Category Archives: Poetry

John Milton Speaks

Labor.

At the ripe old age of sixty-nine I am an experienced veteran.

In college I worked long hours at our local seasonal sweet corn canning factory.

My bruised and bloodied fingers bore witness to the grueling nature of my task within that process which was to transfer by hand the freshly shiny canned corn cans by twos out of huge iron baskets into cardboard boxes containing 24 cans each, over and over again, until the whistle signaling the end of the 18 hour shift blew and I made my way home to collapse exhausted in my bed until the morning whistle blew six hours later jarring me awake and signaling the time to start the work day all over again.

In another arena, I have known the painful yet beautiful anguish of childbirth. Those of us who have birthed and delivered babies could, but maybe shouldn’t, write volumes about the ins and outs, the upside down sides of that messy, miraculous process of birth.

And I have been a foreign missionary on the front lines, engaged in all-consuming spiritual labor, birthing, and nurturing a Siberian church in Akademgorodok, Russia.

Each of these instances show the work to be worth the effort and ‘well done’ whether from fellow humans or God will be the judgment; as a result it becomes easy to measure one’s worth by what one is or is not able to perform well along life’s way. Labor toward perfection seems to lead to success in life.

If I get an A+ on a school project, win the state tournament, get named the “most likely to succeed”, perform the interview well enough to be hired for the coveted teaching job, or have that beautiful baby, then all’s well. Worthy. Perfect. Success.

But if I fail the test, lose the job, can’t have that baby, see little fruit on the mission’s trees, or find myself burdened with a debilitating disease unable to perform any of life’s daily tasks without help, then what?

Do I have a meaningful place in God’s world despite my disability?

Does God use the same scale to measure the weight of my service before and after seasons of suffering and misfortune?

Recently I discovered that John Milton (1608-1674) and I have something in common besides being fellow pilgrims on faith’s journey. Milton at mid-life also had an unexpected life-changing blow; he experienced the shock of suddenly becoming blind.

He wrote the sonnet On His Blindness in February of 1652 as he wrestled then, as I do now 2017, with the weighty questions of worth and purpose amid the perception of wobbly performance in life.  

On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

Milton, John. On His Blindness.1652. Copy of the poem found in http://www.bartleby.com/101/318.html Accessed 21 September 2017.

“The Watcher” 
September 16, 2008
Cropped from original photograph by Flickr.com user Steve Sawyer. Creative Commons License.

https://i0.wp.com/www.excellence-in-literature.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/FrTheWatcher-e1388779544627.jpg?ssl=

http://one-to-what.tumblr.com/

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/26/29/76/2629761638149aba902e7386f353055f.png/

https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS730US730&biw=1174&bih=636&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=an+orthodox+church+graphic&oq=an+orthodox+church+graphic&gs_l=psy-ab.3…43688.46949.0.47544.8.8.0.0.0.0.124.738.7j1.8.0….0…1.1.64.psy-ab..0.0.0….0.aJ3vDYg2Rzk#imgrc=sb1BpZSstzrSjM:

Art created by Linda Hamer and shared courtesy of Church of the Cross, Hopkins, MN, in the following Crossings blog post: LaTondresse, Barbara. “Light a Candle for Hope.” Webpost. http://www.ofthecross.org/light-a-candle-for-hope/. Church of the Cross. 4 Dec. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2016. Copyright © 2016. Church of the Cross.

 

 

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Lenten Meditation I: Sacrifice

It’s Holy Week. Time for me to reflect once again on the events and lessons surrounding Christ’s death and resurrection.

I wrote “The Executioner’s Song” after re-reading the Abraham-Isaac story in Genesis 22. It highlights a lesson about ‘sacrifice’ that I learned during a particularly dark time while we lived in Russia.

Sacrifice proved to be the only way for Abraham. It was the only way for Christ as he faced the cross, and it was the only way for me in Russia at that time.

The poem points out ‘why’. It has to do with the name of God  memorialized by Abraham when God provided the ram to be sacrificed in place of Isaac. “Jehovah-Jireh” is the KJV’s translation of YHWH-Yireh and means “The LORD Will Provide”.

The Executioner’s Song  

The lonely mountain death walk
Mist rises with the early morning sun
as the chill damp reaches my soul.
Every part of me is cold.

I’ve been here before, Lord.

I recognize the path.
It’s worn and obvious, not overgrown;
winding precariously around the
crags and skirting precipices;
narrow, but sure–not random.

This had been planned; prepared.
Executioners always know this way.

Yet you say Your name is YHWH-Yireh.
What will the Lord provide?
A sharp knife?

New rope to bind my Isaac?
Skillful, deft hands, quickly moving
so Isaac is surprised and tethered before he can get away?

I avoid his eyes.
I know they will speak of betrayal, shock, fear.
I, too, feel the sudden unmistakable jolt of revulsion.
Together we both know I hold the knife
and we both know it will come down,
so I avoid his eyes.

He lies still now, expecting the blow,
hoping the knife is sharp and the aim is dead accurate.

It is.
In one wave of glorious surrender,
the knife falls.

He is dead.
I am, too.
Neither of us will ever be the same.
We both sing the Executioner’s song
and sense the uncanny peace.

On the mountain YHWH-Yireh has His way;
so we carry the bloody knife
and remember.

© Barbara LaTondresse
1 March 1995
All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

That Night

valentines4It was 6:30 in the evening when my father and mother met my beau for the first time.

The parents liked Andre exceedingly, enchanted by his romantic French name: enthralled with his good looks. The feeling was reciprocated at least at first read, but to the close observer, namely me, my boyfriend seemed unusually nervous, and quiet, and thoughtful.

Andre and I had trekked the seventy-some miles southeast; my parents had driven about the same distance northwest, to spend the evening getting acquainted over dinner at Michael’s Restaurant in Rochester, Minnesota, locally famous and storied, renown both for its steaks and for its reputation as a “celebration of life’s special moments” kind of place.

michaelsThe evening began innocently enough with the usual pleasantries, like my dad asking the boyfriend “if he liked to fish” and my mom asking me “how I am”, but soon we got beyond and into the serious talk that happens when ordering food at a fancy restaurant, like my dad saying “he’s sure glad we picked a place that had real meat and potatoes, not one of those funny organic spots that serve fruit salad and sprouts,” and my mother saying, “Now, Lorence, let’s not bring that up,” when dad starts to talk about the particular trials of being a funeral director, like the fact that the Catholics always used incense during the service that made him dizzy.

Andre had only recently brought up this Meet the Parents idea. It made me happy. He was special from the first day we met washing windows at a University of Minnesota fraternity house and the more time I spent with him the more I began to think he might be The One.

In fact, we had recently emerged from one of those messy, uncertain fogs that occur just before a spectacular dawn.

Our dinner progressed nicely thru the expected stages with great food and pleasant exchanges, so when my mother suggested she and I should go powder our noses before dessert arrived, I thought it was a wonderful idea, in particular to see what she thought of my gorgeous friend.

When we returned to our table my father was all smiles. Obviously they got along famously, but was there more? That smile demanded explanation, and my father couldn’t wait to spill the beans. He turned to me and said, “Your friend here has something he wants to ask you.”

The room began to spin around me; voices subdued and ghost-like swirled nearby but not from our table. Our table was quiet. Father was clueless–still beaming. Mother was smiling at my father, too, as if to say, “Oh, Lorence, how good of you to give the boy a little nudge.” All three of us turned to Andre, who was wearing a stunned ‘I can’t believe you said that’ look.

The hot fudge melted more than the ice cream as dinner became a sloppy puddle of dessert. I don’t think my parents even noticed the awkward transition as Andre thanked Dorothy and Lorence for coming to meet us and stood to help me out of my chair, an obvious sign that ‘exit stage right’ couldn’t happen fast enough.man-proposing-marriage-to-woman-illustration-featuring-his-knees-red-heart-as-symbol-love-46179790-1

We said our hasty good-byes to The Parents and as our car doors slammed shut Andre finally exhaled but didn’t speak or look at me.

Lost in thoughts too deep for words both of us remained speechless as Rochester night-lights twinkled, flying by; a blurry multi-colored kaleidoscope; a romantic, silent, expectant peace.

When I was growing up if my dad said “it’s fish or cut bait time” we knew what he meant whether or not he was offshore with one of us kids in his ancient beloved aluminum fishing boat with the Johnson 10 HP Outboard motor or on dry land sans boat but speeding around a slow-moving tractor on a narrow Iowa highway in a brand new loaded V8 four hole Buick.

It was a time to make a significant move.
It was a time to decide Something Big.

All at once the dreamy panorama stilled as Andre put the right signal on and took the last exit before leaving town. He braked hard, maneuvering the car just off the ramp onto the shoulder, to stop and take my hands in his.

When he looked into my eyes and said those magic words, “Will you marry me?” I, without hesitation, said, ’Yes,’ and for me, for us, that moment, that night, changed all things forever.

January 2017 – B. LaTondresse

The Exile

Lonely hours and night.
The minutes fade slowly, silently,
As he waits the appointed time.
And yet, my heart is glad.

One cannot measure happiness
by time spent without.
Within are the hidden treasures
Of secret places
Known only thru pain.

It will not be forever.
When that night
Fades into twilight.
The reds and yellows
Will paint
Our dawn
Across the golden sky.

The Dayspring on High
Will Himself
Ordain our Morning Joy.

Our together
Will be forever
In His Time.

© B LaTondresse
8 February 1977

happy-valentines-day-png-clipart


https://www.google.com/search?q=happy+valentines+day+clipart&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS730US730&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiGsK3l8o_SAhXL6YMKHWvXCCUQ_AUICCgB&biw=1207&bih=681#imgrc=UDdPnvICdZ6ZNM:

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https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-illustration-man-proposing-marriage-to-woman-illustration-featuring-his-knees-red-heart-as-symbol-love-image46179790

http://www.themedcitybeat.com/news-blog/2014/11/24/michaels-restaurant-a-fixture-in-downtown-rochester-to-be-demolished

https://www.google.com/search?q=romantic+fight&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS730US730&espv=2&biw=1207&bih=681&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiH0pjFipDSAhWe0YMKHTjTCxYQ_AUIBigB#tbm=isch&q=cartoon+romantic+fight&imgrc=xqlDXylq3TxwoM:

My Morning Day

roller-coasterRollercoasters.

I’ve never liked them.

I don’t need to buy an opportunity to board a contraption bound for intense right angle jerks, steep climbs, and free falls.

I have quite enough of all three in life as it is, especially lately with too much news and ranting  response analysis about radical upheavals in our nation and throughout our world bombarding me daily on TV and in social media.

Tired. Sad. Fearful.

It’s time for Barbara to take a break.

snoopy-afraidIt’s time to cultivate what I’m going to call the Arts of Silence: Listening. Seeing. Breathing. Touching. Reaching. Loving. Resting.

A while back a little esoteric spiritual group I’m part of called The Wardrobe read and studied and practiced In The Path of Celtic Prayer: An Ancient Way to Everyday Joy.

In these pages the author, Calvin Miller, introduces us to six types of Celtic prayer that can connect us to God more deeply by helping us pray out of the circumstances and uncertainties of our own life. God’s heavenly omnipotence, omnipresence, and sovereignty meet my earthly needs and limitations directly when I link them together in this way.

So I will revisit the Ancient Way.  I will heed the call of the God of Eternal Mornings to “come by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

My Morning Prayermorning-dawn

Oh, God of Eternal Mornings–

See me this morning.

O Father,

Planner of Ancient Days–
See me this day.

O Son of God,
Logos, Breath of Life–
hover Your Word
over the mist
of my foggy mind.

O Divine Wind,
Blow away the clouds

so I can go forth
into this new day
with eternal clarity
ringing in my soul.

O God of Eternal Mornings.
Meet me this morning day.

©January 2017 – Barbara LaTondresse


Miller, Calvin. The Path
of Celtic Prayer: An Ancient Way to Everyday Joy
. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007. Print.

 The Holy Bible, Containing the Old and New Testaments. Mark 6:31. New York: T. Nelson & Sons, 1901. Print.

Images courtesy of:

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http://www.google.com/search?q=rollercoaster&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS730US730&espv=2&biw=1207&bih=681&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiUh5WJxvHRAhVF4YMKHdrcB3EQ_AUIBygC#tbm=isch&q=roller+coaster+clipart+free&imgrc=43Fj-_KqhL73nM:

http://www.goodfreephotos.com/albums/united-states/wisconsin/harrington-beach-state-park/wisconsin-harrington-beach-state-park-summoning-the-dawn.jpg

For Lent – Meditation I – An Inkling, Too

cedar expectant2

If a picture is worth a thousand words then this one is priceless. Our son’s French bulldog, Cedar, expectantly waiting for a cookie perfectly illustrates the Psalmist’s thought in Psalms 123:2 when he says: “As the eyes of servants  look to the hand of their master,as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us.“

And in Psalm 62:4 David says, “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him alone.”

If you are one of Clive’s Pilgrims, like I am, then the waiting demands that we, like Cedar, look up for our expectations and hope.

I’m not talking about the kind of mundane waiting we do at red lights, or in check-out lines, or in doctor’s offices. I’m talking about waiting for the Dawn after the Crucifixion—the Daybreak when the shadows flee and the darkness will be made light.

The Apostle John puts it this way in Revelations 21:4, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

Here is my most recent poem in which I share my thoughts about Waiting. I hope you will find something in it that speaks to you in your time of Waiting.

An Inkling, Too       

adventbannermaryShaft light shards
pierce thru blackness
borne of dim memory
as daybreak —
orange, red, crimson
blends,
bleeds thru grey canvas,
creeps up the horizon;
a complex kaleidoscope:
dispelling yet casting shadows —
emerging dawn
within my foggy mind.

Glimpses of radiant glory,
shooting stars,
fireworks,
mixed with
griefs observed ,
losses internalized.

The shadows linger
even as the sun also rises.

Hints of what might have been
precisely measured
mingle what is
into what is to be.

bannerbride1Foretastes of heaven’s future ecstasy,
shot straight thru
with the silver bullet
of today’s pain.

So, archeologist-like,
I ponder the emerging sun-blaze
as it turns darkness into light
and begin to sift through the sandy dirt
     forms of the bittersweet days of my life
     hoping the Strainers will capture
esoteric meanings among fragments
     of the world beyond my rubble of
     broken bone, wood, glass, metal, leather,
     and clothes bearing dried blood and tears.

Using tweezers to grasp at unfamiliar, microscopic
bits of my moments and my days,
angling them right, left, upside, downside
I leave no blade of grass unturned.

Desperate to read between the lines:
to align the crooked jigsaw puzzle pieces
until they link the incongruous,
unanswerable forms together
with unexpected precision.

Soon I become tired and sick of trying.

Lifting my gaze once more heaven-ward
breathing in the crystal bright morning air
I watch the bits and pieces of my life tangles
rise into a multi-faceted tapestry jewel,
a kaleidoscope of redeemed sandy dirt forms,
reflecting Son-Dawn image rays everywhere.

An Inkling, Too.

by Barbara LaTondresse
©February 2016.  All Rights Reserved.

__________________________________

Sources

Image created by Linda Hamer and reshared courtesy of Church of the Cross, 201 9th Avenue North, Hopkins, MN 55343 in  the following source:  LaTondresse, Barbara. “Light a Candle for Hope.” Web log post. http://www.ofthecross.org/light-a-candle-for-hope/. Church of the Cross, 4 Dec. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2o16. Copyright © 2016 Church of the Cross

Psalm 123:2, Psalm 62:5, and Revelations 21:4 quoted from the King James Version (KJV) by Public Domain.

Silent Night’s Torch-lit Song


Tiny torches light
a million diamond flames
as blackness descends
 and a weary world
dozes off to sleep.

In the night
an Angel sings
 for Christ is born. 

The eternal lullaby begins.

And now
 forever
in my heart
I have a torch-lit song.

© Barbara LaTondresse
12 November 1976
All Rights Reserved

silent-night-2010

 


Image courtesy of:

http://www.thebluegrassspecial.com/archive/2010/december10/imagesdec10/silent-night-2010.jpg

 

Merry New Year in Narnia

Narnia___The_Lamppost_by_Scedwards

I used to live in Narnia, Clive Staples Lewis’ magical, mysterious, sometimes frighteningly wonderful land somewhere between the lamppost and the castle of Cair Paravel.

Always winter.
Never Christmas.

My former home, Akademgorodok, Russia, carved out of huge, dense evergreen forests. Numerous well-worn paths wind their way thru these forests intersecting and dividing to form a pedestrian walking network. As we trekked these by-ways to and from everywhere soft blankets of new-fallen snow dusted the lanes and forests daily. The downy flakes reflected diamonds and stars, especially in the moonlight at night. Narnia indeed.

For 80 years prior to our coming, Christmas in Russia was forbidden. There were none of what E.B. White calls “Christmas wrappings” cluttering the true meaning of the holiday either because even though January 6 is Russian Orthodox Christmas on the calendar, the celebration was not allowed.

Festivities centered around New Year’s Day & Eve. So when we came to santaMissingNarnia we could not find tinsel or lights or Christmas displays or Christmas tree lots or a bombardment of ads for Christmas deals. No loudspeakers blaring carols or Nativity scenes or Santa at the mall. That part of life in Narnia was actually a pleasant surprise.

Instead, Akademgorodok’s New Year’s celebration centerpiece, two mammoth snowy sliding hills, emerged in the street near the main shopping district, Targovie Trading Center with the entire street blocked off to traffic as dump trucks hauled massive quantities of snow in and bulldozers then pushed the huge mounds, compacting them into two hills–one bunny hill and one large hill.

Wooden platforms built on the tops of the hills comprised the impressive platforms so the kids could easily step up the hills and slide down using pieces of cardboard, flat plastic, or just their own rear ends as sleds. Some of the older kids go down standing up, kind of like downhill skiing without skis. A tangled mass of gleeful, snow-covered revelers smash into one another as everyone slides down into everyone else creating a crowded traffic jam at the bottom. One by one the blissfully wet sliders stand, run up the steps, and slide down again and again.

Meanwhile a huge evergreen tree emerges nearby with a large metal frame and big pine branches intertwined. A crane hoists more branches and men on tall ladders put them in place. Eight-foot wooden panels painted with winter scenes and Siberian folk characters frame one side of the street. Colorful lights dance across the boulevard all along the way to Targovie and huge speakers hung from light poles and kiosks belt out an incessant stream of tacky, inappropriately loud music including Russian Rock, Elvis, the Beach Boys, and tunes from American movies, like the theme songs from “Love Story” and “Sound of Music”. FarSide incarnate to hear “the hills are alive with the sound of music” in the middle of Siberia sung in English at Christmas.

Kids frolicking in worn out snow pants,
frayed wool mittens and
furry Stormy Kromer hats;
Even the family dog sliding down the hill backwards barking,
Parents and grandparents on the slippery sidelines watching,
Teens at the kiosks buying warm Coke,
Dear friends strolling arm in arm toward Targovie to shop,
An old man hawking “New Year’s” trees
from the back of his green Army truck,
Another selling fresh bread
from a fold-up card table on the street
     (frozen, I’ll bet–both the man and the bread),
Fireworks–random eclectic fireworks–light up the sky.

Norman Rockwell children SleddingNorman Rockwell comes to Siberia.

He doesn’t see Santa but maybe, just maybe, that’s a good thing.

Barbara LaTondresse
December 2015


 

Photo courtesy of:

http://www.art.com/gallery/id–a32/norman-rockwell-posters.htm

http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/2010/12/santa-stolen-have-you-no-shame-mr-grinch/

 

A Tribute to My Mother

Mother with Fur EfitedMother!

Today I honor you.

Yes, I do.

Let me live in the house by the side of the road and be a friend to man.  Your cross-stitch from this lovely Sam Robert Foss poem now resides on my kitchen wall. It speaks the essence of your beauty. Mother, you didn’t seek the limelight and didn’t stand out in a crowd,nevertheless, in your own quiet way, even though you’re gone from this earth, you still shine as a bright diamond star.

I am reminded daily of the rich treasure you still are.live by side of road2

A supermom.

Indeed.

I remember you positioned patterns on fabric on the living room floor, cutting, shaping, and sewing them into your own clothes. (Oh, how dad hated stepping on the stray straight pins that remained in the living room carpet afterwards.)

I remember you worked up a sweat picking garden bounty and came inside laden with strawberries or rhubarb from the garden, ready to make delicious jam.

I remember you canned beans and tomatoes and ground cherries. You even canned chickens. (chickens?)

I remember you wrestled an old wringer washing machine to wash clothes, carried them up from the basement to the outside to dry, and brought them back in to iron.

I remember you used to sit outside on a rickety lawn chair and use a hammer to crack walnuts for the ice box cookies and your homemade caramel corn.

I remember you cooked lunch and dinner every day AND still worked as teller at the bank.

I remember you did the furniture store books at home on the kitchen table at night.

vintage+housewifeI never recall you ever begrudging this hard work. In fact, I think you enjoyed it. I remember you humming as you cut out sugar cookies or made meatloaf or roast beef hash.

You so enjoyed having family gatherings, cooking for groups of us, and you knew how to organize and present a well-dressed table with your red dishes or Nortake china or Fiesta Ware.

pink high heelsI loved your high heels, your Chanel No. 5 perfume, your red lipstick, and nail polish carefully touched up especially on Sunday mornings. I so enjoyed your laugh, your smile, your hum, your quiet presence.

And that’s not all. At one point or another you flocked Christmas treewere President of Tabitha Society, Progress Club, Camp Fire Girl’s leader, Cub Scout’s leader, and faithful church choir singer. You always celebrated the holidays in grand-style decorating to the nines. We were one of the first in town to have a flocked Christmas tree. We even made May baskets on May Day to distribute to neighbors and friends.

You had such a positive attitude. You never criticized others and didn’t hold grudges. You never complained and didn’t gossip. You were easy to be around and a good friend. I remember fondly evening coffee with neighbor, Irene.

I’ll always remember your smile. It lit up your whole face…even toward the end, in the nursing home, you were a favorite of the staff because of your positive attitude and your big smile.

You taught me by example–the importance of home, of family, of community, of faith, of service to other, of courage, of endurance, and of the intricacies of unconditional love.

The mother I remember epitomized God’s kind of love: she was patient and kind; not envious; not boastful but meek, seeking not her own way; Mother, you patiently bore every fault, endured all things…and Mother, your love didn’t fail.

You were so self-sacrificing. After completing high school, you enrolled in junior college and studied among other things, the French language. I fondly remember you speaking French to me when I was very young. You told me later that you really enjoyed learning and loved speaking French, but when your mom and dad needed your to help with finances, you willingly quit school and went to work in a bank as a teller to help support them.

Lorence&DorothyWeddingPicEditLater after you met and married dad, and after the stint in the Army in Texas, you willingly moved with him to his small home town of Elgin, Iowa where you knew very few people at the start…to make a home…willingly blending in, making a whole town of new friends—-being with all of dad’s relatives all of the time, even on weekends since family meant communal meals every Saturday and Sunday, a family business, and common church to boot.

I am especially grateful for your sacrificial giving on my behalf. I now know that the Jonathan Logan red dress you bought me once for Christmas took lots of your hard-earned saved money from your bank job. $35. In cash.

Yes, you served your church and community and family well over the years. And with the ultimate in self-sacrifice…you opened your hands and let my family and me go of all places to Siberia. Though extremely difficult, you treasured us in thought and prayer and offered us the sacrifice of a giving spirit as we went…praying for us…and holding the ropes for us here. Your quiet faith sustained you and gave you courage to let us go.

You relished simple joys. You delighted in your family, treasuring the times you could be with us. You enjoyed Texas with dad, Holly the poodle, coffee with Irene, Moore’s Store, Sweet Corn Days, word puzzles, Scrabble games, church activities, going out to eat, and shopping.

I remember when you used to visit us in Hopkins how you loved it when I’d drop you off at Southdale for the day. I was always amazed that at the end of the day you’d usually only have a small bag of treasures you’d purchased. You loved “just looking” and were very good at it!

Oh, you had your share of trials in life. You couldn’t hear too well. You had three eye operations and suffered from poor eyesight. Your knees were sore. And you agonized over caring for dad during the several years before he died. Yet in all these things, you kept smiling; kept your quiet faith and simple charm.

Even when you had to move from your home of 50 years and out of Elgin, you adapted with courage to Thornecrest: first the retirement apartment, then assisted living, and then the nursing home—meeting each change with acceptance, determined to make the best of it.

The hardest thing about all of this for me was watching you slowly fade away. One day in December of 1996 I went to visit you at Thornecrest to say “goodbye” one more time as I was returning again to Siberia.

You were beginning to lose your memory and your self to dementia/Alzheimer’s and I was struggling with the changes so I wrote this poem for you entitled Mother.

love_u_mom_MOTHER

When the time comes, will I be able to leave you?
Will I leave you?
Which you will I leave?
What will you remember of me?

Your mind like vapor
evaporates around me like the morning mist.

Sometimes you are there;
the old you—
the one I grew up with.
The one I knew.

Other times you are not there.
Your eyes say, “I am not home;
I have gone for a long walk in time and I am not to be bothered.”

There are not words for this change.

Can it be that your mind like the sand in an hourglass is slowly moving downward? That it is going to the other side?

That it is leaving me with only the memory of what was?

What was?

You were my mother.
You gave me life and nurtured the life in me.
You baked cookies for me when I came home from school.
You bought me an expensive red dress at Christmas.
You played Scrabble with me.
You shopped with me.
You listened when I had something to say.
You prayed for me.

You were always glad to see me.
So patient if I didn’t appear when I should.
Grateful for the times I could.

Today you are glad to see me, too.
That is still the same.

You remember me and like to be with me.

So when the time comes, will I leave you?
I like to think that I will still be in your mind.
Your daughter.
Your friend.
Until when I see you again.

But even if you don’t know it now,
or know me then,
it will be true;

that will never change.

Some things never do.

 ©15 December 1996.   Barbara A. LaTondresse – All rights reserved.

mothers-day

Foss, Sam Robert. The House by the Side of the Road. Found in http://www.theotherpages.org/poems/foss01.html


Images courtesy of:

http://galleryplus.ebayimg.com/ws/web/131500833507_1_1_1.jpg

http://www.kespia.com/downloads/wallpapers/love_u_mom_.jpg

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/105975397457178334/

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/f3/01/54/f30154a9fd9c5b642738cfe852a72497.jpg

https://img0.etsystatic.com/055/1/5392938/il_570xN.743928948_eltz.jpg

http://www.joyofkosher.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/mothers-day.jpg

‘Blue skies smilin at me. Nothin’ but blue skies do I see.’

blue skiesWhat a beautiful spring day in Minnesota!

Green emerges everywhere. Hostas, lilies, bee balm, sedum, astilbe and ferns sprout. Red tulips color the landscape in the LaTondresse yard.

Crabapple BlossomsThe stately old crabapple tree leaves form new buds and burst into an umbrella of pink flowers. Outdoor furniture takes its place amid the newly planted geraniums, impatiens, and petunias.

I relish the grand vista from my ‘happy place’ in the screen porch. Life is good.

my happy place

Unfortunately, some days bring clouds, even destructive storms. Where’s my ‘happy place’ when those beautiful blue skies turn dark and the sun doesn’t shine?

darkclouds-1024x682

I remember one particularly dark time for me when our family of four lived as missionaries overseas in Akademgorodok, Russia in a small flat along with a cat, a dog, and myriads of people in and out daily, with gatherings small and large including some house church meetings.

house-overcrowded-unhappy-inhabitants-cartoon-44631989Our ministry office was located in the master bedroom and so there was little privacy in that personal space. I held home school daily at the kitchen table, cooked from scratch, hung wet laundry all over the flat since we had no dryer, and hosted meetings for upwards of thirty people without a dishwasher or reliable stove or regular hot water.

My desperate need for space and respite compounded by my personal intense need for a quiet place to be alone to rejuvenate. Some people can recharge in the midst of people and busyness. I simply can’t.

Weary, worn, frazzled. I wrote Sanctuary as a plea to my God for help.

sanctuarySanctuary

Where’s the still place for me?

Sanctuary of mind? Reprieve of solitude?

Thoughtful reflection beyond minutes?

Poetry borne of memory within begging to leap out noisily.

Praise of heart songs unsung– dying when not aloud–not for public ears. God, free my listening voice and ears and pen just in time.

It must be soon and it must be often, or I will not survive. I will die somewhere between the kitchen and the living room anguish of my soul.

Shut my heart inward.

Close the door with bedroom lock.

Hope for silent peace dies with the expectation of sure interruption.

How can I begin a quiet thought knowing the reverie will break before its prime? “It’s like asking for pain,” I say to the Keeper of Silences:

Doorbell. Telephone. Pacing and racing. Zoo-crazy.

No space silent for me to be.

Where’s the still place for me?

©1995 Barbara A. LaTondresse – All rights reserved.

silenceAs I cried out to God that memorable Siberian day my heart flooded with miraculous peace amid the chaos.

By faith I sensed He would act to help me and He did. We soon found an unoccupied flat nearby which I could access to be alone.

My ‘happy place’ in Siberia.

Now one could argue that solace and peace can’t depend upon the perfect setting. I would totally agree.

The Bible recounts for example the story of Paul and Silas singing hymns at midnight chained to prison guards. Those precious songs in the night restored then and they restore and enlighten now, too.

happyplace-300x300In fact, if I had to choose between having an ‘outer’ happy place and an ‘inner’ one, the ‘inner’ one would come first. The hymn writer Annie Johnson Flint(1836-1932) knows what I’m talking about.

An­nie be­came a teach­er in her twenties but had to quit the pro­fess­ion af­ter on­ly few years when se­vere arth­ri­tis made her un­a­ble to walk.

Picture if you can the hopelessness of Annie’s position when she finally received the verdict of the doctors of the Clifton Springs Sanitarium, that henceforth she would be a helpless invalid. Her own parents had been taken from her in childhood, and her foster parents both passed away. Her one sister was very frail and struggling to meet her own situation bravely.

Annie was in a condition where she was compelled to be dependent upon the care of others who could not afford to minister to her except as compensated by her. In after years she always stated that her poems were born of the need of others and not from her own need; but one knows full well that she never could have written as she did for the comfort and help of thousands of others if she had not had the background of facing those very crises in her own life.

arthritic handWith a pen pushed through bent fingers and held by swollen joints she wrote first without any thought that it might be an avenue of ministry, or that it would bring her returns that might help in her support. Her verses provided a solace for her in the long hours of suffering. Then she began making hand-lettered cards and gift books, and decorated some of her own verses.

She lived most of her life near the Clif­ton Springs San­i­tar­i­um, and be­gan writ­ing po­e­try. Despite her circumstances, she wrote inspirational songs and meditations, which have continued to bless thousands including me.

Her midnight songs encourage me even when my dear screen porch seems far away. Here’s one that came to me in one of my midnight walks recently.

A happy place indeed.

a quiet place

What God Hath Promised

God has not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;
God has not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

Refrain:
But God has promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing kindness, undying love.

God has not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;
He has not told us we shall not bear
Many a burden, many a care.

God has not promised smooth roads and wide,
Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;
Never a mountain rocky and steep,
Never a river turbid and deep.


“What God Hath Promised” lyrics by Annie Flint Johnson – 1916 –  found in http://library.timelesstruths.org/music/What_God_Has_Promised/

http://cyberhymnal.org/bio/f/l/flint_aj.htm and http://www.preceptaustin.org/annie_johnson_flint%27s_biography.htm

“Acts 16:25.” New American Standard Bible. La Habra, CA: Foundation Publications, for the Lockman Foundation, 1971. N. pag. Print.

“Blue Skies” – lyrics by Irving Berlin composed as a last minute addition to the musical play Betsy by Rodgers and Hart in 1926.

Images courtesy of:

http://rainbowlightangel.com/2012/06/blue-skies-smiling-at-me/

“My Screen Porch” and “Our Crabapple in Spring”.   Unpublished photos taken by Barbara A. LaTondresse. Hopkins, Minnesota. 2010.

http://costlymercy.com/2014/dealing-with-the-dark-clouds-in-ministry/

http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/z/house-overcrowded-unhappy-inhabitants-cartoon-44631989.jpg

http://www.goingbeyond.com/blog/home-sanctuary/

http://seasonsgeneralstore.com/shop/happy-place-pillow/

http://ruleoflife.com/2012/09/05/a-quiet-place/

.

Falls. Winters. Springs.

Ah, Spring!

Winter snow melts into greening grass unfolding in my front yard. Tulips and day lilies emerge amid leafy fall debris residue; the forsythia and pussy willows adorn my front planter. First markers of welcome seasonal change abound.

hope_of_spring_16x20_bbvo2011_600Hope springs!

Amid this emerging glory I’m celebrating another unlikely welcome marker, this one in my journey of life. Today marks the anniversary of the last of my seven recent falls. 

One year ago today I sported a black eye marking a painful encounter with the bedside table. In trying to get up I fell back partly landing on the bed and then dove left to the floor hitting my head just over my left eye on the sharp edge of the side table — an impressive cut above my left brow and goose egg and prize-winning black eye my colorful trophies.  I looked like I won the fight.  10-Free-Smiley-Face-With-Black-Eye

I look back today remembering each fall and the markers they left: two of them earned me broken ribs, one netted a bruised knee, one a fat lip, and one a fractured vertebra—L7 to be exact. That one bothers me still.

Life’s full of surprises. Some welcome. Some not.

So I’m sure this March 27 does not mark the end of my trials. Barring a miracle (which I still pray for), my path won’t be a bed of roses from now on just because of one encouraging milestone.

We all rejoice with a resolved plot or with the last pieces of the jigsaw in place—no unanswered questions or missing parts.

Unfortunately life isn’t always that neatly packaged, is it?

I still have trouble walking and limited use of my left hand. My new friends still include two pills every four hours 24/7/365, a cane, walker, and, on occasion, a wheelchair.

puzzle_pieces_istock_000005653019smallPain and perplexities, broken pieces, unanswered questions, the nagging doubts, and the messy realities of Parkinson’s disease collide with my vision of life as it should be in the Pleasantville world and I am still stunned.

At first I tried denial. It didn’t do much for my body or soul. So I began to share more openly with my worlds, not just because misery loves company, though it surely does—but also to acknowledge and point to the encouragement and redemption of suffering as I begin to see the resurrection beyond the cross in Christ’s life and, hopefully, in my own as well.

Easter season reminds us vividly that Christ “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows.“ So as I write this today in the midst of this ‘messy reality’ of a mysterious puzzle, I am thankful and hopeful. I’m thankful for strong support from family and friends. I’m also hopeful that as I experience the unlikely gifts of Christ’s joy and peace this suffering will yield its own unique redemption stories.

Someday. Yesterday. Today.

I’ll close with a favorite poem by Luci Shaw and a response reflection by me that show clearly the past, present, and future tangle in my March 27 mind.

Joy-Comes-in-the-MorningSomeday

Someday I will walk around the sun

And turn and touch Orion’s Belt

With more than hands.

Then I will survey Andromeda

Understanding all I see.

For the hand that spanned in light years

Has rested torn and bloody upon me.

Today 

 Today I will walk tied to earth;

Bound to frailty with cords of clay.

Ephemeral mist in the Siberian morning.

So easy to slip on the ice.

So prone to lose my balance.

Uncertainty beneath my feet.

Yet You say You will

“…lovingly guard

my footsteps

and give me songs

in the night.”

In this mist of ice and snow,

I will walk with You.

Bound to earth and to heaven.

I may fall. I will fall.

But I will not be “hurled headlong”.

I will feel Your hand lifting me up and

I will know that even though

“…weeping may endure for a night,

Shouts of Joy will come in the morning”.


Someday “ by Luci Shaw in Shaw, Luci. Listen to the Green. Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1971. Print.

“Today” by Barbara LaTondresse. Unpublished poem. ©1996 Barbara A. LaTondresse – All rights reserved.

Psalms 30:5; Psalms 37:23-24; Isaiah 53:4-6. The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments: Revised Standard Version. New York: American Bible Society, 1952. Print.

“Redeemed: How I Love to Proclaim It” – lyrics by Fanny Crosby, 1882. Public Domain hymn.

Images courtesy of:

http://www.bridgetbossartvanotterloo.com/po_hope_of_spring_16x20_bbvo2011.html

http://carrelease.info/view/puzzle-pieces

http://free.clipartof.com/details/10-Free-Smiley-Face-With-Black-Eye

https://www.idisciple.org/post/joy-comes-in-the-morning-1