Thought For Today

I am so glad that you have found this site and I hope you will find encouragement and joy as you read through my thoughts on God, family and life.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Showing acts of kindness and hospitality.

Monarch butterfly, visiting Anne and Marji's hydrangia.

This week we have family staying with us from Texas.  Anne’s sister Gayle and her family are visiting us and we are excited about having them here.  The weather is quite a change for them since they live in the farthest point south in Texas in the town of Brownsville.  Texas has had record high temperatures with over 70 days of extreme heat.  As I am typing this blog I look outside and see rain coming down with the temperatures now in the 60s.  This is quite a change for our Texas relatives.  It is good having family around us. 

Another monarch taken without a flash.
This time of having visitors to our home reminds me of what God asks us to be, gracious and welcoming to people in our lives.  Paul writes in his letter to the Romans (12:13), “Practice hospitality.  Again in 1 Peter 4:9-10  “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  During this time period when Christianity was new and many lived together, I imagine that many concerns were raised over territory issues and that of sharing with others over what seemed limited supplies of food and space. 

I remember years ago, a minister telling our small Bible group that, “You cannot out give God!  He will always bless you with more than you can imagine when you have a giving heart.”  For me, I have been blessed with a wife who has a giving heart and who wants to bless others with her gift of hospitality.  I have learned much from Anne and her love for others and her genuine caring nature. 

Now I look over the table and notice Anne preparing supper for 8 adults and a number of little kids.  She is in her element when cooking and having family around her.  I love that she has a wonderful sense of giving and hospitality.  That is one thing that as a couple we have prayed for in our home, that of making it a place of acceptance and kindness.  I recall when first married, we lived in a tiny apartment here in Winona.  The neighborhood was quiet, and it also was the same house that I lived in, when going to college.  Unfortunately, the building had a number of challenges in it.  For one, it had bats in the walls, and it had developed mold in the walls over the years.  One night I caught a bat in an open garbage bag in our living room as it swooped by.  Another time, I escorted another bat out the open door.  The house was next to a lake and so it was in a perfect location for bats to eat their fill of insects at night.  Even with these handicaps, Anne made our home a place where many people felt welcome.  People walked away from the special hospitality that she gave them, wanting to return again to our humble apartment. 

Visitors walking by our porch.
We can learn so much from others if we watch for moments of kindness and model for ourselves their acts of love.  I remember years ago watching my cousin Pat walking with his guests outside when they were leaving.  This impressed me greatly in that he made each person visiting his home feel so welcome, even to the point of showing them kindness and respect by walking them each individually to their cars.  I could see each visitor’s expression; they felt blessed and welcome when leaving his home.  Each of Pat’s guests wanted to return to his home because of his many kind acts of attention given to them.   Today, I do the same with my guests; I walk each one to their cars and tell them how much it meant to Anne and myself for coming to see us. 

Family together again.
Pat was and is a good listener.  He listens more than he speaks, and lets each guest know that he cares about them by his attentive acts of listening and responding to their conversation with him.   Do you know of someone like Anne and Pat in your life?  Many times we model the behaviors others see, and for us, we may never know how it has affected them until we get to heaven.  Too many times at funerals we hear about the wonderful acts of kindness that the deceased has done.  Unfortunately, the person who should hear those kind words, is gone on to the next world.  Tell those friends and family members that you admire and appreciate their acts of generosity and hospitality today.  Call them, go over and visit them, don’t wait for the “right” opportunity to do this, it may never come. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Our World of Nature

Fall is coming!
What a beautiful day we are having today in Southeastern Minnesota.  The temperatures are in the high 60s and it is sunny out. 

This morning when getting up at 5:30 for golf, I had a difficult time getting out of bed.  The air was cool on our second level of our home, and the covers felt so warm and soft.  In the latter days of summer, it starts to cool down at night and the mornings are relatively brisk as well.  This is my favorite time of the year.  The fall colors are starting to show on the maple trees and the first signs of autumn are beginning with the gathering of birds into flocks.  Instinct tells them that they must be ready to start traveling south soon.  I look around me and see by the swaying branches on the trees that the winds are coming more from the northerly direction, and with that, the cooler weather.  From now until November, it will trend in the direction of winter.  These are the beginnings of fall when nature begins to ready itself for sleep. 

Beginning of a great day!
As I sit on the porch, I listen to the sounds of the crickets and the locust.  With the cooler and dryer weather, they seem to flourish.  With the cooler temperatures, I see the cardinals jumping from flower to weed, hunting for summer’s last insects.  They almost seem to be having fun.  They remind me of children hunting for Easter eggs.  Amongst the flowering thistles, I see goldfinches hopping from thistle seed to seed happily eating their fill.  At times it looks funny watching the thistle bend back and forth in the breeze under the finch’s weight.  They seem to be having fun, like children on a teeter-totter. 

