Monday, December 31, 2007

A Final Reflection for Advent: Yearning for Christ, The Bridegroom

The official church calendar has concluded the 2007 advent season, but the beginning of a new year seems to be the appropriate time to remember that the season of advent is not just a chronologically displaced yearning for Israel’s Messiah who has already lived among man.

The characteristic celebrations of the past month in preparation for Christmas have been meaningful in their remembrance of the becoming love of God but the scriptures remind us that the call of our lives is to engage daily and yearly in another form of anticipatory waiting. As Paul writes to the Romans, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. ..We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

If the prevailing scriptural image of Israel awaiting her Messiah was that of subjects anticipating a mighty King, perhaps it could be said that the prevailing scriptural image of the New Testament Church awaiting Jesus Christ’s return is that of a bride longing for her Bridegroom.

I am not sure if human relationships could conjure any image more intensely anticipatory than a bride waiting for her bridegroom. I am not sure if any other relationship known among mortals would cause the stir of longing and hope and joy than the expectation of union that a bride hides in her heart for her groom. The emotion of this yearning is captured so powerfully in this short clip of a military wife waiting for her husband’s return from deployment.

Do I love Him more than that? Do I anticipate being united with Christ that much?
As we change calendars and cross the threshold from 2007 to 2008 and consider all of our hopes for the future, may the reminder of our identity as Christ’s bride direct and mold our heart’s affections.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Highest Two-Tiered Falls in New York State

Dad's brother, Sam, and his family have joined us for the weekend. We enjoyed a foggy drive to the Catskills today followed by a hike at Katerskill Falls (the air at the top of the mountain was beautifully clear), advertised as the highest two-tiered falls in New York State.

The hike was a little scary at times because it was quite icy, but the view of the falls (scroll through pictures to find the "real" falls), was worth it, especially as there were so many icicles hanging from the cliffs.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

It Is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Well, okay, every season has its characteristic glories, but no season brings the quantity and quality of delight in human friendship like the holidays. Four of Hannah's friends joined us last evening for a The Nativity Story and a slumber party. We woke up to a visit from Phil Walker which induced quite the intense game of Monopoly (last picture in set), which he, of course, won.

Indeed, the sheer joy of friendship and engrossed conversation accidentally landed me in Massachusetts today (sorry, Katie, for missing the exit) and in an Oregonian-esque coffee shop with another old friend before joining the family at the Sinnott "mansion" for a celebration of the new year and a reflection of the gifts of 2007. Trip brought out the game of Find It (picture below) and passed it around the room, asking each person present to share highlights of 2007 and hopes for 2008. Grandpa was able to join us at the Sinnot's (picture below), which certainly made it uniquely special.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The 2007 Family Yearbook Shot

We had fun with our end-of-season photo this year, finally ordering farm t-shirts, custom designed for all ten members of the family. The only sad part is that Bentley Farm did not really function as a farm in 2007, but that aside, at least it still exists as a hope in our hearts.

Iceskating on Bentley's Pond

The ice was perfect and the weather wonderful for an afternoon of post-Christmas ice skating.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Reflection for Christmas: Venite Adoremus Dominum

I once heard it said that the strongest equivalent of, "I love you," is "I am you." Love, by its very nature, becomes. It stands for an hour, a day, a lifetime in another man's shoes, and says, "I understand, I have lived as though I was you."

Truly this becoming love is the love our Savior in swaddling clothes overwhelmingly displays toward us. Today we celebrate a Savior who has stood in our shoes for a lifetime and with every breath of his life proclaimed to us, "I am you. I understand the pain and suffering of mankind's decision to sin. I have borne your transgressions. I have been bruised for your iniquity. The chastisement laid upon Me will make you whole."

Truly it is only this measure of love to which we can respond, "Jesus, I love You. I want to be as You are. It is only Your love, Your becoming me, that allows me to ever think it possible to enter into the nature of Your eternal fellowship of love with the Father and the Holy Spirit and to become like You."

Adeste, fideles, laeti triumphantes, venite, venite in Bethlehem!
Natum videte, Regem angelorum.
Venite, adoremus!
Venite, adoremus!
Venite, adoremus Dominum!

Monday, December 24, 2007

O Hear the Angel(l) Voices

Merry Christmas from the snow covered pine woods of Bentley Farm. - Isaac and Nate Angell

Christmas Eve Celebrations

It was a special Christmas Eve at Bentley as we were able to dress Grandpa and bring him with us on our annual pilgrimage to Clintondale Friends Church. The oldest seven children also joined Trip and Sally at Saint Joseph's for the annual midnight mass (see the sleepy children in the pictures below). The choral selections and talent were astounding; we always especially enjoy In the Bleak Midwinter.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Faithful Friends Who are Dear to Us Gather Near to Us

After a day of intense construction (the boys removed the barrier wall between the kitchen and living room at 1:00am), a lovely Christmas contata, cleaning and baking, it was such an immense pleasure to welcome the Teubl family, ten strong, to the home for our annual holiday reunion. In addition to a feast of chicken chili and homemade bread, prepared by Mom and Grandma, all twenty-one of us enjoyed an evening of worship and prayer. The children spent much time beseeching the Lord's guidance that the foundation that has been built by the grace of God and the labor of our parents be not lost in, us, the second generation. For continued grace to continue laboring for the Kingdom of God! (Oh, yeah, and the kids are all wet because they went to play outside - in the rain. Oh, why couldn't it snow instead?)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sixteen Children and Not One Too Many

We kicked off the more immediate Christmas celebration with our long-time family friends, the Teubls. There are eight children in both of our families all within the same age range. We ate a delicious meal prepared by Mother. All sixteen of us children went for a long dark walk in the woods. We laughed, sang carols and tried to avoid mud puddles. We stopped at the pivotal points along the path where trees had recently been felled for the barn project. We lady folk weren't so enamored with the tree stumps, but we enjoyed the men's enthusiasm for the wooden rings. We piled into the basement for a (wet!) photo shoot.

Christmas Tokens and Holiday Dances

One of our family's favorite parts of the season is the restored connections with friends and family. Dad has continued the tradition of posting the Christmas cards around the kitchen. What a gift to be surrounded in Season's Greetings!

Truly what we all anticipate most in the coming week are the many plans for gatherings around the hearth with friends. And, indeed, many of these hearth gatherings have already commenced. Tonight was truly memorable as we attended a Christmas square dance at the home of our very talented friends - the Walker family. I absolutely love square dancing and somehow nothing is quite as seasonal as gathering with a huge group of friends in a small space with live music (even bagpipes) to celebrate the joys of the season while dosidoing and promenading! We learned several new dances this evening, and the Walker girls even created their own (intricate!) "Basket Case" dance.

How grateful we are for "the joy of human love."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Lumber for the New Barn

We are hopeful that a new barn will eventually be built to replace the milk barn that is still under deconstruction. Even though there is no official date stamp on this new building project, we have started to prepare some lumber for new barn boards. Nate and Isaac continued to fell trees today. Their efforts were supplemented by the hand of a hard-working neighbor and friend.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Refreshing View of Vocation

Some days, when I forget that my vocation is not primarily what I do, but how and why I do "it" in the first place, Mother Theresa's words restore sight to my blind eyes, "Do ordinary things with extraordinary love."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

And Mom's Heart Sings

For as long as I can remember, Mom has patiently waited to remove the wall between our living room and our kitchen to fulfill her desire for more open space. Her patience has been rewarded as Isaac is currently dedicating his vacation to removing the barrier. It's funny how life tends to get into "modes" that are hard to break. I think that the construction mode has permanently set in around the farm. It has been a good mode, but one does begin to look forward to the time when home feels cozy again and just a little bit less like a permanent construction site!

