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Posts Tagged ‘family’

First of all, then, I ask that requests, prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving be made for all people. [I Timothy 2:1, CEB]

While preparing for Lent, I did a lot of reading on the Internet and among the many posts and essays I read, I was taken by two questions (in the spirit of thanks):

  1. What are 3 things I can thankful for in my life today? and
  2. Who are 3 people I can be thankful to have in my life and why?

I think these are good questions we should ask ourselves periodically (if not every day). And so I dedicate this post to them today.

Three Things

  1. healthI am thankful for my health. I suppose that’s a natural thing at my age. The last time I went out to dinner with some of my same-age friends, we did find ourselves bemoaning our aches and pains and talking about our regular we were or weren’t. All of us have had at least one if not two of the required colonoscopies. Absurd in its truth. And yet, I am still grateful. I still have energy and even some to burn. My aches are still minor, I am mobile and can exercise. I am not particularly physical or particularly fit, but I’m not a couch potato nor am I a slug. The last time I went for testing, the nurse was surprised that I only have one (now two) prescriptions which I must take every day, the rest are vitamins by choice. Yah. I’m thankful for grace that keeps me well.
  2. librarianI am thankful for my career. As a librarian I am among people who are interesting and challenging intellectually as well as caring and service-oriented. I am an extrovert among introverts, but I have a significant role among them. As a manager, I have learned patience and tolerance and respect. I have learned to let go of some of my “controlling” nature and watched others grow as a result. My work varies from day to day and year to year. I work and live in my community and as a result, I am known. There is a comfort in this work and I feel appreciated. And of course, I thankful for being gainfully employed which, at this juncture in my life, is critical.
  3. I am thankful for our home. For me, this thanks is bittersweet, as the “house” I have called home for the last 17 years will have to be sold since I can no longer afford it on my new widow’s budget. But it has been a place of warmth and joy, a broad space nestled near a wood where small animals wander and birds nest. Our house is the dream house of a little girl who grew up in a white ghetto where boarders shared our one bathSONY DSCroom and neighbors brawled in the alleys. This house, with its many rooms, was big enough for everyone to have a private space and for children to run outside at any time of day or evening to safely play. This house was big enough to embrace visitors and family and even my elderly mother who died in this house. And my husband, too, died in this house. And several pets. The memories are strong here. We shared half of our married life here and adopted and raised our children here. So many blessings.

Three People

  1. mikeI am thankful for Mike, my husband, with whom I lived for half of my life and who I lost to a heart attack just three months ago, today. We knew each other well. We accepted one another “as is.” We gave up trying to fix each other. We lived an honest life. He was often hard to live with, but he felt the same about me. We disagree on many things, but we agreed we never separate. We honored covenant. And for this, we were secure. I was blessed to know him. And I grieve the loss of him still. And will, I know, for a long time.
  2. SONY DSCI am thankful for my children, of course. Now that they are young adults, they bring a new dimension to my life. And they have journeyed the sorrow of these months with me and they have each matured in inexplicable ways. From being more attentive and helpful to including me more in their lives. I am blessed by their laughter as well as their tears. I am loved and they give me plenty of opportunities to love them back. They want “family” to continue. Whether near or far, they are ever present in my mind and heart and prayers. As they begin to move into their own lives, I cover them in blessings, not only my own, but the ones that their father would say over them as well.
  3. SONY DSCI am thankful for my friend, Kathy, who was with me on the day that Mike died, who spoke into my pain and into my heart and held them both without reserve. We have been friends even longer, since college, we are only seven years shy of a “golden” anniversary. Friendship of this kind is irreplaceable. And really, is she any less family? I don’t think so. For she, too, knows me. And I am grateful for a woman-place to share my thoughts, my complaints, my joys. Our time has been full of all things: weddings, funerals, births, and graduations. We have transitioned together from hot chicks to wise women and everything in between.

Thank you God for this day and this time in my life. Thank you for the memories as well as the future. Thank you for the things and thank you for the people.

And now, you. Give thanks.

 

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I wrote the obituary for Mike, it’s below. I thank you all for the prayers of family, friends and neighbors. I am in awe of the touch of love through eyes and arms and words through people, whether they were close to me (or Mike) or not, every touch matters. I see that now in a way I never saw it before.

Right now, I know this one thing. Mike was a healthy man with no history of heart disease. His death was both out of his control and mine. And for this reason, I understand, Mike’s passing is part of the journey set before me and my young adult kids;  we must all walk this road in faith and trust. We cannot know what lies ahead, but I rest in my God as best I can although this night of sorrow is long. I am so grateful for the presence of the Holy Spirit from whom I draw my hope.

The Obituary

Mike headshotMichael Leigh Brown died Saturday, Dec 13, 2014 of a massive heart attack at home; he was 64. Mike was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, the youngest son of Vernon Stockton Brown and Lina Snead Brown (both deceased). He attended the University of Georgia, served in the U.S. Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground, worked at Georgia Public Television, and in 1982 married his beloved wife, Irmgarde Berzins Brown. In 1987, he moved to Havre de Grace, Maryland and began his 27-year career at Aberdeen Proving Ground as a television director and videographer. In 1997, he and his wife adopted two children, Arturs “Kip” Brown and Vernon Sergei Brown from Riga, Latvia at ages four and five; seven years later, they adopted Liliana Victoria Brown from St. Petersburg, Russia at fifteen. In addition to his creative work for the government, Mike donated his time and talents to both Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Bel Air and more recently, Restore Church in Havre de Grace. Mike participated in several para-church organizations: Kairos Prison Ministry, Walk to Emmaus, and Cursillo. Mike volunteered at two orphanages in Africa: Children of Zion Village in Katima, Namibia, and Village of Hope, Zambia. He and his wife were leading a team to Africa in the fall of 2015. Mike was a man of faith who walked out his beliefs by working for the good of his community, both near and far.

Mike used his video skills to create personal projects (see his YouTube channel, vydeoynkhorne), record family and life events, as well as church activities. Mike was a history buff, a Robert E. Lee re-enactor, a regular blood donor to the Red Cross, an avid reader, a conspiracy theorist, an investigator into the cryptic, and a champion for ambidexterity and healthy living.

Mike is survived by his wife, three children, and brother, Vernon Stockton Brown, Jr. and several cousins, nieces, and nephews.

Visitation with the family will be Thursday, December 18th, 2 – 4 pm followed by a Memorial Service at 6:30 pm at St. Patrick’s Fellowship Hall at 650 Pennington Avenue, Havre de Grace, MD. There will be no viewing as Mike requested his body be donated to science. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the benevolence fund of Restore Church, Havre de Grace [https://restorechurch.cloverdonations.com/give-online/] or one of the orphanages he supported.

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adoptionTen years ago, we met our daughter-to-be through a wonderful organization called KidSave that provides summer opportunities for adoptable older children from around the world. Back then, the country of favor was Russia, but they have since closed their doors and their orphaned and abandoned children languish in bulging institutions. Since Liliana was already a young teen (13), she had a say in the matter. She had to choose.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship [The Greek word for adoption to sonship is a term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture]. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ . . . [Romans 8:14-17a; NIV]

The choice Liliana made to permit us to proceed with our adoption was only months after another decision she had to make back in Russia. At that time, she was living in a teen crisis center and the director believed it would be to Lily’s best interest to legally sever her birth mother’s rights. As a result, Lily found herself in a courtroom, her birth mother sitting opposite from her, and the judge asking Lily if she wanted to go through with this legal procedure (this is after months and years of emotional trauma, drunkenness, and verbal abuse). She said yes, not so much to a cutting off from the parent, but that life, that life of sorrow and hopelessness.

You would think she would have jumped at the chance to be adopted here in American. But really, she would have to leave everything that was familiar to her. There would be no going back. She was unsure and afraid. She had no way to know that her new family would come with more than just two parents and two brothers, but would also come with a new history and a new future. She would inherit from us all that we had to give. She would be fully ours.

God does the same for his adopted children. When we turn away from the old life, the old “leadership,” we are children of God. We have legal rights in the family of God. We inherit all that God has for us. But we must choose.

 

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bitternessOnce again, I am visiting the book of Ruth. I know this story well, having performed a one woman show for several years as the character of Ruth. But now, as I approach the latter part of my own life, I am more drawn to Naomi’s role.

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara,because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” [Ruth 1:20-21a, NIV]

I have many besetting sins, as we all do, but one of the most tenacious sins is disappointment. That’s right, I call it a sin. It is my warning bell, for out of it I have seen full blown bitterness grow. Disappointment fans the flames of bitterness.

NaomiNaomi had a good life. She had the security of a husband and two sons who would care for her in her old age. When famine struck their land, the family traveled to a neighboring country to start over. Even though they had lost much in the famine, they were still a family. She could endure as long as they were together. But of course, that was not how it turned out at all. Instead, her husband died. And although she had her boys and their new wives, within ten years, the sons died as well. How could this be? All of her dreams and hopes were crushed. There were not even grandchildren to hold the family together. There was no family at all. She sent the widowed daughters away.

