it was an extra fee, so we unfortuantely didn't get to see it. I think we'll be doing our zoo trips to good old free Como Park Zoo from here on out. It was a rainy day, but the boys enjoyed getting to see all the animals.

But gone are the days of putting the boys on their bikes for a little trip, or visiting a museum, or going swimming, or...well, doing anything during the week except school. I'm still hoping to get in some weekend camping yet. But I'm going to miss summer. There was so much I intended to do.

Yet, I'm also going to enjoy autumn. We get back to having a schedule, and the boys are in bed earlier. Good sleeping weather and colorful trees are on their way.  I guess with any changing of the season, there is pleanty to miss and plenty to look forward toward.

Anders has the same feelings on his birthdays. He looks forward to all the things he gets to do as he grows older, but he also misses the things that were only options when he was younger.

Time marches on, the cycles continue in their own rhythms despite our prodding or reluctance.We have little choice in the changing of the seasons or the passage of time, excpet to use it wisely. Cherish the moments. Find things to be thankful for each day. Work hard, and enjoy life.

So, good-bye summer. Hello 2012 school  year. It's going to be quite the journey.

8/15/2012

Wild Peace

One last poem I wrote while in the Boundary Waters.




There is peace.

The only sounds are from birds, insects, the wind, and the water.
Any other noise, we have made ourselves.
I read that peace is not just the absence of conflict
But the absence of injustice as well.

I wonder if there is injustice here...
Certainly not everyone "leaves no trace"
As is evident by remnants we discover at our campsite.
But most people here respect the wilderness.

And the wilderness does what it is supposed to:
The eagle swoops and catches its prey;
The moss breaks down the decaying birch branches;
The loons swim, dive, and call to one another;
The chipmunk scampers, gathering hazelnuts.

And maybe that is why there is peace:
Because all creation does what God created it to do.

8/14/2012

A Look at a Canoe Trip

We just returned yesterday from four days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. We went with two other couples (one of whom we had never met before, but that's another story). It was the first time my wife and I had been in the Boundary Waters together--at least for more than a day trip. I'm thankful she initiated making arrangements for us to go.

Here's what a canoe trip looks like:

Beginning a portage
Paddle, paddle, paddle. The lake we camped on was around 5 miles long. It's not the largest by any means. I have no idea how much we paddled each day. One day we just explored the lake we were on so we did about a 10 mile trip.

Carry everything on your shoulders. To get from lake to lake, you portage. First you carry your canoe. Then you go back for your packs. Distances are measured in rods. One rod is the average canoe length: 16.5 feet. Our longest portage was 147 rods: about a half mile. But a portage is seldom flat terrain. Often you go up, then down, then up, and then down again. Possibly several more times. And there are usually pointy rocks dotting the trail. And tree roots. None of this makes carrying a canoe on your shoulders easy. Also, because of rains the previous day, the path of the long portage became a small stream--which somehow managed to flow down the front side of the hill as we climbed up it as well as down the backside as we made our way to the next lake.

Set up camp. We stayed in one place for all three nights. My last trip we kept moving. It's nice to not have to move. We were able to explore neighboring lakes and only have to portage with canoes and a food pack, which is nice.

Your toilet is in the middle of the woods. With no walls around. Just a tube, sticking up out of the ground. Ours happened to be a decent hike up a hill from our campsite. Of course, a toilet is not always needed...

Your food must be hung up in a tree every night...preferably between two trees, at least 12 feet off the ground. You do what you can to make it inaccessible to bears.

Your food is all camped over a fire (typically on a small camp stove). And all of your food you have to carry in on your back. Any campfires you desire must be made from dead wood you have found on the forest floor and brought back.

If you want to bathe, you jump in a lake. Many lakes are deep (over 100 feet). And almost all are quite cold. You may find a few spots of warm water near the shore, but generally the lakes don't get much above 60 degrees.

Our "bathroom"
Nature is your best friend--and your worst enemy. It happened to be our best friend on this trip. We hardly had any bug issues--which is rare. Normally flies and mosquitoes are a campers' bane in the North Woods. I didn't put any insect repellent on, and didn't need to. We had perfect weather--in the 70s most days, cooler at night. No rain until  the last morning when we had a few brief sprinkles. We were all hoping for the excitement of seeing a moose or a bear or some large mammal. Moose scat is the closest we got. But there were plenty of loons and several eagles. And of course wildflowers, birch trees, and evergreens galore. One of the nights was the peak of the Perseids. We laid out on one of the large boulders along the shore and star-gazed. None of us stayed up long enough to see the meteors in mass, but we saw several before turning in for the night.

It's wonderful stuff, this canoeing in the Boundary Waters. We're figuring out how to functionally be able to go with our children next time. It's feasible--it just requires some adjusting.

It is, for the most part, roughing it. I know that's not for everyone. But it is a beautiful place. Canoeing is good for the body and soul. And you will find few places as peaceful (unless there's a storm, but we didn't encounter that, so we're good).
s.


8/13/2012

Poems from The Boundary Waters

Day:
Muscles flex, paddle dips,
A miniscule eddy forms
As our red canoe propels forward.
As the paddle feathers back
Over the water's surface,
Droplets slide off the blade.
The boat, the water, and we
Become one as we journey
Across lake and land.

Night:
I hear little noise except
The haunting cry of a loon
And the waterfall across the lake.
The water is still.
The stars are emerging;
Chunks of space rock
Burn as they streak
Across the black sky
Making a spectacular night show.


8/06/2012

Olympics!

We were camping in Illinois last week on our way to the family reunion, so we missed the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games. I didn't get to watch any events until late Thursday night after we returned home, so the last few days the television has seen more on time that it has all summer.

As most of you know, I don't put a lot of time into watching televised sports. The Olympics is the one exception. I watch as much of the Olympics as I can.

I love the events--especially some of the ones we don't get to see very often. It's fun to see something like water polo, kayaking, or archery, rather than the usual professional sports.

The sportsmanship in the Olympics is laudable. While everyone is cheering for their home country, they still cheer whole-heartedly for the other competitors. One of my boys commented on how they were surprised to see the athletes who "lost" congratulate the winners. And the medal placers congratulate the "losers." There is seldom any jeering. Spectators as well as competitors encourage and support everyone alike. Especially the underdog.

And possibly one of the most compelling parts of the Olympics is the stories we get to hear behind the athletes (and thank you, Visa, for getting Morgan Freeman to narrate your inspirational commercials which briefly highlight some of those stories).

Who will forget this year seeing a double-amputee from South Africa run a race--and do so well? Or a legally blind archer from Korea helping his team receive a medal? Or a former refugee who used to run for his life, now running for the enjoyment of the sport.

Prince and princess are on the same playing field as the commoner. Every participating country had a female competitor for the first time ever. And while the smaller, less developed nations usually don't have the financial backing for training their athletes, often an athlete from an underdog country ends up in a medal-winning heat here and there.

I know there is plenty of controversy behind parts of the Olympics, but there is much I can appreciate. So, thank you world, for coming together for a couple weeks, putting aside our political differences and cheering each other on. We need more moments like this to celebrate and encourage one another.