(Also included in the photography footage below: Evidence of the boys' hard work in keeping the home heated... And testimony to the best part of the season - tobogganing!)

Reflection For Advent (5): The Day of Preparation

I love visions, I love hope, I love living life with purpose, I love goals and dreams and intentions. But sometimes, maybe because I love the hidden inner castles so much, my heart does not leap for joy when God's response to my dreams is, "Prepare. Work. Be faithful in the little moment of now."

"But, God, look at the vocation that You laid upon my heart, the tower of all my aspirations."

"But, Sarah, look at the day that it is called today. It is a day of preparation that is not to be despised."

Here I must be silent because, Dear Lord, You understand the labor of preparation.

To prepare means to be conceived in the womb of a young maiden. To prepare means to be fed through the umbilical cord of Your creation. To prepare is to humble Yourself to descend into this world through a cramped, tight and constricted passage. To prepare is to lie in a manger and know rejection because the Inn was too full for You. To prepare is to know hunger and to find nourishment from Mary's breast. To prepare is to flee with Your mother and Joseph to Egypt because Herod wanted to kill You.

God, you could have come to this Earth as a thirty-year-old man and avoided the day of preparation. You could have taught the people without ever having sat in the temple courts among the teachers at the Feast of the Passover. You could have fed the five thousand without having known the cramp of a stomach lacking food. You could have defended the condemned adulteress without having suffered Herod's condemnation. You could have raised a twelve-year-old girl from the dead and presented her to her mother without having experienced the love of a mother for her Son. You could have suffered the agony of the wood of Calvary without having suffered the loneliness of the wood of the manger.

But You didn't.

Thank You.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Sunshine is Brightest After the Storm

Almost invariably, after snowfall, the sun seems to shine more brightly than ever before. The temperatures are beginning to hover a little above freezing, but the snow seems to be lasting and will hopefully fulfill our dearest wishes for a white Christmas. The family is all together again, tucked in by the snow for the holidays. Grandma and Grandpa have made our season richer with their presence and Grandma's baking is threatening to make us all plumper in 2008. My Christmas break is only three days away, and, oh, what excitement awaits that wonderful week between Christmas and New Year where the whole world is simply ours to delight in without regard for studies! What a season. Celebrating Christmas is such a fabulous way to end a year.

Hast Thou No Scar

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star,
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers, spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned:
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole: can he have followed far
Who has nor wound nor scar? – Amy Carmichael of India

Monday, December 17, 2007

Memories of the Rutland Cattle Sale

Waking up early in the morning on a cool fall day, I realize the day has finally arrived, the day of the cattle sale! Stumbling out of the house in jeans and my brown leather farm boots, I hop into my truck with the livestock trailer that I hitched up the night before. I am headed up the back roads of New York, a little bit into Massachusetts, and then into Vermont to the fairgrounds in Rutland.

I am accompanied by Henry, a farmer in his older years who has been farming for decades. While traveling he tells me how each place we passed “used to be.” I head over the mountains and am in awe of the wonderful trees that are changing colors. Then I finally get into the stop lights which means that we’re approaching the Rutland fairgrounds, but oops, there I’ve overshot the entrance once again. Then I look for the earliest place to turn around with the big truck and trailer. We then turn around and finally make it into the fairgrounds and park next to a 1980’s truck with an ancient gooseneck trailer that seems like it barely made it to the auction.

I am happy to be there. The smell of fresh manure and the sweet smell of hay seems to linger in the long lines of the cattle. From young calves with the sire and dam printed in the sale catalog I go down looking at each one picking out the ones that look best to me. While ambling down the aisle I run into the familiar face of a ninety year old man named Tom, who has been emceeing this event for decades.

After checking on the livestock and heading into the show arena, the hot dog truck has arrived and all the farmers head over to see what the ladies have prepared for us. I then walk over to the number counter and get my number so that I can bid in the auction. “Testing one, two, three,” I hear over the speaker. “Either a good check or cash will be accepted to pay for this wonderful lineup we have for you gentlemen today.” The auction then gets underway with the pedigree reader, Tom, starting off with a joke: “If the tail hangs to the right, that means it’s going to give birth to a girl.” Everyone chuckles and then the auctioneer starts off by saying, “Who will give me five thousand… liba, liba, liba,” the familiar sound of the tongue moving fast until the mallet pounds the table: “Sold for seven thousand!” The crowd now has gotten into the rhythm of things, and I look around at the people putting in bids – with either a gentle nod of the head or sudden flash of the sale catalog.

Then comes the heifer that I’ve been waiting for, the pedigree is read, and the auctioneer starts his rumbling mouth. My number goes up into the air to place my bid. I look around and I am competing with a guy in the back row with his front lip full of chewing tobacco as he spits onto the sawdust floor, nodding his head that he’s reached his ceiling. The auctioneer raises his voice, “SOLD to number thirty five,” and I feel a surge of achievement when he pounds his hammer to the table.

Next comes the cow that everyone has been drooling over since they got to the barn that morning. “This is the final cow in this fine lot that we have here today, her tail is hanging to the right, at the last test she produced ninety pounds of milk per day and she is a champ.” The crowd gets tense, people start to sweat and the auctioneer finally puts an end to the intensity by pounding his hammer and saying, “Thank you very much. Sold for ten thousand!” Then everyone drags their feet in the sawdust over to the checkout line where people pay for their fine purchases of the day. I load up my new heifer and hop into the cold truck with Henry.

As the truck heats up and the road opens up to the dark cool night, I am happy for the time I have spent once again on the journey to the “Cattle Sale.” - Luke Angell

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Not Snow-Bound Yet

Friday, December 14, 2007

Reflection for Advent (4): Lord, You Have Been Our Dwelling Place

It’s silly now, but I distinctly remember one of my childhood’s most dramatic fears was that of being separated from my parents. I hated to go to bed alone at night, I was fearful of getting lost when we went to large public gatherings and I never wanted to go to college or get married because that would mean separation from all that I knew that was comfortable and familiar. I had a place to live in the world that was cozy and filled with love and I didn’t want it ever to change. But of course growing pangs came and a season eventually dawned when I was ready to leave for college on the opposite side of the country and where marriage no longer held the fear of losing love and comfort but the hope of gaining its fullness.

This advent season I have been aware of my continued longing for a dwelling place, a resting place that somehow my childhood heart found in the haven of my home. The psalmist said, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place through every generation.” My longing heart runs toward that glimmer of rest, slowly and steadily being taught that, in this life, it is in hiding myself in “the cleft of the rock that shadows a dry, thirsty land” that I find a place to dwell.

But it is one thing for me, the created, to seek and find my dwelling place in God, The Creator. It is quite another thing, however, for God, The Creator, to seek after me and find his dwelling place with me, the created. And yet, that is the glorious impossibility of which advent speaks.

God not only woos me to find a dwelling place in Him, but he surrenders His ethereal cloak to put on flesh and bone to live in my world, to experience my sorrow, to understand what it is to be in a body and look toward Heaven and long only for a place to dwell.

Lord, we have been Your dwelling place. Thank you.

