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We Gather Together – and so it begins…again!!

Hi!! I have missed you! Are you ready to have some fun as “We Gather Together?” My hope is that we will be gathering together (virtually) to consider some joys, challenges, opportunities, moments and surprises of the holidays.

The hymn “We Gather Together” is one of my favorites. It is a Dutch hymn, written in 1597 to celebrate the Dutch victory over the Spanish. The song is particularly poignant because the Spanish had oppressed the Dutch, with the Spanish King refusing Dutch Protestants freedom of worship. Americans adopted it as a song for the Thanksgiving holiday in the 1930’s. And, during World War II, Americans sang the hymn, considering the Germans and Japanese as “the wicked oppressing.” This song has legs!

I love the hymn for my own reasons. Some of these come for the first two lines of the song.

  • It is “we” who gather together. We are equal; there is no discrimination among “us.”
  • “We” decide to gather together. It is not an accident nor an activity that is forced upon us. We make a conscious choice to associate with one another.
  • Our purpose is not prideful. We do not gather to pretend to be more than we are. Nor, are we focused on making others feel bad (or good). Instead, we gather together to “ask the Lord’s blessing.” This statement might put some of you off. If you are unsure of either the truth or value of that goal, please stay with me through this year’s musings. I am praying that there is something for each of us to learn here.
  • God’s intention is to “make His will known.” So often, you and I, our community, our family, raises our faces to the sky and asks “God, what on earth is going on?” Or, “God, surely You are not paying attention.” Or, “God, are You even there?” The writer of the hymn tells us that God “chastens and hastens” (in other words, He is pushing hard to get it done) His will to make known.

(Do you feel like you are back in Junior High/Middle School with the teacher reading some obscure poem and asking, “What does this mean to you?” No worries, this is just the introduction to this season’s musings-it gets better!!)

So, as you and your family, friends gather together or as you gather your thoughts and enjoy/exist/suffer-through this Thanksgiving, consider what it might to “gather together.” Join me – it will be fun!!

Love,

Jill (just one of God’s kids)

Gathering photo

“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;  He chastens and hastens His will to make known. The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing. Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own. 

“Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining, Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine; So, from the beginning the fight we were winning; Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

“We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant, and pray that Thou still our Defender will be. Let Thy congregation escape tribulation; Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord make us free!”

Dr Wedell

December 1982 had a huge impact on my life. I had worked for the Navy for almost six months and big changes were in the works.

A Navy intern program had brought me into civil service, and the program leader had decided that I needed to rotate out of Pensacola after 6 months of work; she decided that I would be transferring from the NROTC Program office to a training office in Millington, Tennessee (north of Memphis).

In mid-December, the intern program coordinator and I traveled to Tennessee to meet the team involved with my next assignment.

It was a terrible visit. The staff took me aside and warned me privately not to come there; they hated their jobs and, apparently, each other. The command climate was nothing like the camaraderie that I had experienced in Pensacola. The commanding officer was feared and the organization was having an internal war.

When the visit was over, I called my professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and asked him what graduate school opportunities might be in the Memphis area. We agreed that I could “do” 6 months more with the Navy, leave the organization and go to work on my doctorate which could be funded by me teaching at a great university. The university agreed to the deal and I had my back-up plan in place.

The unknown in all of this was Dr Vern Wedell. He had been my supervisor for my initial Navy assignment and I had learned so much from him. He was one of those “crusty” old civilians who stayed in the background, was a trusted agent by Navy leaders and who got stuff done without looking like he was involved. I liked him and he liked me.

Dr Wedell has moved me into his office after he had watched me work for about 3 months. He quizzed me often. For instance, when someone would leave our office, he would drill me about how to handle that task or that person. At the time, I didn’t realize how valuable it was to learn the art of civilian service in a military organization.

Just before I had headed to Tennessee to check out my next assignment, I had finished a project for Dr Wedell. When I handed him my final product, he was surprised at how I had attacked the work and provided much more than he had expected. For a guy that didn’t tip his hand very often, I could tell that he was impressed with how I had done the job. I remember thinking that I had just tried to anticipate every question he would ask, every issue he would raise. My strategy worked.

And, so, just after I had finished the project for Dr Wedell, I headed to Tennessee to learn about my next assignment. And, in response to what I learned, to develop the back-up plan for when I would quit 6 months later.

After we had finished in Tennessee, I returned to Pensacola just long enough to repack my bags and head to my parents’ home for Christmas. I tried to contact Dr Wedell to let him know of my transfer date, but he was in meetings and not available. I called him several times over Christmas to tell him that I would be leaving in early January but he was never available to take my call and he never returned my call. I got worried – what had I done that he would not talk to me? I asked the administrative assistant what was wrong – had he gotten my messages? She assured me that he had gotten my messages and requests for a return call; she didn’t know why he was not talking to me.

It was one of the worst Christmas’ of my life. It looked like I would have to move in a few weeks to go to work in a place where no one else wanted to me. The man I most respected wouldn’t talk to me and I wasn’t sure I was interested in teaching and starting a doctorate. It seemed like my career had been derailed.

I got back to Pensacola and went into the office that I shared with Dr Wedell. I had returned to work before he had and so I started to pack up my desk. The next day, he returned to the office and did his normal daily “stuff”, ignoring me until mid-morning. He then got up and closed the office door. He sat down at his desk and looked me square in the face and asked “Do you want to leave here?” I replied that I didn’t have a choice. He looked and me and asked me the exact same question, “Do you want to leave here?” I told him what I had seen in Tennessee and that I had decided that I would have to quit in 6 months but that I had a plan to go back to graduate school. He asked me a third time, “Do you want to leave here?” I looked at him and said, “No.” There was interesting work to do, I was learning so much from him and others and I really did want to stay. He replied, “OK” and got up and opened the office door. He then told me to stop packing my desk and to get back to work.

Later that week, the intern coordinator called me to her office. She told me what I could not stay in Pensacola; Dr Wedell was making promises that he could not keep. Her supervisor called me in and said the same thing. A fellow intern called and told me that I was going to be without a job if I didn’t move to Memphis.

Well, that six-months turned into a 30-year career – all in Pensacola.

Why did that happen? It all started with a leader who only made promises he could keep and with a young woman who trusted him.

I will never know all that Dr Wedell did for me. I have my suspicions but I do not know.

Like me, you may have people in your life whose promises are rock solid. They are the hard working people with shoes that are worn and who often shy away from being the one in the limelight. But, you know who and what they are. They are the ones who have prayed for us into the early morning. They are the ones who were there with cash when we were broke. They are the ones who listened when we thought we had missed all of our opportunities.

Our challenge is to keep on trusting even when the phone call isn’t returned or the text answered. Rest easy, they may be busy, putting the pieces in place to make your dreams come true.

Love,

Jill (just one of God’s kids)

Christmas dust

Tonight I attacked what I call “Christmas dust.” Some of you know exactly what I mean – the tiny pieces of styrofoam, vinyl tree needles, cardboard scraps, cookie crumbs, and pieces of paper that seem to come from no where.

A few years ago, we gave our granddaughters cake pans that would form a small, three-tier cake. They decided to bake a cake that night and got started right away. Unfortunately, my pantry was missing a few things and the cake was not the best. But, it had lots of icing and even more green and red sugar crystals – and so did my kitchen. You see, at some point in the decorating process, both containers of colored sugar were dropped. After sweeping and mopping, we got “most” of the sugar up. But, when we redid our kitchen several years later (replacing cabinets and appliances) I found sooo much red and green sugar crystals hiding in the books and crannies — Christmas dust!

In the old days, when we brought “real” Christmas trees into the houses, we would find tree needles in the carpet for months. Every time we vacuumed, the smell of pine would fill the house — Christmas dust!

And, styrofoam packaging!! Those little needs of packaging material float through the air and stick to everything — Christmas dust!

In a “perfect” home, there would be no “Christmas dust.” I imagine floors that would not need to be swept and styrofoam particles that would stay in the box. But, I have no desire to live in such a place. I want the cookie crumbs and the tree needles. I want the “Christmas dust” for it means that the family and friends are welcome, that packages have been wrapped, that old decorations have been brought down from the storeroom, and that sweet memories have been awakened and new memories are being formed.

Yes, I vacuumed and tried to get the “Christmas dust” under control but I would never trade the my dust for any “perfect” house. You see, we want our home to be filled with the joy and stuff that is Christmas — dust and all!!

Love,

Jill (just one of God’s kids)

“That’s me!”

Poppa turned 90 in October. (Mom’s 91st birthday was in November.) Poppa was dealing with some challenges and so the celebration was low-key. The fact that we had had quite the party for their 70th anniversary in August led Poppa to the decision to go low-key for the birthday.

But, 3 of us 5 kids were able to be there (surprise health issues kept the other 2 from joining us) and spouses and several grandchildren gathered for dinner and fun. The youngest there was Jake, a great-grandson not yet 3 years old at the time.

Jeffrey, my younger brother, brought Poppa into the dining room where we were to have the birthday lunch. It was then that the pictures being “beamed” on a side wall were noticed. Poppa immediately recognized the pictures of his classmates from junior college and the family homestead from so long ago. The rest of the family got their lunches and joined the table.

The pictures involved most of Poppa’s 90 years with a good mixture of then and now. It was as we all sat down that we heard Jake say, “Hey, that’s me,” pointing at a picture on the wall. It wasn’t Jake for quite awhile. But, every kid in a picture got the same response from Jake, “That’s me.” It was hilarious and we all loved it. For a bit, his parents tried to explain that the photos were usually of someone else; their fruitless efforts made us laugh all the more. Jake was having a great time: he was in every photo, we were having fun, and birthday cake with thick frosting was on the menu. What could be better?

I loved my folks’ reactions, they were laughing and saying, “Sure it is.” His parents, realizing that the sugar high from the cake would only add to Jake’s excitement announced that after lunch they were going to park to do some running around. Jake liked that idea too!

I love when a family gathers and enjoys the innocence of a child or of a silly story of Christmas past or watch for “the hundredth” time that favorite Christmas movie. Relish the “gathering together” that Christmas can bring.

Love,

Jill (just one of God’s kids)

“When the religious leaders saw the outrageous things he was doing, and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, “Hosanna to David’s Son!” they were up in arms and took him to task. “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

Jesus said, “Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?” (Matthew 21:15-16)

“Love’s Story”

Tonight is the last night of our church’s production, “Love’s Story.” I have been “directing” this event for the past 4 years. Directing is a pretty loose term for what I do. I kick things off and creative people make it happen.

This year has been amazing. I love how our people have taken on the challenge to tell the story of God’s gift to man – from prophecy to the virgin birth to the angels announcing the Messiah to the shepherds to the wise men meeting with Herod to the life and ministry of Christ, to His death on the cross and then to His glorious resurrection. What an amazing story it is.

I thought I would share some of the “fun” of this year:

– Sheep, goats, a calf and a donkey that are well socialized. And humans (no matter how old) who cannot resist petting them and loving on them.

– The sweet taste of joy chocolate and hot cider with a Christmas cookie eaten outside on a dark night with stars and Christmas lights.

– The debate while roasting marshmallows – toasted or burned to a crisp.

– A talented actress who helps us see burlap and wood as a village.

– The little girl who wanted to be “baby Jesus” too. And, when placed in the wooden manger would say, “waa, waa, I’m baby Jesus.”

– And, her little brother playing baby Jesus by wandering around the animals who were all taller than he.

– The smiles as children played with pretend bread and tried to help the bread lady do her work.

– The smell of perfume as the story of Mary washing the feet of Jesus was told.

– The joy of a hayride in the dark, no matter how old we are.

– Angels in beautiful costumes singing the praises of God.

– The sweet man asking us if we had a reservation at his Bethlehem inn (made of pallets with no door or roof).

– The fun of a cast dinner (that I did not have to plan, make, or clean up – SWEET!!)

– The irresistible urge to ham it up when Christmas pictures are taken.

– The simple joy of a star hanging in the sky.

– The welcoming greetings of people at the door.

– The fun of watching grade school kids become shepherds.

– The peace of seeing men with years of walking with the Lord pretending to the Herod and the wisemen.

– The way a campfire causes us to slow down, to gaze intently and to chat with strangers and now friends.

– The empty tomb that could not hold Him.

The Christmas season is just starting. Find a way this year to walk under the lights on a dark night, enjoy the cold and the quiet or the sounds of the season. Spend time knowing that Love’s story isn’t finished. The baby in the manger was as vulnerable as we and yet He became our Savior, our Redeemer, our Lord.

Merry Christmas!

Jill (just one of God’s kids)

Beware the enemy

Today is the 78th anniversary of an enemy attack on Americans stationed at Pearl Harbor.  And, today, is the one day anniversary of an enemy attack on Americans stationed at Naval Air Station Pensacola – the place I worked for over 30 years.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that those attacks are the same at all.  One was the decision of the leaders of a nation, taking the lives of more than 2400 people; the other was the decision of one or more individuals, taking the lives of 3 people.

These two incidents, 78 years apart were attacks made without warning and without provocation.  Both attacks intended to strike the heart of America and Americans.  And, both attacks were made as we Americans prepare for the celebration of our Savior’s birth.

As I reflect on these events, it is clear to me that we must push harder than ever to prepare for what the world may bring to our door.  We need to put a shield of protection around the hearts and minds of the young and innocent.  We must pull our families tighter around us, gathering together against a world that preys on our fears.  We must fortify our resolve to stay close to God and to dive deep into His word.

These are challenging times.  Hold on tightly to God; hold on tightly to those you love.  You will never go wrong when your focus is on the things of God.

Love,

Jill (just one of God’s kids)

God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not be afraid, even if the earth is shaken and mountains fall into the ocean depths; even if the seas roar and rage, and the hills are shaken by the violence.” (Psalm 46:1-3)

pray for pensacola

Goal changers

I overheard a conversation not long ago. When describing their boss, the worker  commented “they are a goal changer.” It struck a chord with me. I have worked with and for “goal changers.”  And, I may have been one more than once in my life.

Goal changer 2Goal changers are always “upping” the goal. They add new requirements; change the entire task; create new rules. Working for someone like that means you will never finish a project. A friend, noted that a supervisor was retiring and asked, “did we get it right yet?”

Goal changers are usually not involved in the work; they like to sit back and determine if the work was done correctly or on-time or met their every shifting set of parameters.

But, are we goal changers when it comes to “gathering together”? Do we share one set of expectations and then change them? For instance, “we just want a pleasant family dinner” becomes “we just want a pleasant family dinner where everyone agrees on everything.” Or, “let’s set a limit for gift giving” becomes “I hope you like the gift; I decided to go over the limit we set.”

How about when we become goal changers to ourselves? For instance, planning to do 10 things turns into a decision to do 20 more tasks.

We can sabotage our “gathering together” by changing the goals. Let’s watch ourselves this year, establish some goals, and then stop when we get there. Stay the course.  Keep on track.  Stop adding more to the to do list!!  Enjoy these days, January will come soon enough!

Love,

Jill (just one of God’s kids)

You don’t know Bo

At some point during this time of “gathering together” someone will probably suggest that we go to “church.” I’ve been thinking about “church” today.

Southerners (and others) will remember Bo Jackson for his football career at Auburn University, being named the Heisman trophy winner in 1985.  He was the first athlete in modern times to play professional baseball and basketball in the same year.  Not only did Bo play the two sports during the same years, but he was also an All Star in both.  That status caused Nike to make him their cross-training spokesman in 1989 and 1990.

When Nike used Mr. Jackson as their spokesman, they used the phrase “you don’t know Bo.” What an interesting thought.

Recently, an acquaintance told me that they had “quit going to church” because it was boring and not relevant.  Although that conversation has and will continue between us friends, I think that at some point, I may say, “You don’t know church.”

“Church” is not something I go to.  Yes, there is a building in which we meet and some call that building the “church”, but they are wrong.  It is just a building where we meet.

“Church” is a community that has accepted me and supports me.

This week, “church” called and told me that I needed a break — they would take over some tasks that I had planned to do; their offer was just what I needed.

Two weeks ago, “church” visited my parents as Poppa was hospitalized and struggling.  Then “church” encouraged them, shared with them, prayed with them, and cared for them.

The last few years “church” has listened and commiserated with us as we fought with bureaucratic offices and processes.

Yesterday “church” took meals over to people in need (without those who received having to ask or pay for it).

“Church” comforted the family who lost a child and needed “family” when their blood family lived far away.

“Church” encouraged me to continue my education and study.

“Church” not only preformed the marriage ceremony for us, but taught us what marriage should be, gave us wonderful things to use in our new home, encouraged us every day.

“Church” helped me when John was deployed, prayed for the two of us, and helped us celebrate his return.

“Church” does not ask us for money but encourages us to be faithful to God.

“Church” does not preach at us, but shares truths from the Bible each week and teaches in a way that we understand.  When we don’t agree with something, “church” listens to our point and never pushes us away.

“Church” brings us together with people we would never meet during our daily activities.  “Church” has given us friends who are there for us no matter what.

“Church” lets us use our creativity to serve.  We are not assigned to dull tasks, but we take on projects because we want to serve, and we love the people we are with.

But, most of all “church” encourages me to walk with God.  When I have doubt, “church” is there.  When I have fears, “church” is there.  When I am discouraged, “church” is there.  When I am ready to celebrate, “church” is there.

If you asked me to describe “church” I would use words like: focused on Christ; mature and just getting started; single, married, divorced; the full gamut of skin tones; the weak and the strong; rich in potential; caring; homeless and house-rich; curious; concerned; loving…I could go on and on and on.

Friend, Christmas is the perfect time to rethink your assumptions about “church.”   If you think “church” is a building and a sermon, you don’t know “church.”

“Church” is God’s people, living and working together to make this world heaven on earth.

Hope to see you at “church” soon!!

Love,

Jill (just one of God’s kids)