With the end of summer comes our first fruits.
Looking out on the remaining gladiolas, I see our friends the hummingbirds drinking their fill of nectar.  Anne, my wife, commented that the two ruby throated hummingbirds flying in front of us both seemed to be courting today.  It was beautiful watching them fly almost effortlessly in a horseshoe pattern, each in unison, one with the other.  As I now look up into our pear tree, I see a rustle of leaves and discover that a baby hummingbird is sitting on the leaves, almost concealed.  At first it looked like a bumblebee, but on further observation, I could see that it was an infant hummingbird.  I then commented to Anne, that maybe the pair of hummingbirds flying below the baby were not mating, but celebrating an empty nest. 

As I type these words I can hear the call of a pileated woodpecker coming from the woods.  Further in the other direction, I hear chickadees seemingly answering its call.  When observing these birds, I noticed the golden rod swaying in the breeze on the hillside.  This unusual plant causes allergic reactions for my family at times.  I strive to cut it down, but it does get away from me at times.  It is a beautiful plant, or some might say (weed.)  One can spot, in the winter, many times a ball that has formed around the stem of the golden rod.  A worm bores into the stem and the plant instinctively builds a hard ball around it to protect itself.  Many times upon closer inspection, I have found that some woodpecker has pecked a hole into the stem ball, successfully retrieving the hibernating worm.  My son Will has excitedly asked me a number of times to cut into the stem in an attempt to find the worm as well.  I try to make our journeys into the woods a learning experience as well as enjoyable.  I want our children to grow up with an appreciation for nature and the world around them.    

Visitor to Anne's honeysuckle.
While sitting here typing, I look around and I hear clucking sounds coming from the woods.  It appears to be wild turkeys feeding on the forest floor.  They make their visits to our meadow several times a year.  I remember reading about Ben Franklin; he wanted the bird to be our national symbol, rather than the eagle.  The turkey flies up to 50 miles per hour and is clever enough to avoid predators like the fox and coyote by roosting in the branches of trees at night.  When teaching in a nearby town, I used to see up to 20 some turkeys roosting in one tree as I drove by a small wooded area on the way to work.  They are a very attractive bird and are majestic when the mating season arrives.  I have seen the toms (males) fanning their large colorful tail feathers in front of prospective mates in the spring.  That reminds me of the time we were building our home, my wife Anne came excitedly over to me and asked if I would like to see something wonderful.  “Come and see the largest pheasants you have ever seen.”  Well, they turned out to be wild turkeys instead.  I smiled and informed my sweetheart that they were not pheasants, but turkeys.  In retrospect, they did look a lot like pheasants though.  Anne grew up in North Dakota and they do not have wild turkeys living on the prairies.  Pheasants on the other hand are found in abundance.  I do joke with her at times about North Dakota.  In defense of this wonderful state though, I share a deep passion for its unique beauty.  My thoughts go back a few years ago when I met my brother from Wyoming and together we have traveled to Amidon, North Dakota.  There we competed in target shooting contests with other men and women from all over the country.  The black powder long-range buffalo target shooting contests are very exciting, as well as camping out on the wild untamed prairies.  This wonderful area is known as the Bad Lands, and has some of the most beautiful countryside that one can imagine.  At one time in history, Teddy Roosevelt was a cowboy in this same area.  He spent much time here before heading back east to pursue his political ambitions.  Many of his beliefs were formed out in the wild, while riding herd on cattle drives.  One such belief that he founded, was that of the creation of our national parks.
Wild turkey walking by Will and Abby's sandpile.

I love joking with my wife Anne, and we have a fun time laughing with each other.  One such day I informed her that the only trees in North Dakota are called telephone poles.  Anne does have a generous love for nature and she appreciates the beauty that God has placed all around us in the form of wildlife and greenery.  She is very good-natured and takes my joking with a grain of salt.  Anne is always kind and very courteous to our children and myself.  I have told her that it is true that opposites do attract in this case.  She smiles and gives me a kiss and says that I am a good man and not at all like that.  I then watch her walk away and think how fortunate a man I am that God has blessed me with such a wonderful wife.

Coyote's last visit in the early Spring.
In closing with my musings, I look up and listen to a coyote howling in the forest.  I laugh to myself thinking how much he sounds like a dog with an abscessed tooth.   How wonderful our world is, God has blessed us with so much beauty and life teaming all around us.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


A baby male Downy Woodpecker on our pear tree.

Yesterday my six-year-old daughter and I were having a discussion about why small towns were somewhat safer than big cities.  Abby asked me, “Daddy, could you as a boy walk to the park by yourself?”  I told her, “Yes I could!  In those days many mommies were at home, so it made a safer neighborhood for us kids to play in.  I could walk several blocks to the park by myself at 6 years of age.  We had a Mrs. Winters who would sit in Ashley Park and sew while she visited with us.  The city paid her to monitor the children in the park.  She loved us and we loved her as well.” 

Americna Queen paddle boat docking at Winona's Port.
Abby then asked me if it is that way in Jackson today?  I told her that in many respects it was the same.  Living in a small town made it safe because not many people live there, and there are many people who care for each other.  She then asked if Winona was as safe as Jackson.  I told her that in many ways it was.  “Winona is about 10 times larger than Jackson and because of its size, I don’t know as many people in Winona as in my home town of Jackson.”  Abby then asked if it was ok to have more people, as in Winona.  I told her that it was, but we still look out for each other in our community. 

That conversation made me think about a time when I was a boy fishing below the Des Moines River damn in Jackson, Minnesota, my home town.  As a young boy, I made what could have been a fatal mistake.  I went fishing in the middle of the lower part of the damn, wading in knee high water.   The current was a lot faster than I had been used to, and I thought as a 12 year old, that fishing in the middle of the damn would be better and I had not considered the consequences of my actions.  I was standing on a large rock, and because of the strong current, it became dislodged and I lost my footing.  The next thing I knew, I was facing the struggle of my life.  I found myself quickly being carried down river.  I was trying to swim upstream against a very strong current, but my clothes were weighting me down and I could see that I was being swept down stream very fast.  Just when I was about to go under, a retired gentleman along the shore hollered, “Turn around and swim to the shore!”  I did as he said and I ended up on the shoreline further down river.  I lost my new rod and reel that I worked so hard for, and at that time, I did not consider what I could have lost, my life! 

Local Mississippi paddle boat showing off Winona's fall colors.
As it turned out, the older gentleman checked to see if I was ok, and then he left.  Little did I know that he knew my dad.  He told my father what had happened, and later my dad had a long talk with me.  My father informed me how close I came to losing my life.  I had not considered that, I was only thinking of the loss of my new rod and reel at the time.  Now looking back at that moment, I can see how living in a small town actually saved my life.  That man could have just watched me drown, and he didn’t have to talk to my dad, but he did.  He cared enough to make sure I would not make such foolish choices again, by immediately speaking to my father.  He cared about me enough to save my life, and to make sure my future was safe as well.

Could this same scenario of caring happen in a much larger city?  Yes, I believe it can, and does happen everyday.  Today, communities form that have the same qualities that small towns possess.  I have seen just that when visiting the Twin Cities recently.  Now suburbs are starting to develop shopping centers, much like small towns where people can shop in the “Old Style” small storefront businesses.  People want, I believe, to have community.  They desire to get to know their neighbors and feel a sense of belonging, a lot like that of the small town where they may have grown up.  “Watch” neighborhoods have sprung up in many suburbs.  Parents and concerned citizens want their neighborhoods to be safe for themselves, their children and for young and old alike.  Adults are getting together and making their neighborhoods and shopping areas safer for their families to be in.  Schools are creating conflict resolution groups to deal with relationships that have gone awry, preventing them from spilling out into the communities where problems could escalate well beyond parameters of adult help.  Overall, people I see in large and small communities alike are advancing the ideals of caring and supporting others, much like it was when we were young. 

Concerts on the Green - Great River Shakespeare Festival
This is held on the Winona State Campus in June/July.
A final note, the other day I had taken my 8 and 6-year-old children to the grocery store to get some supplies.  We stopped at the store restaurant to have some refreshments, and donuts that we had just purchased.  At that time, I noticed an elderly man was watching my children when they were getting their drinks.  Abby, my daughter, was searching for a straw for her pop when she asked me if I could help her.  I was setting up the table with Will and was about to go to her when the elderly many left his booth, and his friends, and came over and got the straw from the high shelf for Abby.  Abby smiled and said, “Thank you!”  That gesture pleasantly surprised him and he stopped and turned and said, “You are very welcome.”  As I watched this meeting transpire between Abby and this gentleman, I smiled to myself when thinking about what I had just observed.  A little while later, my children were laughing over some funny incident that had happened earlier in the day.  I then turned and noticed the same elderly gentleman coming into the store, walking toward our table.  He was caring a toy race car in one hand and a small stuffed doll in the other.  He proceeded to ask me if it would be ok if he could give the toys to my children.  I gladly said yes, and I could see his smile just cover his face at that moment in time.  My children accepted them gladly and I could see that this shopping trip would be very special for them.

Abby and Will playing by Lake Winona.
Before the gentleman left, he said to me, “You know, I believe that children today are just as good as they were when I was young.  This brings me so much joy to be able to do this for children.  Thank you!”  I responded by saying, “Thank you, you have made my children’s day.”   I watched this kind man walk back to his friends and he still was smiling.  I looked over to his table a little later and I could still see a smile on his face.  This kind man knew the way to a child’s heart, it was through kindness and love. 

Yes, living in a small town is nice, but being around people who care for my family and myself,  it means more than I can say.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Taking time to be with our children.

Swallowtail visitor.

This morning there is a beautiful sky above and the temperature is around 70 degrees.  I am sitting on the front porch watching the hummingbirds come to the feeder as well as observing the swallowtail butterflies sampling the flowers nearby.  As I sit here, my two little children are asking me what we are going to do today.  A suggestion was made by Abby to go to the park in my hometown of Jackson, Minnesota.  This idea generated much enthusiasm.  After explaining that the trip would take about 3 hours to get there, my daughter Abby said that it was ok, “We can leave now and get there yet this morning.” 

Fawn catching up with mom while she eats our apple cores.
In a child’s mind schedules and things like gasoline and car wear and tear are not critical to their ideals.  Just going out and having fun is what’s important.  Perhaps they are right at times.  Maybe we should drop things, and go and have fun.  There are occasions that we should postpone our duties and delay them so that more important things like doing fun things together as a family should occur.  Relationships for children are sometimes held in higher esteem than for us adults.  As parents,  jobs, deadlines, and obligations are deemed as the standard that we see as somthing important to many times.  When we place a commitment into our schedule, sometimes we forget the voices that hold the least sway in our lives, in relationship to the demands being placed on us.  Our children’s needs, are at times, put on the back burner so to speak. 

Swallowtail butterfly.  Another visitor to Anne's flowers.
If your days are very busy with demands that cannot be left unattended, perhaps it would be good to schedule time with your children.  My father once told me that when you want a busy man to help you with something; he usually will find the time.  This man will schedule his day in such a way that each hour is accounted for.  He will pencil you into one of those free hours, and your time with him will be guaranteed.  On the other hand, the person that is negligent with his time, has difficulty in getting many things accomplished, as well as assisting others in their needs.  Be the best at making time for your children.  

The moments in the day that we spend with our children should be a top priority in our busy lives.  If the demands of getting all our obligations completed leaves little time with them, perhaps then a reevaluation of our priorities needs to be in order.  Spending time with our children is not a difficult thing to do.  What is hard though, is spending quality time with them.  I have seen many distracted parents watching their children in parks, children sporting events, and playtimes.  Hand held phones, schedulers, and other adults talking with one another about their work, all during the time that their children want their parent’s undivided attention.  In following my advice, my daughter just asked me to help wrap a present as I sit here typing.  (It is good to listen to one’s self.)

Ruby throated hummingbird feeding by our porch.
Scheduling time with our children is so very important.  If we chose to not spend quality time with them, they will find someone that does.  By making our children’s lives our priority, it is perhaps one of the most important things that we will ever do in our day, and perhaps in our lifetime.  All one has to do is to look around and see the families that have made their children feel important.  These same parents have spent quality time with their children, as well as having listened to them.  Conversely, you can see parents that have been involved in their own individual worlds and not that of their children's lives.  Now when their children are grown, there is no one around their home, and their once busy lives are left now in solitude. 

Take time today to make your child a priority.  

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Giving Up

Swallowtail butterfly.  In looking at its wings, one sees that it has gone through many trials.  This does not diminish its splendor though.  Its perseverance has given it a beauty that cannot be captured in this photo.

Today I sit here in front of the computer and think about how my life has changed since being married and having children these last twelve years.  I think of the things that I have given up and what I have gained since having a family.  Anne’s mixer used to be my civil war pistol that I sold shortly after being married.  It was my surprise present to her one day soon after we moved into our apartment.  I sold my goose gun (10 gauge) shotgun to help with the down payment when getting the loan to build our own house.  I sold my SUV for a cheaper more economical Honda that would allow for child seats and 0 payments on a vehicle.  I have not hunted for deer now for several years.  It has gotten pretty expensive for licensing and the trip back to Jackson, Minnesota.  Traveling there takes about 3 hours and a couple hundred miles of gas.

When looking at this picture, do we see imperfection or wonder?
Before Anne met me she wanted to be a lawyer.  She was just finishing her undergraduate degree and was planning to enter law school.  In Anne’s eyes, I or anyone else was not going to be the person that would allow for that dream to be thwarted.  Anne was not looking for a husband when I came into the picture.  When a friend introduced me to Anne one Sunday at church, I immediately thought of my friend and how they would make a wonderful couple.   After introducing Anne to my friend, I could see that it wasn’t going in the direction that I had hoped for.  She was not interested in him and so I gave up on my match making. 

Sometimes the gold that we seek is only a reflection, an illusion.
As far as any changes in my life, I lived too far away and was heavily involved with my work as a principal, and at the time I had no desire to walk away from a job that I loved so much.  I did not want to give up my work, something that I went to school 8 years to get.  Anne and I did not plan on falling in love with each other, nor did we want to, but we did. 