Despite the loyalty of Ruth, who traveled with her, Naomi lost hope. (In fact, I could imagine Naomi considered Ruth, a Moabitess after all–a foreigner, nothing but another stone around her neck.) Naomi’s deep disappointment in the outcomes of her life drove her into sorrow, grief, even despair and from those, she blundered into a growing bitterness and resentment toward God who she believed took everything away.

I can’t say my life ever hit such a deep abyss. Besides, I live in a country and in an era where women can be resilient, self-sufficient even. I am not at the complete mercy of a patriarchal society as Middle Eastern women were of that day (and some still).

And yet I have battled with my God. As a long-time believer, I imagined my life would turn out differently. I thought my aspirations had the power of God behind them. But, as the road branched and turned and twisted, I found myself continually looking back, wondering what would have been if I had chosen the other way, had I not married at eighteen or divorced five years later, if I had graduated from college in Indiana instead of Illinois, if I had not gone to New York, if I had not returned home to Indianapolis with my tail between my legs, if I had not married again and moved to Atlanta, if I had not been barren, and so on and on and on.

Oh foolish woman I know. To bemoan the loss of what could have been and not revel in what is.

disappointmentToday and tomorrow are still a wonder if I allow them to be. I am ashamed of my bouts of disappointment for they are nothing but unproductive. Disappointment prevents growth in a good way. It interferes with gratitude. And worst of all, disappointment presumes I know the better way, that my ideas of who I was to become or what I was meant to do or how my life should have unfolded were mine alone. But I surrendered that right the day I accepted the Christ spirit. In theory at least.

But surrender to the little life I have rather than the bigger life I aspired to is not always easy. Most of those dreams were self-aggrandizing. In those dreams, I was still the center of the universe.

Naomi could only see her crumbling world, she could could not see the bigger picture. We all have a bigger picture which is why it is so important to trust God in every turn of life, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, this is the believer’s vow to Christ. This mantra can stave off disappointment.

Through Naomi’s daughter-in-law, a child was conceived by Boaz, and the line was preserved. One of the greatest leaders was born as a result, King David, who set in motion the fulfillment of long-time prophecies of a Messiah for the world. That was Naomi’s big picture.

 

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YouAreHereInTheGalaxyAccording to scripture, Lot was Abraham’s nephew and although he traveled with his Uncle Abraham from Haran to Egypt and then on to the Negev. At some point, both men grew in wealth and decided to part ways. Abraham gave Lot the choice of land, and Lot choice the plain of Jordan to the East, well-watered, and dotted with large cities (among them Sodom and Gomorrah).

With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” . . . He [the angel] said to him [Lot], “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town [Zoar] you speak of. But flee there quickly, . . .  Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave.  [Genesis 19:15, 21-22, 30]

Freed by the angels of God, generally negotiated by Uncle Abraham, Lot and his family are given the opportunity to start over. But Lot was a bit of a selfish man and appears to look for the easier way. He chooses the better land when he and his uncle part ways, he chooses to live in the city, he chooses to flee to a closer place than the mountains, and in the end, he even looks the other way when his daughters are impregnated by his drunken self. Moab and Bel-Ammi, are the children born by this incest and they become the ancestors of the Moabites and the Ammonites whose story is intertwined with Abraham’s line through Israel and Judah, but generally it’s a bitter relationship dotted with bloodshed.

This, because of Lot’s choices or passivity. This, because Lot took the way that seemed right to him alone.

From one story after another, whether fairy tale or movie or book, we are reminded that any one of our choices can set huge events in motion. In chaos theory, it is called the Butterfly Effect. But it’s not that hard to look at our own individual lives, so many left and right turns, families made and lost, love seeded and buried, by a single choice, a single conversation, a single word (yes or no).

I wonder if this hasn’t bred the meteoric rise of interest in genealogy. Why, we even have reality television traveling back into the lives of celebrities, church denominations building ancient libraries of such histories, and websites dedicated to helping people go back in time.

How did I get here? We want to know.

I supposed that’s all find and good. But I can’t help but wonder if we shouldn’t be putting more energy into the now. For whatever happened before we are living it. We cannot go back, only forward.

It is for us to respond, to act, to embrace. Whether it was our choices or the choices of our parents or grandparents or great-greats, this is where we have landed. This is where I am, with this family, with these gifts, with this personality, with this day.

