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!