Now, what I have given up; was it worth it?  Yes it was!!  I have not traded anything in comparison to what I have received.  I have a wonderful wife that loves me and has been my soul mate and supporter for almost 12 years now.  She is the mother of our two children, and I have to say, I have learned so much from her in kindness that she has shown to our children and myself.  I love her more than ever, and there isn’t a day gone by that I don’t realize what a marvel she is to me.  Anne is intelligent, caring, beautiful, loving and she is my support.  God knew that I needed Anne, even though I was not looking for her.  Anne is the part of me that makes me whole. 

God sometimes provides through the hands of others.
When I fell in love with Anne, I came to realize that nothing in my world was worth anything if I could not have the woman that I loved.  A retired superintendent asked me why I would walk away from my dream job.  I told him it was because I loved Anne and it was no sacrifice at all.  I was willing to do anything including sacking groceries or whatever job God provided for me to be with her. 

Anne and I asked for God to reveal his plan for us and we trusted him for the answers that we did not have.  A job was provided for me right after quitting my principal job, that of teaching in an Alternative school.  God has provided for us in every way.  After six more years of teaching, I took early retirement while Anne started teaching at Winona State University.  I am now a stay at home dad while Anne teaches full time online.  Are we rich, by no means.  Are we happy, yes more than we can say.  God has always provided for all our needs, and we continue to trust that he will do so in the future. 

Will, discovering treasures in his surroundings.
Have we gone through any trials in our marriage?  The answer is yes we have.  I had been going to school nights and weekends for my doctorate before being married.  I traveled hundreds of miles a week to go to classes as well as studying each night and working each day.  I realized after getting married that being a good husband and trying to finish graduate school would not work.  I gave up this dream that I have wanted all my life.  Was it difficult?  I would be lying if I said no.  God has shown me that when we give up our dreams for his purpose, then he gives us a better one, and for me it was a loving wife and two beautiful children.  And has this dream of children been easy and without trials and complications, no it has not.  We lost our first child after 4 months of pregnancy.  It devastated us both, because this is what we both wanted more than anything.  Did we ask God why?  Yes we did and there was silence.  God revealed to us later that answers are not always there for us to see when tragedy falls upon us.  We must trust him in all things, including when losing a baby.  God helped us to understand that sometimes it was not important to know every reason why things happened as they did.  All that was crucial was for Anne and I to trust in our savior and his plan for us. 

Abby, excited about discovery and life.
Within a year Anne was pregnant with our son Will.  He almost died when being born.   Will was in the nick u for 5 days before a healing made it possible for him to breathe on his own.  He is now 8 and we are so blessed everyday with his presence.  I cannot tell you how much we love this child.  About 2 1/2 years later, Abby came along and it is impossible to express how she has added to the joy in our family with her bubbly spirit.   I have worked for almost 20 years with troubled families and children.  I have seen more than I ever wanted to in the heartaches that they have gone through.  Now I have my own children and I cannot love and hold them enough.  

Anne, my blessing!
In all this, do I have regrets, no none at all.  I cannot tell you enough how rich a life I have.  God has given me more than I deserve, and ever would have hoped for.  Our Lord has been more than generous with me, much more than I can say.  I cannot praise him enough for all that he has been to me.  Each day I see the blessings that he bestows upon me with the laughter in my children’s eyes and the smile on Anne’s face as she greets me in the morning.  My future is in his hands, as it should be, and is. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Annual Church Picnic at Farmer's Park in Stockton, Minnesota

Children playing Ladder Ball
"Is that Augie taking pictures of us?"  "Yah, it sure is!"
Anne taking a break from food preparation to pose for me.
Serenity of the trout stream.
Everyone from adults to children had fun playing games..
Some stayed at the picnic area to visit while others played various games.
Anne being led across the "easy" spot on the trout stream by our daughter Abby. (Abby is in the grass somewhere)
I came upon Will watching for trout and frogs in the stream.
Golden shimmer of the stream.
The children gravitated towards the trout stream.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Seeing the world through our children's eyes.

Visitor to our meadow early this morning.  Buck in "velvet."
Ruby throated female hummingbird
at our feeder this morning.
Today I awoke to temperatures in the low 50s; it was very fall like weather around here in Minnesota.  The dew was heavy on the grass and on leaves of the trees, so much so that when golfing at 6 a.m., my feet were soaked within 10 minutes of walking.  It was wonderful to have the cool weather back once again.  In speaking of fall, when walking on the golf course, I could see that the maple trees were beginning to turn, and as a friend from my hometown of Jackson, Minnesota said to me this morning on Facebook, “The locust are already buzzing.” and that is another sign that fall is nearly here. 

Yesterday, early in the morning when having our daily coffee on the porch, Anne and I watched Toby, our cat, sit expectantly on the bottom step, waiting for her friend the chipmunk to come by.  Toby was not disappointed, what happened next though surprised the cat, and us as well.  The chipmunk came running straight at Toby so fast that our cat was startled.  Just before reaching her, the chipmunk veered off, just missing the cat’s paws.  Next, it turned abruptly, running over Toby’s tail as it jumped up the steps.  With what seemed like blurring speed, it began climbing up the lattice and upon reaching the top, it turned and then perched itself on the honeysuckle looking straight down at us, about 6 feet off the porch.  Awestruck over what had just transpired, I began looking over at Anne and then to Toby.  I then looked up at our crazy rodent friend; he had what appeared to be a very smurkish self-satisfying grin on his face.  I could not believe what I saw; Anne was also in disbelief as well.  Next, when looking down at our cat, I could see that she was taken by surprise as much as we were.  Some people say that animals do not possess feelings, I have to disagree.  Watching this little chipmunk do what it has done over the last few weeks to Toby, I would say that it has a great sense of humor, and perhaps a little bit of a death wish as well. 
Mother and twins Abby spotted in our meadow yesterday.

It is so wonderful to live in this world that we have in our midst.  Unfortunately, we sometimes are to busy to enjoy what surrounds us.  Two days ago, I took our two children down to Lake Winona.  Abby was throwing her Frisbee while Will was playing Pooh sticks by the side of the lake.  After playing with Abby and her Frisbee for a while, I walked over by Will to play with him by throwing sticks into the water.  When I arrived near the shoreline, I noticed many wild plants were blooming near the water’s edge.  Will pointed something out that I failed to see, there were many varieties of butterflies landing on the wildflowers.  I was amazed at how I had almost missed out in seeing them.  I then turned and looked around at the many people biking, walking and playing on the swings.  No one was observing the beauty of these butterflies flying about.  If they had known, I am sure many would have stopped what they were doing and came over to watch them as well.
Toby watching for the chipmunk.

How many times in our lives do we miss something so wondrous and beautiful because we are looking straight ahead, or are to concerned about the challenges facing us, that we miss these tiny miracles of life taking place all around us.  So many times I have walked with my children and to my surprise, they have noticed bugs, butterflies, hummingbirds, and worms crawling in the grass, as well as wild flowers just waiting to be picked. 

When we get to heaven, do you suppose Jesus will be having us work on big projects, or be concerned about our bills, or perhaps fretting about relationships in our lives that are bothering us?  Or do you think we might be looking for butterflies, hummingbirds and chipmunks? 

The view from our porch.
In Luke 18:16 Jesus says that we must be as little children in order to enter the kingdom of God.  For us in finding the balance between our adult responsibilities and that of maintaining our innocence as children, can be very challenging to say the least.  Jesus though knows where those boundaries lie.  When we ask him to teach us to be as a child, he will be faithful in showing us the way.  If we do not think that chasing after butterflies or picking wildflowers is fun, maybe it is time to seek out our savior, and ask him to help us to see what our children already know, that life is made up of these hidden treasures, as seen through the eyes of a child.

Monday, August 8, 2011

We are all passers by, guests in this world until we are called home.

This morning I looked up into the forest and to my surprise I saw a mist slowly moving toward me.  It appeared to be like a blanket that enshrouded the leaves and grass as it slowly passed down the side of the hill.  It was as if God were saying, “Go to sleep my creation.”  It reminded me of the times that I pulled the covers over my children just before they fell a sleep.  

As I sit on the porch this morning I was praying and asking God what he wanted me to write about, as well as what he would desire for me, to learn from him at this time.  My eyes were drawn to the open cask of rainwater that was before me.  As I looked into the still water I could see the reflection of the trees and grass in the meadow.  It was beautiful watching the water change from glass to the ripples that altered their reflection before me.  My thoughts began to wander at that point as I looked at the forest in the distance.  Its beauty was breath taking as I viewed each shade of green and watched the branches sway to and fro on the many different trees.  

My thoughts brought me back to the reflective pool that was before me.  This calm water seemed to be telling me that what I saw was only a reflection and not that which was real.  I recalled at that point what Jesus said about our world.  (John 14:2) “In my father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go there to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”  

When life is like rushing waters, he calms my soul.
As I sat contemplating this scripture, my thoughts took me back to a place not to long in my past.   I had a bad cough and it progressively was getting worse, so I went dutifully to the doctor.  I was given x-rays and was told that I must have further tests done.  Black spots were seen in my left lung, liver and kidneys.  I asked the PA what it meant, he said that he could not be sure, and judging by the grave look on his face, I could see that perhaps it was serious.  I remember waiting for the results of the tests to come back, and at the same time, doing searches on the web for possible health issues facing me.  Each day I prayed for God’s wisdom and direction into what I should be doing.  I remember enjoying each minute with my family and looking at each hour as something very precious.  I came to realize that my time might not be long for this world.  I noticed every smell and touch that now seemed so precious to me.  I then came to realize that all the things that weighed on my heart before now, seemed so insignificant.  Every time I looked into my wife’s eyes and that of my children, I wanted their image to burn into my soul so that I would not forget them, and to now enjoy every second that I spent in being with them.  Each day I saw it as a wonderful gift from God and I wanted to enjoy that day to the fullest, and to not take anything for granted. 

He lights my way in my darkest hour.
I prayed that God’s will be done, and that if it be his will, I asked to be healed from what ever I had wrong in my body.  I remember asking Jesus that if it not be his will that I be healed, to help me to enjoy what life I had left, and by his grace, to see and do his will so that he may be glorified. Finally, I asked him that I not be filled with self pity. 

After what seemed an eternity, the results came back and the black spots had disappeared completely.  My thoughts raced back to the moment when the PA told me, "It might be very serious;" now the doctor was telling me that he could not explain where the spots had gone.  He smiled, and said that I was now completely well.   Needless to say, I was so very relieved, and I praised God with all my heart.  I remember asking God to help me to not forget how precious his life that he gave to me was, and for me to remember this always.  I also remember asking him to help me to put things into perspective, as I did when first diagnosed with my illness, and to not take life for granted ever again. 

In troubled waters, he helps me to find my way.
As I sit here today, my thoughts go back to that time of waiting and wondering how long I had to live.  I now realize that we don’t know how long we each have here on this earth.  But, I know that we do have control over how we treat each day of our lives.  I know that Jesus has prepared a place for me and my loved ones in heaven, and that this is not my home, it is with him.  I am only a visitor here and so I realize that I must be a grateful guest and thank our Lord for allowing me to stay here in this temporary home, for as long as he allows. 

When we come to know Jesus, we realize we are all passing by in this world, travelers going to a place of eternal rest and peace, to be with our father.  Some stay here in this world for many years, while others are called to their real home, early on.  I now realize, that some day I will be asked to come home, and the ones that I leave behind will one day be with me, and others that have gone on before me will be waiting for me, to be with them.   But, for this time that I have left in this temporary home, I desire to serve our Lord and praise him for all that he is and all that he has given to me. 

When darkness falls upon me, he is my light.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Locked Out!!!

Twilight view from our deck.

Last night I went outside on the deck to relax for a few minutes.  To my surprise, I noticed that my two little children were following me out onto the deck.  It was their bedtime, so I asked them to go down and get into their pajamas and brush their teeth.  They dutifully obeyed and closed the sliding glass door behind them.  Usually at this time of day, I take a few moments to enjoy the setting sun, and unwind before going downstairs to read a bedtime story and pray with the kids.  I enjoy this time of the evening when I can look out into the valley and see the rays of the falling sun basking on the valley below me.  During this evening ritual, I take time to look out into our meadow as well and watch for passing deer or animals who are on the move in search of food.  Needless to say, this is my special alone time each evening. 

Eric and his cousins enjoying a cool treat.
Photo credit given to Kaylee, Eric's mommy.
On this particular night, I found myself not enjoying my evening ritual as I would have liked.  When I was looking at the bluffs before me, I noticed that the hummingbird feeder hanging in front of me was almost empty.  I was outside for around ten minutes at this point, and I then  decided to go into the house and get started on cleaning out the feeder before filling it with sugar water.  To my surprise, I came up to the door and found that it was locked. When Abby and Will went inside, they must have locked the door behind them.  Unfortunately, Anne was out on her evening walk and the kids were down stairs and could not hear me knocking on the glass door.  After a few moments of pacing the deck, I contemplated climbing down on the side of the railing to the second level and thought better of it. I didn’t want Anne to come home and see a corpse lying in the garden 30 feet below.  After walking back and forth for several moments and nearly walking over the sprinkling can, I came up with a wonderful plan, “What if I threw the sprinkling container down to the second level deck, near the children’s glass door?  They surely would hear the clatter as it hit their deck!” Trying this brilliant plan out, I found to my dismay, that no one came out to see what the noise was all about.  Next, the thought entered my mind, “What if I bang on the wall, they surely would hear that sound, because it would obviously resonate through to their room below.”  My tactic worked, though ineffectually, they later told me that they had heard the banging, but thought I was doing some strange dance upstairs. 

Abby posing for daddy.
Exasperated, I looked out toward any nearby houses wondering if anyone was outside.  The plan was to ask a neighbor to call our house and tell my kids on the phone that their dad was locked out on the deck.  The idea was sound, but no one was outside due to the fact that the weather was still relatively warm and humid.  After pacing for several long minutes, I came up with another great idea.  I would signal my brother in law if he was near his living room window.  I proceeded to look over to their home, but no one was visible and their lights were not on.  Suddenly though, I could see a glimmer of hope, someone was looking out, standing under a curtain by a glass door.  Much to my dismay, it was their 2 ½ year old son, Eric.  He saw me and  began to waive while standing behind his bedroom curtain, and he thought it was wonderful that his uncle would like to spend such quality time with him.  Needless to say, we spent the next 20 to 30 minutes waving at each other.  I would make half an effort at waiving, while in response, Eric would come back with his energetic bouncing wave.  Oddly enough, after several minutes, I realized that this is what made me relax.  I was finding myself waiving at a small boy who thought the world of me, this little child who was wanting to spend so much time with his uncle, when he was supposed to be sleeping.  Life couldn’t get any better for Eric at that moment in time.  No bedtime worries, just hanging out with his uncle. 

After what seemed like an eternity of playing pick-a-boo with Eric, I decided that perhaps I should search for another way to escape my plight.  I then looked at the roof and decided that it was too high to reach.  Besides, falling forty feet straight down, I soon came to the conclusion that it was not a good plan if I should slip.  Next, walking over to the side of the deck, I could see that repelling with my belt over the side, was not an option in that a thirty foot fall would not be good for my health.

A Winona home photographed when Anne and I went for a walk .
My memories at that point went back to just two hours earlier when my mother in law (Marji) at supper, told me that she remembered when their cat, Rose, was locked out on the deck one night.  Everyone forgot Rose and just before going to bed, they heard a faint “meow” coming from the direction of the deck window.  Marji walked over to the sliding glass door and saw Rose with both feet on the glass meowing for someone to hear her sad cry for help.  We all laughed at that funny incident, and now, I was Rose.  I couldn’t yell loud enough and I didn’t want to wait until dark before a family search and rescue was sent out.  At that point, I turned and looked at the sun starting to set, and my earlier passion for watching it go down, was turned from joy to that of sadness.  What if Anne got back and went downstairs right away, and saw that the kids were asleep, and thought perhaps that I was outside still working and would come in when I was finished with my chores?  She would not see this poor man who was alone, feeling very sorry for himself.  Trying not to worry too much, I decided to go to the edge of the deck and watch Eric once more.  I wondered if he would still be there, and he was.  He appeared to be straining to get taller, and with that effort, I suppose he was hoping to get a glimpse of me one more time.  In his mind, his efforts proved fruitful when seeing me, he then started to wave with squeels of delight, jumping up and down again.  Viewing his excitement, I forgot my predicament once more.  He made me smile and take all of this that was happening to me, and make all my worries dissolve after seeing his happy smile. 

After realizing that this experience was just another day in that of being a father and husband, I turned around at that exact moment and noticed that the last rays of light were falling behind the trees.   I then turned and saw Anne in the kitchen.  I walked to the glass and lightly tapped on the glass door and she came immediately to my rescue.

Winona State University where Anne
 has taught these last several years
We have always taught our children to lock the outside doors behind them.  At 8 and 6 years of age, they sometimes forgot this rule, especially when they have an important destination in mind.  On one hand, I was proud of my children for thinking about locking the deck door, but on the other hand, it would have been nice for them to look and see if they left anyone behind.  Needless to say, I shared with my children what had happened and I could see the sadness in their eyes when telling them what had just transpired.  Later, my son asked if I was mad at them, and I responded with a “No, not at all.”  By seeing the sadness in their eyes, I knew that they would make every effort in the future, to remember to look out on to the deck, the next time they locked the door behind them.

Within a few minutes we were happily reading from James Herriot’s “Treasury of Children,” a collection of stories about the animal world and how they intermingled with the people around them.  James Herriot is one of my most favored authors and now he is becoming a favorite for my children as well.  After the reading time, a little later, Will gave me a Lego toy he has just constructed for his mommy and myself.  This ritual we go through each night, he makes one or more Lego toys for us as his parents, to play with while he sleeps.  He told us one night, “I don’t want you or mommy to be lonely for us when we sleep, so here is the Lego’s that I made for you both to play with when we are sleeping.”

Methodist church here in Winona.  I photographed this on one of our evening walks.
After further hugs and kisses, I watched my children walk off to bed, and thought to myself, how fortunate I am to have two children who have such gentle hearts.  What a wonderful life God has made for me here in this home with my wife and children.  As I write these final words I can hear Abby’s laughter as she is telling her mommy something funny, and Will is feeling loved and fulfilled, knowing that his daddy will be happy playing with the toy that he has made for him.

To my family and friends near and far, and to you the readers who share our joys, whether you live close or even as far as another country, I am hoping that you have a wonderful week ahead, and thank you for taking the time to read about our lives this day.