Much like your parents attic, treasured memories lay within. So, wipe the dust off my ruminations and remembrances, sit back and enjoy!

Christmas Blessings

Last weekend I packed up the kids and headed to Minnesota to spend Christmas with Lisa’s family. Wednesday night I packed up Hope, Vinny’s and my clothes and all of the presents because the plan was to leave Winona Friday morning and I had to work Thursday. So, after work on Thursday, I picked up Hope and Vinny from school, ran home and loaded the van and was back on the road by 5:40pm. Not bad considering. The trip to Winona was uneventful: Hope and Vinny watched a movie in the back seat and I listened to music on my IPod. Brittany and Trevor wouldn’t be coming until Saturday morning (they both had previously made plans with friends). Friday morning was a little hectic as we had presents yet to wrap and kids to get ready. Lisa ran into town to get her mom (yes, I know…visions of Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation came to mind!). We had a challenge getting everything (and everyone!) packed and loaded into the van (I felt like I was playing a real life version of Tetris!), but we finally got it all in; leg room is highly overrated and who really needs to see out the back window anyway? Using the rear window is for wimps…I’m a man! I use my side mirrors! So, with the back-end piled high, the kids and mom packed in like sardines, we got on the road at 10:45am. It was like we were on our very first family trip!

Now, Lisa and her family are originally from Worthington. Lisa grew up and even went to the community college that is located either in or near there, before she transferred to Winona State. Worthington is about 3.5 hours from Winona, but we were going to Luverne, where her dad and stepmother built a new home about a year ago. Luverne is about another 30 minutes past Worthington and is a sleepy little town. On the trip over, the boys kept themselves busy playing their Game Boys while Hope and Grandma watched a movie on the portable DVD player. Lisa and I listened to music and talked. All in all it was a nice trip. Once we arrived, Lisa’s dad Leroy (or LeRoar as Hope likes to say!) met us at the hotel and took us to Kathy’s (or Taffy…again, Hope) brother, Curt’s little home to show us his puzzle collection. Now, Curt is retired and lives by himself. He busies himself by assembling jigsaw puzzles…but I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. He had hung up his puzzles…not like you or I would hang a piece of art, but more like wallpaper! Nearly every available section of wall space was covered in a fantastic mosaic of puzzles! Cats, dogs, city skylines and western scenes! Beautiful Thomas Kinkade prints, Norman Rockwells and impressionistic Monet’s. Puzzles in the shape of bears, wolves and states! Even three dimensional ones like the cathedral at Notre Dame and I paused looking at a card table that contained a section of New York city…the twin towers (now gone), stood tall against this three dimensional cityscape and I was caught in the remembrance of that horrific day. In all, Curt has assembled 604 puzzles and he has many more in his basement just waiting for his attention!

Leroy and Kathy have a very nice home and play the part of host/hostess perfectly! Leroy like to grow his own hot peppers, dehydrate them, grind them into powder and then mix them into the ultimate collection of pepper seasonings! Some are fire hot and others quite tame, but my favorite was one titles Super Chili’s. It had enough oomph, to let you know it was there, but also adds a great flavor to whatever you mix it with! It was great to see Donna and her kids Stephanie and Justin from Las Vegas again. And it was good to finally meet her other son Brandon. Trevor really took to Brandon and Justin and it even came down to Trevor and Brandon going head to head in Monopoly! I also finally met Lisa’s brother Alan, his wife Robin and his two daughters Ali and Sarah. I also met Justin’s fiancĂ© Jackie, Brandon’s girlfriend, Candace and Sarah’s boyfriend, Austin.

We talked, played games and grazed like sheep! Hope was in top form and charmed her way into everyone’s hearts. If we would have been on a cruise, she would have been our cruise director! She freely past hugs around, took pictures (on other peoples digital cameras!) and just generally brightened everyone’s day! When Britt and Trev arrived the next day, she was watching out the window for them and when she saw the van, she ran into the kitchen yelling. ‘They’re here everyone! They’re here! Now let’s ALL stand up and greet them!’ I swear if she would have had a red carpet, she would have rolled it out for them! We shared laughs, fun, food and even tears. Time, like water in your hand, ran quickly and before we knew it, it was time to leave.
We headed back Sunday after brunch at Leroy and Kathy’s. We had plans to stop and visit Lisa’s Grandmother and then some friends of hers on the way back through Worthington. Brittany and Trevor decided to press on and go home. About 2 hours later, Britt called to report that it was snowing and the wind was so bad that it was becoming difficult for her to see. I told her to pull off into the next town, find a place to hunker down and I’d get back to her. I found out that a winter storm warning had been issued for the part of Minnesota that we’d be driving through and that they were advising people not to travel. Snow accumulations of 8 to 12 inches were expected and winds in excess of 45 mph would make travel hazardous, if not impossible. I called Britt back and told her to find a hotel and call me back. Lisa did some quick calling and was able to get permission for us to stay at the house of the parents of her best friend. It was a beautiful house and they graciously told us to make ourselves at home and to help ourselves to anything. Britt did call back and I set them up with a room at a hotel in Rochester. We ordered Godfather’s pizza (one of my favorites!) and later on, Lisa and I relaxed in their hot tub (I pretty much decided right then and there, that Lisa and I NEED to have one in our house!)

Monday…Christmas eve! I was to sing at Walnut Hill’s Christmas eve services (4:00pm and 5:30pm) and needed to be back at 2:30 to practice. It was between 9:30 and 10:00am when we left Worthington and it would be a 5 and a half hour drive from Worthington to Baraboo and I still had to drop Lisa, the boys and her mom off in Winona…so, I quickly calculated and knew I wouldn’t make the practice, so I called and cancelled the practice, but told Tyson (our music leader) that I would still make it for the performances. We got to Winona and dropped everyone off and was on my way out of town at right around 2pm…YIKES! Winona to Baraboo was about a 2 hour drive and so, with a prayer and determination, I pressed my speed and rolled out in front of my house at 3:30! I quickly ran into the house, re-dressed and was out the door by 3:45! I called Lisa on my way up to the church and found out that she had just left town! Her plan was to leave by 3:00, but didn’t make it! I was originally told that the second service was scheduled to start at 6pm…when I told her it was actually starting at 5:30…she about cried. As the second service started, Lisa still hadn’t arrived, but she still had time as it was about 20 minutes into the service before I would sing. As I sat there watching each performer and listening to each reading, I silently counted down the time until I would have to perform. As the service got to the last perform and reading before I was to go on, I got up from my seat and went to the back of the church. Listening to the performance of O Little Town Of Bethlehem, I stared out of the big picture windows in the foyer of the church, watching desperately to see if Lisa’s car would pull in at the last minute…It wasn’t there. I turned as the soloist finished and waited until the reading was about halfway through when I walked down the aisle to the stage. Feelings of disappointment, not towards Lisa, but that she wouldn’t make it in time, flooded my thoughts and I had to consciously push them aside so I could concentrate on the performance at hand. There were about 600 people at the first service and while there wasn’t that many now, the place was still near capacity. I looked to Ruth (the pianist) and she started playing. And as I sang the first words, ‘Oh Holy Night…’, I caught site of Lisa standing in the doorway at the back of the church! Honestly, it was exactly like a scene out of a movie…against time and against all odds, the heroine makes it just in the nick time! I stood there singing for my church…for Lisa and for my God. I’ve sung O Holy Night countless number of times over the years and it had become somewhat of a tradition for me to sing it…this would most likely be the last time I would sing it at Walnut Hill…I sang from my heart and I pray that it brought glory and honor to Jesus…many babies have grown up to become kings, but there has only been one King who humbled himself for our sake to become a baby. Laying aside His throne and stepping down from the right hand of God, He entered this Earth just like you and I did.

I find it utterly amazing that in this culture of Political Correctness and tolerance, all religions are embraced and even displayed except for one…Christianity. Our public schools openly talk about Chanukah and Kwanza, but the true reason for Christmas is not only left out, but actually shunned in areas. Selective tolerance isn’t tolerance at all…I believe that’s actually called prejudice. Interesting that all throughout the New Testament, Jesus reached out to the poor, the injured, the ‘untouchables’. His door…His path was and still is open to all and all He asked was for us to turn away from sin and to accept Him as Lord and Savior of our lives.

I really missed the boys on Christmas morning, but it was nice having Lisa there. It really felt like we were a family. Over the past month I have watched my kids and have seen an ever deepening love developing between them and Lisa. I’ve seen Hope call her mom…I have heard Vinny say that it will be nice to have a new mom…I have seen Trevor give her a hug and I have watched Brittany warm up to her, even start to joke and tease with her (that is SO one of her love languages!). As I sit back and think about this past year…all that we’ve been though…all that God has done for us, I am in awe and humbled by the love He has shown, the blessings he has bestowed and the restoration He is enacting. I think of Job and all that he lost and through his faithfulness and steadfastness, when his season of pain and suffering was over, God not only restored that which Job lost, but He over and abundantly blessed him. By no means am I comparing what I went through to that of Job’s story…he lost SO much…but I KNOW that God is faithful and He continues to bless us and is restoring ALL of us…Lisa, the kids and I.

Praise be to God, our Father! All day long we will sing of His glory, from the highest mountain we will shout of His greatness, From the depths of the sea the very Earth proclaims His holiness! The rocks, trees and birds of the air resound His majesty, while the plants of the field and animals of the land honor Him.


~ V

The Proposal

The day was beautiful. Cloudless and brisk with a breeze coming out of the North that added to the chilliness of the day. We were supposed to have gotten somewhere around 3 inches of snow the night before, but it was more like a dusting and even at the, the roads were clear and dry. Friday night was Lisa’s office Christmas party and she was expecting me to arrive that afternoon between 2:00 and 2:30…the truth of the matter was that, unbeknownst to her, I was in Winona at 9:00am. Today was the day! I was hopeful and nervous, but mostly very excited! I had arranged with Lisa’s boss weeks earlier to make sure that Lisa would be in the office between 11:30 and noon. Sometime around 11:45, one of the ladies that Lisa works with; interrupted Lisa’s meeting with her boss to tell her someone was at the door for her. Thinking that it possibly could be me arriving early, she opened the door and was surprised and a little confused to see a limo out front and a driver at the door. He asked if she was Lisa Evans and she said that she was. He then told her, ‘I believe you have an appointment.’ and handed her a note. The note, written in her bosses own hand, told her that she was giving Lisa the afternoon off, to go and have fun and that she’d see her that night at the party. Confused, Lisa got her coat…she thought that perhaps I was waiting for her in the limo…I was not, but a dozen white roses were. She got into the limo and the driver took her to Garvin Heights. Garvin Heights is a park that features a spectacular stone overlook of Winona.

The overlook is 575 feet up on top of a bluff and on a clear day, the view stretches for about 17 miles and I was waiting for her at the overlook point. As I stood there waiting for her, looking out at the panoramic vista, I realized how much God has blessed me and how He has restored not just my life, but the life of my kids as well! In that instant, I thought about the past year and God magnificent plan suddenly became clear…it is plain to see now exactly how God’s fingerprints…no, His LOVE was in and through Lisa and my meeting and proceeding relationship.
After what seemed like an eternity, I heard the approaching footsteps of the one who has captured my heart. When I heard her start to climb the stairs, I turned towards her and began to sing. When I got to the end of my song, I dropped to my knee and asked her if she’d do the honor of becoming my wife…and she said…YES!!

Psalm 126:3-6 ‘The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

I have discovered that joy is in the simple things: touching, embracing, chattering on for hours about nothing, sure of your place within another's heart. Simple things like coming home knowing exactly where your treasure lies; like being at ease with who you are and who you're with; Needing, accepting and desiring that which you have been given…content with what you already have; feeling the simple gratitude of being loved; Investing goodness instead of money, time instead of things; giving for the pleasure of giving; seeing Gods plan unfold and take you in its arms. All this joy is ours for the price of loving! Not only loving well, but long days…long years of willing, wise and patient love!


~ V

Living in Squalor

Sally was almost penniless. Her husband Jeb had died years before and while the life insurance paid off the mortgage, she was not prepared. Her life, and the house itself, deteriorated around her as poverty and want became the definition of her daily life. The car was junked long ago as she couldn’t afford to keep it in running condition and had no means to replace it. She scraped by on a few dollars a week for groceries and when the electric bill was too high, she would live by the heat of a Coleman stove and light of a candle. Coffee was too expensive, movies were too expensive, her shoes were too worn and she was too embarrassed so she rarely left home and got by with what little she had. Day after day crept by and she thought, ‘Life was supposed to be better than this, wasn’t it? What happened?’ For years, Sally lived that way, barely getting by and venturing out less and less. One day out of the blue, an old friend from childhood, Miriam, called her on the phone to see how she was doing. Miriam was heart-broken after she listening to Sally’s story and decided to come spend some time with her on vacation. So Miriam flew to Sally’s home and spent a few days helping her sort through her house and clean things up that time and disrepair had deteriorated. In the process of straightening and cleaning out a roll-top desk, Miriam discovered a folder that had the words, ‘For Sally’, written on the front. Inside the folder was a savings book and in the book was an entry made 22 years earlier that showed a balance of $87,000…but that wasn’t all. The folder also contained a yellowed envelope, with a handwritten inscription in Jeb’s handwriting that said. ‘To Sally, with love forever.’ ‘Do you know what this is?’ Miriam asked Sally. Sally searched her memory and at first, couldn’t recall…then she realized, ‘Oh, Yeah…Jeb told me there was something important in his desk for me.’ 22 years after Jeb had lovingly placed the envelope and folder in his desk, Miriam and Sally open the envelope. Miriam watched as Sally opened the envelope and inside was a single folded page and a key. Unfolding the page, Sally read the letter aloud, ‘My dearest love. My time draws short with you, but I want you to know that I’ve provided everything you will need once I’m gone. Check the bank book in the file and take the key to the bank. In loving remembrance, please enjoy life to the full. With love forever…Jeb.’ Sally and Miriam discovered that the key went to a safe deposit box at the local bank. They went to the bank and pulled the box, opened it and inside found several bundles of cash totaling $32,000, a pile of stock certificates and three folders of rare coins. That afternoon, the stockbroker informed them the certificates were worth $550,000. The rare coin dealer appraised the coin folders at $47,000 and the bank calculated interest on the $87,000 of 22 years and brought it to $254,000. All told, Sally was worth $883,000…
For 22 years, Sally had been living in misery and squalor. Her loving husband had prepared for her an inheritance…a way to live her life to the full and not worry and he had provided her access to it.

Lately I have found myself in Sally’s shoes, living in squalor. Not in the monetary sense, but rather in spiritual squalor. I have gone to my spiritual ‘pantry’ and very much like Old Mother Hubbard…I have found that my cupboards are bare. Dangerously low on the things that feed my soul, I become morose, mopey and, well…generally not much fun. When I’m in that kind of funk, I don’t feel that I have the spiritual currency needed to restock those empty shelves & cupboards. Feelings that I don’t deserve happiness or things that are good and pleasing or doubts about my self worth, abound in my mind and steal the joy that I KNOW God intends for me. Some of us needlessly live our lives in spiritual squalor. We’ve willingly signed the adoption papers, accepted His gift of the sacrifice…and yet we sit on His inheritance. We turn our faces towards heaven and bemoan our fate, wondering just like Sally, ‘Life is supposed to be better than this, wasn’t it? What happened?’ Meanwhile, His promises lay unclaimed around us. We have been given the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us and to encourage us. Both are inexhaustible resources of power and along with prayer, provide sustenance to our spiritual bodies. They are provided to us…all we have to do is pick them up and claim them.

Matthew 25:34 - "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

John 10:10 – “…I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.”

A good place for me to start living the type of life that Jesus talked about in the above verse, was to sit myself down and actually meditate on all of the blessings God has so lovingly lavished upon me. There are just SO many things in life that I have taken for granted…became complacent about…my prayer is that God will allow me to see these things anew each and every day…

Psalm 103

Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-

who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,

who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;

he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field;

the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.

But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children-

with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.

The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.

Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word.

Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.

Praise the LORD, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the LORD, O my soul.

Have you forgotten all of His benefits?...When everyone else seems to have abandoned you...when everything material seems to have lost its luster...God will STILL be there. He always has been...always will be...

~ V