Category Archives: Reflections

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:

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=KfjtdcwX3Y3UFM:

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:

http://markewbie.weebly.com/uploads/4/0/3/9/40396485/2981287.jpg?556

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

Siberian Bounty

fall-leaves

Russians don’t do Thanksgiving but exPats like the LaTondresses longing for traditional, familiar holiday comforts and treasures must, so we went the extra mile to recreate a traditional Thanksgiving feast in our Akademgorodok home.

akademgorodokthanksgiving

Thanksgiving in Akademgorodok

Improvisation and creativity stood front and center helping us bring the vision to glorious reality as we felt Bounty. In II Corinthians 6:10 the Apostle Paul calls it “having nothing and yet possessing all things.”

First, we had to create the dining room table out of the interior doors and construct saw horses to provide the supports. Then we had to clear the center area of the living room to place the table. Everyone brought chairs. Someone had a tablecloth big enough, and someone else brought candles.

Andre's Siberian Chicken

Andre’s Siberian Chicken

We even had Andre’s newly bought prize of cute, colorful little Siberian chicken with a huge fan of tail feathers pretending to be a turkey for an apt centerpiece.

Andre and I then bravely walked to the local meat market to buy beef and pork. The meat market is a third world delight with the heads of the animals displayed next to the animal parts…all laid out on bloody, dirty wooden slabs.

A gargantuan chopping block resides at the end of the hall surrounded by carcasses. The butcher, front and center, sported a thoroughly stained formerly white outfit and demanded attention as he whacked at a chicken. I would not want to be his enemy.

butcher_by_michelle84-d3ipoomHe reminded us of the executioner in Bartholomew Cubbins. Some lucky person has to haggle with him for the price of the meat; definitely Andre’s job. So Bartholomew Cubbins and Andre did battle and we loaded our blood prizes in bags to carry home.

We had roast beef and roast pork baked together with garlic and onion; mashed potatoes, gravy, turkey legs (from America–the white meat is eaten by USA folks!), stuffing, four kinds of salads. and one year we even had two kinds of green vegetables (beans and peas)–hard to find…and, of course pumpkin pie and cherry pie (made totally from scratch). We couldn’t find pumpkin so one of our creative co-workers, Steve, made the pumpkin pie with carrots. Tasted great!

All of us did the cooking, and we used the ovens in four apartments because each oven has only one rack…and one never knows how much heat it will generate…and it’s impossible use more than two burners and the oven simultaneously or the fuse will blow.

Nevertheless, when we sang, “Great is thy Faithfulness” we meant it. happy-thanksgiving-cliparts-free

Bounty. Indeed.

Barbara LaTondresse
November 2016

https://youtu.be/0k1WhFtVp0o 

Great is Thy Faithfulness – Thomas O. Chisholm – 1923

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.


Images courtesy of:
http://daybreakis.org/news/happy-thanksgiving-november-2015http://www.clipartkid.com/fall-decorations-cliparts/http://www.deviantart.com/art/Butcher-Concept-212830006

 

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/

 

Like A Tree Planted

I’m basking in the afterglow of our perfect weekend women’s retreat.

COTC Retreat 2015

Over fifty Church of the Cross women gathered at Dunrovin Retreat Center on the St. Croix near Stillwater amid the emerging golden landscape for a stellar fall weekend blend of relaxation, rest, and renewal.

Our meditations centered around Psalm 1 where the Psalmist uses the image of a thriving tree as a symbol of vibrant spiritual growth.

Planted. Rooting. Reaching.

Taking root downward, Bearing fruit upward.

Over time the tree grows toward magnificent beauty despite rocks, drought, storm, disease.

Tree Nametag

At our retreat we divided into smaller groups to apply these truths in our lives personally. Three of the questions stood out to me and gave me worthy insights:

  • Where am I planted this season? 
  • What rocks are my root system facing? 
  • Are my leaves absorbing the sun and nutrients necessary for the miracle of photosynthesis to happen in my soul?

 On Christmas Eve 2013 I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

I was told I had two options: either begin a life-preserving regimen of Parkinson’s meds or die.

I chose life, began the meds, and, thank God, slowly started to improve, but I’m still not what you would call ‘normal’.

I walk and speak with difficulty, have occasional pronounced tremors, left side mobility issues, and suffer lower back pain from the aftershock of a compression fracture.

I am planted in what I call my ‘land of limitations’.

It’s a phrase a friend coined to add to the depth of Psalms 37: 3-4 when his wife went thru a severe debilitating trial:

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land (of limitations) and cultivate faithfulness.

I embrace this truth daily as my faith in the Lord sustains me.

tree planted

Our speaker shared a true story which powerfully illustrates this vital truth.   During WWII a German warship shot at another ship and it began to sink. Shortly after the Germans realized the wounded ship carried women and children only.

As their ship sank, the wives and children, enroute to be with their husbands and fathers who were already at a mission site in-country, hurriedly boarded lifeboats and rowed themselves to the warship ship for rescue.

During this difficult task as they rowed, they realized the soldiers had their guns pointed at them.

Fear washed over them as they approached closer and closer to the enemy ship, and surprisingly, one of the mothers started to sing:

Safe am I, Safe am I,
In the hollow of His hand;
Sheltered o’er, sheltered o’er
With His love forever more
No ill can harm me, No foe alarm me,
For He keeps both day and night,
Safe am I, Safe am I,
In the hollow of His hand.

Mildred Leightner Dillon
18 January 1938

Soon her children joined in the singing. Then others in other boats started to sing as a chorus of praise drifted upward in that dire situation giving them all courage in the face of danger and miraculously all boarded the warship.

Rescued and safe.

A chorus of praise to God allowed miracles to happen for them then and it allows miracles to happen for me now.

Rooted, planted, dissolving rocks, and gaining spiritual nourishment to produce the unlikely fruits of joy and peace even in my land of limitations. 

Safe am I. In the hollow of His hand.


Dillon, Mildred Leightner. “Tune: [Safe Am I, Safe Am I].” written 18 January 1938. Accessed in Hymnary.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2015. <http://www.hymnary.org/tune/safe_am_i_safe_am_i_dillon&gt;.


Image courtesy of: http://www.kmministry.com/resources-for-growth.html

The Man on the Moon and Me

260px-Apollo_11_first_stepThat’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.

Forty-six years ago today, 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module Eagle and stepped onto the surface of the moon for the first time in human history.

I gazed in awe scrunched near a small black and white TV, pressed ever closer to the grainy screen by a mesmerized cluster of fellow interns at the University of Maryland sorority house we together called home that summer.   With his “one giant leap for mankind” we cheered and paused collectively to reflect.

“Man on the moon!” Walter Cronkite said giddily, later adding, “Oh boy!”

But that’s not all. Because I worked in Washington, DC that summer as an aide to several major players in the United States Geological Survey(USGS) in downtown Washington, two days later, on July 22, 1969 this totally green college kid from Iowa gazed at those surreal moon landing pictures firsthand. Up close and very personal.

My job at the USGS in downtown Washington brought daily thrills: everything from basking in a personal White House limo ride to the United States Capitol to hand-deliver important documents to plotting on maps all the important landmarks situated on the San Andreas Fault for potential earthquake alert.   But that historic day in July when one of my bosses asked me if I wanted to see the moon pictures, I was speechless. My boss took my stunned silence to mean YES and so off we went to the FBI.

First fingerprinted. Then mug shot and background check quickly done. No surprise to me, I netted a top security clearance badge. What espionage can a teenage college kid do from Iowa?

earth as seen from moonWe returned to the USGS and took the elevator down what felt to me as a hundred flights to the lowest level of the heavily guarded USGS where in a semi-darkened room the glorious photo gems in full color were lying helter-skelter on tables.

I could have touched them. They were that close.

Near as I could tell  only the President and his Cabinet and closest aides had seen these pictures and so I gazed silently, awestruck by the beauty and the wonder and the honor.

I couldn’t breathe.

Moon-landing-earthI could see the earth from the moon in panoramic full color shots.

It’s like seeing the brush marks up close on an original Rembrandt.

Against the blackness of space the earth seems a precious multi-colored jewel set in a sea of darkness, like a magnificent mix of brilliant varied shades of blues, whites, browns, and greens.

I am a small speck living on this jewel in the vast vista of the black universe and, at the same time, I sense privilege and honor to call this jewel of earth my home.  

A time to wonder. A time to pray. A time to remember.

“… rising and gliding out,
I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars. “
-Walt Whitman


 

 Walter Cronkite quote taken from Phil Rosenthal’s article entitled Walter Cronkite’s star will be forever aligned with moon landing in http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/columnists/chi-sun-new-phil-rosenthal-0719jul19-column.html

When I’d Heard the Learned Astronomer by Walt Whitman– taken from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174747

photos courtesy of:

https://www.google.com/search?q=moon+landing+pictures&espv=2&biw=1180&bih=527&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAYQ_AUoAWoVChMI9sSQ6KfqxgIVBhOSCh3Ykggy&dpr=1#imgrc=aC2bZWduJ9Ky9M%3A

Carpe Diem!

BabyAnnouncement
Seize the day, my dear son, Jean Christopher!

C&CatArbysThis picture of you and Claire, ages 3 and 5, shows you sitting in a booth at Arby’s waiting patiently for dad to bring you Sunday lunch. I do remember you wanted more “ham in your hamburger” that day.

I wish I could remember more of our ordinary times as you two grew: what we talked about, how you sounded, and how you looked when you slept that night.

I wish I had not been in a hurry to get to the next things: dinner, bath, book, bed.

Like Anna Quindlen so aptly said, “I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.” 

Chris&ClaireCoupThis one of you and Claire, ages 8 and 10, shows you two standing on the rubble in the aftermath of a Moscow coup smiling blissfully as machine-gun toting Russian soldiers warily watch me take your picture. Unlikely tourist shot for sure.

I wish now I could remember more about our extraordinary Russian times: the smells, the sights, the tastes, the people. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

I treasure many such precious, breathtaking, historic or not-so-historic moments captured only in photographs of my mind at age sixty-six and as I review them I wax nostalgic and pensive, almost incredulous at the wrinkles on my face and in denial of the steady slow aging of this frail body, keenly aware of the need to preserve these memories whether mundane or extraordinary for posterity.

hourglassAs the hourglass days of my life flow quickly by I see clearly in hindsight extraordinary values in the ebb and flow of these everyday events in the grand scheme of things as they flash before my eyes. I hope to share a few of them with you.

For I now know that you, my dear son, who just yesterday were a babe in my arms, will very shortly hold your own precious child.

We both would do well to heed the advise of this ancient Sanskrit poem.

Look To This Day

Look to this day
for it is life
the very breath of life.

In its brief course lie all
the realities and truths of existence
the joy of growth
the splendor of action
the glory of power.

For yesterday is but a memory
And tomorrow is only a vision.
But today well lived
makes every yesterday a memory of happiness
and every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore, to this day.Silhouette-Sunrise-Nature



‘Treasure’ quote from Quindlen, Anna. Loud and Clear. New York: Random House, 2004. Print.

“Look To This Day by Kalidasa.” Famous Poems. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 June 2015. http://allpoetry.com/Look-To-This-Day

Image courtesy of:   http://www.movdata.net/sunrise.html

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


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