Archive for December, 2009

John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.”  In a sense, I understand this statement–as we humans are interconnected.  We do need to care for others, and we need others to care for us.  A top priority must be consideration, as we help others become the persons they were created to be.  To love and be loved are basic needs of every human.

Yet each of us is created to be unique–unlike any other person on earth.  Perhaps a better statement than “No man is an island” could be:  “Each person is part of an archipelago–a chain of islands.”

In her classic, GIFT FROM THE SEA, Anne Morrow Lindbergh shared wisdom gleaned from the creative solitude of an island vacation–metaphorically illumined by the characteristics of sea shells gleaned from the beach.  Lindbergh wrote:  “I feel we are all islands–in a common sea.”

Then the author went on to describe the frenetic pulsebeat of modern society, the constant togetherness, the din of radio and television, the compulsive chatter which dominates so many occasions where humans convene–all those distractions which contribute to the starvation of the soul and the negation of a rich inner life.  (Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote GIFT FROM THE SEA decades before cell phones!)

Every year, in the midst of Christmas and New Year’s gatherings, I’m struck by the reality of a vast potential danger:  not the danger of spending too much money, not the danger of eating too many rich foods, but rather the danger of indulging in non-stop society–either with family members or friends.

Yes, it’s good to gather!  Yes, we thrive on sharing.  But in order to remain spiritually intact–like the unique human islands that we were intended to be–we must step back from time to time and allow ourselves an occasional afternoon or evening apart from human company, even the company of those we love the most. 

I need to wihdraw regularly, for prayer and meditation on God’s Word.  Also, I thrive on solitary moments in which to immerse myself in a creative craft or activity.  I can knit with people around, but my poetry can only flow from days of solitude and reflection.  I sketch and paint best when no one is talking around me, or looking over my shoulder! 

Periodically, we need to distance ourselves from the subjective assumptions and presumptions of others, concerning whom we are and why we are here.  Only God knows our true identity.  We cannot live in the fullness of that identity without spending time alone with Him!  Indeed, we cannot even begin to truly love people–and be loved–unless we occasionally remove ourselves the society of others.  We need solitude as much as we need food and water–perhaps even more.  Food and water merely feed the finite body, while solitude feeds the immortal soul!

Yes, we are islands–an archipelago of islands–closely related, yet unique.  Only through solitude can we grow spiritually so that we’ll have something of eternal value to share in the society of our family members and friends!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

P. S.  Now we are 5:  5 blogs that is.  I love going from blog to blog–especially when it’s below zero outdoors and I’m stuck to my mouse.  Check out more reflections at:  http://northernview.wordpress.com/

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. . . it’s CHRISTMAS! 

This morning I read the Airstream Communications weather report:  “Winter storm, snow batters west, heading east.”

I ache for travelers, as I recall countless snow filled Christmas holidays when we were on the road or waiting for loved ones at airports.  My husband and I have driven on treacherous highways and lingered for hours in midnight airports, clogged due to delayed or cancelled flights.  Indeed, it seems like an unwritten law that planes from Denver to Milwaukee will be delayed for hours around Christmas–and invariably at night! 

Yet no matter what the weather, it’s Christmas!

We have experienced some Christmas holidays which were far from “merry”–times shadowed by the death of a family member, or the rebellion of a loved one.  And there were celebrations where I went through all the festive motions with a broken heart due to fractured relationships!

Yet no matter what our circumstances, it’s Christmas!

Recently we attended a preschool Christmas program held at a huge church, once known for upholding the Gospel and God’s Word.  The program featured a manger scene with all the main players entering in their turn.  When it was time for the wise men to join the group, they were announced as “wise people”. 

Evidently it’s no longer “correct” to refer to wise men–even though the Biblical travellers (who didn’t actually arrive on the scene until about 2 years after Jesus’s birth) were historical figures, and men!  

Then the adult narrator of the program talked about “Jesus”, but I’m not sure which Jesus he meant.  He spoke of a Jesus who wants to come into our hearts “so that we’ll know how much we are loved by God”. 

Well, good, and true!  But the life changing message of the Christian faith, the very core of the Gospel, was omitted.  Christmas is the prelude to Calvary and Christ’s resurrection.  However the narrator never mentioned mankind’s innate sin condition and our desperate need for salvation.  The children’s program presented a bloodless gospel, in other words no good news at all! 

Yet no matter what the world says or does in its attempt to obscure or distort God’s truth, it’s Christmas!  Our Lord has come.  He is risen!  He will come again as promised. 

“For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:6-7

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved
Note:  Now it’s 12/27, and I’ve read the ominous news of events on the plane arriving from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. 
Our daughter, Martina, travels from Nigeria to the U.S. via Amsterdam–sometimes coming through Detroit.  (This Christmas, Martina is on a safari in Kenya.)
Here is the sobering bottom line:  one never knows!  But Christmas is still Christmas!   MLB

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This morning my good friend Linda (known as “Sunshine” to those of you who read the comments on this blog) sent me a poignantly beautiful forward about “sisters” who include all the kindred spirited women in our lives:  sibling sisters, friends, mothers, grandmothers, daughters, granddaughters, cousins, etc.

This forward amazed me, as for several days I’ve been thinking of posting the above picture and adding some thoughts on sisters.  Like “iron sharpening iron” Linda inspired me.

The circa 1938 portrait of two sisters features me (the little one on the left) and my sister Ardis–the raving beauty.  Ardis turned many guys’ heads before she married Bob.  I recall trying to compete with my sister when I was eight years old and she was sweet sixteen.  I had seen just enough of Hollywood to have romance on my juvenile mind.  Since I knew I couldn’t access my main crush–Tyrone Power, whom I’d idolized ever since I’d “met” him in  BLOOD AND SAND–I concentrated on the entourage of young fellows who dogged my sister’s steps. 

These swains were not swashbuckling matadors like my screen story hero, but hey–they were guys!  They hung around our home a lot, and often chatted with me.  While I deluded myself into pretending the boys thought I was really neat, they were actually just trying to worm information out of me about my sister.  Ultimately, our wise mother saw through this subterfuge and put a stop to it.

As I grew older, I became less of a pest–and Ardis and I became good friends.  She died in 1997, and I have thought of her nearly every day since.  Meanwhile, over the years I’ve been blessed with many other sisters:  mother, grandmothers, daughters, granddaughters, cousins, nieces, friends.  To all of you, as well as to my new sisters–those blog readers whom I’ve never met in person–I’m directing my loving tribute.

I treasure family memories, some of which are preserved in sepia like the above portrait.  And I treasure those memories in process, the ones we “sisters” are building as we share our joys and sorrows.

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

NOTE:  God’s grace is boundless!  Just this morning, as I was writing this entry, a sister whom I haven’t seen for years called on the phone–and we had a very special time filling in the gaps.  Thank you, Florence!  🙂

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We plan, we shop, we wrap, we bake, we greet our guests wreathed in smiles–and all of this is good, providing we are blessed with boundless energy.  But realistically speaking, how many of us have boundless energy?    

Like everything else on this earth, human energy has bounds.  I write a lot about the joy of hospitality and giving, but please note this:  I’ve learned that all my hospitality and giving must be based on my limits–those human limitations ordained by the Lord who made me to be whom I am! 

Before my energy dwindles to crisis level, before my physical health is compromised, my “hospitality and giving” must be suspended.  I must respect my God-ordained limits.  My ears must be closed to the outside voices–those “shoulds” and “pleas” of “will you, would you, can you?”

In view of accepting human limitations of health and energy, my mouth must also be closed:  I must never think I need to apologize.

Easy to say at my time of life, when less is expected of me than in past years!  Not so easy for mothers with young children; I know because I was there.  Forty years passed between the birth of our 1st child and the day when our 6th child went off to college.  Many times during those 40 years, especially at Christmas, I had to say “No more!”  “Enough!”

Even now, in my 7th decade, reverberations linger and expectations (normally imagined rather than actual) threaten to cloud my view of Christmas.  After all, isn’t it more blessed to give than receive? 

The answer is an unequivocable “NO!”  The greatest blessing of all is to receive what only God can give–the gift of salvation through the blood of Christ.  In shedding His blood on Calvary’s cross, our Lord completed the only finished work ever accomplished on earth:  that perfect work of reconciling sinful man to an all-righteous God.

I plan and shop, wrap and bake, and entertain–but am I really finished?  Will I ever be finished?  Can I ever be a boundless giver?  Can I ever outgive God?  Of course not!  I am needy.  We are all needy, only able to produce in proportion to whatever physical and emotional stamina we’ve been given. 

What a freedom, what a “break through” to realize that–in the eternal scheme of things–I can only receive, with joy and thanksgiving, from the One Who has given ALL!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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One of the many great features of our new home is the fact that we have room for my piano in our living room.  Before we moved here, our piano was resigned to a lower level family room where it competed with television tennis, football, and basketball. 

My husband was always willing to turn down the sound on the idiot box, but I quite frankly am not a “lower level” person.  I like being on the ground floor, in rooms with views!  And so does my piano.  Since we moved here I’ve practised nearly every day!

In past decades, music was a major part of my life.  I studied violin for many years, had a few years of piano, and sang in choirs “nearly forever”.  Now my violin skills have diminished from lack of exercise and my singing voice has grown crackly, but–praise God–I can still play the piano.

Up to a point!  I’ve been practising assiduously (my mother would have loved to hear me practise the way I do now!), yet I sometimes stumble over what should be very familiar exercises and musical scores.

What happens when I stumble?  I simply SLOW DOWN!  Allegretto can become andante, and andante can even turn into adagio when I sit at the piano–regardless of whatever the composer originally intended!  At my own piano, I’m in charge! 

Piano lessons, and lessons for life!  Today I’m having an andante day.  Tomorrow may be adagio.  Allegretto may not happen for some time–if ever again.  But never mind.  It’s all sweet music to me!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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“The snow had begun in the gloaming,
And busily all the night
Had been heaping field and highway
With a silence deep and white.”

from The First Snowfall, by James Russell Lowell

Our first significant snowfall of the season began in the gloaming yesterday, and it was busy all night.  Now at 10:00 a. m. the next day, the treasure from Heaven continues to heap field and highway with its “silence deep and white”.

I’ll never get over the thrill of the first snowfall, and many that follow–until March, that is.  Then, like most of us here in the north, I’m ready for a change.

In the book of Job, God challenges the suffering Job to consider that He–the Lord of the Universe–is sovereign.  God asks Job, “Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow . . . .?”                 (Job 38:22a)

Job understood God’s message of sovereignty, and so can we thousands of years later.  Now puny man can manufacture surrogate snow in the limited area of a ski run, but he cannot command great volumes of the genuine article to fall from Heaven non-stop for hours or days.  Only God can do that. 

What are the treasures of the snow?  Many answers surface:  the infinite creativity and variety of each snowflake as viewed through a microscope; the insulation of snow on plants, protecting them from winter’s below zero temperatures; the beauty of snow capped branches and bird feeders; the sense of  wonder which all but the dullest hearts must feel when traipsing through pristine powder in a world transformed by white; the fun of winter sports, experienced by many of us for years–and even in later years, via halcyon memories.

Perhaps the treasure I appreciate most is the slower pace imposed by snow.  We move more slowly, drive more slowly, and rest more.  We do special, festive things when it snows.  Today I mixed up pancake batter while Joe walked Baby Dylan.  We lingered over our pancakes, and then moved our coffee to a favorite spot beside the Christmas tree. 

Joe and I are never very hurried during these pleasant retirement years, but when a snowfall of at least 9 inches descends on us we slow down from andante to adagio.  What better way to live when surrounded by that “silence deep and white”?!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved 

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“And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you, and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”  Genesis 12:3

“Which covenant He made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac, and confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant.”                        Psalm 105: 9-10 

On September 29, 1938 leaders of Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy met at Munich to decide the fate of the Sudetenland, a part of Czechoslovakia made up mostly of ethnic Germans.  Adolph Hitler had alleged that Czechs in that area were mistreating the Germans, and Hitler wanted to annex the territory for Germany.

Already, the Nazi war machine had grown to ominous proportions and Austria had gone under Hitler’s boot.  Czech president, Edvard Benes appealed to Britain and France for help in protecting his little country against the advance of a tyrant so obviously bent on world conquest.

Hitler, meanwhile, was busy deceiving the world into thinking that this little part of Czechoslovakia was all he wanted.  Those who favored siding with the Czechs against Germany were labeled “war mongers”.   Our president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was not present at the Munich conference–but sent repeated pleas for Germany and Czechoslovakia to “negotiote”.

Need we say, “the rest is history”?  On September 30, 1938, headlines in the New York Times read as follows:  “Four Powers Reach a Peaceable Agreement”, “Germans to Enter Sudetenland Tomorrow and Will Complete Occupation in Ten Days”, “Nazi Demands Met”.

After the Munich Conference, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin returned to London waving the Munich Agreement for all to see, and boasting:  “A British Prime Minister has achieved peace in our time . . . . peace with honor.”

Those ironic words were followed by events we can never forget: 

November 8, 1938–“Krystalnacht” (“night of broken glass”) when Hitler’s anti-Semitic posturing turned into the methodical destruction of businesses owned by German Jews. 

March 15, 1939–The remains of Czechoslovakia caved in under Hitler’s aggression.

September 1, 1939–Hitler launched World War II, by attacking Poland and thereby bringing Britain and her European allies into the conflict.

December 7, 1941–Japanese war planes attacked U. S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor.

December 8, 1941–U. S. declared war on Japan.

December 11, 1941–Germany and Italy declared war on U. S.

Why don’t we learn from history?  Again and again, we hear the word “negotiate”.  How many of our presidents have aped Prime Minister Neville Chamberlin by thinking they are achieving “peace in our time, peace with honor”?

Negotiations with dictators who are bent on world power can only spell compromise and ultimate devastation.  Negotiations in 1938 resulted in the closest thing to Armageddon the world has ever experienced. 

Negotiations in 1938 also resulted in the torture and extermination of millions of God’s chosen people, the Jews.

Today Germany and Japan are friendly nations, purposing to never again repeat their past.  But other aggressive, diabolical regimes have risen up in the wake of the World War II tyrants–regimes with leaders who, like Adolph Hitler, are committed to wiping the Jews off the face of the earth forever.

Of course this will not happen.  God is faithful, and He will preserve His people and His nation.  There will be a genuine Armageddon, and our Lord will return to earth to reign. 

When the Lord returns, we will have “peace with honor”!  Meanwhile, any “negotiations” which threaten, harm, or in any way undermine the nation of Israel can only result in disaster!

“For you are a holy people unto the Lord your God:  the Lord your God hath chosen you to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.”  Deuteronomy 7:6

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved 

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It happens every year.  Daylight wanes and darkness reigns for many hours out of the twenty four.

Summer born, I love daylight and the months of outdoor living.  But I love the four seasons as well.  One of our daughters lives in Nigeria where the days and nights are about the same length, year around.  This would be hard for me to handle, as I find so much meaning and sustenance in the passing seasons and the varied entertainment they afford.

Years ago I read about Seasonal Affective Disorder.  This seemed like a hoot to me, since the annual demise of daylight is simply a part of life in our northern locale. 

Naturally I’ve always felt a sense of loss when the days grow shorter, but I never dreamed of making a big deal out of it–or of calling the down feeling by some kind of trendy name.  Yikes! 

An antidote advertised for SAD is a “light box” to sit beside for so many minutes every day.  Double yikes!  Why not just turn on all the pretty lamps in one’s home?  The SAD treatment light boxes cost upwards to over $250.00!  One can buy several lovely Tiffany style, made-in-China lamps at a gift shop or garden center for the price of one boring and butt ugly light box!

Along with turning on my gorgeous lamps (some of which are family heirlooms, not made in China), I counter the annual plunge of daylight by hosting extra tea parties, luncheons, and supper parties.  How can one be down in the dumps when the doors are flung open to welcome family members and friends?  Hospitality and the blues simply can’t co-exist!

Neither can creative hobbies and the seasonal blues co-exist with the seasonal gripes!  Diminishing daylight and rude weather mean more days spent indoors–days which are enriched by arts and crafts, hours at the piano (or any other instrument of your choosing), and huge increments of time for BOOKS!  If you love Charles Dickens (and others of his ilk) like I do, you won’t mind a few less hours of daylight with longer nights for reading 780-800 page novels!

Then there is the outdoor beauty which attends this time of year.  I am the first to say I’m passionate about leaves on trees and the color green in general.  But just look outside your window at the beauty today–bare branches pressed against a rose/grey sky! 

Last night Joe and I were out driving at sunset.  The shapes of trees and branches, backlit by the amber/rose sunset, sent us into raptures.  Even my husband, who is of stoic Scandinavian descent and a practical civil engineer by training, commented on God’s visuals in the sky.  (Joe is as blown away by nature’s beauty as I am; he simply says a bit less about it.)

Finally, I track the annual fall and subsequent rise of daylight.  The charts in the OLD FARMER”S ALMANAC are loads of fun.  One can also access Sunrise/Sunset data online, for any part of the world.

These charts remind me of God’s faithfulness.  In a world that seems to be whizzing and whirling around us, God’s created universe remains in stately order–as so vividly displayed in our four season climate!

As Christians who can make a choice concerning our mental attitudes, I can’t see how we can fail to grasp all the wonderful things God has given us to enjoy during the annual plunge.  Like transportation vehicles built on principles of aerodynamics, we don’t have to go down with gravity.  (Unless, or course, we run out of fuel or have a maintenance issue; our fuel and maintenance consist of God’s Word coupled with prayer!)

With a view of God’s faithfulness as expressed in His Word– embellished with pretty lamps in our rooms, frequent tea parties, a plethora of hobbies, the sight of branches pressed against the sky, and a daily glance at those reassuring charts–we have upward mobility!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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