Pope John Paul II on the Meaning of Bodily Existence

"This is my body given up for you." These words of Christ represent a call to love by making a gift of our bodies. This thought is "contained" in what Pope John Paul II called the "spousal meaning of the body." This refers, as the Pope expressed, to the body’s "power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and – through this gift – fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence" (Theology of the Body 15:1).

Thursday, December 13, 2007

O Come All Ye Faithful

Last night at "Lessons and Carols" in the University Chapel, we sang a verse to O Come All Ye Faithful I hadn't remembered singing before. It is really quite touching.

Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger
We would embrace thee, with love and awe
Who would not love thee, loving us so dearly?

O Come, let us adore Him,
Christ, the Lord!

- Nathaniel Angell

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

What good weather has befallen the northeast! At least six inches of snow have fallen and it is still coming down. Here's hoping for a white Christmas!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Reflection for Advent (3): Yieldedness

In considering the human side of the nativity story, nothing grips my heart more than the response of Mary to the angel's pronouncement that she would be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and give birth to a Son. What a simple response of faith, "Be it unto me according to thy word." What trust. What yieldedness.

Advent has always seemed to come at a time of year when I am caught up in the fulfillment of all my own aspirations for life. The gift of advent is a renewed peace that comes through reflecting on the Mother of Our Lord who simply said, "Yes," to Jesus. The world was changed through that one, "Yes," offered by a humble girl who had found favor in God's eyes. Oh, for grace to live in the same place of trust and surrender!

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David's town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love (Andrew Peterson, Behold The Lamb of God)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Six-Point Theology of a Dentist

Not only do I love that my dentist, Dr. Roland Naglieri, is one of my best friend's fathers, but I love that his time spent looking at teeth allows his mind to think of the most unique, clever and well-crafted verbiages that I have ever encountered. While dining with the Naglieri family tonight, Dr. Naglieri shared his "six points of theology." They are worth repeating.

The Six Point Theology of a Dentist:

(1) I am not good.

(2) I never was good.

(3) I am not as good as I look.

(4) God is good.

(5) Jesus is God.

(6) I am weak and He is strong.

What more do our feeble minds need? - Sarah Angell

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Cranberries, Popcorn and Celebration

Stringing popcorn and cranberries for Christmas tree decorations is such a wonderful and seasonal way to celebrate a childhood friend's twenty-fifth birthday and recent engagement! Congratulations, Rachael!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Behold the Lamb of God

What an incredibly immense gift I have received in the past week through music! Earlier on in the week, a friend sent me Sara Groves' newest CD and later on in the week another friend sent me Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God CD. This evening my sisters and I got to see both Sara and Andrew (along with Bebo Norman and others) perform in concert on Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God advent tour. The crowd in the New Milford, CT high school auditorium was relatively small, but the intimacy made the artists and the audience alike, simply and only beholders of Christ, Our God with Us.

Andrew Peterson artistically developed a beautiful musical "true tall tale" which places Christ's birth in the context of the entire Scriptures. In the busyness that these days encompass, what a gift it is to focus on the adoration of the Lamb of God!

Friday, December 07, 2007

What is Time that We are Mindful of It?

My sister Hannah got her driver's license yesterday and I am bewildered. It was just yesterday that Mom and Dad were the only source of transportation and now my little sister (5 of 8) can drive. Wow.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Is My Life My Own?

Who would someone say that I am living for if...
...they saw everything I did?
...heard every word I said? all the thoughts of my mind?

I know, O LORD, that a man's life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps. (Jeremiah 10:23)

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Galations 2:20)

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Reflection for Advent (2): Joyful Waiting

There are few memories from childhood that rival, in suspenseful recollection, those of anticipating the future. When I was about five years old, waiting to (joy of all joys!) go to a birthday party, Mom and Dad said that I needed to wait in their bedroom for ten minutes. At age five, ten minutes is half of an eternity. I distinctly remember spending those six hundred seconds on the edge of my parent's bed counting to sixty - ten times.

Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears

When I was slightly older and I could scheme with my younger siblings, we tried to fight, in unison, against the angst of waiting. One day, Isaac, Nate and I found ourselves at the barns waiting for Farmer Henry to join us and give us work and company. Sorry for ourselves that we had waited fifteen minutes, we thought that we should give him a call. However, we were worried that if we went to call him, he might come while we were gone. We decided that one of us should stay at the barn, while another would go to call, and the last would stay in the middle of the stayer and the caller, so as to be within shouting distance of both in case the old red Ford truck was spotted with Henry inside. Crazy!

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

When I was eleven, I remember waiting seven long months for what I wanted more than anything...another baby sister. What heartfelt prayers I offered for a safe delivery and healthy baby! Since I was invited to be at the birth, I was on edge for about a month surrounding the due date. One day, while wading with Isaac in the stream between the diversion ditch and alfalfa fields, I heard a fog horn blow from the direction of our house. I ran home so swiftly only to find the matter for the horn blowing inconsequential. But, how great was my joy, when eight days after her due date, Mom woke me in the middle of the night to leave for the hospital. When I finally held Rebecca, the happiness in my heart was akin to none that I had previously known. What we wait for, in its fulfillment, we treasure.

Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.

My current season of life teaches me more about waiting than I ever thought possible to learn. Thankfully, I have at least gotten to the point of understanding that sitting on my bed and counting is not a redemptive way to wait. Waiting is redeemed when joy is present. "Rejoice in hope." These words direct my life.

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.

Interestingly, the prophet Zechariah (500 BC) began the theme of joyful waiting with a very old-fashioned advent greeting, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

Hopefully I will not have to wait for anything for five hundred years. Yet even with five hundred years to wait for the Messianic fulfillment of Zechariah's prophecy, the people of Israel are told: "Rejoice!"

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel

Why did Israel need to wait so long for her Messiah? I have no theological treatise in response, but I do know that anything that I have ever waited for I have treasured - be it a birthday party, Henry's old red truck finally pulling into Bentley Lane or a little baby sister. And, just perhaps, our world needed to wait for her Messiah, so that when He came, we would value him rightly. What we wait for, we cherish.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel

And so the words waiting and cherish encapsulate all that I love about advent. As we wait to once again celebrate the birth of Our Lord, we enter into the travail of longing that makes waiting so difficult, so that once more, our hearts are trained to love, adore and cherish Messiah, Jesus the Christ.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

No Honey, No Money, One Boss

The One Boss of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal is directing them in a very charismatic vein! What an exhilerating day Emily, Hannah and I spent in New York City witnessing the work of the Spirit through the ministry of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. In the offering of vows of chastity, poverty and obedience ("No honey, no money, One Boss"), the friars have been gifted with tremendous joy and are lighting a flame of love for Jesus the Christ in the heart of Manhattan.

The first Saturday of every month for the last three years, the young men of the Friars of the Renewal have been hosting an evening of adoration of the Living Christ followed by an "underground church" that includes worship through music, poetry, visual art, film and drama. Never before have I seen robed and bearded friars rap!

The hour of adoration was beautiful. Even the balconies of East 90th Street's "Our Lady of Good Counsel" Church (huge!) were filled for a candle-lit service of advent worship. How our hearts began to overflow anticipation as we sang, in a chorus of hundreds, over and over again in unison, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."

Friday, November 30, 2007


Any movie that ends with one of my favorite hymns (Draw Me Nearer, Fanny Crosby) and cherishes the sanctity of unborn human life would vie for my recommendation. But Bella ("People's Choice Award" winner at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival) is not just "any movie."

Anything but a "ludicrous, saccharine urban fairy tale" (New York Times Review), Bella artistically and vividly explores the themes of suffering and redemption in a film as rich as any Dostoevsky novel.

Within the short ninety minute film, I was ushered into a fast-paced New York City reality where a young Hispanic chef, Jose, suffering the haunting memories of the past - a lost career in professional soccer and an accident that landed him in prison - finds himself the only sympathetic friend of a young woman, Nina, who in fear and loneliness, is not planning to carry her pregnancy to term.

The anachronistic film, inspired by a true account, follows the progression of fear into trust ("Are you scared?" "No, I've done a little research - ten out of ten people die."), of control into surrender ("My grandmother used to say, 'If you want to be sure to make God laugh, tell him all of your plans.'") of anger into love and of loneliness into friendship. Within the circular scenes, we find that it is the wounded and afflicted one who sees most clearly and loves the most genuinely. A blind man, begging on the city street, holds a sign that poignantly summarizes Jose's faith journey, "God closed my eyes and now I see."

In addition to a theme that prompts its viewer to slow from the busy pace of life and take time for the fostering of relationships, Bella contains a beautifully descriptive cultural account of a close-knit Hispanic family. A very significant portion of this movie was recorded in Spanish and for its artistic and cultural portrayals alone, the "saccharine" label of the NYT should be dismissed.

For our local readers who are interested in watching Bella on the big screen, the Lyceum Theater in Red Hook is showing the film for only one week starting today, November 30th. Movie times are 1:15, 3:15, 5:14, 7:15, and 9:15 PM.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

We Were All Important In Her Eyes

Melanie Kotes (June 6, 1940 - November 26, 2007) seemed to possess the unique gift of convincing people that they were completely worth her time.

My first memories of Melanie date back a little more than eight years ago to the time when I was a nervous fifteen-year-old taking an introductory chemistry class over the summer at Dutchess Community College. When I thought absorption and emission spectra were the hardest concepts in the world to understand, she would take a break from her real job, as lab supervisor, and offer me of her time to help my lack of understanding. With no office hours and a full time job, she somehow was always available to be interested in me, and well, a host of other students as well.

My delight was great when the next summer I was hired to work with Melanie to move the contents of the old chemistry labs in Hudson Hall to the new chemistry labs in Washington Hall. I got to know Melanie as a friend that summer. When she would take a smoke break out behind Washington Hall, I would often go with her just for the company. She was a conversationalist and a realist. Her love for her family and her children was so apparent.

Melanie and I stayed in touch after I left Dutchess. Her office was my certain destination in returning to visit the community college. She was the one who genuinely cared to know what I was doing. She was sure to be so proud of me. She made me feel needed and important. Melanie always told me to be sure to come back again and whenever I did she always greeted me with the brightest of countenances.

When I started teaching chemistry locally, Melanie offered me, once again, her resources and her time. She offered her laboratory space and planned a field trip for my AP students to gain experience with advanced chemical instrumentation.

Throughout this current semester, Luke and Hannah, now at Dutchess, have come home and reported to me on an almost daily visit, how Melanie helped them, how she explained to them what no one understood and how she helped them with a lab problem. Her job description included nothing about tutoring, but she did it gladly. She thought that people were important.

An unexpected stroke took Melanie so quickly. How deeply her presence is missed.

Monday, November 26, 2007

And When We Grow Weary

I am so grateful today for the gift of encouragement, for something as simple and powerful as the kind note of a friend that unveils what is obscured by busyness and points me back to the faithful and steady work of God in my midst. When we have exhausted our store of endurance, He gives and gives and gives again! - Sarah Angell

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again. - Annie J. Flint

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Reflection For Advent (1)

The official church calendar reports that the advent season officially begins next Sunday. But since I already have my radio tuned to a station that plays continuous Christmas music, I think it must be allowed to begin the first of my advent reflections a week early!

Nate and I were driving home after a hike on part of the Appalachian Trial yesterday, when we encountered a huge billboard with the common “evangelistic” question, “Where will you spend eternity? Smoking or Non-Smoking?”

Nate turned to me and asked, “Sarah, what do you think about that sign?”

I will never know what God will use to call someone across the Jordan, but I told Nate that if I was not a Christian that sign wouldn’t build the bridge for me.

“If you weren’t a Christian, what would build the bridge?” Nate asked.

Gratefully, that wasn’t a hard question to answer, because its answer is the reason for my existence, “The heartfelt knowledge that I am loved, by the Creator of the Universe, unconditionally and eternally.”

Life is short, and certainly eternity is of overwhelming consequence, but it seems to me that Christianity suffers a great loss when we forget that Jesus redeemed us as mortals that still pilgrimage on this Earth.

We pray and labor for the Kingdom to come to Earth as it is in Heaven. We bless this season of Advent because God came as One among us, to inhabit our dwelling places, so that in this life we could live in loving communion and relationship with God. That God loves us enough to commune with us, to redeem our present day realities to overflow with the goodness of His perfect holiness is, as Madeleine L’Engle says, the glorious impossible.

So in response to the very great love of our God who became a man and walked among us in the finiteness of time to bear our transgressions and our sorrows, perhaps the relevant question is, “How will you spend your life and your eternity? Accepting or refusing the depths of Love?”

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Next Best Day to Thanksgiving?

The day after Thanksgiving! What a wonderful thing it is to be home together without immediate stresses of work and school, full with food and memories of friendly visits with family and neighbors.

The boys took advantage of this day to work on the ramp into the new addition. Their carpentry skills rival their cementing expertise!

Grandma was undeterred by the fact that Thanksgiving happened yesterday and baked two cakes and cinnamon buns with her virgin countertops and convection ovens.

We found humor in a FedEx package that arrived today - eight new cell phone sets. When I called to activate the phones, the Verizon representative asked, "Now is this for a business or for a personal account? I've never seen this before - eight lines on one plan!" For the love of family!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Most of All That Love Has Found Us

We share today our gratefulness for God's bountiful gifts with one of our favorite Thanksgiving hymns that inspired the subtitle for the Bentley Farm Gazette.

All eight of us children are home and are joined by Uncle Mark, Mom's parents and Dad's father. What a time of rejoicement in the gifts of community life in Jesus Christ!

We are so grateful for Christ's saving love that has found us and we pray that in this season of thanksgiving it may not be said of us, "This people praise Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me." (Isaiah 29:13)

May we show forth our praise not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves unto Your service, and by walking before You in holiness and righteousness all of our days. (Book of Common Prayer)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

To Cease From Striving and Simply Rest

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong, and that you, O Lord, are loving. (Psalm 62)

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Labor of Love Overwhelmingly Received

The dreams that have filled the minds of many working hands throughout the past year have finally come to pass with Grandma's arrival today into her new home. Every detail was a complete surprise to her. She kept saying, "I hope that I live to be one hundred to make this all worth it!" We are so glad to say that three generations now live under one roof. What a wonderful season for thanksgiving.

Thanks from Bentley go out to the many, many people from literally all over the country who worked so dilligently to make this day a reality, especially to our most excellent neighbor, friend and carpenter/builder/construction manager, Lawrence and his family who allowed him to work such long and hard hours on this labor of love.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Anticipation and Sentiment

Despite the season of reflection induced by the recent autumn rains (11/13/07), anticipation is running at an all time high here at Bentley. We have all spent the last twenty four hours busily completing a multitude of last minute tasks to prepare the addition for Grandma's Monday arrival. Painting, sewing, shopping, electronics coordinating, picture and curtain hanging, furniture assembly and cleaning have occupied our minds and hands.

