Oh, the Places I've Lived--Part I

Monday, April 26, 2010

Tomorrow (Tuesday, April 27) is Call Day for the fourth year seminarians at Concordia in St. Louis. My son-in-law is one of them. Pete and Caroline have been anxiously counting the days until they know where they will be placed for their first church.

Although Pete and Caroline were asked about their general preferences, the assignments are made by a committee that has to consider the available openings as well as the candidates and try to make the best matches overall. So Caroline and Pete can end up anywhere in the U.S. for their first church. (For subsequent churches it will be a more normal interview process where both Pete and the church will have a say.)

I know how they feel. My father got to choose his churches (as long as they also chose him), and I'm sure my mother had a part in the decision, but my brothers and I had no say. By the time I graduated from high school, I had lived in seven different places and attended four different schools.

So in honor of my future grandchildren, I have decided to reminisce about the places I've lived.

I don't remember the first two, though. I was born in the small town of Shelby, Michigan, and we moved to Elmira, Illinois when I was less than three months old. Elmira was a country church, and my only memory is a vague one of swinging in someone else's yard.

In the fall of 1953, when I was not quite two years old, we moved to LaPrairie, Illinois. The picture at the head of this post is one of the annual Easter photos that Daddy took of us in front of the bay window at the parsonage (or the manse, as we called it).

LaPrairie was another country church, and the land that came with the manse was perfect for my father. Until he heard the call to the ministry, his ambition was to be a poultry farmer.

Although I don't remember much about the people or the church life at LaPrairie, I have fond memories of the manse and our everyday life there. My father raised ducks and chickens that sometimes ended up on the dinner table, and I loved watching the chickens run around after Daddy chopped their heads off. (Yes, they really do. Even though the chicken is dead, its nervous system doesn't realize it yet.) We also had pet rabbits, a large garden, a grape arbor, and an old-fashioned outdoor pump that needed to be primed. (We did have regular running water inside. And electricity. And plumbing. All the modern conveniences of the 1950s.)

I also remember the bees. When a colony of bees swarmed around the light over the church door, my father decided to tame them and try his hand as a beekeeper. He succeeded, and beekeeping became his new hobby. If he had continued living in places where he had the space and no near neighbors (or at least none who would complain), he probably would have raised bees until he died.

It's a good thing none of us were allergic to bee stings, though. Honeybees are not aggressive and won't sting unless you bother them, but my brothers and I often ran around barefoot in the yard and sometimes stepped on Daddy's "pets." So of course they stung the bottom of our feet. Still, I was willing to live with the stings for the honey. And oh was it good, both in and out of the honeycomb.

The other thing I remember about LaPrairie is Daddy teaching me to read and write and do simple math. LaPrairie didn't have a kindergarten, and the cut-off date for first grade was December 31. My older brother and I were both born in January, and Daddy's efforts to get us in early were unavailing. (Probably one of the few things he didn't succeed at. But there is more to the story later.) So Daddy taught us the things we would have learned if we had gone when he wanted us to. Donald actually attended first and second grade at LaPrairie, so he may have been bored. But just when it was time for me to start school, Daddy decided to take a sabbatical.

Daddy and Mama loved LaPrairie, and they would have been happy to return. But Daddy didn't think it was fair to the church to leave it without a minister for a year, so he gave them a choice. They decided to look for someone else, and we began our next adventure.

You'll hear about that next week.

A Beautiful Pasture

Monday, April 19, 2010

There are times in our lives when we feel like we've been put out to pasture. Retirement comes to mind (even if it is completely voluntary and eagerly anticipated, as mine was), but it can also happen when we send a child off to kindergarten or college, lose a job, or move away from family and friends. If fact, it can happen anytime we feel lonely or unappreciated.

Don't get me wrong. Being put out to pasture isn't a bad thing. In fact, it can be inspiring and joyful. That's because, like the horse in the picture (who lives by the Pololu Valley Lookout on the big island of Hawaii), we can live in a beautiful pasture.

My "retirement" pasture has me galloping about so much that I would welcome the chance to sit down and relax. Yes, I anticipated the time spent writing--that was the whole purpose. I also welcomed the opportunity to be actively involved in two writers' organizations (besides my regular Saturday afternoon critique group). What I didn't anticipate was the time commitment.