And God is here with me. And anything can happen next.

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ancient tomb    The whole point of buying the field and the cave from Ephron was to avoid burying Sarah on or in foreign soil. Once purchased, the land became an oasis of Abrahamic land, a place and purchase that took him and his household out of “stranger” status (vs. 4). And although he might continue to lead a somewhat nomadic life, this place would root him to that area by the very same laws of the Canaanites. It was a serious transaction.

Genesis 23:12-13Again Abraham bowed down before the people of the landand he said to Ephron in their hearing, “Listen to me, if you will. I will pay the price of the field. Accept it from me so I can bury my dead there.”

Austrian Cemetery

Austrian Cemetery

I am sure other people in Abraham’s household had died in the thirty-plus years that had lived, worked, and traveled the Negev desert. But, when his own Sarah died, she was almost royalty to those who lived in that time period. Abraham was considered a “prince” because of his great wealth and tribe and herds. To stop and lay down his wife in that place was huge to his household as well as the Canaanites. What Abraham created here was the family burial ground. This would be sacred ground from that time forward and their direct descendants would be expected to be buried there.

german-cemetary

German Cemetary

In modern times, we have lost some of this respect for the burial ground. In Ancient Israel, burning of the body was forbidden (this form of burial was considered to be a punishment for idols and enemies. I am not saying we should not do this in our world, but I do think it’s interesting, this difference in cultural norms.

But in the United States, even those who are buried are not respected. While in many German and Eastern European cemeteries, it is the family joy and obligation to care for the family burial plot, to beautify it, to make it a place one would desire to go and spend time. They are like a series of mini-parks, each plotted area touched by the uniqueness of the family. The burial ground is part of the cycle of life and death. But not here.

New York cemetery

New York Cemetery

In our world, we have relegated the dead to sweeping greens where  paid workers run lawn mowers and weed whackers. In some cases, we we might see  long-lasting plastic flowers jammed into the ground or perhaps an artificial wreath. What is the point? Who is blessed by these? Neither the dead or the living.

Polish cemetery

Polish Cemetary

In my life, I have no burial grounds anywhere. My mother cremated my father and requested the same for herself. They now share an urn which I have in my possession and although it has a small shelf with pictures, I do not think about them much anymore. There are stories that erupt every now and again, but there is no sense of place for them. My husband has asked to be donated to science and then, as far as he is concerned, the body can be cremated and disposed of, like a family pet whose ashes were not saved. For him, it is the soul that continues and has no need for the corporeal flesh. He is probably right.

But I keep thinking about this idea of a selected place, different from today’s norEarthm, but more like ancient times, a place for family to extend itself in memory. Sometimes I think the Japanese and other orientals have it right, their nurture of the ancestors.

And yet, I know, Jesus left the tomb. He was not buried with his family. There was not talk of transferring the body after the Sabbath. Joseph of Arimathea embraced Jesus as family by giving him space in that tomb. Jesus left it and in essence, his departure also said that no single place could embody him. He was of the entire Earth.

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Photo by Paula Tatarunis

I had always assumed the “House of the Lord” meant the church or temple, a place for corporate worship. I interpreted this scripture (well worn by many of the faithful) to mean, show up every Sunday. Eyes opened today: it means the family place of God, to live or exist within the family, bound by the blood.

Psalm 27:4
One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.

I’ve never been that comfortable when church leaders refer to their constituents (or members) as family. I’m sure I’ve been tainted by a less than ideal family history. As immigrants, we had no relatives nearby. In fact, most were locked behind the iron curtain and Berlin wall until 1991. Family was a small corps of people, only three (since my father died when I was nine). I was always envious of those large family gatherings that people would have each holiday and I was delighted when our small family was embraced into a larger one, even briefly.

But the church family thing never really resonated. I suppose I couldn’t be myself in those gatherings. It was still too much like a public venue. I had to put on my “church face.”

Now, there is a different family to consider. This “family of God” is not the Church alone; it is not only the people who meet Sundays and weekdays, who have placed themselves under the banner of a particular denomination or church name (although they are included). No, I believe this family is within where the Spirit resides.

The “shelter of his sacred tent” [vs 5], is within.

This is the world of prayer, meditation, and contemplation. This is the place of creativity and imagination, music and color, beauty and light. This is the world outside of time.

And when two or more are gathered here [Matthew 18:20], God is in the midst of them: in the house of the Lord.

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