This week the weather was so cold, I was tempted at first to stay inside and hibernate. Alas, God managed to create such breathtaking beauty with all the snow, I finally decided I needed to bring my camera and immerse myself in the great outdoors instead.
I’ve known since grade school that my writing skill would play some role in my life’s work, whatever that turned out to be. From young adulthood on, I’ve used this God-given talent in my career as a journalist, as a public relations writer helping various not-for-profit organizations promote their causes, and as a human services executive preparing grant proposals for prospective donors. I’ve even managed to win awards, from first place in an American Legion essay contest when I was in seventh grade to statewide journalism awards from the Associated Press when I worked for a daily newspaper.
But one goal on my bucket list has remained elusive. From age 10 onward, I’ve dreamed of writing a book. More than 50 years later, that goal is … still on my bucket list. So this year, I’ve decided it’s time!
My book — with the working title We Need to Talk — will examine the polarization ripping apart our society and discuss an appropriate Christian response.
Here are some of the issues and questions I want to explore:
- I suspect the ongoing Culture Wars affect our daily lives more than we realize. How does the steady barrage of name-calling, insults, character assassination and demonization of opponents permeating every area of our lives affect our work, our personal relationships and our mental health? Is the endless bickering simply irritating background noise, or is the impact more malignant?
- Our current political climate did not just come out of nowhere. Why are people so angry, and what factors are contributing to the rage? Are the Internet and social media to blame? Talk-radio and cable news networks? Changing demographics? Social changes that threaten to disrupt our way of life? The dizzying pace of technological change that overwhelms our ability to keep up? All of the above?
- Part of my initial motivation for seeking spiritual direction was the internal tug-of-war over my own values brought on by the increasing divisiveness in our society. I’ve begun to suspect I’m part of an “exhausted majority” of folks who feel pressured to take sides in the Culture Wars, but at the same time, don’t fit neatly into either the left-wing progressive or the right-wing conservative camp. What are my own beliefs about the hot-button issues that consume our nation’s culture warriors? How can I avoid the continual pressure to “choose sides” and do more of my own thinking?
- As ideological positions in our society harden, and people become increasingly “dug in,” common sense seems to have flown out the window. Is healing possible? What aspects of our thinking and behavior would need to change for this to happen? What would happen if we could all take off our political/ideological hats for just a few minutes, eliminate the name-calling, the shouting, the trolling and the flaming, and have a rational discussion about the real issues?
- Some would say Christians are in no position to judge secular society when it comes to the Culture Wars — we are often accused of stirring the pot ourselves, and not in a good way. What is our role as Christians in fighting or mitigating society’s political battles? How do we engage people who disagree with us, while keeping in mind God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves? And perhaps more importantly, how do we avoid becoming part of the problem as our society grows ever more partisan and angry? How can we be part of the solution?
As I research these issues and explore the questions with my spiritual director in the coming months, I will post book excerpts to this blog. I’d like to invite the blogging community to comment and offer editing or research suggestions. I hope to get responses from all sides — liberals, progressives, conservatives, libertarians, independents, centrists, people who don’t like labels.
Since 2017, I’ve been posting entries to my blog Seriously Seeking Answers. Among the helpful features Word Press offers is a running word count. My annual site statistics show I’ve written approximately 20,000 words each year since I first created the blog. After three years, that’s almost … a book. This means I’ve proven to myself that writing a book is doable. No excuses!
In the Bleak Midwinter, a Flash of Brilliant Red
I’ll confess: Sometimes I give in to that irresistible urge to nibble between meals. And I’ve found that having fresh cut veggies in the refrigerator – celery, carrot or zucchini sticks, cauliflower and broccoli florets or mushrooms – reduces the chance that I’ll snack on junk.
Alas, raw veggies tend to taste much better with dip, which itself can add too many calories if I’m not careful. So I’ve created some dips that make the crudities more appealing while reducing the guilt factor.
These dips also work well on baked potatoes as a replacement for butter or margarine.
The secret is a “base” that cuts out the fat without sacrificing flavor. I use the base to create a variety of delicious dips. Here I’ve included directions for making blue cheese dip and feta cheese dip.
The following recipe makes approximately 2 cups of the “dip base,” which lasts up to 10 days in the refrigerator.
Ingredients for dip base
1 8-oz. package fat-free cream cheese
1 5.3 oz. individual size container non-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 cup fat-free mayonnaise
Soften cream cheese in the microwave for about 30 seconds to one minute until softened and easily stirred. Add yogurt and blend until smooth. Then add mayonnaise and blend until smooth. I use a hand-held “stick” blender when making the base to achieve the smoothness I desire.
Nutrition info for dip base
Serving size: 2 Tbsp | Calories: 30 | Carbohydrates: 4 g | Protein: 3 g | Fat: 0 | Saturated Fat: 0 | Cholesterol: .5 mg | Sodium: 210 mg | Potassium: 33 mg | Fiber: 0 | Sugar: 2 g | Vitamin A: 3% | Vitamin C: 0 | Calcium: 3% | Iron: 0
Blue cheese crumbles and feta cheese crumbles both come in reduced-fat varieties, and make delicious dips when added to the above base.
When blending in the additional ingredients, I recommend stirring them in by hand rather than using a blender or food processor because I like preserving the original consistency of the crumbles.
Blue Cheese Dip
Mix together equal parts dip base and reduced-fat blue cheese crumbles and stir until well-blended. For example, I might mix together ¼ cup of the base with ¼ cup blue cheese crumbles, reserving the rest of the base for another use.
Nutrition info for blue cheese dip
Serving size: 2 Tbsp | Calories: 35 | Carbohydrates: 2 g | Protein: 3 g | Fat: 1.5 g | Saturated Fat: 1 g | Cholesterol: 4 mg | Sodium: 200 mg | Potassium: 16 mg | Fiber: 0 | Sugar: 1 g | Vitamin A: 3% | Vitamin C: 0 | Calcium: 5.5% | Iron: 0
Feta Cheese Dip
Mix together equal parts dip base and feta cheese crumbles. Finely chop 3-4 slices of pickled jalapeno pepper and add to the mixture. Stir until well-blended.
Nutrition info for feta cheese dip
Serving size: 2 Tbsp | Calories: 28 | Carbohydrates: 2 g | Protein: 3 g | Fat: 1 g | Saturated Fat: .5 g | Cholesterol: 3 mg | Sodium: 187 mg | Potassium: 17 mg | Fiber: 0 | Sugar: 1 g | Vitamin A: 2% | Vitamin C: 0 | Calcium: 3% | Iron: 0
My current spiritual journey began with a bushel basket full of pesky questions and a commitment.
About two years ago, I found myself at a spiritual crossroads. My husband and I attended church almost weekly, and I had read the Bible from cover to cover, along with shelves full of books on religion and spirituality. Yet I still found myself asking the “big” or “ultimate” questions. What do I actually believe about God and why? What is God’s purpose for my life? What are my values, or what should they be? How do I live my life in a way that is consistent with my beliefs and values?
Several factors led to this renewed questioning. The transition in focus and priorities prompted by my retirement. The “time is limited” epiphany that comes with being 60-something, losing loved ones and developing chronic health problems myself. Questions about faith and a church’s true purpose raised by reading the Bible and serving on my congregation’s evangelism committee. The internal tug-of-war over my own values brought on by the increasing divisiveness and polarization in our society.
My commitment: Develop a better understanding of God, so I can fulfill God’s purpose for my life, discern what my values should be and live accordingly.
I engaged a spiritual director to help me sort through my basket of “ultimate” questions, challenge all kinds of dogma from the spiritual and religious to the political and ideological, and reorder my beliefs and values as necessary. For the past two years, we have met monthly for one-hour sessions. She offers a variety of suggestions for homework assignments, allowing me to choose which ones I might find most helpful, and she recommends various reading materials as well.
It’s important for me to point out that seeing a spiritual director has not replaced going to church. Spiritual direction is a one-on-one partnership in which one Christian helps another grow in a personal relationship with God. It’s a supplement to – rather than a substitute for – church.
One of the first questions my spiritual director asked me was, “Have you ever questioned the existence of God?” She didn’t flinch when I said, “Oh yeah. More than once.” For most of my life, I had leaned toward the idea that there probably is a God. Yet, nagging doubts continued to creep in from time to time. I didn’t voice them to anyone, though. If the Christians around me ever doubted God’s existence, they certainly weren’t letting on.
I confessed that what I really wanted was the “blinding light” experience the Apostle Paul had on the road to Damascus, or the burning bush Moses encountered. I wanted to be like those people who saw the blinding light or the burning bush, just knew what they knew about God, and had their mission in life spelled out for them. Well, the blinding light hasn’t happened for me – at least not yet. But what has happened is nearly as amazing.
I started spending more time outside. Dismissing the existence of a deity is tempting when so many people who claim to speak in God’s name spew hatred for their neighbors while committing assorted hypocrisies and evil deeds. Denying God’s existence gets even easier when watching one terrible event after another unfold on the news. But I’ve found it almost impossible to deny the existence of a Creator when I’m outdoors with evidence of God all around me.
Because the natural world constantly reassures me of God’s existence, I’ve discovered that going outside is something I can easily do whenever I encounter those pesky doubts. I can watch sunsets. Listen to cicadas. Smell some flowers. Feel the breeze against my face. Take a walk. Dig around in the dirt and plant flowers or veggies. Experience evidence of God with all my senses. Immersing myself in nature’s majesty continually reminds me there is an ultimate Creator.
Once I discovered a reliable way to address my occasional doubts about God’s existence, it was time for the next step in my spiritual direction journey – improving my conscious contact with God. For the past year, I’ve been exploring a variety of prayer techniques. Among them: morning meditation, nature prayer, prayers of petition and intercession, prayers of thanksgiving, writing and journaling as a form of prayer and practicing better mindfulness in church. While I’ve used some of these prayer techniques off and on for years, I’ve committed to doing them on a more regular, disciplined basis.
As I’ve engaged in nature prayer, I’ve acquired a new hobby – photography. I even invested in a new camera recommended to me by the author of From My Window, a blog featuring amazing nature photography (link HERE). The Canon PowerShot SX720 HS camera is a simple “point-and-shoot,” but it has a 40X zoom, which has allowed me to capture stunning close-up photos of birds and other wildlife. I’ll be sharing more of my favorites on my own blog in the coming months.
1 Corinthians 6:19 reminds us that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and my medical adventures of the past year have sent an unmistakable message that I need to take better care of mine. Toward that end, I’ve been experimenting with recipes designed to make my healthy eating plan more enticing. After much adjusting and tweaking of ingredients, I’ve managed to come up with a few recipes that are worth sharing, so I’ll be doing that from time to time as well.
So what’s next as I continue my spiritual journey?
Part of my initial motivation for seeking spiritual direction was the extreme level of vitriol permeating our society in recent years, and the stressful impact all the fighting has had in my personal life. I must say I’m dreading the 2020 election season here in the U.S. I’ve begun to suspect I’m part of an “exhausted majority” of folks who feel pressured to take sides in the Culture Wars, but at the same time, I don’t fit neatly into either the left-wing progressive or the right-wing conservative camp. As the increasingly polarized positions have hardened, and the endless bickering has begun to penetrate every area of our lives, common sense seems to have flown out the window.
This situation has prompted me to ask: What are my own beliefs about the hot-button issues that consume our nation’s culture warriors and what is my role as a Christian in fighting or mitigating society’s political battles? How do I engage people who disagree with me, while keeping in mind God’s commandment to love my neighbor as myself? Even if we think someone’s values are totally wrong, how do we as Christians change hearts and minds if we demonize certain people and won’t have anything to do with them? And perhaps more importantly, how do I avoid becoming part of the problem as our society grows ever more partisan and angry? I will be exploring these issues and questions with my spiritual director in the coming year.
Time to fasten my seatbelt and embark on the next leg of my spiritual journey.
Sunrise After A Long Winter’s Night
May 2020 bring you abundance of all kinds.
I understand Christmas letters are considered a bit tacky in some circles – after all, they have a somewhat deserved reputation for turning into obnoxious brag-fests – but I personally love getting them. With family and friends spread out all over (Pete and I have relatives in at least a dozen different states and three different countries), Christmas letters, like Facebook, help me keep up with everyone. So Pete and I have been sending out our own annual Christmas letters for more than 30 years now. Hopefully we don’t brag too obnoxiously – except for our occasional travel adventures.
Actually, our travel in 2019 mostly seemed to consist of trips to the emergency room. In February I landed in intensive care for massive internal bleeding caused by the blood-thinning medication I was taking. This was followed in the spring and summer by several trips to the emergency room for radiating chest pain, which the doctors now believe was caused by gallbladder attacks. Said gallbladder came out in September and I finally seem to be healing. (Knock wood!)
As if that wasn’t enough, both our kitties developed health issues this year. But so far, the special diets and medication are working and our little bandits seem to be doing well. Meanwhile, they continue to be their sweet, lovable, adorable, ornery, mischievous selves.
Which is a good thing, because this has been a sad year.
My mother passed away in September after spending several months in home hospice care and waging a valiant 60-year battle with Type 1 diabetes. It was a humbling experience to hear all the stories about her vibrant personality, hospitality and generosity from the literally hundreds of people who showed up for her visitation and funeral. She had a wide range of people who dearly loved her. It was nice to see lots of cousins we hadn’t seen in a while, even if the occasion was a sad one.
An absolutely phenomenal team of caregivers shepherded her through her final months and I will be forever grateful to Sharon, Stacy, Jessica, Debbie and Mary for their constant loving attentiveness that went way beyond the call of duty. Not to mention my sister Cindy, who took on the monumental task of supervising the support team. Here are several of these awesome ladies joining Mom and my sister for an adult slumber party complete with pink squirrels (Mom’s favorite drink) last summer.
Mom was a fun-loving, die-hard Cubs fan, so it came as no surprise when she requested that family and friends wear Cubs shirts to her visitation and funeral/celebration of life. Here are Pete and I in our his-and-hers matching shirts, which we bought just for her. The Cubs must have been playing for her, since they won 14-1 the day we said good-bye.
We also lost a dear friend. John Knoepfle was a talented poet and storyteller who published more than two dozen books. At 96, he was still at it, working on yet another book when he wasn’t playing his harmonica. He was a terrific mentor to me in my younger years and Pete and I had the honor of helping him edit and publish the chinkapin oak, one of his earlier books. And while he lived a long, amazingly full life, we’re still going to miss him!
Fortunately, 2019 did bring more than sad news and hospital trips. There were also weddings. LOTS of weddings! Congratulations to Angie and Will, Ellie and Adam, Payton and Vero, Jacob and Sid, Anna and Eddie. Health issues prevented us from attending most of the weddings, but hopefully these newlyweds will all have marriages as wonderful and Pete’s and mine. (Have I ever said I have a fabulous husband??)
While we didn’t travel much, we did manage to see some of Pete’s cousins. We had the pleasure of visiting twice with John and Anne, who live in western North Carolina, while they were passing through the Midwest to attend a couple of the above-mentioned weddings. And we met in St. Louis with Pete’s cousin Chrissie and her husband Chris, who were in town for a WordPress meetup. Chrissie’s work as a “happiness engineer,” doing customer support for WordPress, takes her all over the country, and she’s been SO helpful to us with our blogs.
Pete and I continue to take spiritual direction with a charming – and very patient – Dominican sister. Spiritual direction doesn’t replace church. Rather, it’s a one-to-one relationship in which one person helps another grow in a personal relationship with God and sense the presence of God in everyday life. It’s been a very interesting experience for both of us, and we both blog about it. While posting articles and photos to my blog “Seriously Seeking Answers,” I’ve met some fascinating fellow bloggers who are pursuing similar journeys. Pete’s working title for his blog is “Ordinary Time” [link HERE]. As the address – ordinaryzenlutheran.com – implies, it’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that.
Pete’s historical research on Swedish immigration continues to sit on the back burner but he’s vowed to get back to it in the coming year, and I’ve promised to start in earnest writing the book I’ve been threatening to write for ages. That is, if we can tear ourselves away from our computer screens and stop arguing politics with total strangers on social media. And if we political junkies can’t stay away from the 2020 election season completely – who are we kidding?? – we at least plan to do something constructive like volunteering for a local candidate’s campaign.
Music continues to be an important part of our lives. We’re active in our church, where we sing in the traditional choir. We also play dulcimers (mountain dulcimer for Pete and hammered dulcimer for me) with a group of musicians that gathers for jam sessions at a senior high-rise a few blocks from our house. There’s actually a bit of a “fan club” of residents who pull up chairs and listen to us play in the lobby, so it feels like we’re actually doing some social good while having a good time.
I have to admit that getting into the holiday spirit was a bit of a challenge, given the kind of year we’ve had, so that’s why I broke my usual rule of not even thinking about Christmas until after Thanksgiving and started decorating early. This seems to be working. And my Christmas cactus is faithfully blooming right on schedule.
We’re getting to an age where our idea of a wild New Year’s Eve celebration consists of supper at our favorite Indian restaurant around 6 p.m. followed by bedtime at 10. But we’ve started a new tradition in recent years of inviting friends to our house on New Year’s Day for hoppin’ john (rice and black-eyed peas), greens and lots of music. The hoppin’ john and greens are said to bring good luck and making music just seems to be a great way to start off the New Year right.
Here’s hoping you all have a happy and healthy New Year full of grace and peace!
In Exodus 20:12 and again in Deuteronomy 5:16, you gave us the following commandment: “Honor thy father and thy mother.”
Fortunately, you blessed me with parents who made following that commandment easy. My life has turned out pretty wonderful. I have been blessed with a good marriage, a successful career and good friends. I owe that in no small part to having a good upbringing by parents who were loved and respected by the entire community.
But this holiday season is the first that I will be facing without either Mom or Dad, except in my memories. So I’d like to take the time this Thanksgiving to offer thanks for their lives.
As a child with disability issues, I had problems in school, especially with other kids. In those days, diversity was NOT considered beautiful, and I was bullied pretty relentlessly. Compounding the problem was the fact that there were no good services 50-60 years ago – no IDEA, no Individualized Education Plans. Parents and their special-needs kids were pretty much on their own, and my parents just had to do the best they could without the help parents and kids can take for granted today. Despite these obstacles, they raised an honor student who graduated in the top 10 percent of her class.
It’s amazing how a small gesture can change a person’s life. When I was in junior high school, and didn’t have much belief in my abilities, I showed Mom a poem I had written. Without telling me, she sent a copy of the poem to Carol Burnett and it wound up getting published in a book. Then Mom gave me a typewriter, even though it wasn’t my birthday or Christmas or anything, and said, “You could be a famous writer someday.” Okay, so maybe the “famous” part didn’t happen, but I did grow up to be a successful professional writer. I even managed to win some writing and journalism awards. And it started with someone believing in me and telling me I had talent.
I appreciated my parents’ sense of humor when conveying life’s lessons to my sisters and me. Instead of lecturing us extensively about the need to avoid peer pressure, they’d simply say, “If 10 of your friends jumped off the top of the Empire State Building, would you do it too?” Once when I was complaining about a mean boss, Dad said, “You know, you can learn as much from a bad example as you can from a good one.” I took that advice to heart, actually, as I progressed through my career. When I became a boss myself, I thought about the bosses I’d liked, and analyzed what they did right. But I also learned a lot about what not to do from the bosses I didn’t like so well.
Mom and Dad took just about the right approach when I ran into problems. If I found myself in a situation that really and truly wasn’t fair, they were my best allies, and more than once they went to school to help me straighten out misunderstandings with one teacher or another. But if I got into trouble and was guilty as charged, they allowed me to experience the consequences rather than bailing me out the way some parents would. I can still remember when I got into a water fight with a classmate in the home-ec room, and our punishment was staying after school for 10 afternoons to clean ovens. When I complained that the punishment seemed excessive, I didn’t get much sympathy, but was told, “The exercise will do you good.”
But perhaps the best gift they gave me was their example.
My parents showed me what a good marriage looks like. I’ve now been blessed for 34 years with the kind of marriage they had, and I know it is possible to have a relationship with someone who loves and respects me and treats me well.
They showed me how to overcome adversity. I was not a happy camper when I got diagnosed with diabetes. But Mom had it for 60 years, and showed me how to live with the condition and accept the dietary restrictions with good grace.
They showed me it was possible to disagree without being disagreeable. One of my favorite memories was of Dad and his brothers arguing about politics, for two or three hours at a time. But they’d all be smiling while they argued, and they’d still be smiling when they got done.
Mom and Dad taught me to be generous and to give back to our community and they walked the talk. Whether it was serving on the school board, teaching Sunday School, or donating $1,000 to help a family at church, both parents were generous with their time and money. Helping others has been a big part of both my career and my volunteer work, and I learned that value from my parents.
Their generosity has extended to hospitality. Pete and I are both grateful for how nice my parents were to my mother-in-law, making her feel like part of the family after her husband died. They made sure she felt welcome and loved.
And the community loved my parents back. During their funerals and visitations, I was blown away by the outpouring of love and respect from everyone who knew Mom and Dad. Literally hundreds of people lined up to tell my sisters and I what our parents meant to them. Here are just a few examples of the comments:
“Sweetest lady ever!”
“He’d give the shirt off his back.”
“So special, kind and caring.”
“Always so nice to everyone.”
“They changed my life.”
Finally, my parents taught me by example to count my blessings. On my 50thbirthday, I remember joking, “Now that I’m finally mature enough to listen to my elders and believe them, what advice would you pass on? If you had one thing you could do differently, what would it be?” I remember Dad, who was 75 at the time, saying, “I wouldn’t change a thing.” I only hope I can say the same thing when I’m 75.
So now I try to remember to count my own blessings, and I definitely count my parents to be among those blessings.
With love and gratitude,
In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:18
It’s November, which means it’s time for me to make my annual Thanksgiving Gratitude List.
I’m tempted to say this year has been a ring-tailed monster. It began with both me and my little cat being diagnosed with diabetes, followed by a stint in the ICU with massive internal bleeding caused by my blood-thinning medication. My beloved mother was placed in hospice care in May and passed away in September. Then came two more trips to the hospital for me in the fall – first for gallbladder surgery and three weeks later for more testing after I developed complications.
And yet I do have plenty to be grateful for this year:
My husband. He’s been my absolute rock this past year as I went through three hospitalizations and the loss of my mother. I love that man to the moon and back!
My parents. During Mom’s visitation and funeral (and Dad’s a few years ago), I was awestruck to realize how many people loved my parents and to hear story after story about their generosity in the community.
My family. Having sisters really helps when one goes through the grieving process. Even though the occasion was sad, I also got to visit with a number of cousins I haven’t seen in years. And I can’t begin to express enough gratitude for the amazing team of women who cared for Mom during her final months! They became like family as well.
Good friends, our church community and other supportive people. I’m not sure we’re expected to be grateful for affliction – after all, I’m not a masochist. But I’m certainly grateful for the people God puts in our lives to help us through the sad and scary stuff – the friends, family, church people and total strangers who prayed for us this year. The steady stream of get well-cards and sympathy cards and visits helped more than people know!
Our kitties. I’m learning to count each day with Oley and Champaign as a blessing, now that both have been diagnosed with health problems. And I’ve decided whoever invented pill pockets deserves a Nobel Peace Prize.
My health. I’ve absolutely stopped taking my health for granted. I’m committed to practicing better self-care and am grateful for the Stay Fit exercise program at our local hospital, not to mention the existence of fat-free cream cheese, sugar-free peanut butter cups, the buffets full of delectable vegetable dishes at our two local Indian restaurants and other little things that make sticking to a healthy eating plan (slightly) easier.
Our home. The fireplace I sit next to during my morning meditation and the flower beds in my backyard offer a perfect balm during all the days I’ve spent healing.
Financial security. I’m grateful we can afford health insurance, which means I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay all those medical bills. Being able to hire someone to clean our house and mow our grass has certainly made my life easier, especially since my time was taken up with the job of healing from surgery and making frequent six-hour round trips to my parents’ farm.
Being alive. God has granted me another year. While many folks complain about aging (and I must admit I do this myself from time to time), today I choose to be grateful I’ve been able to grow old. Especially after the adventures of the past year.
And last but not least … SPRING IS COMING in 125 days!!!
For all of this, God, I thank you.
And so, I resolve to keep reminding myself each day: Today is the day our Creator has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Here’s hoping everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving!