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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Expectationally Speaking

It was the beginning of my school year in high school. My voice teacher asked me to play the Star Spangled Banner for the opening of the assembly -- with about 300 or more students in the audience. I expected to be able to play the song, however when I checked the key, it was covered with cloth tape. I knew that the song had flats but not how many. I decided the best thing to do was to add flats until it sounded right. I began with octaves - F - D - B and realized immediately that I needed to flat the B. I expected success - and Francis Scott Key squirmed in his grave as he heard his masterpiece - keyless - played by a clueless blonde.

An expectation needs more than good thoughts -- an expectation needs a foundation - we don't always get what we expect, or expect what we get. The secret is to choose carefully what we expect. Expectations gone awry can cause a great deal of suffering and grief.

A few months later, my Dad traded his post office job for a rural route in a town 50 miles away in Oklahoma. We even traded houses and Dad threw in my accordian as well. Dad expected to slide into a job, that didn't require miles of walking....he bought a 1945 Red Sedan Ford, thinking about a restful drive in the country. What he didn't expect was a flat tire after flat tire from nails left at every mail box, a legacy of reflection of the previous mail carrier. Dad bought a magnet on a long stick, and cleaned up every mail box stop. The new tires ate into our slim budget. The house was not a good fit, so we made a deal to move to the next house north in Watonga. More money. We didn't always have some of the things we needed, and I found out later that Mom often held Dad at night as he sobbed. He felt like such a failure, he second-thought his decision. They prayed and prayed until exhausted, they both fell asleep. This circumstance was not according to their expectations.

The anticipation and expectancy left a little to be desired. There was a happy ending however - with postal patrons helping Dad, watching for him, pulling him out of snow banks, and mud-stuck. Dad, in turn, delivered baby chickens, stamps, arranged weddings and funerals, reading letters in German and translated, comforting those who lost loved ones. He became a the mailman who was loved.

Expectation is anticipation and expectancy - eagerness and excitement. Sixteen was a big year for me - to wear Tangee lipstick, get a driver's license, and date boys. The anticipation was pretty exciting. Of course, these activities also had their down times, lipstick had to be re-applied, driving safely was expected of me and dating boys had its own set of rules. Graduating from high school was another time of excitement - yet the decisions for education and leaving the safety net of home demanded some concern and thought. Marriage, too, is a time of dreams and happily ever after. After the honeymoon is over, and reality sets in, then comes the need for understanding and learning to live together according to God's plan in I Corinthians 13. When small annoyances of your spouse become endearing, you truly become one. When your goals and aspirations link together, just as your hands did in early courtship, there is living as one....truly one.

As I read a portion of the History and Genealogy of the Jacob Loewen Family written by my great Uncle Solomon Loewen, I thought about my great-grandmother - Justina Leppke Loewen, his mother. What were her expectations? What did she think about leaving Russia, and traveling across the ocean to America, an unknown land? What did she pack for the journey? What did she leave behind?

Justina Leppke was 17 years old when the family decided to emigrate to America with other Mennonite families. However their emigration was delayed for a year. They came over in 1875 on the S.S. Bolivia, leaving Glasgow, Scotland, and arriving July 1, in New York. They were the only Mennonite family of 267 passengers. The family arrived at Peabody, Kansas on 7 July and moved in with Peter Nikkel family a mile ease and half north of the Ebenfeld church. The Nikkel home was small - two rooms, a lean-to kitchen and a cellar. Crowded quarters for two families to live together, even for just 2 weeks.

When we talk about families, we are talking about 10 children in the Leppke family - the oldest 22 years and the youngest 3 years. Justina always found the bright side of the pioneer life, and with cheerful optimistic remarks lightened the burdens of those around her. When I compare my life at 17 with my G-Grandmother Justina's, I am shamed. For a room of her own was unknown, running water or A/C was unheard of, watching tv, a day at the mall, getting a car of her own was not even a dream. There was no need of an allowance, for they seldom went to town. Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs were prized.

Justina's father bought some land and soon after they were settled, she found work as a household maid and cook in the Jacob Loewen Sr.'s home. She demonstrated her ability as a good cook and homemaker, and that with her usual cheerful disposition were noticed by the son of Jacob Loewen Sr. Both sets of parents - the Leppke's and Loewens gave permission for a wedding. So it was that after three years in this country, Justina found herself a young bride, at 20 years, and her wedding present from her father-in-law was a sack of flour. There was no honeymoon, and they made their first home in the basement apartment of the groom's parents.
Anna Loewen, the first child, was born there.

They soon moved to a rental farm where Katharina was born. Now Justina was 24 years old, in a new country. What were her dreams, her expectations? Did she expect to have 13 more children, one of whom was stillborn baby? Did she expect Anna Loewen Suderman to endure having four babies die? Did she expect to see Anna's first granddaughter 80 years ago? Did she ever long for her childhood in Chortiz, Russia?

God created all of us, His expectations were that we would love Him and choose Him to worship. Although He knew what our choices would be, He still loves us unconditionally enough to send His Only Begotten Son, Jesus to save us from our sins.

Are our expectations earth-bound or heaven-bound? When we care more for our physical world than our spiritual world, our expectations need adjustment. Our excitement and eagerness to draw another breath doesn't come from job successes, earning more money, or the number of degrees that follow our names, it comes from a foundational belief in our Lord.
II Timothy 1:12 - I have no regrets. I couldn't be more sure of my ground—the One I've trusted in can take care of what he's trusted me to do right to the end.
Life holds many opportunities for living expectantly. My Grandmother wrote a letter near the end of her life -- she expected her children and grandchildren to live so that they could join her in heaven. Mom echoed that thought. My husband's father also had something similar. After 8 decades of living, that becomes the most important expectation for me, too.

Expectation includes trust and hope. While reading, Expect the Light by Gene Shelburne, I came upon this thought, "The secret of survival lies in an unshakable faith that eve when the clouds of life are darkest, the sun of God's grace shines undimmed above. And we know at any moment, perhaps soon, we will bask once more in its warmth and glory. To make it through today, EXPECT the light."

I listened to a little lady, in a nursing home, asking if she could soon go home. I knew that she would never return to her earthly home. My prayer that day was to always be aware of my real home - my heavenly home.
Romans 12:11-12 - Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Reprise on Father's Day

When I walk down the store aisles and see the display of Father's Day cards, I am filled with nostalgia. I knew my Father for 50 years, and then he was gone. As with all fathers, there are strong points and weak points - but I knew my father loved me.

I remember the tears in his eyes when I brought home an 'F' on my report card in math one six weeks. I suffered to see how it hurt him. I loved the way he told stories - even mundane, every day stories became incredibly riveting as they involved hand gestures, a drop in his voice that could grow to thunder at times. His eyes were so expressive, and now when I tell a story, and I realize that my eyes are wider than usual, I feel Dad's presence beside me.

He made me see the anguish of Abraham planning to sacrifice his son, or the industriousness of Noah building the ark through all the derisive remarks of his neighbors and the bravery David displayed when he fought the huge Goliath with the small stones. To me Dad was as brave as David, as sacrificial as Abraham and as patient as Noah.

When he died in 1979, I realized that Dad had given me a gift to surpass any monetary inheritance or gift. He gave me a picture of my Heavenly Father like no other! I more clearly understood God's unconditional love, I could see that any discipline that comes my way is deserved, and through that discipline I became more and more God's child. When I step out of my comfort zone and attempt to do something, I trust God to help me, just as my earthly father did. (I can still see my Dad's arms pumping away as he scurried away to get whatever task came his way to be done!)

When it came time to marry, I gradually learned through our 57 years, that my husband had great father-potential. Not all at once - we did not have books to guide us on how to parent - but we muddled through with the help of God. Now in the later years of our lives, we realize the gift of parent hood. We praise God and thank Him for our four children, each one different, each one gifted, each one unique - and for any mistakes we made - God has covered them over with love.

In 1992, our daughter-in-law (love), Karen, gave us a gift that is still our favorite....and the title of this book is -- My Dad is Brilliant by Nick Butterworth. In each of its pages are memories -- times that our four remembered about their Dad. I can't include them all because of space.

He's as strong as a gorilla:
  • Tim - Wrestling hay bales for Buger (shetland pony), I watched you heave those up high, in awe at your strength
  • Paul - When the house on Market Street in Dodge City blew up and burned (across the street), you called the fire department for help in a calm, assured voice. I was amazed at your strength under fire - you knew what to do and did it in a quick calm way. I was so proud of my Dad.
  • Anna - I remember playing the new whisle out front, and that mean bull dog, at least 10 feet tall came toward me. I was so frightened, I could only blow harder and louder. Just as that huge dog towered over me, my Dad picked me up twice as high and saved me. I felt so safe and secure in my daddy's arms.
...and he can run like a cheetah....
  • Tim - Somehow I don't ever remember you running, I remember you always wore boots though.
  • Dan - But with one pant leg in and one pant leg.....
  • Paul - We played soccer behind the house on Market Street. You and Dan and me. I remember the joy of running with my Dad and my brother, playing a game together. I thought to myself then, I'll do this with my kids, too.
....and he can play any instrument.....
  • Anna - You listened through agonizing hours of my piano playing. You spent hours in your workshop in the basement just below the piano. I noticed when you changed your comments of 'you are improving' to "I enjoyed that today". I miss your listening ear
  • Tim - We were never made fun of and were always encouraged to do music....all four of us. I can barely remember your bass, but I will always remember your applause.
  • Dan - Who bought my first musical instrument without hesitation? And who paid for repairs after it was injured without complaint. All that gave me even more reason to practice, practice, practice, when when I did not want to.
  • Paul - We drove to St. Louis on a Saturday and you bought me a set of drums! I couldn't wait to play (bang) them and they sat in the corner of the basement. I just knew you played them when no one else was home -- how could you not? You did, didn't you?
....and he is brilliant and making things.....
  • Tim - We had many tree houses, one in front, one in the back, one on the side, where did all that lumber come from?
  • Dan - We had a small tree house built over the relic of a Model T - purposefully left for us to use as a play toy - we had hours of fun in there.
  • Anna - I was quite old and almost married before I realized that not every daddy fixed everything and did stuff around the house. And people thought we were rich because we had a TV in every room.
  • Paul - On Market Street, you were working in the shed and we were playing outside. It was near dusk. You wanted us to hold the spark while you cranked a starter, but you put together a go-cart. At least you said it was. I couldn't wait to try it out. I think we had to push it around. PS We didn't trust you when you asked us to hold a wire any more.
...and he tells the funniest jokes in the world....
  • Tim - Jokes were the food of the Combs! I remember the running gags at supper and sometimes I'd leave the table with my stomach muscles hurting. Karen says they weren't allowed to sing at their supper table. We were so lucky.
  • Paul - I remember the suppers, too -- but they weren't a success unless I could 'crack' Dad up. He also used to tell all the jokes about people dying to get into cemetaries (a popular place) and the guy who took smartening pills. (I won't say who made them)
  • Dan - Another Readers' Digest joke! Dinnertime was my favorite, we could sit around the table and all have 2 or 3 conversations going at once, loving chaos in a ceaseless din, but no one left the table unhappy (unless it was their turn for dishes).
  • Anna - There were always jokes running around our dinner table. It was between Mom and I who caught on last. I learned that God and Daddy aren't afraid of laughter one night when we started laughing during the prayer. Tim and I worried what Daddy would do. He rolled up a paper napkin and 'popped' me and Tim on the head with it saying "behave!". We really laughed. (Paper napkins don't pop, they don't snap, they are soft like a feather, just like my Dad's love!)
Psalm 103:13, 17-18
As parents feel for their children, God feels for those who fear him. .....God's love, though, is ever and always, eternally present to all who fear him, Making everything right for them and their children as they follow his Covenant ways and remember to do whatever he said.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What's in a Number?

The day began with a brief walk. My 80th birthday. There were a few sprinkles, but I thought it would continue to be just a brief sprinkle. As I walked, I heard some claps of thunder, growing ever nearer. Then the rain began, rustling in the trees, making a soft percussion like sound. I smiled as I thought about the symphony of sound would be created if each leaf produced a different tone or pitch as the rain drop engaged it. As I reached the front door, a bit more wet, than when I began, I looked up and and said, OK, you can let it pour now. God answered with a clap of thunder, and the skies opened.

A day of reflection for me, and thinking about numbers and what they mean. I have a new goal in life....a new number. 85. When reading my mother's journal from July 11, 1992, she records, "I have shopped for groceries and want to take it easy this afternoon. After all, I am 85.

Mother's older sister, Alma said, "Don't brag about it. that's acting old."

Surprise! That is the way I am feeling today about being 80 -- surprised! One young friend told me she was surprised I was 80. She is not alone. I am, too. Another young friend commented, you don't look a day over 70. Another friend said age is just a number, but always having had trouble with math, the numbers are beginning to go beyond calculation for me.

Another friend sent 45 lessons 'mature' people learn. I'm not sure I have learned all my lessons yet. But there is no end to things to learn. The first three resonated with me: 1. Life isn't fair, but it's still good. 2. When in doubt, just take the next small step. 3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.

God has brought so many blessings into my life - including my parents, my dear husband and family - in many places. Then a church family, too! How can I be anything else than thankful, giving praise.

When Mom turned 80, I gave her another notebook to write in....about being 80. She only had a few entries. I understand. God gives us to many ways to serve and to be His, that there is no time for writing words. But the treasure I found in her 85th year says it all:
My thanksgiving is endless as I face this new year.....I live to face my 85th year with trust in God, a thinking mind and good health. whatever this year may hold, I pray God gives me grace to walk serenely in faith.
Psalm 92:14-15
They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, "The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him."

Note: Photo is piano student who brought three velvety pink roses for my birthday!


Monday, June 08, 2009


When I was a child, waiting had many shades of meaning. When I was four years old, my mother wanted to discipline me...I ran away and would not submit. She gave me the dire warning that children have heard through the ages, "Then I will let your Dad give you the spanking..." I spent the rest of the day waiting in dread and fear. Even then I knew Dad's punishment would involve more pain than Mother would be able to administer. I retired to the bathroom and took my Dad's Razor Strap and began spanking myself, and begging Mother to no avail. I don't recall the extent of Dad's punishment now, but the waiting had extracted dread and penitence.

Waiting with dread replicates itself over and over through life -- the dire diagnosis from the doctor, an impending separation in the family through death, divorce or distance.

Then there is the waiting that is accompanied by butterfly flutters in the pit of the stomach and tingles up and down one's spine. Those times are exciting for there is the anticipation of "Something Good is About to Happen".

Every day we wait -- and waiting seems the cessation of productivity and we become impatient. We wait for the traffic light, in the checkout lane, we stand in line at the ticket office or in a long line at school. (I remember having to line up 11 year old children to walk quietly down the hall - an almost impossible task - was this training for life?) This waiting can be productive - Be still and know that I am God....(Psalm 46:10) The Message puts a different layer of thought - Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything."

Time spent in waiting can seem 'forever'. The clock stands still and doesn't move. With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day....II Peter 3:8. Recently I read that God is not locked into our time - our life's compartments - and He is always 'on time' for each of us!

Recently a friend gave me a birthday present. It represented creation, waiting, and the awesome Hand of God. One part of the gift is simply the 'skin', the covering of a rock, the kind we would kick out of the way. When the rock is broken, it reveals a glorious, splenderific array of crystals and lilac light reflections that can only be expressed with an 'ohhhhh'. Upon searching, I learned that Amethyst is mined using underground mining. It is not found in veins, but in chunks attached to granite. It is found with igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks.

Are we like this rock, so nondescript on the outside, hiding the treasures of God our earthly eyes cannot see? How long did the rock wait before being discovered? It was formed in the center of the earth under a great deal of pressure and heat...and waiting. God amazes me continually with his facets of ability to create beauty. When I wait, feeling the heat of the moment or the pressures of every day life, I am reminded of this amethyst and thank my friend for the reminder of God's greatness.

One more example of waiting as I read Carolyn Zeisset's A Mennonite heritage - A Genealogy of the Suderman and Wien Families - 1800 - 1975. Farmers all, I picture them watching the weather, waiting for crops to come into existence to feed their families while living in Russia. And then between the lines, I see waiting - always with hope.
  • 1918, February, John Suderman and his wife were driven from the land. John A. Suderman, son of Abram writes, "The Bolsheviks had taken over completely and we were beginning to feel the storng influence of communism. The The curriculum in scool changed drastically. No religion was allowed to be taught. Men began to disappear overnight - as they had owned their own farms. To add to the chaos that the war had brought....
  • 1920-21 - A great famine set in. There was no crop worth mentining. Yet the government kept on demanding new quotas for grain delivery.....Robing bands of soldiers and other Russian people continuously raid our houses, barns granaries and take along anything they could find. If they found nothing, they still demanded food at gun-point. I still recall eating crows and bread made out of buckwheat - bitter as gall.
  • 1924, John Suderman was imprisoned for three months for not teaching communism in school. Upon his return, I recall him telling my mother that now it was high time to get out of this country.
These ancestors moved to this country -- waiting expectantly for deliverance from hunger - physical and spiritual. Just in those three comments, we see so much waiting and patience.

We wait expectantly. God is busy bringing about his full plan for the world and for us. In his perfect timing he will birth that plan that He has for our lives. Jeremiah 29:11 - I'll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.

Ultimately patience is waiting, not passively waiting. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow and we see no way out of our current dilemma. Patience is one of the fruit of the Spirit, a characteristics that enables us to see as God sees, with hope and joy amidst temporary setbacks and concerns.

In Charles Swindoll's Esther, we read about the work of waiting. What happens between the 4th and 5th chapters of the Book of Esther? The white space of waiting. Not the absence of activity, but a time of fasting and prayer, as God is at work. He is giving added strength, get a better perspective, store up extra energy and determine our determination to persevere. At this point the author quotes isaiah 40:31, the beautiful scripture: But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, They run and don't get tired, they walk and don't lag behind.
I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened. He lifted me out of the ditch, pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn't slip. He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God. More and more people are seeing this: they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to God. Psalm 40:1-3

God, the one and only— I'll wait as long as he says. Everything I hope for comes from him, so why not? He's solid rock under my feet, breathing room for my soul, An impregnable castle: I'm set for life. Psalm 62:5

No ear heard, no eye seen, a God like you who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who happily do what is right, who keep a good memory of the way you work. Isaiah 64:2

Wait, Israel, for God. Wait with hope. Hope now; hope always! Psalm 131:3
Anna Daisy Siemens wrote about Waiting......
Waiting? Redeem the time by weeding, watering; turn mundane work to proactive Patience