We are eagerly awaiting, not only Grandma's arrival, but the reunion of the family for a Bentley Farm Thanksgiving celebration. And as soon as Thanksgiving is given a proper celebration, we won't waste time preparing to enter into the excitement of the Advent season. The joys of anticipation!

Pictures of Grandma's home will soon follow as type of online "open house." In the meantime, our readers may enjoy Hudson Valley Development Group's new website which describes the growth of their project on Bentley Farm. The site will take you on a tour through the old red barn door to the late milk room. Nostalgia hits home, though, as Nate expressed, "It's sad to go through a barn door that's no longer there." The joys of sentimentality!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pajamas and the Provision of the Lord

Some memories of childhood are ridiculous, and this may qualify, but one of my very distinct memories of young life were pajamas that were anything but comfortable.

Because our family has always heated our house with wood and because it was not uncommon for a winter's chill to settle around us while we slept, Mom and Dad always took special precautions that their children's young bodies be kept warm through the night. The problem was that the pajamas that were marketed for warmth had some fundamental design flaws.

The first problem was that the material of what was called a "sleeper" initially felt and resembled fleece but soon turned into a pilled mess of itchy nylon. Not nice.

The next problem was that a zipper ran from the bottom left foot all the way up to the chin. I can still feel the pain of that zipper catching some of my bare skin and forcing it into the interlocking spokes. Ouch!

The major problem of the sleeper was the built-in foot socks. Theoretically I could deal with a pilled mess of itchy nylon that initially resembled fleece, but the feet of those sleepers never even pretended to be comfortable. Wearing plastic on your feet to bed at night is never a good idea, especially when the plastic starts to crack and your toes start to push through the holes. I remember that Mom and Dad, in compassion for my feet, would sometimes decide to cut the feet off of the sleeper, at which point the pair of pajamas looked outrageous, but at least felt more comfortable.

My relief in abandoning these sleepers upon the arrival of the warmer seasons may now perhaps be understood by the reader. When summer finally arrived, I was given the best pajamas of all -- Dad's old T-shirts -- one hundred percent cotton, no legs, no snagging zippers, and, of course, no plastic feet. The best part about the T-shirt was that I could actually fit my whole body in the T-shirt and push with my feet against the front and stretch it to my heart's content. What freedom from winter's constricting sleeping uniform!

I have recently been picturing one of those old T-shirts from my dad that I used to wear in the joy of summer's freedom. You wouldn't think that a T-shirt could make such an impression on a young child, but I clearly remember this one shirt that was dark gray and had block lettering. On the front it said, "The A1 Team" and on the back it said, "The Lord will provide." I had no clue what the "A1 Team" meant, but I remember that I was always fascinated with the saying on the back of the T-shirt. I didn't understand what it meant, exactly, but somehow I always found it to be a comforting phrase.

It is interesting to me how many times in subsequent years, in a moment of anxiety or uncertainty, I have thought back to those block letters and that short phrase on the back of my dad's T-shirt.

When life feels constricted, and tight, and pilled, what a joy it is to remember the comfort and freedom of those true words, "The Lord will provide."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Clothing of the Autumn Rains

When they walk through the Valley of Weeping,
it will become a place of refreshing springs.
The autumn rains will clothe it with blessings. - Psalm 84:6

It is easy to find the blessing of a spring rain, filled with hope of green growth and young life, but as I avoided water puddles and donned my rain coat en route to work this morning, I was aware of how much I truly did enjoy an autumn rain complete with its chill and absent humid aftertaste.

While a spring rain hearkens us to the impending work and labor of another harvest season, an autumn rain holds no call but to savor the peaceful indoor moments and the last pieces of the dinner conversation. A spring rain beckons a hoe and a spade but an autumn rain requests only an overstuffed couch and a cozy blanket. A spring rain says, "Anticipate." But an autumn rain says, "Reflect." We depend upon the rains of spring. But the rains of autumn are simply, an extra, a clothing of blessing upon the land that has so faithfully surrendered the fruit of the spring rain to our enjoyment and nourishment.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Farmer Family Reunion at Princeton

Yesterday brought a fun family trip to Princeton for Cousin Benjamin's last home soccer game (against Yale) of the season. We were joined by Mom's sister, Joanne, and her husband and daughter (Michael and Amelia). Mom's brother, Jeff, and his wife and daughter (Marilyn and Rita) were able to make it as well. Unfortunately Princeton lost to Yale (0-2), but we enjoyed the conversations while shivering in the cold.

From left to right above: (Michael, Benjamin, Joanne, Amelia, Rebecca, Jeff, Marilyn, Jacob, Hannah, Caleb, Nate, Sarah, Mom, Luke and Rita)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Wearied with the Footmen

Our family Bible reading this morning contained a passage from the twelfth chapter of Jeremiah. As we read, I was convicted of the need in my life for an ever increasing stamina and strength. What good verses.

If thou has run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with the horses? And if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan? Jeremiah 12:5

But For the Love of God

Someone once told me that not even for a million dollars would they touch a leper. I responded: "Neither would I. If it were a case of money, I would not even do it for two million. On the other hand, I do it gladly for love of God." - Mother Theresa, In My Own Words

Friday, November 09, 2007

Comfort Words

I could not begin to count how many times in the past years, our family has closed a day by singing Abide With Me. It is truly a family classic, and as some people have "comfort foods," these stanzas are like "comfort words," especially in times where change seems to be the only constant and a reliant trust in God's mercy, my only hope.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

How Silently the Wondrous Gift is Given

In the dead of winter's white burial, nothing seems more different than the lush of summer's green. On many a winter's dark nights, I have turned back the pages of the photo album in complete astonishment to the days of summer's heat and wondered, "How is it possible that the view out the window can be so utterly different?"

The surprising thing about change is how quietly and unannounced it comes. How is it that the first whispers of autumn come so naturally from the heat of summer and so secretly morph the countryside with a flaming red and orange blaze?

From the moment of our concealed and hidden conception, to the almost secret advance of the seasons, the gift of life and its many joys come silently.

It is with these reflections that I cherish deeply the following words of Philip Brooks' beloved hymn, "How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of his Heaven!"

And as the gift of God is given in the silence, so it is often in the silence that we realize the blessings of God's heaven.

Today, the world was silent while I sat alone in the car at Clarence's farm, waiting for Rebecca and Bentley to join me after their duties of milking the cows were accomplished. The car blew warm heat on my face while the open window ushered in a cold November wind. The darkness had settled in across the fields and the sky was a perfect midnight blue. All the land was still. After staring for many long minutes into the open landscape, I could find no other response in my heart but gratitude.

How silently are the gifts of Heaven given! How softly they come, how stealthily they capture my heart and how unfortunately long it takes me at times to open them, to treasure them and to delight in them.

Yet in the moments of silence, where I begin to unpackage and open the gifts of Heaven, what wonderment I find in my heart that the boundary lines of my life have fallen in such pleasant places!

Monday, November 05, 2007

From the Empire Where the Sun Never Sets

Enjoy some of Nate's photographs from his recent trip to England and Ireland. He returned Saturday evening and, from phone conversations, I think that he is already looking forward to another trip.

In Celebration of Girlhood's Pink Bliss

Not that I am biased, but I am completely certain that I have the most adorable five-year-old cousin who climbed up on my bed this evening for a photo op in her new very pink outfit. Amelia has the sweetest and softest voice that I have ever heard. While I was prepping my lessons this evening, her excited voice kept drifting across the hallway as she talked to her Dad, "I am so grateful. Yes! I am so blessed!"

The cause for the great excitement? Well, her very pink outfit came from a bag of hand-me-downs from my friend Emily and her sister Mia. Amelia was so tickled that someone would send her clothes. "And they even sent me a teddy bear!"

Yes, it is very good to remember the times in life where getting dressed in pink and holding a teddy bear was the epitome of earthly bliss.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Of Big and Little Accomplishments

Isaac has officially finished, what is deemed by many to be the most difficult, block of veterinary school. He was able to spend Friday and Saturday with the family and, in addition to helping Rebecca organize the house, and enjoying the beautiful outdoors on a long walk with his three sisters, he spent much time impressing us with his new-found anatomical vocabulary.

"Point to any muscle in the body, and I'll name it for you," Isaac likes to now say. And then, after we point, he rattles off mysterious phrases that must have Latin and Greek derivatives. Before too long he says, "Now, why isn't anyone interested in what I am saying?"

After the big accomplishment of finishing his first block, Isaac made a little but significant accomplishment around the home - building a wheel stand for Grandpa's recliner, so that Grandpa can join us in the activity of our daily tasks. Pictured below is Mom at Grandpa's side - thankfully, by the fireplace in the kitchen.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

It Is Enough To Know that I am Loved

Our family reading last evening carried Christy Huddleston through a crisis of faith in the aftermath of a close friend's death. The final words of the chapter that documented her struggle were powerful.

No effort was made to answer my, "why?". Instead, I began to know, incredibly, unmistakably, beyond reason and beyond doubting that I, Christy Huddleston, was loved - tenderly, totally. Love filled me, washed over me, flowed around me. I did not know what to do with love as strong as this. Back off from its intensity? Embrace it?

My tears flowed, I could not stop them.

Then the thought came: wasn't this the confirmation for which I had asked? This love disclosing itself was no cosmic Creator of a mechanistic universe, for the revelation was intimate, personal. Perhaps the assurance always has to be personal, revealed to the inner person alone, since only man sees other men en masse, whereas God insists on seeing us one by one, each a special case, each inestimably beloved for himself.
(Catherine Marshall, Christy

My Favorite Autumnal Chemistry

In addition to the seasonal harvest tokens of pumpkin pie, and pumpkin lanterns, one of my favorite pumpkin traditions is a pumpkin spew. Some chemistry is involved as I catalyzed the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide as part of the show. Enjoy the pumpkin spew and the remainder of this fleeting autumn season!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Musings from 5th Street

I had the pleasure of attending my third Erasmus lecture, at the Union League Club on 37th Street and 5th Avenue in New York City, last evening with my parents and Uncle Mark. The Erasmus lecture is sponsored by the Institute for Religious and Public Life (publisher of First Things) and serves the purpose of enhancing the religious and moral dialogue in the public square. Past lecturers have included such figures as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, Clarence Thomas, George Weigel and Charles Colson.

Last evening’s speaker was Dr. Robert P. George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. His lecture addressed the moral foundations of law and government. While Professor George believes that government should be limited and should exist to uphold the individual’s search for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” he does not believe that morality should be left aside in the public square.

In fact, George argued that all who are involved with making political decisions engage their claims and positions with a sense of morality. George promoted the respectful and civil dialogue between those who claim a system of morality based on religious principles and those who claim to argue from a more secular perspective. The person of faith, according to Professor George, engages this discussion out of concern for the consequence of political ideas for the culture at large and for the protection of the most vulnerable members of society.

Professor George highlighted two causes of concern for the person of faith in the political arena. He believes that protecting the sanctity of all human life and defending the marriage covenant as the committed conjugal union of a man and a woman are of particular importance in forming culture and protecting those who cannot speak up for themselves. George vehemently disputed the proposal that these arenas should be left to the private sector in a libertarian political effort precisely because to do so would be to abandon the government’s role to uphold the great cause of the Declaration.

Especially eloquent, in support of this proposition, was George’s defense of the family as the building block of all society and culture. Looking to marriage as the foundation of the family, George finds no alternative but to stoically guard this ageless institution. If marriage no longer involves the committed conjugal union of one man and one woman, George argues that culture will not thrive because the family unit is disassembled at its core and cannot support the upbringing of moral citizens. In turn, the individual’s right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is compromised. George is convinced that if our aim is truly limited government, the most important political defense for continued limited government is to support healthy familial life. It is within the context of this family unit that citizens will be raised who will be a part of faith-based communities who will care for those who currently rely heavily on governmental support.

I dare not repeat George’s moral and intellectual defense of marriage, because my inept ramblings would silence not only his eloquence, but his inspired insights. For all who are interested in an intellectually thoughtful and influential read, I recommend his own essay in a book of compiled essays entitled Marriage and Same Sex Unions.

I have listened to Dr. George speak before and I am always left with a great deal of cud for chew. This time was no exception. Ideas have consequences and we must vigilantly discern our ideas, that our actions may be profitable.

Monday, October 29, 2007

From Limerick, Ireland

I am writing from an 18th century manor (which is really a castle) near Limerick, Ireland. (If you're interested you can search for Adare Manor on Google.) Unfortunately I do not have the ability to send photos... but I will try and give you a little update. Jon Keller and I left Princeton Saturday at 1:30 pm on the Dinky and 18 hours later (after flying to Frankfurt and sleeping on the floor during a one hour layover) we landed at the Dublin airport at 11:30 am. After buying 20 Euros (expensive at $1.47 per) we took the air coach to a quaint hotel near Trinity College. We were greeted by Jamie Rankin (the German professor) who was drinking tea in the hotel lobby. After waking up our other buddies, Jon and I changed out of our suits and we went to the Book of Kells exhibit in the Trinity Library. This collection is a display of early midieval manuscripts of the gospels and other books of the Bible that were painstakingly copied in calligraphy by monks and illustrated with beautiful drawings. The main historic library following the exhibit was this long cavernous room filled with two stories of books with little ladders for each book case. The room was really musty and smelled really ancient. Yesterday evening we ate a simple dinner of sandwiches at a nearby convenience store/deli and our room was asleep by 7pm.

This morning I woke up just after 6 and joined the runners in our group for an Irish (quite different than American) continental breakfast in the hotel. The thing I remember most was the grapefruit juice which was really sour. The two other non runners joined me around 7:30 and I had some eggs and sausage with them. We then walked over to the Marathon around 8:15 and we were warmed up by a drum corp and an announcer who complimented the "11000 hearty souls pursuing their dreams".

After the race started, the three of us strolled across Dublin to Saint Patrick's Cathedral. On the way I got a picture under a sign that read "Sinnott's Bar". The cathedral itself, was very beautiful, architecturally speaking and had a long spire. It was said to be built over the well where St. Patrick had baptized new converts. Inside, there were two granite gravestones from his era that were sculpted with Irish crosses. It used to be Roman Catholic but is now Anglican due to the British occupation of Ireland.

We walked back to near the finish line and cheered on our runners. They finished quite well: 2:45, 3:15, 3:55, but Ryan and I cheered for nearly 2 hours in the cold because we had only seen two of our friends and were still expecting the third. It was fun though, and we were able to lift a few spirits. We took a bus back to the airport after the race and then rented a car, albeit a very small stationwagon, where me and the luggage got to sit in the back and then drove 3 hours to our castle hotel. It is pretty amazing here, somewhat reminds me of Mohonk but more Gothic architectural style, and there is actually a wedding reception going on as I speak. Tomorrow we are going to tour the grounds, see some castle ruins and explore the place. We fly to Stanstead, England tomorrow afternoon from Shannon (which is in western Ireland).

It's been a great time so far--the weather is gorgeous, 50 degrees most often with a chance of rain, but just a really pretty, green, lush environment.
I feel very blessed to be here and miss you all. Cheers,

Sunday, October 28, 2007


A little competition is in place for Rebecca at the upcoming county fair. Jacob's cow, Vanille, gave birth today to a heifer calf, Vanilla, today. He was so relieved that his cow had a heifer. He was formerly convinced that the odds were not in his favor for a heifer since Rebecca's cow just had a heifer calf.

Order Our Heart's Affections

I don't know if my "want to do list" grow has ever grown as long as it has in the recent weeks. I want to fit so much life into so little space. A late afternoon flight out of Boston today afforded me time to grade labs and write letters of recommendation... but I especially valued the time to think about prioritizing. In these sifting moments of life I am reminded of the ever true words of Our Lord, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

Order our heart's affections, in the details of our lives and our priorities, that we may rightly praise You.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Something Old is Something Beautiful

I really like the East Coast. I guess that I really like the West Coast too, but spending last weekend in Seattle and this weekend in Boston makes a phenomenal attraction about the East Coast obvious: architectural history. There is something about walking on the same road that set the stage for "the midnight ride of Paul Revere" that provides a feeling of place and a seamless passageway from the past to the present.

Dinner last evening, with an animated group of science teachers, was at the Union Oyster House which claims to be oldest restaurant in continuous service in the United States. Eating on the third floor of a building that has served guests for hundreds of years resembles the feeling of a timeless Thanksgiving - it is a feast in memory of the men and women who dreamed of creating a country that is our home today.

The creaking floors, wood slab walls and sturdy brick exterior speak of endurance and connectedness. Something old is certainly something beautiful.

The Strongest Witness

I have never read Ravi Zacharias until a friend recently passed along his book, I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah. I appreciate his simplicity and wisdom. The following quote serves as a good challenge:

The single greatest lack of our time, perhaps of all time, is men and women of character, those whose lives are honest and whose transparency is real. I do not know of a stronger witness for Christ than that one be described as a person of true honor.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Franz Jägerstätter to Be Beatified Tomorrow

Franz Jägerstätter was introduced to me early on in life by my father as an exemplary twentieth century martyr and saint. Uncle Mark brought it to my attention that the Catholic Church is beatifying Jägerstätter tomorrow. An inspiring essay about his faith and practice is written up in First Things. A portion of the article is reproduced below.

Jägerstätter... became an outspoken opponent of the Nazi regime and refused all cooperation. When a storm destroyed his crops, he declined any assistance from Germany. He stopped attending social events to avoid heated arguments with Nazi apologists.

As the takeover of Austria proceeded, Jägerstätter knew he would be asked to collaborate at some point. In early 1943, it came: He was ordered to appear at the induction center at Enns, where he declared his intention not to serve. The next day, he was hauled off to a military prison at Linz, to await his fate. “All he knew when he arrived,” writes Zahn, “was that he was subject to summary execution at any moment.”

A parade of people—relatives, friends, spiritual advisers, even his own bishop—pleaded with Jägerstätter to change his mind. Some did not disagree with his anti-Nazi convictions or his moral stance; they simply argued he could not be held guilty in the eyes of God if he offered minimal cooperation under such duress, given the extreme alternative.

Jägerstätter... believed Christians were called precisely to meet the highest possible standards—“be thou perfect,” said Our Lord—even at the cost of one’s life, if fundamental Christian principles were at stake. Serving Germany in a nonmilitary post would simply make it easier for someone else to commit war crimes. He could not participate in the Nazi death machine, even indirectly. He would not be swayed: “Since the death of Christ, almost every century has seen the persecution of Christians; there have always been heroes and martyrs who gave their lives—often in horrible ways—for Christ and their faith. If we hope to reach our goal someday, then we, too, must become heroes of the faith.” Indeed, he added, “the important thing is to fear God more than man.”

After several months of imprisonment in Linz, Jägerstätter was taken to Berlin, where he stood military trial. According to witnesses, Jägerstätter was quite eloquent in his defense, but he was sentenced to death for sedition. On August 9, 1943, Jägerstätter was informed he would be beheaded that day. His last words as he was taken to the gallows were ones of peace, testifying to his faith: “I am completely bound in inner union with the Lord.” The prison chaplain who ministered to him that day later remarked, “I can say with certainty that this simple man is the only saint I have met in my lifetime.”

During his ordeal, many of Jägerstätter’s neighbors considered his act unnecessary and foolish, a sentiment that remained long after his death. Zahn, who interviewed Jägerstätter’s critics, examines all the explanations offered to question Jägerstätter’s sacrifice—that he was selfish, reckless, spiritually vainglorious, or even disturbed—and makes a convincing case that none of them hold.

The most unfair charge is that Jägerstätter put himself above his family. “I have faith that God will still give me a sign if some other course would be better,” he wrote, as he struggled to find a solution to his dilemma. Images of the Passion filled his mind: “Christ, too, prayed on the Mount of Olives that the Heavenly Father might permit the chalice of sorrow to pass from His lips—but we must never forget this part of his prayer: ‘Lord, not my will be done but rather Thine.’”

In the end, however, after it became clear that Jägerstätter would be asked to betray his conscience, there was only one path he could take, a hard and narrow path chosen by the very few: Better to die for Christ than scandalize his faith and family by becoming a Nazi. The letters and statements he made to his wife and family at this time show the anguish his decision brought; he was overwhelmed with the sense that he was abandoning them and feared reprisals against them lay ahead. But Jägerstätter knew that God was watching and would ultimately avenge his elect, and so expressed hope of a reunion yet to come: “I will surely beg the dear God, if I am permitted to enter heaven soon, that he may also set aside a little place in heaven for all of you.” And again to his daughters: “I greet you, my dear little girls. May the child Jesus and the dear Mother of Heaven protect you until we see one another again.” (William Doino Jr.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

When You are Old, You Will Stretch Out Your Hands

When I was young I thought that adulthood was about making your own decisions.

And, I suppose, at some level, it is.

But somehow the last recorded words of Jesus to Peter seem more and more apropos with age. "I tell you the truth," Jesus told Peter, "when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go... Follow me."

Somehow Christ's words encapsulate my current finding that mature adulthood seems more about surrender and less about individual design. We surrender to the needs of those around us, often going where we do not wish to go, and in doing so follow Christ.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him."

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:35)

Corporal Acts of Spiritual Mercy

I borrowed the title for this post from a poster on the wall of our local Catholic church where I have been attending a little Bible study on the gospel of Matthew with my friend Emily. The poster's title reminded me of the fact that I have recently seen the gospel of love lived, bodily, in the lives of those around me in response to my Grandpa's ailing health.

What is love?

Love is Mom moving Grandpa into a wheelchair and hurting her finger so badly that she must make a trip to the Emergency Room.

Love is Dad changing his father-in-law at 12:45 in the morning.

Love is Aunt Joanne and Uncle Michael allowing Grandpa to sleep in their bedroom for the last five years so that they could hear if he needed assistance.