Not that I'm sorry about being so involved. Writing is a solitary task, and the writing groups remind me that I'm not alone. More importantly, they make me part of a wider community that interacts socially as well as professionally.

When my parents retired, they increased the time they spent traveling, writing, and volunteering. To them, retirement was an opportunity, not a curse. At 90, my mother still travels and sings in two choirs. She is also writing her memoirs and has caught my father's bug for letters to the editor.

That's the secret. Whatever (or wherever) your pasture is, make it beautiful. Get involved in church activities, find a part-time job, or volunteer. If you keep busy, you won't have time to feel lonely or unappreciated.

There are a number of ways to find volunteer opportunities. Try your local library to see how you can help with its programs (for example, working in its book sale room or tutoring illiterate adults) and for listings of other community organizations. On-line resources can also hook you up with volunteering opportunities. Examples are http://www.1-800-volunteer.org/, http://www.volunteermatch.org/, www.volunteer.gov/gov (especially good for finding volunteer opportunities at national parks and recreation sites), and http://www.dosomething.org/ (which appears to cater to a younger crowd).

As long as you keep busy, any pasture can be beautiful.

They Must Really Mean It

Monday, April 12, 2010

You've probably seen the television commercials for the military. A young man stands by his father's truck, or a young woman talks to her mother in the kitchen. Both of them (the younger generation, not the parents) want to join the military. The commercials' tag line? "It's a big decision. Talk about it."

They must really mean it.

My 23-year-old son just enlisted in the Navy. And in spite of John's "advanced" age, the recruiter met with Roland and me at our home to answer our questions and make sure we understand what John will be doing for the next six or seven years. (Yes, six or seven. Keep reading to find out how I did the math.) Apparently the Navy requires the recruiter to hold this meeting within 72 hours after enlistment. It's not really a "buyer's remorse" period that lets John get out of it if we aren't happy with his choice, but the military does seem to be serious about communicating with parents.

The recruiter left his business card and asked us to call if we have any other questions. He said he would also check in with us occasionally.

John is going into nuclear engineering, which requires a six-year commitment: the first two just for training. Because they can only slot in so many people at a time, he's in a delayed entry program and may not even leave for boot camp until January. But he's already in indentured servitude.

I don't mean that negatively. After all, indentured servitude was a way for many European immigrants to pursue the American dream. It was a voluntary choice by people with a strong desire to come to America but no money to pay the fare. And yes, sometimes the conditions were atrocious, but the servitude was a means to an end, and the end was freedom in this country.

Back in the present, I am using the term to describe the many rules and regulations John must comply with long before he enters active service. No drugs (works for me), no getting into trouble with the law (also works for me), and staying physically fit (or becoming more physically fit). He has to attend one meeting a month, stop by the recruiting office a second time during the month, and check in by telephone every week. He also has to sign a document each month that says he stayed clean and out of trouble. All that, and he isn't even getting a paycheck yet! But I'm guessing that it will be worth it.

Actually, I find the entire process reassuring. The military may be a strict parent, but it also appears to be a considerate one.

And that's just what I want for my son.

The True Meaning of Christmas

Monday, April 5, 2010

"Wait a second," you say. "The true meaning of Christmas? Aren't you getting your holidays mixed up?"

No. I wrote what I wrote, and I'm sticking to it.

Christmas isn't about gifts or decorations or family dinners. It is about the birth of a baby who was fully God and yet fully man--about God's only Son humbling Himself and becoming like me (except without sin, which is a HUGE difference).

But the baby we celebrate at Christmas came with a special mission. Although He came to live among us for a while, His ultimate purpose was to die a painful and dishonorable death. A death He didn't deserve--but we do. A death followed by a resurrection that He deserved--but we don't. Or, to put it in Sunday School terms, Jesus died on the cross to save us (me and you) from our sins. But death wasn't the end. It couldn't hold Him, and it won't hold us. Jesus' resurrection is proof that He is God, and it assures me that I will live eternally with Him.

I don't understand why God chose to do things this way, but I'm grateful that He did.

If Christ had not come to earth as a baby, we would have no reason to celebrate Easter.

That's why the true meaning of Christmas is Easter.