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Archive for the ‘Reflective Musings’ Category

Here's what it's all about sans GB

“But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for as such is the kingdom of Heaven.’ ” Matthew 19:14 (NKJV)

Today in church we had our annual Thanksgiving worship service where testimonies are shared.  This is always a time of praise and joy, but also a heart-rending time for our congregation—as stories are told of God’s grace at work in seemingly impossible circumstances.  Relationships are healed, in some cases illnesses are miraculously cured, and Jesus’s life is affirmed in many unique ways.

At today’s service, a young couple got up to share on the microphone.  In hand the couple brought a sweet (obviously girl) toddler, dressed in a pretty dark velvet dress with pink trimmings and a matching headband.  The couple gave testimony of how they had decided to raise the large family which they wanted through adoption, only to find out how incredibly costly it is to adopt just one child, let alone many!  (How tragic is that!!!)

So finally, God had steered the husband and wife to the path of foster care—which in some instances can lead to adoption.  Knowing that God was in charge and directing them the couple proceeded, and within a few months this precious little girl had been entrusted to their loving care.

While the husband and wife were sharing in church I experienced a déjà vu of long ago pain as my mind raced back to 1973 when I was forty years old, a fairly new Christian believer, and a contented wife and mother of five.  Our children were growing up fast.  Because I loved and enjoyed being a mother so much, I wanted to go on with the career which had brought me joy and fulfillment since I’d had my first baby at just under 21 years of age.  Thus, quite naturally, Joe and I began to think about doing foster care.

So we signed up with Milwaukee County Welfare Dept. to receive foster children.  In those days the wheels moved fairly quickly, and within a few weeks we were given three beautiful blonde sisters, ages three, six, and eight, to care for.  Like many foster children, these sisters came from an atmosphere of chaotic dysfunction.  What is more, unspeakable things had happened to them that should never happen to anyone—anywhere.

The girls brought their chaos into our home and we had some dicey weeks with them, weeks marked with severe temper tantrums and manifestations of fear.  But the love and the order in our home did wonders.  After a couple of months it seemed like the girls were our girls.  We sincerely hoped we’d be able to keep them forever, and perhaps we would have—BUT, Milwaukee County discovered that the girls’ father and step-mother had paying jobs which could support the children, so the county insisted on returning them to the father’s home.

Never mind that we told the Milwaukee County Welfare Dept. we did not want their money—Joe and I would gladly support and raise these children without any outside help.  No matter that the step-mother had been heavily addicted to controlled substances, and had an iffy background.  No matter that the step-mother had (in the home with the girls’ father) two unruly sons who started fires and thought of other ways to terrify the three sisters (as one of them used to confide in me:  “Them’s naughty boys!!”).

Never mind that Joe and I and our five children loved the girls, and had so woven them into the fabric of our home that we would miss them terribly.  Within a few days, suddenly the three sisters were gone.  A week later, the six year old called on the telephone and said to me, “Maggie I wish I could come to your house!”

We were a bit whacked from these events and thought we would need a long break from foster care, when a couple of weeks later the phone rang and a distraught sounding social worker asked, “Can you take two little boys?”  The following dialogue has its humorous side.  So here it is.

Me:  “How old?”

Social Worker:  “One and two.”

Me:  “When would they come?”

Social Worker:  “NOW!  They are sitting on my desk!”

In retrospect, I really suspected perhaps that social worker had told me a windy about them sitting on her desk.  Those little boys did come to live with us, and to our knowledge they never BOTH SAT ANYWHERE at the same time!  They were always in motion.  (This was long before children were incarcerated in car seats in transit.  You can imagine what a pleasure ride was like in those days!)

Again, we lost our hearts—but this time we were worn to smithereens, physically as well as emotionally, in the process.  Finally, we decided to remove the option of foster care from our family scene.  Meanwhile, many questions have surfaced, in the past as well as today.  What ever became of those children?  Where are they today?  What kind of people (mid-lifers no less!) are they?  Do they know the Lord Jesus?

It goes without saying that I shared our Lord’s love with the foster children every day, in every way I could.  Yes,  I hope to meet these now-adult people again, in Glory!  I believe that, somehow, I will recognize them.

Margaret L. Been, November 2014

Note:  The above-pictured players re-enacting a familiar scene are two of our daughters, Laura and Debra, and one of our sons, Eric, plus an obliging doll—circa 1963.  Excuse the gender confusion of the doll.  We were not really confused.  We simply couldn’t come up with a boy doll at the moment.  :)

 

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AE 3

Gradually, almost imperceptibly the seasons turn.  Summer lingered, and thanks to plenty of moisture our woodland view remained green far longer than normal for a Southern Wisconsin Autumn.  For weeks I played make believe—drinking iced tea in the morning sun and making believe it was still, and always would be, Summer.   Then the mornings turned brisk, and I switched my sun and iced tea habit to the south side of our condo—rocking in a large pink rocker and absorbing every bit of warmth I could, to store against the inevitable onslaught of change.

Then the Autumn rains.  Now our courtyard is littered with sheddings from a large tree which is, as far as I can ascertain, an American Elm.  I love the leaf-littered grass, but realize that many condo owners do not.  Most folks around here do not hear my wild drummer, which forever beats to the soughing of wind and soothing of soggy leaves underfoot.  When the leaves dry, their crunching will delight my heart beyond anything words can express.

Soon the maintenance crew will vacuum the littered leaves.  I must be watchful, to preempt the crew and rake boundless amounts into my gardens for a protective buffer against winter.

Since our patio and patio garden open directly off the living room of our home, I fantasize that I’m still outdoors.  I open the patio door and inhale the pungent scent of Autumn rain, ripened and vastly different from the fragrance of April showers.  Still I pretend, pour myself an iced tea, close my eyes, and celebrate that stubborn essence of Summer which has always pervaded my innermost heart.

©Margaret L. Been, October 2014

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Frog daysDahlia

I don’t want to let go.  Our summer has been so ineffably sweet, I will hang on to it forever. 

Beautiful weather.  No need to run the AC—except that we occasionally put it on for Baby Dylan when we have to leave him for a few hours in the closed-up home.  Okay there were a couple of times when at home, that we broke the humidity by turning on the AC for very short spells, but always with the doors and windows wide open to the out-of-doors.  And due to the ubiquitous AC in most every indoor place, our favorite summer restaurant has become a local pub with outdoor seating. 

Leisurely early morning strolls around our park.  Visits with friends.  Plenty of summer knitting, which always brings woolly recollections of being 8 years old and learning to knit on the porch of our family cottage at Lake Winnebago.  Bookish naps on our shady afternoon patio.  And best of all, mellow days with the three generations which have resulted from our marriage of 61 years!

Too too sweet

More pool

Leo again again again again again

Mia Mia 2

musician

Recently Joe and I had the (probably once in a lifetime) experience of having our portraits painted by a friend, Janet Roberts, who is a professional artist.  We didn’t have to sit it out, as Janet works from photographs.  You can check out our portraits (“Joe in Winter Hat” and “Margaret in Summer Hat”) on Janet’s website.  Just GOOGLE “Janet Roberts, Brookfield Wisconsin Artist” and click on “Gallery” from the home page menu,  Voilà!

Our portraits have inspired a lot of mulling and musing.  With all the wonderful photos I have today—hundreds in albums and hundreds more in my computer files—a painted portrait is something unique.  I reflect on how for centuries paintings and sculptures were the only way a person’s image could be captured and preserved.  I think of the court painters such as Holbein, sent out by Henry VIII so he could visualize a future wife.  (I’d sure hate to have been one of those!)  And commodious stairwells lined with ancestors in great houses down through history.  Photography is an amazingly wonderful art, yet there is something ALIVE about paint in the hands of an accomplished artist such as our friend, Janet.

Mellow days, and a summer to remember.  A summer of quiet contentment and simply joys.  A summer of plenty in a world that grows more crazy, more sin ridden and tragically brutal every single day.  A summer in which I feel compelled to share at every possible opportunity, the one and only LIVING HOPE—that hope which is more real than this keyboard on which I type. 

In the midst of a world where an American journalist is decapitated against the background of an American president deeply engrossed in golfing and fund-raising, Our Lord Jesus Christ will return!  As He came to earth 2000 plus years ago to die for our sin and rise victorious over evil, He will return—to gather His own to Himself, and finally to reign for 1000 years in Jerusalem:  KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Margaret L. Been, September 2014 

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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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Always Time for Tea

“Always Time for Tea” is the title of the above rendering.  Tea Time in March is charged with anticipation, excited about change, and zesty with the invigoration of fiercely raging wind and ever-stretching sunlit hours.

Today’s wind is not kind; it’s raw and bitter to the taste, like afternoon Earl Grey Tea when it’s been allowed to over-steep.  Today’s sun is glorious—redolent of fragrant places where ripe and mellow leaves were harvested for an “Irish Breakfast” most anywhere in the world.

Along with the joy of anticipation, my St. Patrick’s Day Irish Breakfast musings (in Nashotah, Wisconsin, USA) are shadowed by things that are lost:  a Malaysian jet carrying over 200 passengers, and perhaps millions of people in our culture who haven’t even the faintest comprehension of the importance of solitude—or whose once-valued serenity has gone missing.

How many of us are there left in this crazy culture, who still understand (and prioritize!) the serenity of spending time alone/alone/alone.  I don’t mean always being physically alone/alone/alone.  I speak of mentally/spiritually/emotionally investing time alone and nurturing that soul solitude and serenity which can only come from a depth of completion—the integral completion which we can receive from God’s Grace through the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in one’s life as revealed in Scripture.

How many individuals still treasure time alone:  perhaps really alone for a few hours or minutes—strolling in a sheltered woods, basking in a sunny window, lounging on the patio in the summer—with the ubiquitous iced tea (Earl Grey or Irish Breakfast) in hand?  Alone in one’s mind, unfettered by the worries and potential issues that surround anyone who is breathing and thinking?

Alone.  Apart. Soothed by the realization that the heartbreaking issues of the day are a bleep in Eternity.  Solitude, serenity, ALONENESS!  Busy schedules have been common to much of mankind since the beginning of time.  But today life can become even more complex, if we so allow.  In an age of electronic communications and the proliferation of Facebook friends, how many remember the concept of being alone?  And how many even care, or have the foggiest idea of what they are missing?

I love my laptop for shopping, acquiring information, and blogging.  These are refreshing pastimes.  How wonderful to shop without driving to a store where you may or may not find exactly what you want—be it a special garment (most of my clothing is purchased online), a sable paint brush, a new-to-you line of watercolors or gouche in exciting colors, or the base and fragrance oils for your soap-making avocation.  How rewarding to be able to access an endless library of answers in your ongoing quest for learning.  And how fulfilling to communicate via a blog with people from literally every corner of the earth.

But certain other aspects of the electronic world would quickly threaten to undermine my serenity, if I would fail to preserve a balance—and those specific aspects are email and Facebook.  Email has become a kind of necessity in the minds of many, and for business purposes and the sharing of prayer requests it is indeed valuable.  Facebook serves one and only one purpose for me:  that of viewing and sometimes downloading charming photos of the people in my life.  But balance and frequent avoidance of both of these computer areas are necessary to my discipline of preserving serenity and an atmosphere of solitude in the midst of an overflowing life filled with precious people and their needs.  Thus I will often go for at least a week without checking either Facebook or my email.  Anyone who really needs me will find me via telephone or snail mail—or best of all, with a knock on my door.

Today I pray that someone among the 26 participating rescue nations will discover the missing jet.  Every day I pray that I’ll remember to savor as many serenity-inspiring sights and sounds as I can find, with which to greet each day:  and certainly always before accessing email or Facebook.

A pot of tea helps, whether celebrated alone or shared with a kindred soul.  There’s always time for tea!

Margaret L. Been, March 2014

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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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