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Archive for the ‘Christian Living’ Category

Pleasant places, pleasant times

gorgeous Wisconsin

Today we traveled just a few miles from our small lake-country community, out to the surrounding countryside—the rivers, farms, and woodlands which say “Wisconsin”.  Pictured above is the Rock River, once a part of the Sauk Indians’ Wisconsin and Illinois territory embedded in history by the leadership of Black Hawk.  From the photo you can see that we’ve had plenty of rain; that white thing apparently floating beyond the high grass slightly above center is a picnic bench.

Joe (flanked by Dylan) cast a line in this river park, which is simply a spur off a county road—one of countless natural retreats for travelers in our state.

gorgeous outing

When Dylan wasn’t fishing, he strolled with me along the water’s edge.  Suddenly, he decided to go wading—something he has never done before.  I was amazed, because it’s always a struggle to get Dylan into the bathtub.  But then, haven’t little boys always preferred wading in rivers to getting lathered up in a tub?  So it’s no wonder that Dylan went in up to his belly, which isn’t all that high off the ground.  Perhaps the presence of hundreds of teensy tadpoles darting in the water provided a lure to adventure, even when it meant my corgi had to get wet.

From the river site Joe, Dylan, and I meandered along country lanes west of the Kettle Moraine State Forest where we lived for 21 years—the longest I have ever lived in any one place for my entire life.  We visited a friend on a farm near Fort Atkinson (more historic Sauk country), and Dylan ran free of his leash—something he hasn’t done since we moved nearly 5 years ago, from our wild northern acres.  On that farm Joe and I stroked horses noses and fondled a small herd of mini-Nubian goats—all of whom Dylan approached with friendly enthusiasm.  (Dylan LOVES all living creatures, barring dogs.  He wants to KILL dogs!)

Laden with rhubarb and some of the best fresh spinach we’ve ever had, we returned home via a favorite country ice-cream shop—”Pickets” possibly named after a 1990s TV series, PICKET FENCES, hypothetically set in  Rome, Wisconsin.*

The actual village of Rome (on the Bark River) seems like something Time forgot, except for the occasional local person walking around with a cell phone.

As you readers can probably gather, our octogenarian decade is at this moment an extremely pleasant time.  We live surrounded by pleasant places, and Home is the most pleasant of all.  Currently we have another family living with us—not inside our 4 room condo, but just outside and above our living room/patio door.

gorgeous best yet birds

The nest contains 5 baby barn swallows.  A week ago we saw nothing but mouths lining the edge of the nest; and when they were open the mouths looked like mini-Muppets.  Now the babies are leaning out of the nest, and they are hilarious.  The middle bird is huge compared to his or her “sibs”, and also the most aggressive.  Some have learned to back over the edge to do their bird jobs; consequently we’ll soon have a piece of work to clean-up.

What we are seeing is Entitlement in action; I call it “OCCUPY NASHOTAH”.  For several days the parents have been zooming and fluttering around between feedings.  It seems that Mom and Dad realize it’s time for their nestlings to get out on their own and DO THEIR OWN WORK!  I hope to be out there when it happens!  :)

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Pleasant places, pleasant times.  Every single day, I thank our Lord for them.  I’ve lived long enough (and through enough!) to know that “pleasant” can change in an instant—to “crisis”, “emergency”, and even “tragedy”.

Because I know and trust the Lord Jesus Christ who died to save us from our sin and rose to give us Eternal Life, and because I know that I’m in His care forever, I have no fear of the future.  As I rest in Him, He will provide the Grace to bear whatever lies ahead!  Meanwhile I’m thankful beyond expression, for God’s gift of Life—and for the pleasant places and pleasant times He’s given Joe and me today!

©Margaret L. Been, July 2014

*Never having watched PICKET FENCES, I’m not sure of the naming of the country store—or whether or not it was featured in the series.  Perhaps the store was always “Pickets”, and the show was named after it.  Who knows?  Further GOOGLE research may shed light.  :)

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Coming Home (2)

“And I said, ‘Oh that I had wings like a dove!  For then I would fly away, and be at rest.  Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness.’ ”  Psalm 55:6-7

David was intimidated and beleaguered by his enemies when he wrote this plaintive Psalm.  Yet those of us who love solitude, and seek it with a passion, can echo the words:  “For then I would fly away and be at rest.” 

Numerous are the critics of the Kaufman family who set off with a baby and a toddler on a 30-something foot sailing vessel, with the goal of crossing the Pacific.  But for the response of the U. S. Navy in San Diego and other rescuers, this family might be added to the endless list of tragic current events.  Yet I love the name of their craft, REBEL HEART, and something innate draws me to this family.  Although life-threatening adventure has never been my forté, a passion for solitude is an integral factor in my DNA.  I identify with the need to “wander off”—even when country roads, inland waters, and forest trails are more in line with my instincts than the Pacific Ocean.

When I grew up in the 30s and 40s, solitude was easily accessible.  We had a quiet household, and I could always hide under a chair or, by the time I was 8 years old, in a tree.  Our only “devices” were:  a telephone, a radio (in a cabinet with a phonograph record player), a doorbell, and a clock which did nothing more than tell the time.  The understanding that every individual on earth needed space and time “to wander off” was a given in our home, and we respected each other’s privacy.

Today I wonder how many younger people (with the exception of a few individualistic types like the Kaufmans) even begin to comprehend what solitude actually is, let alone want to pursue it.  An astonishing amount of everyday life is social, groupy, organized, and pre-planned—frequently controlled by the detached stroke of a finger on a device.

I see people striding the park path outside our front door, with eyes and ears (or both) literally glued to whatever device at hand.  Do they hear the mourning dove in the bush, or the sand hill cranes yodeling overhead in the clouds?  Do they see the fat, pregnant buds on the chestnut tree a few feet from the path?  When May wafts in, will the device-laden striders even bother to inhale and exclaim over the perfume of the French lilacs which abound in our neighborhood?  Will the device-embellished ears be able (or even want!) to hear the fountain in our local pond, or the redwings nesting in the reeds beside our local lake?

Our park path is lovely, bordered by a nature preserve on the east side.  It deserves strollers, as well as striders—some of whom may be hustling along for the sake of good health.  Strollers like me also walk for health—soul health, which I happen to think is even more vital (and certainly more eternally valuable) than the beneficial aspect of body maintenance.  Yet the majority of park users stride rather than stroll.

I often wonder what the present generation of activity-driven, device-dependent, socially-oriented individuals will do when they add a few years and the inevitable stresses of life to their résumés of non-stop everything—everything but substance for soul and spirit, that is.  I visualize that an indescribable dryness will set in—a thirst which no material goods, or frenzy for social contacts and career advancements, will ever quench in a million years.

DRY, DRY, DRY!  The absence of everything but perhaps a desire to “wander off”—without even beginning to fathom how that may be done!  No turned upside down chair to hide under.  No metaphorical tree.  No hypothetical REBEL HEART sailboat.  A park path perhaps, but not even the foggiest knowledge of how to stroll rather than stride on the path, with all ones senses attuned to the beautiful nature along the way.

Off course the only lasting cure for dryness, driven-ness, and people-produced burn-out is to drink deeply from the well-spring of LIVING WATER in Christ Jesus—to accept His sacrifice for our sin at Calvary and rejoice in His Risen Life which indwells those of us who trust in Him.  He provides a depth of inner solitude wherever we are.  That solitude is fed by removing ourselves whenever we can—from the crowd, from our electronic devices and our daily agendas.

And that solitude is fed by whatever kind of retreat appeals to whomever we are—be the escape a turned over chair, a tree, a forest trail, a park path, or a sailing vessel.

I’m thankful for the Kaufman family—for the fact that they have returned safely.  I pray that their sick little one will continue to heal with no complications.  And I’m thankful for the Kaufmans’ reminder of something important:  a passion for solitude.  Although my preferences run to forest trails, the rivers and lakes of Wisconsin, and the path around our neighborhood park, I thoroughly track with concept behind the REBEL HEART!  :)

Margaret L. Been, April 2014

NOTE:  Awhile back, a Christian friend described me to a group we were in together, with these words:  “Look at her.  She has REBEL written all over her.”

We all laughed, realizing that my personal rebellions have nothing to do with any kind of anarchy.  I will never challenge or rebel against my life-enhancing Judeo-Christian values.  But yes, I do have a rebel heart.  Perhaps I’ll share more of that with you in an future entry. 

Or maybe I don’t need to share.  Perhaps, in the 5 and 1/2 years I’ve been blogging you’ve discerned exactly what I mean by my rebel heart!  :)

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My piano bar

It’s amazing how a “one-liner” can stick with you forever!  Years ago a violin teacher, Amy, shared an unforgettable one-liner which summarizes most everything I have endeavored to do for much of my life.  At a violin lesson years ago I was sawing through a seemingly boring and nondescript exercise in my Kreutzer, when Amy interjected a teacherly command:  “Play it like a love song!”

This concept revolutionized my practice sessions.  Heretofore, violin (and piano) teachers had stressed metronome-driven precision.  Now Amy was setting me free to transform even the most mechanistic of studies into a vehicle for interpretive expression.  The Kreutzer exercises came alive.  Suddenly they were beautiful—as I learned to play them with my soul as well as with my fingers.

I grew up in the era of heart-rending love songs and idealistically elegant films.  The Hit Parade featured pop classic crooners such as Frank Sinatra and Perry Como—and the cinema portrayed love affairs framed in romantic settings.  Though some negative-minded folks might bad-mouth my early conditioning as being “unreal”, I praise God for it.  Beauty and elegance via entertainment, along with the beauty and natural elegance which my mother modeled every single day in our home, taught me something vital about living—and endowed me with a working philosophy, as succinctly summarized in Amy’s words:  “Play it like a love song.”

No, beauty and romantic elegance are not “unreal” when we attempt to bring these qualities to the most mundane of tasks, thereby inspiring and uplifting the moment—when our concept of outer beauty mirrors a quality of the inner soul.  We are free to choose, free to create with whatever we have at hand, free to play life like a love song—therefore highlighting our material reality whenever possible, with manifestations of inner beauty.

When we reflect on our loving, creative God—the Author of beauty (material as well as spiritual)—we realize that “playing it like a love song” can radically exceed some merely human philosophy on how to live.  Although beauty and/or romantic elegance need not take the form of a 1940s Hollywood production—or, for that matter, a Kreutzer exercise—the essence of gracious inner beauty can be palpable in diverse forms as well as applicable to most every circumstance and area of life depending on how ardently we love life, how we view life, and most vitally how we think!  Again, we are free to choose.

The intrinsic character of God’s beauty materialized at creation, when He spoke the beautiful Heavens and earth into existence.  Many centuries later, an Apostle whom we revere expressed God’s command for humankind through the priority of the “whatsoever things”:  “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things”  Philippians 4:8

Are there moments when your life exercises seem drab and routine, and your duties are characterized by metronome-driven precision?  Here’s an idea you might want to try:  Play it like a love song!

Margaret L. Been, 2014

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Little Margaret

NOTE:  The following entry is a replay of a recent piece which I posted on http://richesinglory.wordpress.com/ , my blog dedicated to “mining treasures in illness and pain”.  Riches in Glory receives far fewer views than any of my other four websites.  I’ve hoped that is because most of you simply do not have any illness and/or pain.  But sometimes I wonder if many of my readers know that Riches in Glory even exists!

Meanwhile, for some unknown reason, today my “sick blog” is experiencing a tremendous leap in the amount of visitors.  Thus I’ve decided to offer an encore of this recent entry.  Since writers can more correctly be called “re-writers” the encore has been improved and otherwise clarified for Northern Reflections.  Here’s a cyber repeat:

It’s been quite a few decades since the above photo was taken back in the days when little girls wore dresses in boats, and life jackets were only known to be used by sailors, marines, or brave souls crossing Lake Michigan in a rubber life raft—something my father actually did in the 1940s, to test wartime outboard motors produced by the company where he was employed.

Now I’ve recently embarked on Decade Number Nine!  And so far, it’s great!  Perhaps it’s great because we’ve occasionally heard that old age can be horrible.  Unfortunately, for some it is!  But for a person who loves the Lord Jesus Christ, life is good—yes even when it includes pain!

For some people acute health concerns are common; they come and go.  But for others, illness or pain will move in permanently—sharing one’s space like an uninvited caller who arrives with cumbersome baggage while demanding an inordinate amount of attention.  For the past eight years, I have been one of those “others”.

Although my chronic lumbar and sacral pain seemed highly disturbing at its onset, God has revealed amazing things through the presence of the uninvited guest.  Our gracious Lord has blessed me with insights which put each day in its proper perspective.  Hopefully you are not personally entertaining pain on a daily basis.  Yet you undoubtedly know at least one person whose life has been rearranged, perhaps a family member or friend for whom you pray—and desire to encourage.  Here are some of the gems regarding pain, that God has bestowed on me in recent years:

1)  Pain is relative.  The subjective “One to Ten” pain scale differs with individuals.  There will always be someone who hurts more, someone who is drastically ill, someone who needs my prayers far more than I need to pray for myself!  Or even think about myself for that matter.  From the internet I’ve printed out a heartbreaking letter from Pastor Saeed Abedini, imprisoned in Tehran, to his wife in the USA.  No, I cannot begin to dwell on my pain!

2)  Pain can be a friend.  Pain reminds me to hang back rather than jump full speed ahead into some new and unnecessary responsibility or job.  Pain is that friend who says, “Rest!  Take it easy today, so that you will feel better tomorrow—and more able to do whatever the calendar has in store for you for the rest of the week.”  Pain is the considerate friend who assures me I’m never to feel guilty for not being everywhere at once, or for not being all things to all people.  I’m never to feel guilty when I hear that invasive, sanctimonious question, “And what are you doing for the Lord?”  As Milton wrote on his blindness, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

3)  Pain affirms that I’m still intrinsically worthwhile in God’s eyes, even though I’m no longer the busy person I was for many years.  Recently we celebrated Thanksgiving.  Whereas for decades I fixed most of the meal and set our table for from 18 to 30 individuals, this year there were four of us—actually five, but the fifth is 5 months old and she sat on her mother’s lap while eating.  The meal, company, and conversation were special!  Dishes for four plus a few pans are not overwhelming with two people, our daughter and me, in charge of washing and cleaning up.  A home is never dismantled or upset in the least, for only two extra adults and a baby.

Thanksgiving day was PERFECT, except that I crashed immediately after our company walked out the door to go home.  All of the next day I was a zombie.  I groped about our home like Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo, due to pain.  Furthermore my GI system was down, like Healthcare.gov was for weeks, because I’d added 4000-something calories to my 94 pound frame which normally feels stuffed after consuming a typical 900 to 1000 calories per day.

“What is wrong with me?” I asked my husband. “It didn’t used to be like this.  I used to feel fine the day after Thanksgiving.”

Joe just smiled and commented, “We’re old!”

Then my friend, Pain, agreed and said: “Just go to bed and quit trying to be so useful!  Give yourself a break!”

How delightful it was to go to bed at 3:00 in the afternoon with my knitting, my art books, and Charles Krauthammer’s amazing Number 1 bestseller, THINGS THAT MATTER.  Thank you, Pain!

4)  Pain is nothing compared to the future glory in store for those of us who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.  “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

What more do we need to know?  At age 80, I’m contented—and oh so thankful! :)

Margaret L. Been, 2013

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Hill House

Years ago, for a class at the University of Wisconsin, I read a poignant novel titled YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN, by Thomas Wolfe.  Employing a cliché, “I beg to differ” with that deceased American author.  Yes, you can go home again; I know because my husband and I have done exactly that.

Due to health issues, Joe and I had not made the road trip to our homes 280 miles North since Memorial Day weekend of 2010.  A friend has been taking care of the yards—mowing and snow blowing, cleaning up fallen branches, etc. so the area around the two houses has been well tended.  The remaining 14 acres are wild woods—to be left the way we have always loved them, in God’s hands through the venue of nature.

A daughter visited the homes several times, when vacationing North.  She reported that things were compromised there.  The downstairs at the lake home smelled musty and the sweet house pictured above—a factory home built for our guests when we lived up there full time—had gone to the mice, mothballs notwithstanding.

Two garages at the lake home were packed full of Joe’s tools, half finished carpentry projects, years of nuts and bolts, life jackets, random bicycles culled from rummages, junked furniture, shovels, rakes, an outboard motor, canoe paddles, paint cans, oil cans, batteries—just for starters.  The houses contained dishes, bedding, decorative items, pictures, and enough kitchen utensils in each house to accommodate the vacations we had thought we’d spend there when we moved to Southern Wisconsin in September of 2009.

The above-pictured house has provided a charming site for some of my mother’s favorite furniture pieces:  a cherry wood dining room table, a mahogany secretary with a glass cabinet, Mom’s cedar hope chest, and a highboy in some elegant unknown-to-me wood.  Both houses groaned with books leftover from the many boxes of volumes we moved with us 4 years ago.

What to do with all of this?  I think Joe and I simply stuffed all issues surrounding these homes due to larger and more crucial concerns—namely multiple surgeries and other medical procedures spanning many months.  Occasionally our beloved North, where we’d naively thought we’d live “forever”, surfaced in my mind.  Whenever this happened, I prayed:  “Lord, these are Your houses.  They are in Your hands.”

(Have you ever yielded something you dearly loved to the Lord, with no bitterness and no sorrowful misgivings?  Have you ever relaxed and said, “Lord, this belongs to You?” only to have God graciously hand that something back to you—with a minimum of stress and effort on your part, while taking care of every minute detail along the way?  Well, this is what has happened to us.)

Since 2009 we went right on paying the utilities and telephone bills, and annual taxes on our property North.  Would we ever return?  We really didn’t think so, as we arranged to put business matters in our son, Eric’s hands.  We were happy here in the South.  I think we didn’t want to grieve, so we were refusing to acknowledge the fact that these homes were still ours even though we couldn’t go up there.  Someone else could eventually sell them for us, and we’d pay a commission and just bank or invest the results—all in God’s time of course.

Then about a month ago a man called from Green Bay.  He had been on our road North, and he’d read “For Sale By Owner” on our mailbox up there—with our Southern Wisconsin phone number.  He drove in, walked around the yards, probably peeked in windows, and then called.  He sounded very interested in possibly buying both homes, and he wanted to meet us up there.

We scrambled, quite against our will.  After all, life was so easy here in the South and we were super contented.  We didn’t want to go up there (we thought!) and we certainly did not feel up to the gargantuan task of cleaning those houses and emptying the 2 garages.  But circumstances were kicking us in the head.  Something had to be done and we could not in good conscience dump the burden on our 6 beautiful children.

God was in charge!  We were given the name of a wonderfully efficient and energetic woman, Marilyn, whom we hired to clean the interiors of the houses and wash the windows.  She had completed the above-pictured house when we arrived on the scene nearly 2 weeks ago.  We decided to stay there, on the hill, since Marilyn would be doing the lake house next—approximately a 3 day job.  When we stepped into our house on the hill, originally installed as a guest house, Joe and I had the same sudden and drastic response.  We fell in love all over again irrevocably with this colorful, sparkling, easy-to-manage home high on a hill with maples and birches around the edge of the yard.  Instantly I prayed in my mind, “Oh Lord, if it be Your will, PLEASE don’t let that man from Green Bay want this house!!!”

For the next 3 days, prior to our appointment with the Green Bay fellow, Joe and I planned, sorted, discarded, etc.  Our grounds helper, Allen took loads of burnable trash to dispose of at his home where he has a permit for burning.  Some of the equipment also went home with Allen.  Marilyn and her husband were wonderful as well.  They carried many pick-up truckloads away with things they could use on their property at another lake nearby.  I sold some furniture to Marilyn, and gave her many household items we just didn’t need.  Our friends, Betty and Joe, took many more items—and so did friends, Dee and Jim.  And my Joe took 2 van loads, packed to the ceiling, to our town dump.  The houses are in beautiful condition now, and the 2 garages are miraculously (almost!) empty!

For 10 nights, we slept in the commodious bedroom on the hill—the sleep of contented, well fed and amply exercised children.  For 9 days we happily did projects, and spent quality time with the above mentioned friends.  We went to town (10 miles from home) several times.  In every store and restaurant, we were greeted as good old friends.  “Where have you been?”  “I’ve thought of you so often!” were familiar refrains.

However for several days prior to the man allegedly coming from Green Bay, I carried an ache in my heart.  We had advertised 2 houses.  What if he wanted both?  We were settling into the hill house, bringing in more “treasures” from the lake house, making the hill house ours for future vacations now that we realized we were healthy enough to make the trip and enjoy the North once again!

Then one night we picked up a message from our phone answering machine in the South.  The man from Green Bay reneged and would not be meeting us.  He would not be thinking of buying anything until maybe spring of 2014, and then he might see if a house was still available.  Joe and I were in bed at our hill house, when we got this news.  We shouted for joy, and I wept!  We were enjoying our vacation home, and God-willing we will enjoy more.

Even if this was to be our last vacation North, it would be a priceless gift.  But we anticipate more.  In fact we hope to go up for a couple of weeks in January when, although much colder than South (like minus 25 degrees F) the air is always fresher without that damp, penetrating (and I think, miserable!) Lake Michigan chill we have South.  The only problem with winters in the North is that (I think) they last just a bit too long.  When I was itching to dig in a garden, we were still blowing snow.

Judging from his melancholy novel, Thomas Wolfe had a disillusioned slant on life—sadly lacking in any vision beyond the material and temporal.  So the character in his literary work could not go home again.  Things were never the same at home, in that book, and all was lost.

Praise God that doesn’t have to be so!  Joe and I have “gone home again”—home where there are more Virginia whitetails than people, home abounding in howling timber wolves and ever-ravenous-until-hibernation-time black bears.  Things are the same.  No, I rescind that statement!  Things are even better!  We willingly yielded the North to the Lord, and God has graciously handed it back to us—for whatever amount of time He’s ordained in Eternity Past!  What a PRAISE!  :)

Margaret L. Been, 2013

NOTE:  We plan to list the lake house with a realtor, by spring of 2014.  Again, it’s all in God’s hands!  What a GOOD LIFE!  (Our Lord must have a sense of humor to put up with us, if we sometimes lapse into thinking we are in charge!)

ANOTHER NOTE:  Sunshine, are you online?  I’ll see you on a 4th Monday sometime in 2014!

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80 years old

Summer began around solstice time, with our 60th wedding anniversary celebration.  This was held at our condo clubhouse, so no one’s home got stressed out—but I promise we will not plan a big whoop de doo for our 70th, as our hard working children and grandchildren went many extra miles with planning, serving, and cleaning up after the delightful June 22nd event.

Above, is a photo of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Been—gleaned from our daughter Debbie’s FACEBOOK page and taken a week ago beside Debbie and Rick’s pool.  Although (fortunately) there are not 80 candles on the cake, that is how young I turned on August 8th, 2013.  I think I am freaking out my family and friends by telling them that now I can start being eccentric.  Predictably they are wondering, “Yikes, what’s next?”

In between these two family landmarks, I received my Reverse Total Shoulder Replacement.  The six weeks mark was reached last Tuesday, and now I am able to hang up the sling and walk around with two arms free.  It’s a treat to eat with my right hand again.  (Actually I eat with spoons and forks, but they are held in my hand).  I never did get graceful with the left, and I held my fork like it was a boat oar—very clutzy.

So now I’m watching the early morning mist form over our park, a characteristic of late summer.  How can the days whirr by so fast?  Constantly, I’m overwhelmed when I reflect on the blessings we enjoy every day and will never never take for granted!  My recovery from surgery has been a gift from God worked out through the prayers and benevolence of family members and friends.

I’m thankful for Joe’s daily concern and assistance in so many ways—including weeks of enjoyable eating out together at our favorite restaurants.  We began this two days after my surgery, along with resuming our rummaging adventures.  (There is something so essentially wonderful about doing “normal” things after the trauma of rather radical surgery, with a 6 inch incision scar to prove it!)

I’m thankful for our daughter Laura’s visit from Washington State, starting on my surgery day.  Laura helped me through those tentative first days when every move hurt and just getting washed, dressed, and groomed seemed like an insurmountable challenge.  And for Debbie’s every ready concern—checking in on us, bringing good food, and scrubbing our floors.  (Debbie knows how I love CLEAN!)  I’m thankful for the phone calls, letters, companionship, and encouragement of many over the past weeks.

I’m eternally grateful for the medical expertise which made an effective shoulder prosthesis possible for me.  The Reverse procedure is new within ten years in the USA.  Twelve years ago there would have been no way to fix the considerable pain which is no longer there, thanks to amazing technology.  The Standard replacement simply would not have addressed my issues.  I’m thankful for a surgeon who performs this new procedure, as many orthopedic surgeons have not begun.

I’m thankful for the quiet hospital just minutes from our home—with private rooms for all patients, and plenty of comfortable space for one’s spouse to stay over night.  I’m very grateful for the sweet young man, a Physical Therapist named Daniel, who encouraged me and helped me so much prior to my hospital discharge.  His soft-spoken, gentle kindness—while showing me the only movements I would be allowed for weeks to come—has stuck with me as a stellar example of professional expertise at it’s most personal best.*  There is nothing like quiet kindness to promote healing, and Daniel’s sensitivity has overcome any unpleasant or jarring memories I have had of my hospital experience.  Thanks to him, I’ve been able to “do it right” from start to finish!

I’m thankful for my precious Pembroke Welsh corgi, Dylan.  He never fails to make me smile.  I am certain that he understands most of everything I say to him, although admittedly I don’t launch into a lot of meaty philosophical discussions with Baby Dylan.

And here are photos (also gleaned from Debbie’s FACEBOOK page) of some other precious individuals (great-grandchildren) who never fail to make me smile:

too too sweet

My cup runneth over!!!

*I obtained all of my medical records of proceedings from the day of my discharge from the hospital on 7/3/13.  For a 90 pound person, I have a very strange body chemistry:  I sleep like a well-fed puppy on caffeinated beverages, while narcotic pain medications (which plow most people under) make me “bright eyed and bushy tailed”—and, I fear, loquacious.  So I was naturally curious as to my conversations and interchanges recorded by the medical personnel on discharge day, after I’d received 24 hours of morphine via IV.

Although I might have knocked Daniel over with my bright eyed and bushy tailed verbal input, he recorded me as “Doing very well”, “Able to verbalize movement precautions”, “Independent” in all listed categories, “No difficulty” in doing what needed to be done, and “Agreeable“.  Using the word “Cooperative”, my surgeon recorded the same observations in his write-up of our 7/3/13 exchange.

I was overjoyed to discover that I behaved myself like the lady I always desire to be!  :)

Margaret L. Been, 2013

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Beautiful New Zealand

. . . . for God’s life in and around me, sustaining every moment!

. . . . for prayers and the people who pray, and for God’s answers so evident each day!

. . . . for my loving family and friends, and my sweet dog!

. . . . for summer, cold beverages, pretty gardens, and a mosquito free patio on which to doze!

. . . . for the kind landscaping crew in our community, helping me by weeding my garden—something I can’t do again this summer!

. . . . for nearby restaurants and the frequent fun of eating out—tiny, light meals are always the best!

. . . . for the luxury of running air conditioning WITH our windows OPEN! (We can’t stand closed windows and doors in summer!)

. . . . for God’s healing through the agent of medical technology, and a titanium shoulder which looks like a trailer hitch on the x-ray!

. . . . for pain medications which enhance the quality and comfort of my days!

. . . . for the ever-changing clouds which I study in anticipation of our Lord’s return!

. . . . for Louis L’Amour who takes me back in time to the canyons, cliff dwellings, and ancient legends of New Mexico!

. . . . for paint brushes that don’t mind being used in the “wrong” hand!

. . . . for the fun of garage sales, antique malls, and the ever-satisfying and inexpressible joy of creating beauty at home!

. . . . for “upsizing” rather than “downsizing” in terms of making an interesting, colorful environment for the people I love!

. . . . for the art of living passionately and joyously—a gift from my parents and grandparents, affirmed by God’s Word!

. . . . for the treasure of people and all the beautiful (material as well as spiritual and relational) aspects of every single moment—to be enjoyed as if it were my last on earth, which it very well could be!  :)

Margaret L. Been, 2013

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Country Garden with Headboard

I haven’t updated this page for over a month, and I think that’s the longest absence I’ve had since beginning Northern Reflections in Autumn of 2008.  Even after surgery and during hospital sojourns I’ve managed to plug in and let readers know that Joe and I are still on the planet.  Why the truancy?  Perhaps for the only time since I began writing at age 9, I simply could not decide what to write.  No, it wasn’t writers’ block.  I couldn’t decide what to write because for weeks I’ve been caught in a wedge between euphoria over this wonderful season, and my ongoing sorrow over the incredibly horrible daily news.

How could I blither on about herbs and perennials when confronted with images of a couple of brothers who blew up the Boston Marathon?  How could I keep posting photos of knitted shawls and hats when we have a president who refuses to admit he was wrong in trying to conceal the fact that the Benghazi disaster was indeed an act of international terrorism rather than a reaction to some stupid video—or for the fact that available aid was withheld from the embassy in Libya?  How can I wax euphoric over balmy days, when the IRS has reportedly targeted special interest groups including those containing the name “Israel”?  (If that isn’t a red flag, then what is?)  How can I write glowing paragraphs about how blessed my husband and I have been in nearly 60 years of marriage and family, when 3 young women in Ohio have suffered approximately 10 years of what amounts to as horrific an experience as many WW II concentration camp stories I’ve read about?

Thus the delay in refreshing Northern Reflections.  But today in church, I received a nudge.  When I get a nudge—this one was more like a hearty thump on the head—while sitting with my open Bible on my lap and listening to a straight arrow message from my straight arrow pastor, I can be reasonably sure that the thump is coming from the Indwelling Holy Spirit of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  Time to blog.

YES, life is beautiful.  My own personal life is amazingly beautiful, in every way!  (So what do orthopedic issues matter anyway, at age 79?  If I didn’t have them, I’d wonder if I were really alive!)  The Lord has poured His amazing grace upon our family.  The joy and contentment in my home defy description!  Each day I wake up excited to be alive while praying and deciding which of many creative options to pursue that day, if the Lord unravels the time for my creative options.  I always know that He may have other plans for me, and His will is always PERFECT. 

YES, the days are evil.  Human history is rampant with evil.  Only one sinless person has ever walked this earth, the Person of our Lord Jesus.  Yet in America the evil grows more blatant as time passes.  A cloud of widespread evil has shadowed our land in recent years, accelerating it seems since the Autumn 2012 election.  As we reap the bitter fruit of a godless culture, a nation in which God and the truths of Scripture have been discarded as “irrelevant”, we need more than ever to affirm the good, the beautiful, the blessed—while firmly proclaiming that the days are evil. 

Only PRAYER, PRAYER, PRAYER, can reverse America’s collision course.  While savoring the abundance God has provided for us and rejoicing in those freedoms we still have, we need to remember that the days are evil and we could lose all of our freedoms in a matter of weeks or even days.  I take seriously the Scriptural mandate to pray for our leaders.  Yet today in church, with the blog nudge I also received a nudge to ratchet up my prayers for our nation’s president.  

President Obama is AT BEST clueless and incompetent—or AT WORST downright evil!  Did he really find out about the IRS scandal at the same time the rest of us did, or is he lying?  God knows the answer; at this point we do not—at least I do not!  Yet like each one of us, President Obama is a person for whom Christ died to save. 

And if our president is either incompetent or evil (or both!), will “the other” major TV news networks have the honesty and courage to come forth with the unaltered facts?  So far, only one station is telling it like it is—while the others appear to be in a state of denial.  While the truth-telling network addresses the issues of Benghazi and the IRS as wrongs to be dealt with accordingly, the other stations simply cry “GOP Politicizing!”—as if confronting evil were a matter of politics rather than our God-given responsibility!

The evil in our land reflects the sad demise of salt and light in our nation’s churches, once known as “Christian”.  The objective fact of man’s sin and need for a Savior is (most thankfully) addressed in my church—but in countless assemblies that kind of straight arrow preaching has been deemed “political” (or objectionable, or unappealing, or whatever!) and therefore abandoned.  Yet we are still here.  We can pray that the Spirit of revival will sweep our land, bring us to our knees, and bring our churches back to God’s Word.

Here is the nudge, or thump, I received today:  Continue to PRAY, PRAY, PRAY!  Keep informed, keep talking, keep living the Christian life I’ve been given!  These are not optional—they are essential.  Meanwhile, keep blogging.  Keep broadcasting the fact that my life is good.  There is time and space on Northern Reflections for the urgent issues which confront us—and also for herbs, perennials, knitted garments, and my beautiful family!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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IF

A few weeks ago a kindred spirited friend, Shari—who loves many of the English poets whom I love—mentioned Milton’s sonnet On His Blindness.  I responded with a whopping “YES!”  I hadn’t read that sonnet for years, but I still recalled the poignant last line:  “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  I thanked Shari for the déjà vue, and that evening I located my beautiful antique volume of John Milton’s poems.  Here is the sonnet, followed by an explanation of why it has meant so much to me in recent weeks:

On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

John Milton
 
As many of you know, our daughter-in-law, Rosemary, is facing a stand off with breast cancer.  The first post-op reports were encouraging, but complications have been discovered and both chemo and radiation will be needed.  For certain, 15 years ago (and perhaps as recently as 6!) I would have been on a Denver-bound plane—probably more than one time, to help Rosemary, our son, Karl, and their family during the difficult days ahead.  Sometimes physical issues ramp up so gradually, I had to mentally pinch myself to realize that NO—I probably should no longer travel “to help out”.  
 
I cannot “Hoover” (as they say in England) my own carpets, let alone someone else’s.  Fatigue often renders me useless for purposes other than reading, blogging, knitting, writing letters, or painting after 6:00 p. m.  My 82 year old husband and I are so attached to each other that leaving him alone (even in the company of a sweet Pembroke Welsh corgi) might break my heart (or his, or both)! 
 
We have an amazingly energetic daughter, Debbie, who loves to travel, loves her brother and his family (just as I do), and is incredibly deft at helping most anyone, anywhere!  Debbie has already been to Denver once since Rosemary’s surgery 2 weeks ago, and may quite possibly return!  Thus the re-reading (again and again) of On His Blindness ministered powerfully to my soul which had been considerably troubled by the realization that I’d no longer be flying to Denver, to help out. 
 
“They also serve who only stand and wait.”  And while I stand (sit or lie down) and wait, I pray!  I’m quite certain that Milton did that as well! 
 
Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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Colour 1

Two doctors, our primary physician and an ENT specialist/surgeon, were concerned about the lump in my neck—concerned enough to set up a complete removal of the lump in the O.R. under a general anesthetic as soon as possible, which turned out to be on December 24th.  After that scheduling was in place, there was even more concern when these doctors learned that I also had another lump in a thigh—and that I’d had a malignant melanoma removed in 2006. before we moved down to Southern Wisconsin.  The ENT surgeon agreed to remove the thigh lump as well.

With all of this concern, I had total peace.  Had the lumps been on one of my loved ones, I would have sorrowed and prayed for healing (if that were God’s will) as well as for the presence of the Lord Jesus to be especially manifested in that person’s life.  But I never pray for “healing” for my own (several!) health issues, and I do not sorrow because of them.  My body as well as soul are committed to the Lord and whatever happens to me is completely in His hands.  I want His will in all events, and I know that His will is perfect.

Obviously, illness and “death” are according to God’s plan—as well as thriving health and a continuation of life on earth—when “death” means an entrance into the incredibly wonderful Eternity with the Lord.  In His Word God has said, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”  Psalm 116:15 (NKJV) 

Rather than praying for healing, I always pray that the Lord Jesus will be magnified and glorified in my life and my death—in health or illness.  I love life on this earth, and I certainly am not in a hurry to move on—yet that time has been established in Eternity Past.  I desire to rejoice when it comes.

Meanwhile, I went through the surgical preparations which included a thorough physical, a CT scan, and a stress test (already scheduled for me due to another health issue).  Joe and I checked in for my surgery, and I anticipated getting the whole thing over.  Another pre-surgery prayer which I’d consistently offered was this:  that I’d be able to attend the Christmas Eve service at our church.  But since my surgery was set for around noon on the 24th, I’d resigned myself to probably being a bit “out of it” for the 5:00 p. m. church service.

Just before the IV was to go into my wrist, the surgeon stopped to do a final inspection which would include marking the surgical site with his pen.  Perhaps you have already gleaned the miracle.  The surgeon probed, squeezed, and checked my neck for several minutes—and finally he concluded, “The lump is gone!” 

What a lot of laughter and rejoicing took place in the pre-op room.  Two nurses and an extra surgeon were on hand with Joe and me, and the mass concensus was that indeed this was a Christmas miracle!  Later I did attend the Christmas Eve service with Joe.  Friends were surprised to see me there, as they had been praying about the surgery.  Joe eagerly share the news about our miracle, and there was more rejoicing!

Miracle?  Yes, but isn’t all of life exactly that?  What is more of a miracle than the fact that God took on human flesh, and was born as a helpless baby in a humble stable?  What is more of a miracle than the blood which Christ shed for our sins, at Calvary—and the magnificent victory of the empty tomb.  We serve a Risen Lord, a Lord of miracles!

There is still a thigh lump to be removed.  Since that’s not in a dangerous place for surgery, the thigh lump will be removed in a normal clinic setting.  Yes, I have peace about that one as well.  No, I am not praying for it’s disappearance—or for healing in the event that it would be malignant.  Yes, my prayerful desire is that the Lord Jesus will be glorified in whatever lies ahead!  :) 

Margaret L. Been, 2012

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