Love is a recycling bin full of feeding tube formula cans.

Love is the children giving Grandpa kisses in the morning even though he can't respond.

Love makes our house smell like a hospital.

Love is Uncle Mark hauling furniture half-way across the country and up stairs and hills so that accomodations could be made to welcome a big hospital bed.

Love is Aunt Joanne bringing Grandpa to a soccer game, even though he has to be transported on a stretcher, just so he can be near his grandson's exciting moments.

Love is Mom and Dad deciding that a house is never too small to become a home of nursing for the aged.

Love is Grandma and the family deciding not to put Grandpa into a nursing home so that he can live under the same roof as the bride of his youth.

Love is Aunt Joanne and Mom searching all day for a chair that might allow Grandpa to join us at 5:45am in the morning for Bible reading, even though he may never open his eyes.

Love is Mom not traveling because Grandpa cannot be left alone.

Love is Grandpa continuing to breathe and fight for life even though it may be hard to find meaning in lying in bed all day.

Love is understanding that we care for the elderly as we care for newborns - as caring ushers who prepare the frail for a new stage of life - the newborn for a finite life, the elderly for an infinite life.

Love is giving even when it furthers no personal interest of your own. Love is finding yourself surprised that when you give for no personal interest of your own, you encounter the love of God in the hidden places of diaper storage bins and beeping feeding tube monitors.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Being Alone

Earlier this year I purchased a most thought-provoking devotional entitled A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A passage from earlier this month stands out to me as significant for the description of present dynamics within our shared family life.

Simply stated, our family life together currently leaves little time for being alone. Especially our dear mother and aunt have been even sacrificing sleeping hours to change Grandpa and sustain his feeding tube. At times as such, living in community poses very real and difficult challenges, that are, of course, worth it. I think Bonhoeffer knew this when he penned the following words that currently challenge my life.

Whoever cannot stand being in community should beware of being alone. You are called into the community of faith; the call was not meant for you alone. You carry your cross, you struggle and you pray in the community of faith, the community of those who are called. If you neglect the community of other Christians, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your being alone can only become harmful for you. 'If I die, then I am not alone in death; if I suffer, they (The community of faith) suffer with me." (Luther)... Only in the community do we learn to be properly alone; and only in being alone do we learn to live properly in community. Both belong together.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

'V' Is Very, Very Extraordinary

What an beautiful time of rejoicement I was able to share with my good college friends in the greater Seattle region to celebrate the holy covenant of marriage between Kristiane (one of my senior year college roommates) and Darron. Kristiane glowed the whole weekend long!

It was an incredible weekend filled with laughter and encouraging conversations and food and beauty and realization of God's holy presence in the midst of the marital covenant. I am completely convinced that I have the most amazing friends in the whole world. The pictures tell a little story below.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Our Life Demanded

My high school students recently put on a spirited performance of the Broadway musical, Godspell. No matter how many times I have listened to the Godspell musical track or read through the Gospel of Matthew, I am always gladdened that my soul hears something new.

This most recent time, I heard Jesus tell the parable of the rich fool in a fresh way. I think I identified a little too closely to the rich fool for comfort's sake.

It's easy to just want to arrive at that place in life where I can "take life easy and be merry." It is too simple to live life in with the mindset, "I am working hard now so that tomorrow life will be without its cares." I subconciously find myself drifting away in hope to the point where life is without struggle and work and effort.

So even amidst tye died t-shirts and skin tight jeans, the words of Christ to the rich fool challenged my heart, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you."

There will be a coming day when my work in the finiteness of this present life will be done. On that day all will be at rest in the infiinitude of God.

Until then, when I am weary, may I not live in false hope of the time when I can "take life easy" with the rich man because any day my life could be demanded of me. May I instead enter into the joy of this journey and be taught to sing, as my students so enthusiastically proclaimed, "Long live God!"

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Community Life

The fabric of our family life is changing! We were joined around the dinner table tonight by Aunt Joanne, Uncle Michael, Uncle Mark and Cousin Amelia! Grandpa Farmer is now all settled into his own room and unfortunately he could not join us at the full dinner table because of his bed-ridden condition. Grandma, still in Minneapolis, is weeks away from moving into her new apartment. It seems that all of Mom's family is migrating east!

The East Coast seemed to herald this Minnesota migration by ushering in the crispest of breezes, the most magnificent display of autumn colors and blue skies. I could not resist attempting to capture the moments on film.

Amelia celebrated her arrival on the East Coast by joining her cousin Rebecca at Middlevale farm to welcome the birth of a new calf.

So much excitement!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Colors Come to the Back Yard

Today was one of the first days where it both felt like autumn and looked like autumn. What glorious moments! Browse through the photos below for a sampling of the autumn view out of our southern window.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

You Know You Homeschool When...

...You overhear your frustrated fourteen-year-old brother tell your sixteen-year-old sister who is trying to help him with his math, "You and Rebecca (twelve) both have the same philosophy of teaching."

How many sixteen and twelve-year-old kids have philosophies of teaching?!

Not an Ideal, But a Divine Reality

I just finished listening to a sermon on the Internet presented by one of my trusted professors from George Fox University. I haven't heard Paul Anderson's voice teach me in over four and a half years, and yet listening to twenty minutes of his speech opened floodgates of memories that overwhelmed me with the beautiful idealism of college study.

Today was a good day to listen to that familiar voice as it was a day that I was overwhelmed with reality - the reality of waking early, of spending ten hours of the day in the intensity of a high school classroom and of coming home to a family life that is suffering the delays and constraints of construction. Today was a really real day.

And yet that voice transported me to a different place, a place where five years ago, I was preparing for today.

Five years ago, I sat with Paul and a group of Quaker college students on the living room floor of a small beach house near Lincoln City, Oregon. We had all piled our Bibles, clothes and study notes into our backpacks for a full weekend of reflection on what living life as a sacrament truly means.

Paul taught me some meaningful lessons, including the notion that the first and primary Christian sacrament is that of a living a life that embodies the fullness of Jesus' life. The words we say and the actions that we take, Paul shared with us, are the truest form of a physical manifestation of a spiritual reality.

I thought a lot about life and the future in that small house on the Pacific shore line. I knew that I was learning lessons that would impact the future of my life - my life that I wanted to live for a purpose, for a reason, for the glory of God, for the furthering of His Kingdom.

In other words, I dreamed about today. I dreamed about this day, where it seems like my biggest accomplishment may have been teaching juniors how to convert between different units of pressure.

When I sat down to listen to Paul speak this evening, though, I wasn't so sure that teaching pressure conversions was what I was dreaming of five years ago on the Oregon coast.

But, somehow, hearing that familiar voice again reminded me that, yes, this is what I really was preparing for. I was preparing for this day when I would not be surrounded by people of faith, where I was going to put in a long day at work and wonder if it was worth it, where I would be found lacking in faith, lacking in fortitude and found strengthened only by dependency on the fullness of Christ.

Five years ago, life today was an ideal reality. Life was somehow going to include me making a difference.

I do not live today in an ideal reality. But, that is okay, because I think that I have found something even better, something that, without knowing it, was what I was really preparing for in all of the idealism of college dreams.

I find myself today, not in an ideal reality, but as Dietrich Bonhoeffer eloquently says, in a divine reality - a place where all of my idealism is surrendered to the reality that is God's will, to the place of challenge where sufficiency is found only in the merit of God's strength.

"Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate."