Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Letter to my Senator

I'm not sure that I can organize my thoughts this evening to the crystal clear point to which I came while sitting in church Sunday morning, but I'll give it a shot.

I still had an email from one of my U.S.Senators simmering on the back burner of my mind, and as my eyes wandered over the text of Scripture in my open Bible, I read ahead of where my Pastor was reading. (sorry Wendell)

As I scanned Isaiah 10, I was riveted by the following.

"Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. But he does not so intend, and his heart does not so think; but it is in his heart to destroy, and to cut off nations..." (Isaiah 10:5-7).
(Italics mine)

Right there on the page after God's glorious announcement that "...to us a son is born...", (Isaiah 9:6) is a declaration of the judgment that God is sending against Jacob and Israel because of their arrogance and oppression. His people have not been living as His people, and He will therefore utilize the destruction that lies in the heart of another to punish them and bring them low.

Now, I'm not intending to unravel all the complexities of God's Providence in the affairs of men right here and now. But I find it intriguing to find references of His divine hand almost everywhere I look in Scripture, once my eyes knew to see them as such. It's as if I was looking through the viewfinder of my camera at a large forest, focused down to bring clear the vines entwined in the tree branches, only to discover that they are laced across the entire canopy of the woods.

With a mere breath between promises God tells us that He is sending a child-

"...and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this." (Isaiah 9:6-7) (Wendell's text- I was listening!)

Take a breath. And then-

"...the Lord raises the adversaries of Rezin against (His people), and stirs up (their) enemies." (Isaiah 9:11)

So, to my point here. I had received an email message from Senator Arlen Specter, (D, PA). I am on his email list, ironically, because I've sent him messages voicing my lack of support for the passage of the Healthcare Bill that Congress is creating. (I'm not against reforming our system, it needs to change somehow, but this ain't it.) I'll quote from his Holiday message, because nobody says it like a zealot.

"Dear Friend, (?!?!)

From the cloture vote, it is now apparent that 60 Democratic Senators are in favor of comprehensive health care reform. This legislation is an important step in seeing to it that adequate health care becomes a right in America and not just a privilege.

It is not the bill that I would have preferred and there is an opportunity to improve it in conference. I would like to see a strong, robust public option. I would like to see more clear-cut language on a woman’s right to choose. But it has many important features. It covers 31 million more Americans. It has important insurance reforms. No longer can an insurance company reject a claim because of a pre-existing condition. No longer can there be a lifetime limit on insurance coverage.

I consider the legislation similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1965. It was a very good law, but it took a preliminary legislative enactment in 1957 and another in 1964 - each an incremental step - to set the stage for what was satisfactory and adequate civil rights legislation.

It is regrettable that there is such divisive partisanship in the Senate today. When we took the cloture vote, every one of the 60 Democrats said ‘Aye,’ and every one of the 40 Republicans said ‘Nay.’ It is the same attitude that pervaded the Senate during the stimulus package which I think was indispensible to avoid a 1929 Depression. I believe that when you have thousands of people dying each year because they don’t have insurance or adequate medical care, this bill is a very significant step forward.

Have a happy and healthy holiday season. " (Text in bold print was his choice, not mine.)

I'm really pretty sure that it would be difficult to describe this legislation in as opposite a fashion from how I see it. I shot back a hot and quick, yet respectful and spit-free reply.

"Senator Specter,

I disagree with you on every point concerning the Health Care bill which you are about to vote through. I believe that it will be signing the death warrant for our Constitution and the beginning of Socialism in America, which will lead to our downfall as a Nation. The transparency and bipartisanship which Candidate Obama promised have certainly not come to fruition in President Obama's administration, and the Democratic Caucus appears to be gleefully skipping along behind him as he leads our country to the brink of economic collapse.

You sir have neither my support nor my confidence and I will join with the many others who agree with common sense and love our Constitution to vote you out of office.

My prayers are with you at this time in hopes that God will open your eyes to what is happening and open your ears to the pleas from your constituents.

Merry Christmas to you and may you come to your senses sooner than later."

As we have been following the debate on health care and how our Congress has been handling it, it has been very easy to become tangled neck-deep in the mire of politics and ugliness. As one dear friend puts it, "When I watch Glenn Beck it makes me breathe funny". Defeating the health care bill before Congress would be a marvelous victory and a step in the right direction toward preserving our free-market economy and system of Democracy. If the bill does pass however, it will not be the end of civilization as we know it. We won't have to take our family and live in caves, foraging for our survival and making fire from a pair of sticks. (We have a Boy Scout- he knows how to make fire...)

Actually getting to my point now; God is still in control. The election of Barrack Obama and a Democratic majority in Congress have reduced God's power not one whit. The Ancient of Days saw this coming; the Creator of the universe was not caught by surprise; and the Mighty One is not anthropomorphically chewing His fingernails in His anxiety over Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman deciding to vote for health care.

I looked up a whole pile of verses concerning God's dominion over the hearts and minds of earthly kings and His heavenly direction of the affairs of men. But I really want to focus on only one more.

"But as for you, O man of God, flee these things (sins). Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time- he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1Timothy 6:11-16)

The President of the United States of America is but a man. The Congress of the United States of America is made up of men and women.

Our God reigns, and Him will I serve come hell or high water, health care or higher taxes.

Monday, December 28, 2009


I woke this morning to find bodies strewn everywhere. In the front room there were two, in the family room there were six more. Silent and unresponsive,... but for the occasional snore. Kate had a slumber party last night. Turns out, Erin had a friend stay over as well- why not? I counted an extra girl in her room when I checked a moment ago. Kate has joined a group of girls, some from our church, some not, for a Bible study every Wednesday night at a local Starbucks. It's such a blessing for her to fellowship with these girls her age since most of her friends have gone away for college.

So last night she hosted a Fondue Feast and sleepover for them all. We looked up a chocolate and a cheese recipe and she prepared the fondues, assigning dippers to each girl who was coming. I'm pretty sure these recipes are keepers, but I couldn't get close enough for a taste!

Actually, I did, and they were both rather yummy.

The arrival of her friends overlapped with the ending of a dinner we had here with some friends who have become very dear to us in the years we've lived here. We first met Fred and Heidi through Scouts, as their son is Isaac's age. We soon learned that they lived right around the corner, but Heidi and I share the same maiden name and have decided that we are cousins! Before long our girls became regular babysitters and Kate has formed a bond with their daughter after spending several days reading her favorite book to her in the wake of a tonsillectomy. Lives being full to the brim with kids' activities and husbands' busy travel schedules, we have been unable to find a time for a quiet meal together until yesterday.

By quiet I mean that we were all sitting together in the same house without a deadline or 50 Scouts running around or projects to finish or trails to navigate. We weren't actually very quiet at all. Our time was marked by talking and laughter and sharing and memories. what a treat to be able to finish a whole conversation! Those who have traveled anywhere outside of the country will understand what I mean when I say it is a joy to be able to share memories of Paris, Rome, and London with others who have also been there instead of being apologetic or self-conscious about mentioning it.

Heidi also totes her camera everywhere to capture memories and special moments, so we share that as well. When among a group of Scouts, their leaders and parents, who rarely slow down for anything, gathering for a group shot can be almost painful. Heidi can be counted on to make that particular endeavor fun, and I'll quietly shoot away once she has everyone in place! (Don't look at me- it's her idea!)

Though we had the space to relax, the evening was, of course, too short. We waved goodbye to them as Kate's friends started arriving and the dish-washing roulette began as we prepared for the next wave of food preparation and consumption. Kate had planned things out rather well for that transfer and there was little for me to do but grab my camera and shoot away.

Now the sun has risen on what looks to be a somewhat normal day. We should probably contemplate taking down the tree soon and putting away the decorations. But not just yet.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Happy Christmas Indeed

What a perfectly wonderful Christmas this has been. It may sound corny, but I am sitting here in the glow of the Christmas tree lights, warmed by a fire in the fireplace in front of which the cat is cozily napping, the dog is asleep at my feet, and sounds of busy-ness are emanating from the basement.

Our Christmas-ing began yesterday when Nathaniel called in for a skype video chat. For years, our tradition has been to open one gift together on Christmas Eve. He had received his packages of Christmas presents that morning and we directed him as to which would be good for opening first. Nathaniel's delight at finding not one, but two airsoft pistols with ammunition was equaled only by his roommate's surprise at the ambush awaiting his return five minutes later! As Kate had so wisely said when choosing the weapons for his gift, "After all, the Army doesn't let them play with their real guns".


Our evening last night consisted of our church's Christmas Eve worship service with special music and Scripture readings. Afterward we went to the home of our friends John and Annie for food and fellowship. Our church has become an extended family for us and it is such a blessing to share special times together. The evening passed quickly in the comfortable presence of these loved ones and before we knew it, it was time to leave. Once home there was still much left to do, and Rebekah set to work on homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast while Jim, Erin and Kate had a mysterious project in the basement to finish.

The morning arrived before some of us were ready, and I quietly made my way downstairs to take care of the animals and get coffee started. Rebekah also woke early and resumed her work on the rolls, preparing them for the oven. Nathaniel called in on skype and we decided that the time had come to wake everyone- it was eight o'clock already! So we rousted everyone and gathered at the Nativity scene in order to wish our Savior a Happy Birthday before beginning our day.

Opening presents in our family means taking turns, not an all-out melee. So with Nathaniel in Iraq, we took turns opening the gifts that were under the tree and in the packages sent to the Middle East. The gifts from my Mom we all opened at the same time, all seven of us. Snuggies! we are now warm wherever we are, the frozen tundra of Pennsylvania or the winter cold of Iraq.

Each of the kids enjoys choosing and buying gifts for each of their siblings, so there are plenty of windows into their hearts under the tree. Their insight into one another is touching to see as the excitement of the giver is as great as the excitement of the recipient. Erin found the perfect hooded sweatshirt for Isaac, Rebekah got a down vest for Erin, Isaac chose bracelets for each of his sisters, Kate painted an original watercolor for each of us.

Isaac's Eagles Snuggie!

Our chef, loving Julie & Julia.

Erin is so stylin' in her Snuggie and down vest.

Kate's plastic toy camera made in China... a Holga- Google it!

The mystery revealed- Erin designed and made a windchime/ mobile from antique silverware, a plate and a teapot. Much to the chagrin of the lady at the antique store. I adore it.

Kate's gift to Daddy is a painting of the little red boat he made for her years ago.

The last gift of the morning is normally chosen beforehand and is The Big Gift for the whole family. This year Jim brought home The Big Gift. Isaac opened the final gift; small, and involving lots of tissue paper, and out fell a ping pong ball! Yes, there was a ping pong table in the garage just waiting for space in the basement. The kids get a game table and I get a clean basement!

Once gifts were opened the cinnamon rolls were coming out of the oven so our attention turned to the wonderful culinary creation on which Rebekah had worked so hard last night and this morning. What wonderful, gooey, tasty-sweet confections our breakfast was! What an unparalleled blessing to have a chef in our family! The recipe turned out two 13 x 9 pans of rolls, which is far more than our family can reasonably consume in one day, so Erin ran a pan of them down to our neighbors to enrich their family morning feast.

Oh. Yum.

A quiet midday followed breakfast and a ham was slipped into the oven in anticipation of friends stopping for a late lunch. A few weeks ago we'd heard from our friends, the Kuypers, from Florida. They were going to be in the area Christmas day, driving from NYC toward North Carolina, and wondered if it would be too much trouble to stop by to say hello. We insisted that they stay for a meal, as the thought of anyone eating at a roadside dive on Christmas day is too barbaric to even consider. So we were delighted to welcome the Floridians into our home for a slice of our White Christmas!

Dennis and Pam were up North in order to give their children the chance to see snow, and they arrived in Washington D.C. the day after the blizzard of 2009! The winterland Capitol was followed by a snowy NYC, and then the drive to our house. We enjoyed visiting over dinner, and then Jim suggested another winter activity for the sunshine-state kids- sledding! Erin and Isaac helped Holly and Jacob bundle up with real winter gear and they all piled into the vehicles to go to Shillington Park for a very non-Floridian experience. What a treat to give them such a memory for Christmas- God is so good to send such an early and generous snowfall for them to enjoy.
Real snow, a real hill, hooray!

Ready, set, go...

Holly and Isaac were classmates in Sunday School, I watched Jacob in the
nursery at FPC in Florida... How the years have flown.

Now the evening has wandered in and I am writing on the laptop as Julie & Julia plays on the TV. The fire is burning, the lights on the tree are glowing, and the basement is sounding like a ping-pong tournament. I'm going to raid the fridge for leftovers. (And in case you didn't catch it, I'm watching a movie about a lady who blogs as I write this blog post...)

I should've had a bottle of wine ready for this movie.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Back to the Blog

I have been rather negligent and haven't blogged in some time. I harbor no illusions that anyone out there is pining away for my next post. I do, however, like to keep things current simply for my own record, since my memory fails me concerning events large and small that happen in our lives.

So where was I?

Oh yes; trusting that the Lord has a plan for us, though our situation was becoming rather dire. Our prayers have been answered in a couple of ways, for which we truly are grateful. Jim has been working for two weeks now with a company in Reading as a contractor. I've often said that if Jim were a plumber it would be easy to describe his job. His area being "business" and "project management", I really have no idea what he does, and it changes from one project to the next. Let's just say that whatever it is he's doing, they are paying him, which is all that I need to know as I pay the bills.

I said our prayers were answered in a couple of ways. Our church also reached out to us with some financial help which came in the nick of time. We have learned in many ways that while God is never late, He is also never early- but right on time. The bills are almost all current and we are so relieved to be able to fulfill those responsibilities again.

As this has all been developing, other aspects of our lives have been marching along as well. Kate and I have discovered that there is a Camera Club in our area, the Berks Photographic Society, that meets on Monday evenings, has monthly photo contests, discussions on improving one's knowledge of photography, outings to shoot photos as a group, and a building which houses a studio and darkroom for the members' use! We visited for several Monday evenings and have decided to join. Being in a room full of photographers who carry their cameras around looking for potential photos and taking pictures of the people around them for no other reason than to capture what their artist's eye sees is so refreshing and delightful. I'm not alone! Kate and I are thrilled with this group- from professionals to amateurs, they speak photography and we are glad to learn the lingo ourselves.

Rebekah practicing for competition at home.

Rebekah is in her third and final year at the Berks Career and Technical Center in the Culinary Arts program. She has flourished in the kitchen and knows for certain that she wants to pursue a career in the Culinary field. Part of being in a Vocational Tech program is competing locally and further for recognition and scholarships. A couple of weeks ago Bekah competed in the "in house" competition at her school, winning first place and a spot on the team which will go to the State competition in March! Winnig at State will mean advancement to national, where a win would mean scholarships to the school of her choice, the Culinary Institute of America. We are so very proud of her and praying that she does well at State.

Our family with the NYC skyline in the background!

On December 12th our family joined the Boy Scouts to go to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. We live a mere two hour drive from the park in New Jersey from which the ferry can be caught for the ride to the islands. Everyone drove separately, freeing us up to take our time and leave when we were ready. What a glorious day we enjoyed! The weather was absolutely perfect- not a cloud in the sky. Clear and sunny, though cold, we started at Ellis Island with a guided tour. Neither Jim nor I have ancestors who came to America through Ellis Island, but the story of the process was still fascinating. As can be expected, I took quite a few photos, which can be seen in my Facebook album, here.

Last Sunday Isaac joined our church as a Communicant member. He had taken a class over the Summer after which he was interviewed by a couple of our church's elders. His understanding of the basic doctrines of our faith, as expressed in the Westminster Confession, and his personal profession of faith led to their agreeing that he is ready to join our body of believers. The class was scheduled to join the church December 13th, but the morning dawned to an ice storm which prevented us and half of the congregation from making it to church! The ceremony was moved to December 20, and everyone was able to make it- albeit an hour later than normal since we had a snowstorm the day before and church was delayed, giving us time to shovel out from under a foot of snow!
The shovelers

We are now preparing for Christmas. The snow is still on the ground outside, which is so beautiful for the season. Christmas Eve has arrived, the kids are finishing some light cleaning, cooking will happen later today. We expect Nathaniel to skype in around 1 pm so we can open a gift together- a Christmas Eve tradition. Tonight we will join our church for special music and celebration of our Savior's birth. Kate and Erin are singing, Jim, Rebekah and Erin are reading Scripture. After the service we will gather with others from the congregation at the Sallade's home for fellowship before heading home for a long Winter's nap.

Merry Christmas to all!