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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Contentment & Creativity

Contentment, that word circles my mind, thinking about the depth and breadth of the word. Synonyms include satisfaction, ease of mind, happiness, or the state of being content. In our culture we are fed discontentment - the desire for 'wants'. It creates and unrest in our hearts and minds. Our minds are filled with countless bids for our money and time - all of fleeting interest.

How do we fall into the trap of non-contentment? An early lesson in discontent was when ear muffs became a favorite thing my friends wore. My parents were unable to make this purchase for me. So I was ear muff-less, feeling less than happy with my parents and with my stature with my friends. Several months later, at what cost, I am not sure, they presented me a set of beautiful blue ear muffs. I assured them I didn't want them any more -- no one else was wearing them now. I learned then that we don't always need what we want. There were other times that I have wanted. But I realized that happiness does not depend on owning things, but knowing God's love for me.

It is said, "Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of how much you already have."

When do I feel contented? Thinking back, I have had many contentment-filled moments. I did not always recognize them at the time for hindsight vision grows exponentially with the years.

As a girl when Dad held my hand as we crossed the street, or now when my husband wraps his arms around me, I feel contentment, a satisfaction, a time when my heart is filled to overflowing.

As a young mother with four children born in four years, my life was filled with a round of diapers, feeding/clothing little ones, learning to be a servant and giving my all to care for these gifts from God. I spent most days going from one task to another wearily. One day a visitor came, surveyed my household, and said 'these are the best years of your life'. I thought she was crazy and laughed. Now I know that it truly was contentment that I felt.... when my children were small. When they needed me, when I could feel their arms around my neck. I felt contentment and wonder when Tim patted my back as I patted his when we sat in the rocking chair. I felt contentment when I could kiss their hurts and make them well through the tears.

Now, when I hear my children's voices on the phone, with a Hi, Mom, or Anna calls me Mommy. That is my contentment. When I get an email from my children and grandchildren, I feel contentment.

In the quiet of our house,contentment comes as I switch off the light at the end of the day and thank God for no aches or pains and for the promise of no interruption from without in the middle of the night. Is security a form of contentment? Not necessarily.

Is it just when families are united and together that we know contentment and when we are not hungry and have shelter? Maybe, but there is only one way to have true contentment through sickness, through war, through unrest, through quarrels, through betrayls and all the ways that threaten to unseat our contentment.

When my Dad lay dying in the hospital, I was astonished that Mom planned to go home (across) the street and sleep. I asked her how she could sleep?

Proverbs 3:23-25 holds the answer:
Dear friend, guard Clear Thinking and Common Sense with your life; don't for a minute lose sight of them. They'll keep your soul alive and well, they'll keep you fit and attractive. You'll travel safely, you'll neither tire nor trip. You'll take afternoon naps without a worry, you'll enjoy a good night's sleep. No need to panic over alarms or surprises, or predictions that doomsday's just around the corner, Because God will be right there with you; he'll keep you safe and sound.

The Apostle Paul, in I Timothy 6:6 wrote, "But godliness with contentment is great gain."

That boundless joy comes with contentment in Christ Jesus, for he loves extravagantly. This comes from trusting completely our Lord, not a sit-back-and-let-it-happen, but a joyous worship and serving our Lord and Master. His Words are on our lips, and we begin to realize that we recognize the fruit of the spirit in our way of life -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control, against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

The Message phrases this scripture in this manner: But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
Does this make contentment a 'sit-back' quality, a lackadaisical life? No, far from it. For this is when our Creativity kicks in. That is when we determine how God wants us to serve Him, and ask Him to lead us daily to lift His Name on High. This is why our hands and our minds belong to him. We sing praises with our thoughts and with our heart every moment no matter where we are.

It is not simply peace or mere contentment that I want. It is the boundless joy and exstasy in following the path of service to our Lord Jesus.

The Great Creator created the heavens and the earth and He said, It is good. He was contented with His Work. We were made in His image and He told us - I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. Jeremiah 29:11

Being faithful, trusting, gentle, self-controlled, patient, peaceful, kind, the components of Contentment, will bring us to the greatest Contentment we can experience!
"His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' Matthew 25:23

Mother (Anna Daisy Siemens) loved to write. I felt like I found a gold nugget of truth, just from her when I read:
Contentment Although I cannot fly, my own heart sings When living birds soar free on feathered wings; I am content to walk upon this earth To smell a rose or hear a chickadee Before I climb high slopes that test my worth And quietly rest upon a knoll to see When living birds soar free on feathered wings, Although I cannot fly, my own heart sings.
The fear of the LORD leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble. Proverbs 19:23


Monday, May 25, 2009

Memories from Memorial Days Past

We lived on 330 South 14th Street in Clinton. Dad didn't have to carry mail because of the holiday. I asked if we were going to the parade. No. We would stay home so Dad could paint creosote under the house to make sure the termites didn't get a foothold. That was the day I made a huge, unexpected discovery.

The opening from the stairway to the basement that led to the crawl space. A box was close to the opening. I wondered what would be under the house. I opened the box and found many letters letters to Mom. At 10 years old, I hadn't considered that my parents would write love letters. I read about four letters filled with Dad's flowing handwriting and his words of adoration for Mom.

Then I heard Mom's voice floating down the stairway, "Suzy, what are you doing?" I could hear her footsteps approaching the stairway. When she saw what I was reading, she hurriedly grabbed the box and closed it. I'm not sure, but I think she blushed.

Many years later I noticed the picture above hanging on the wall. In that same handwriting on the back, I found these words: In memory of our 13th Anniversary Engagement - April 20, 1926. Here's to the "Dearest little Girl" in the world, Wh promised faithfully to this humble boy, And through the years has kept this faith, True, pure and without alloy, from Herman.

Another Memorial Day memory is visiting the Corn, Oklahoma Cemetery. Mother gathered flowers that were blooming in our yard, to place on the graves of family. We drove 20 miles to the cemetery and visited the graves of Jacob and Emilie (Brunn) Siemens. And the parents of Jacob Siemens. I wasn't very old, but remember so clearly walking among the graves and wondering about their lives. I remember Dad telling me about his little sister, Anna-ka, who died of Meningitis in 1913. Her grave stone stood in the Mennonite Brethren Cemetery, too. I read the inscriptions and dates on each grave stone. I noticed that families seemed to be buried in the same area.

My two brothers joined the Air Force and the Navy during the Korean 'conflict'. They had many experiences traveling many places. My husband served in the Air Force before I met him in 1951. All three came home safely. Yet there are many who did not come back because they fought for freedom for America. Their blood was shed that we might live and love and be a part of a family within a country where freedom is guaranteed by constant vigilance within, and without our borders. So many lives lost and dreams short-circuited in the name of freedom. I have learned that our freedom can not be guaranteed by governments or by laws.

Our ancestors came to this country to find freedom - the freedom to worship God. Their angst and struggle to find this freedom had no assurance of success, and yet they courageusly continued.

True freedom is God-given and soul-deep.

Freedom - the only freedom that is eternal - is the freedom that comes through Jesus Christ, who died on the cross. Freedom to live and serve Him.

But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble. I Corinthians 8:9

Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. Galatians 5:1

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? Galatians 5:13


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Knowing God

Recently a lady asked how do we KNOW God? This question stopped me in my tracks. How do I know God? How can I explain God? How can I find God? How can I know His Heart and His Mind? What happens when I really know God?

Immediately I thought about my odyssey through eight decades of life. When did I know God?
Was it when I was 3 years old, standing at the window praying that it would stop raining? And it did. Was it through interminable family prayers on our knees with the Suderman family, listening to the trembling words through tears uttered by my grandparents? Was it through watching my brothers playing prayer through the laundry chute on wash day when one prayed for the toys, one by one, and the other dropped the 'answer' down the chute? (Do we yell at God when the 'toy' we pray for isn't the one we wanted, like my brothers?)

Did I know God when my Grandmother died in the next room when I was twelve? Did I recognize God on our honeymoon, as we narrowly missed a coming car on a narrow bridge? Was it the loss of the second twin, Donnie, and knowing that he was with God? Did I feel His presence when my oldest son choked? When one of my four ingested baby aspirin, was He there to comfort me?

When I played the piano or sang a solo or gave a speech, I learned from Mom that I must pray that God shines through me, and fears will go away. For I am focused on Him, not myself and inadequacies. Not as a panacea for fear, but a walk in faith with our Lord God.

Searching Google, I found the steps to knowing God. One, two, three steps - that lead to knowing God. I don't want steps to check off, I want to live in and with God.

Breathing is a gift for each of us, and that breath-gift is from God, even for little ones whose lives are threatened by cessation of life before they can take a breath. Learning to follow the scripture - 'pray without ceasing' - can be as exhilarating as a breath of fresh air. To me praying is breathing - and spiritually exhilarating. Through the decades of life, this was not always so, but now praying is food for my hungry soul.

One of my favorite scriptures is "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 46:10. We can be surrounded by technology-induced noise and the clamor of angry people, and yet BE STILL and KNOW THAT HE IS GOD. That comes from walking moment by moment with God.

From easing my way into traffic - to the end of life - God is in control. I look around at his creation, at the variety of colors and shapes and I am astonished anew at this Being Who created us. Even the shadows. I will never forget the moment I saw the many Poinsettias on the stage at church, and suddenly my eyes were drawn to the shadows, the delicate dark tracings of each leaf and each petal, intricately echoing God's creative beauty in a single flower. Even standing in the shadows of life, God's love envelopes us when our faith and trust in Him is strong.

I often think of the conversation between Job and God in Chapter 38. After all his heartache, his faith in God remained strong. Then God began to ask questions that reveals how mighty God is:

Why do you talk without knowing what you're talking about? Pull yourself together, Job! Up on your feet! Stand tall! I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers. Where were you when I created the earth? Tell me, since you know so much! Who decided on its size? Certainly you'll know that! Who came up with the blueprints and measurements? How was its foundation poured, and who set the cornerstone, While the morning stars sang in chorus and all the angels shouted praise?

And who took charge of the ocean when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb? That was me! I wrapped it in soft clouds, and tucked it in safely at night. Then I made a playpen for it, a strong playpen so it couldn't run loose, And said, 'Stay here, this is your place. Your wild tantrums are confined to this place.'

"And have you ever ordered Morning, 'Get up!' told Dawn, 'Get to work!' So you could seize Earth like a blanket and shake out the wicked like cockroaches? As the sun brings everything to light, brings out all the colors and shapes, The cover of darkness is snatched from the wicked—
they're caught in the very act! "Have you ever gotten to the true bottom of things, explored the labyrinthine caves of deep ocean?

Do you know the first thing about death? Do you have one clue regarding death's dark mysteries? And do you have any idea how large this earth is? Speak up if you have even the beginning of an answer.

"Do you know where Light comes from and where Darkness lives So you can take them by the hand and lead them home when they get lost? Why, of course you know that. You've known them all your life, grown up in the same neighborhood with them! "Have you ever traveled to where snow is made, seen the vault where hail is stockpiled, The arsenals of hail and snow that I keep in readiness for times of trouble and battle and war? Can you find your way to where lightning is launched, or to the place from which the wind blows? Who do you suppose carves canyons for the downpours of rain, and charts the route of thunderstorms That bring water to unvisited fields, deserts no one ever lays eyes on, Drenching the useless wastelands so they're carpeted with wildflowers and grass? And who do you think is the father of rain and dew, the mother of ice and frost? You don't for a minute imagine these marvels of weather just happen, do you? "Can you catch the eye of the beautiful Pleiades sisters, or distract Orion from his hunt? Can you get Venus to look your way, or get the Great Bear and her cubs to come out and play? Do you know the first thing about the sky's constellations and how they affect things on Earth? "Can you get the attention of the clouds, and commission a shower of rain? Can you take charge of the lightning bolts and have them report to you for orders?

"Who do you think gave weather-wisdom to the ibis, and storm-savvy to the rooster? Does anyone know enough to number all the clouds or tip over the rain barrels of heaven When the earth is cracked and dry, the ground baked hard as a brick? "Can you teach the lioness to stalk her prey and satisfy the appetite of her cubs As they crouch in their den, waiting hungrily in their cave? And who sets out food for the ravens when their young cry to God, fluttering about because they have no food?"

We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. I John 5:20

Comment from our son, Paul Combs, after reading this blog:
I remember being about 10 years old when we lived out in the country on the Fort Dodge Road. I had a big yellow kite that I was trying to launch, but there was hardly any wind. I was very anxious for my kite to fly so I started praying for God to make it fly. But it still didn't fly. I got mad and said, "OK, God, if You don't make it fly, then I won't believe in You!" The kite still wouldn't fly and all of a sudden it seemed very still and quiet. I was filled with remorse and a feeling of separation that scared me.
Then I prayed, "I'm sorry God. You don't have to make the kite fly. I know You are real. And I believe in You." My kite still wouldn't fly but I felt so happy to be back in step with the Lord that I knew it really didn't matter. And that's when I first remember knowing God.

Friday, May 08, 2009

What is Your Story?

A new friend greeted me with that question. I stopped to think, "WHAT is my story?"

That is not an easy answer for any of us to answer when we take an account of all aspects of our lives. Where do we begin to tell such a story?

The mind-pictures begin to slide by in quick progression. Those pictures when I felt as if I had fallen short or cringe at remembering, I fast forward ahead to picture the moments when I savored life! That is when I realized that a light blue, lace love covers many of my memories.

Long ago, I realized that life is too short to live with anger, with unforgiveness, or bitterness. Prayer has become my best friend. Love and encouragement is constantly in the air I breathe for those around me.

God gave me a family. First God sent me twin boys. One became my anchor, for Donnie lives in heaven. The only way I can hold him is to choose Jesus, and live for Him. Then God sent me three more children to join Dan -- Paul, Tim and Anna in quick succession.
Recently as I read Psalm 139:13-16 - Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother's womb. I thank you, High God—you're breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation! You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body; You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something. Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared before I'd even lived one day.
When I realized that our High God knows each of us from the inside out, and that He is so near as He creates our children in the womb, I wept. God indeed places a gift in a Mother's arms, one by one. As each of the grandchildren arrive, I know how God loves each of us. As each great grandchild arrives -- how great are His blessings. The blessings grow exponentially.

What makes that love grow? It is a child's response to his parents. What is my story? One of the sweetest gifts came in the form of a Nick Butterworth's book, My Mom is Fantastic. One of my daughter-in-loves bought this book (and one for Dads). She sent it to each of our children to add memories and responses to the author's writing.

"She can fix anything....
Dan - Even a broken heart. I tried to give a present to a girl once, and she didn't want it. But Mom did...Thanks -- PS You'll never be second fiddle to me.
Paul - I read about maple syrup candy made by early Americans who boiled maple sap and poured it through snow to make candy. I tried to explain and try. We ended up pouring pancake syrup on ice cubes - it was fun.
Tim - Her lips pursed as she concentrated on things ....trying to paint, sew, cook and I will always remember that face.
Anna - Mom taught me to cook by example. I learned not to follow directions. You just take this and this, you add some of this. Oh, this sounds good and when you served it, you smile and say thank you. Did I miss something?
"And she can balance on a tight rope...."
Dan - When she isn't being chased by a rooster while hanging out the clothes. Some people will do anything to avoid 'fither' (a name for our rooster).
Paul - Holding a garbage can over your head and kicking your leg out, you posed for my camera. The picture ended up in an exhibition for grade school and a teacher asked if my Mom was a dancer? No, not really, she just likes to play around.
Tim - Watching the endless clothes on lines in Dodge City as they flapped in the warm Kansas wind. It must have been piles of laundry...Thanks.
Anna - All afternoon and evening and sometimes in the mornings, Mom would launder our clothes - she would wash, dry, separate, fold, sew, iron and hang up load after load of clothes. Oh, HOW I appreciate that now. I had only thought to help. But I suppose it WAS peaceful.
"She's a brilliant artist...."
Dan - I got the finest curtains available - red with EMC2 all over them
Paul - The Wilroads Garden grade school basketball team was the Wildcats. You cut out different colors of iron on material and pressed them into my home made red jacket on the back. I proudly wore my wildcat pictre on the back of that jacket to school. "My Mom made it," I told every one.
Tim - I remember the bathroom toilet seat at Ft Dodge - the pink elephant standing on its nose saying, "Put me down...gently please." In a vain attempt to get 4 boys to remember 2 girls.
Anna - My Mom, the artist, from my favorite wall in Watonga that my Mom painted when she was 16 years to the painting, I have always remembered at Fort Dodge Road, to the time Mom had some left-over paint and it became a fall scene to use up the paint, to the chalk painting of the Old Rugged Cross in Wilroads Gardens. I'll never forget the appreciation she gave me for beauty in small and sometimes forgotten places.
Don't you see that children are God's best gift? The fruit of the womb, his generous legacy? Psalm 127:3

Point your kids in the right direction -- when they're old, they won't be lost. Proverbs 22:6

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with Him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. Ephesians 5:1-2

Nothing could make me happier than getting reports that my children continue diligently in the way of Truth! 3 John 1:4
My story? My story is the joy that my children bring me each day when they share their love, their heartaches and their dreams. My story is sharing in the love and lives of our twelve grandchildren and five, soon to be, six great grandchildren. My story is being content in Jesus and the assurance of His love. My story is pouring out my life for Him. My story belongs to my dear husband and our children teaching me what it is to truly love with love...and on this Mother's Day... I honor you, family, in Jesus.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Just Yesterday

Just yesterday I held my Dad's hand, skipping three times to each of his giant strides. I felt joy, pride, love and so secure in his protective, unconditional love. Yes, I was disciplined, always rightfully so. But always loved.

That was yesterday.

Just yesterday my mother trained my hands to do a myriad things. Never could I equal the giftedness of her hands in giving, baking, sewing, gardening, playing the piano, writing....and most of all....loving. Her hands were never still, always giving.

That was yesterday.

Just yesterday I held my Grandmother's hand, gnarled, quiet, skin as dry as parchment. Unconditional love mixed with the joy of being with my name's sake, Emilie Brunn, gave me a sense of timelessness and purpose.

That was yesterday.

One day, I tucked my arm in my Dad's and walked down the aisle, and that day he placed my hand into the hand of my dear husband for a lifetime of experience that included unconditional love. His hand steadied me and gave me support. His hands held our four babies, one by one, with such love.

That was yesterday.

As the years moved on, and we held hands around the supper table in prayer....those hands signified a strong bond....a strong bond of unconditional love in our family.

That was yesterday.

Now our lives are flung in separate locations across the United States, our four children are married and have children. The great grand children have appeared one by one. We can't always hold hands at the supper table physically, and yet our hearts and minds clasp each other in unconditional love that extends into the future.

This is today.

Today My dear husband and I hold hands. I feel the tiredness in his hands, and he feels the stiffness in mine. That unconditional love becomes sweeter each passing day, for we know Who holds our future. Our hearts are truly one in Him.

For through the years we learned to hold our Master's hand as we skipped through life learning to trust Him, to praise Him, to serve Him in all humility. He has taught us that unconditional love is the key to peace, contentment, joy and being a part of His family as we give our hearts to Him.

Now I look at my hands and all they have been taught to give, and I simply pray to give others unconditional love that was given to me, in Jesus' Name. My hands have brown spots, ungainly, and yet they can serve others as long as Jesus has need of me. My dear husband's hands, weak and weary, still use the familiar tools to fix whatever needs it. Hands that hold our love, hands that he folds in prayer before our Lord.

This is today.

Tomorrow I look forward to raising my hands in adoration as I meet my Lord in the air. For He is my strength and my salvation. With my hand in His, I'll always walk in His unconditional love.

Forevermore. For Jesus doesn't change—yesterday, today, tomorrow, he's always totally himself. Hebrews 13:8
So let's do it—full of belief, confident that we're presentable inside and out. Let's keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let's see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching. Hebrews 10:22-25

Blessed be God—he heard me praying. He proved he's on my side; I've thrown my lot in with him. Now I'm jumping for joy, and shouting and singing my thanks to him. God is all strength for his people, ample refuge for his chosen leader; Save your people and bless your heritage. Care for them; carry them like a good shepherd. Psalm 28:6-9

And Isaiah's word: There's the root of our ancestor Jesse, breaking through the earth and growing tree tall, Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope! Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope! Romans 15:13-14
So be content with who you are, and don't put on airs. God's strong hand is on you; he'll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you. I Peter 5:6-7