". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Monday, February 20, 2017

Thus It Is Written

Sebastian Bourdon, Burning Bush, Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever wondered why God doesn't talk to us today the way He talked to Noah, Abraham, and Moses? Sometimes it can seem like He's ignoring us. Why is He being silent when we need Him so much? In our family devotion today we imagined what it would be like if we had a burning bush in the back yard that we could consult whenever we needed guidance or encouragement.

But could it be that in not continuing to reveal Himself to us as He did to our forebears in the Bible, and in not revealing Himself to us in new and different ways after revealing Himself to us through His Son, He is protecting us? Can you imagine if God were running around the world today, talking to this person and that person, appearing on top of a skyscraper here and a mountain there? How confusing it would be as we tried to sort it all out. Who really talked to God? Who is just saying he did? Whom should we trust? Whom should we ignore? There are enough false teachers as it is. Can you imagine how many more there would be claiming direct revelation if God had the habit of dropping in on people today?

I have sometimes felt like maybe the Deists had the right idea--that God the watchmaker designed and wound up the world but is just now watching and waiting while it runs itself down. Why is He so silent? Doesn't He care?

Yes. He cares. And certainly God can do what He wants and at any moment He could decide to show up in your living room or mine and engage us in conversation. But what more can He say than He's already said? What more do we need Him to say? In today's Treasury of Daily Prayer, there is this comfort from Martin Chemnitz:

"At one time God revealed His Word by various ways and means. For sometimes, appearing Himself to the holy fathers, He spoke in their presence, sometimes through prophets inspired and moved by His Spirit; finally He spoke to mankind through His Son and the apostles. . . . But He gave us neither command nor promise to expect that kind of inspirations or revelations. Yet for the sake of posterity He saw to it that this Word of His, first revealed by preaching and confirmed by subsequent miracles, was later put into writing by faithful witnesses. And to that very same Word, comprehended in the prophetic and apostolic writings, He bound His church, so that whenever we want to know or show that a teaching is God's Word, this should be our axiom: Thus it is written; thus Scripture speaks and testifies."

We don't need our own personal burning bush. We already have one in a God who has fully revealed Himself to us through His Son, and who continues to do so today. In His Word and Sacrament we need not wonder if it's really God coming to us or someone just pretending to speak for God. We need not try to sift through all the noise to locate the truth. Instead, we can rest in the security of what God has already promised and not worry that He's ever going to change, add to, or subtract from that promise. In a world in which information is the new currency and there are many and varied voices continually coming at us from all directions, our God is "silent" not because He doesn't care about us, but because He does.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Full Circle

A little over two weeks from now, February 22, will be the one-year anniversary of my mom's death. A few weeks ago her burial marker was finally placed.

The schedule is very full right now, and my plan was to go see the marker on February 22, as my mom is buried over a half hour away from our house. But Monday of this week was lovely weather-wise as well as being my husband's day off, and he offered to drive me to the cemetery. As soon as we got there I smacked my head. Should have brought flowers for the vase! We drove to a nearby grocery store to buy a bunch.

Having been recently laid, the marker was dirty with disturbed earth. We rubbed it off as best we could. Mom was buried in a section of the cemetery where only flat markers of a certain size are allowed, so between that and available funds I was somewhat limited in my options. But I am pleased with how it came out. I have previously written about the background of the verse. I decided to use the translation from my mom's Bible (the Saint Joseph edition of the New American Bible).

Another item that may be approaching closure is a small decorative chalkboard in our kitchen. On the night my mom died, Evan wrote this message on it:

The message is still there. We decided to leave it for Evan to erase, and he has not done so yet. But it feels like we need to close this chapter, too, and we are thinking February 22 is a logical date to do it. The thing is, while Evan may be ready, I wonder if I am?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Our Strange Western Sun

A few days ago I was reading to Evan from our current readaloud Johnny Tremain. Johnny Tremain is a boy growing up in Boston at the time of the American Revolution, witnessing events and people firsthand that we today only encounter in history books and movies. At the point we are in our reading, the British army is occupying Boston but no shots have yet been fired. They are about to be, and the chapter we just finished ends with a reference to "a strange new sun rising in the west . . . that was to illumine a world to come."

I wanted to make sure Evan understood the comparison of America to a sun--one whose rise would shine a beacon of freedom over the entire world. I started questioning him, trying to pull the answer out rather than just give it to him, but it took some doing, which surprised me. Then he said, "America isn't as free as it used to be" and I realized that the equating of my country with freedom which is in my mind a given, something I grew up with and feel at a gut level, was not as natural an association for him. Wow. It drove home for me that at the age of 13 the only president he has any memory of is Barack Obama, and what he has heard from his parents for much of his life is talk about how our freedoms in this country are being eroded and how the federal government continues to extend its reach and control beyond what it is Constitutionally given to do. It made me sad.

I told Evan that the peaceful transition of power that we are seeing today, Inauguration Day, is a testament to the freedom that we still have in the United States of America. I am thankful beyond words to have been born an American. I would not want to have been born anywhere else. God bless our country, its outgoing President, and the President-Elect. May we never take for granted the amazing gift we have been given to live under this strange western sun known as America.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Will the Lord take you in?

One year ago yesterday, my mom took a fall from which she never recovered. She didn't break any bones, but the weakened state that she was in at the time, combined with the infection that caused her to faint, was more than she could overcome. After about six weeks, first in the hospital and then in nursing care, we brought her home to die. She left this life on February 22, 2016, at the age of 85.

I was thinking about all this yesterday, and about her, and I reshared this blog post from February 13. I think at the time I wrote it I knew deep down that she wasn't going to get better, but I wasn't quite ready to face it. I was still hoping and praying for a turnaround. It never came.

My mom died with saving faith in Jesus Christ. I had thought she was baptized as a child but in going through her things I found a certificate of both adult baptism and confirmation in the Episcopal church. She also had me baptized in the Episcopal church, but for the first 10 years of my life we didn't attend regularly. Then when I was in sixth grade we moved, and a friend of mine invited us to her church. I asked if we could go, and we did, whereby my mom discovered Roman Catholicism. It was a turning point for her. She became Catholic and so did I. From that time on we were in worship every week. I give thanks for that friend and that church, which changed the course of my mom's life as well as mine.

As I reflect on it, I think that one reason Catholicism spoke to my mom so strongly was that it offered a sense of stability that had always been missing for her. She was an only child whose parents left her to be cared for by relatives. In a life marked by abandonment and insecurity, the ancient Church presented her the opportunity to feel connected to something unchanging and bigger than herself. The liturgy, ritual, majesty and history afforded her a kind of security she had never known. Finally, she felt like she had a family. 

At the same time, though, she heard from the Catholic church that if she just tried a little harder and did a little more she could "work out" her salvation. She looked at the suffering of this life as something that got her a step closer to God, proving her worth. On more than one occasion I talked to her about the gospel as I had come to understand it as a Lutheran--something completely free and unearned, total gift. But it seemed almost impossible for her to conceive of. I wish that before she died she could have somehow found the comfort of knowing that although there was no way she could ever be good enough, she was nevertheless saved by grace through faith because Christ did it all for her.

I spent a good deal of time during my mom's last days singing, praying and reading the Bible to her, particularly the psalms. A recurrent one was Psalm 27, linked above. In her Bible it was one she had marked, bracketing off verse 10: "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in." I decided to have Psalm 27 sung at her funeral and to include verse 10 on her burial marker. The marker was ordered in August but still has not arrived. Hopefully, soon.

My mom did not fully understand the gift of grace, but neither do any of us. Thanks be to God we don't need perfect understanding to get into heaven. We just need faith in Christ, however imperfect and weak that faith is. I know my mom had that and that when she departed this life she was immediately welcomed into the presence of her Savior. What a joy to know she doesn't have to try, doubt or wonder anymore! She is "in"--not because of how much she loved God, but because of how much He loved her. May all of us as God's children cling to that certain hope.  

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas Music

"The Holly and the Ivy" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

"Blessed Be That Maid Marie" - arr. John Leavitt, Concordia Publishing House from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Unfortunately the record button didn't engage and I didn't immediately realize it so only got a little bit of this one. Enjoy the teasing taste of a men's chorus. They sounded great!

"Now Sing We, Now Rejoice" - Stanza 3 from Cheryl on Vimeo.

"Gesu Bambino" from Cheryl on Vimeo.

Christmas 2016

It's not over yet--only the second day!--but here's a pictorial roundup of our celebration thus far.

A few days ago we caroled with some of the members of our church choir. We went to several houses in our neighborhood and several homes of shut-ins. Out of 9 houses, one didn't answer, and one said "thanks but no thanks." I guess a success rate of 7 out of 9 is not bad. 

We got our tree a couple of weeks ago at a nearby tree farm and orchard. It had to wait a week to get decorated until we had more help.

The bonus kid is a friend of Evan's.

All done!


Poetically, on tree-decorating day we got a dusting of snow!

We started Christmas Day with Divine Service at 10:00 a.m. instead of our normal two services at 8:30 and 11:00. Then we came home, had lunch and let the cantor have a very short cantor's nap. Then, gift opening!

New briefcase!

Trevor and Caitlin demonstrating one of the Four Loves.

New Wii U game

Hillbilly Elegy (the book, not the guy)

Pajamagrams and a set of cocktail syrups

Copper mugs for Moscow Mules!

Bamboo cooking spoons. 

Trevor went to great lengths to get me this book. I was introduced to Dinah Craik last year by a friend. I enjoyed the book I read (Olive) and added more Craik to my wish list, but apparently her books are not easy to come by. Trevor had this specially printed and shipped from overseas. Thank you, Trevor! 

I also received some new slippers from Caitlin. My feet have had a rough year and appreciate it very much!

As for Willard, he got a new pillow and several tasty treats.

After present opening we went for a family walk. It was windy but not cold. I wore short sleeves!

Then, drinks on the deck. On Christmas Day! Nice work, Oklahoma.

Supper was oven-baked brisket, green beans, potato salad, and cole slaw with Texas wine and brownies a la mode and cranberry-apple pie for dessert.

We wrapped up the day by introducing the kids to The Waltons pilot episode, "The Homecoming."

 Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

"Where Two or Three Are Gathered"

Last night at the first of our two Christmas Eve services I found myself sitting alone. Phillip was playing organ, Evan was acolyting, and my other two children were planning to come to the later service. When it came time to light the candles at the end of the service, I walked to the other end of the pew I was sitting in. There was an older couple there, one I have seen many times but never formally met. As I approached them to light my candle from theirs, the woman smiled, reached out her arms to hug me, and said, "I love you." Surprised but touched, I returned the hug and said, "I love you, too!" Then, still holding my arms on either side, this wonderful woman looked me in the eyes and said, "You are so beautiful. I love your outfit." I thanked her for her kindness and started to go back to my place but thought better of it and continued standing next to her as we sang "Silent Night" to close the service. At the end of the service she wished me a merry Christmas and I wished her the same.

It's my first Christmas without my mom, and it's been kind of hard. But it feels like last night God sent me a little surrogate mothering. Not that I should be surprised. It's what church is all about, isn't it?

I pray you have been blessed to gather with the faithful this weekend. If not, don't wait any longer. Go.

"For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” - Matthew 18:20