Category Archives: Religion

A Eulogy for My Dad – What My Dad Taught Me

My dad passed away on June 19, 2012.  These are the words I shared with the community as we paid final tribute to him on June 23, 2012.

On June 3, 2012, just about three weeks ago, Dad turned 76 years old.  He seemed always to rally for the weekend get-togethers we’ve held since his diagnosis and his birthday weekend was no different.  I’m a lot like my dad, and my mom of course, as is my brother John.  It is true that we as children find ourselves evolving into our parents – physically (those ugly Gettel feet – that Hungarian (hunky) hair!) and in personality and character.

My dad, often had a hard time speaking about his feelings.  As Pastor Jackie will mention, he showed his love in many other ways and most often with delicious meals – our favorites served so many times.  I’m was a lot like my dad when trying to tell him about how proud I have been to be his daughter and to be part of the family that he and mom have fostered.  I have an easier time writing it down, so that’s what I did.  And as I gave him a hug and kiss to head back to Chelsea that birthday Sunday, I gave him a letter which my mom read to him. 

These are what I call, “the big three life lessons” that if I’m asked about what I learned from my dad, my mom, or growing up in a farm family that I try to convey.  There are more lessons to be sure, but these are the ones I share most with my friends and colleagues.

Work like a farmer – I believe I was a senior in high school and I overheard my dad talking with Uncle Earl or perhaps Uncle Tom.  I was in the side room probably studying notes from one of Mr. Thies’ science classes.  I heard him tell his brother something like, “No, I don’t have to get on her at all.  She’s so busy she doesn’t have time to get into trouble.  It’s hard to keep up with her and sometimes I think she should slow down.”  I recall being a bit shocked that he didn’t think that I had time to make trouble.  Why I was rebellious, I thought.  I’d show him, after getting through my science notes, I picked up my flute and only practiced for a half hour. (I had planned to practice for an hour.  This was my rebellion.)

The truth of it is that I learned to work this way from him.  I work like my dad – like a farmer.  I prepare and practice like I am planting or harvesting all that I can before the rain comes.  And when it’s raining, instead of moping around complaining that the rain is interrupting my progress, I make progress on things that the rain doesn’t impact.  I work ahead such that if an unexpected break-down happens, and it always does, it doesn’t severely hamper the process.  This has served me well in so many instances from being well-prepared for final exams to being over-prepared for work deadlines and presentations such that my project managers always wanted me for their projects (cheap labor!) and when things like “downsizing” came along, I somehow was overlooked.

Even if you mess up, we still will love you – This is that story that we still laugh about where on a sunny day in July, I found myself mowing over one of the new apple trees that had been planted in the spring.  After the shock of the sound of a shredding fruit tree between the blades of that old riding mower, I remember running into the house to find the file in the grey file drawer that had the information and map of all the apple trees.  Desperately, I tried to find the price of the tree.  I could not but went and found all the money I had and asked John if he thought it was enough to cover the cost.  He was sure it was not, and dejected, I went up and packed a few things as I figured I would be excommunicated from the house.  I then went and lay down on the couch dreading my fate and waiting until my dad or mom got home.  He arrived first, and upon hearing my story asked me one simple question, “Did you mean to do it?”  I responded that no, of course I hadn’t wanted to mow over the tree.  You said, “Then why would I be mad at you?”  The weight from my shoulders lifted and the sickness in my stomach went away.  Shortly thereafter, mom drove in from her hair appointment (those were the bu-font days – they call them up-do’s now!) that had been lengthened from a persistent Alec Kovach who insisted on buying her a birthday drink at “George’s.”  Not only was Mom not upset with me, she felt terrible because I had suffered so long waiting for a return of a parent to let me know my fate – that even if I messed up, I’d still be loved and still be welcomed into my home.  And that brings me to my last point today.

Go ahead and try.  You can always come home.  There isn’t a specific incident here.  It’s really just a feeling I’ve had of unconditional support.  And while I hope to demonstrate the two lessons just noted above to Nicholas and Alexander, this lesson is what I hope as a parent to duplicate most.  I want my sons to know that they always will have a safety net as long as they are trying their best.  As a girl from the small town of Owendale, heading off to Alma College was one thing, but taking a job in downtown Detroit, then heading to Duke in North Carolina along with a stint in California had a lot of risks.  But I always knew in my heart that if things went terribly wrong and I needed to, I could always come home and start over.  There would always be a tray of lasagna, a crockpot of clam chowder, or a fresh batch of fudge that would help me find my way.  This feeling of home and unconditional support has freed me to take risks (let me emphasize calculated risks that didn’t include bodily harm – except for the skydiving incident, of course!) – to take risks even when I had no confidence of my own success, and this has made the difference in what I have become.

Thank you – So Dad, I wrote, as you celebrate your birthday today, in addition to wishing you a “Happy Birthday,” I also want to thank you for all of the life lessons that perhaps you didn’t know yourself that you were teaching me.  It has and will make me a better person and a better parent.

Welcome home Dad – So that was my birthday gift to him just 21 days ago – a simple thank you with words that I found difficult to share out loud.  And as I think about dad today, there is sadness since from this day forward, so many things will be different for me and for my family.  The family gatherings may take on a different flavor as we try, but just can’t exactly replicate the clam chowder and lasagna and dishes we’ve come to savor; Aunt Mary may have an easier time keeping her Christmas auction gifts since Dad won’t steal all of them; and we’ll likely to struggle with the fine details of our memories of the old days since it was Dad who always recalled even the smallest of details.

There is a sadness for sure, but there is also comfort as I imagine him going to live with Jesus (as we explained it to our boys) and reuniting with his community and friends and farmers who have gone to live with Jesus before him.  I can imagine as he made his way that he may have heard a loud, familiar yawn and sigh coming from Windy Weinlander, that Alec Kovach invited him to play a game of euchre, or that his deer-camp buddies and friends welcomed him home and handed him a pan & told him to get cooking.  I can imagine my grandpa and grandma Gettel smiling at him with their gentle, approving smiles as he came their way.  I can imagine Grandpa Retford giving him the “Grandpa wave” before he gave him a hug and a welcome.  And I can imagine Grandma Retford taking him in his arms, giving him the familiar hug that only moms can give and saying, “Billy, you always knew you could take some risks and then come home to us when you were ready.  Welcome home Billy.  Welcome home son.” 

Welcome home Dad.

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The Best Sermon

We are quickly heading into the season where we pause to be thankful and where for those of us who are Christians, we pause to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  So in this season, it seems appropriate for me to post about a sermon I received months ago.  And the first thing you should note are the terms, “months ago.”

There aren’t many sermons that I remember much beyond the drive home from church.  While I find the vast majority of sermons inspiring and educational as I sit in the congregation, my retention of the primary message or the main point fades pretty quickly.  It isn’t that the message isn’t important or delivered well, it is largely that as I exit the church, the noise of raising children, managing the household, and getting ready for the week of work and school ahead takes my full attention – except for a sermon I heard this summer.

I should say that I am a practicing Methodist, and my church is not one of fire and brimstone and it is not one where God is presented as punitive.  Rather, my church presents God as loving and providing example by which we attempt to follow.  And, He is presented as forgiving when we stray – and let’s face it; we all stray at some level or another.

My pastor is a good orator, interpreter, and a good deliverer of the message.  She provides very clear messages absent of lofty language designed to show her mastery of scripture while losing those of us who are beginners or novices.  She brings in real life examples using her own experiences and the experiences of other real and imperfect people.  She doesn’t embellish to make the sermon longer or present way too many examples such that we get exhausted and miss the point.  She is also a good leader by example.  I see no judgment in her eyes, just compassion and a willingness to teach, patiently.  And she talks about her calling to the ministry coming in college; however I sometimes wonder if it was bestowed at birth because her name is, “Joy.”

The message that morning was very simple.  It was about being kind to others.  It was in reference to the one of the most familiar lessons that Jesus provided us:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (NIV, Mark 12:28-31).

So the message was simple, and the sermon was even more so.  Pastor Joy walked into the congregation and asked (rhetorically), what if Jesus was here?  What if he was seated right here in this sanctuary?  How would you act? 

And then she proceeded.  What if Jesus spent the week with you?  How would you act, and importantly, how would you act toward others?  Would it be any different?

  • How would you act toward your family the rest of today (Sunday) and on Monday morning as you get prepared for school and work?
  • How would you act if He were your passenger as you drove to work?  Would you tailgate?  Would you honk?  Would you gesture?
  • How would you act as you interacted with your colleagues or friends if He were beside you in your meetings or gatherings or as you spoke on the telephone?
  • And what would you do as you and He walked to lunch and you came upon a homeless man or someone else in need?  Would you look away?
  • And if He were shopping with you, would you rush to get to the front of the line, elbowing your way ahead of fellow shoppers?  (I have to be honest – I added this since the Christmas shopping season is upon us!)

I believe that many of us in the congregation were cringing that day.  I know I was.  My first thought was, yikes, I don’t think I want Jesus with me on all those ventures since my behavior and my patience aren’t all that great.  I’d be embarrassed if He were right beside me.  Indeed, I would act and speak differently.

And then Pastor Joy  from the center of the aisle seemed to speak directly to me and to each individual sitting in the pews that morning as she asked, “How do you know that Jesus isn’t right beside you right now, and how do you know that He won’t be beside you this week?”

The benediction followed and moments later we were walking out of the sanctuary.  It was a pretty quiet exit that day.  I think we were in thought, in reflection, and in shock.  For as Christians, we have some sense that God and Jesus keep tabs on us, but for most of us, they are a bit distant.  They feel a lot like our parents who have birthed us and reared us and for the most part, we obey our parents, but rarely do we let our parents see our most inappropriate behavior.  If mom is along, I’m a bit more patient with my driving, my shopping, and my speech, because I want my mom to feel confident that she raised a pretty good kid, and I don’t want to see her look of disapproval.  And indeed, she doesn’t get to see me much when I interact with colleagues and friends when my behavioral filters are off.

It struck me that day however, that while my mom doesn’t get to see me with filters off, that yup, Jesus does.  And that is daunting and does inspire some behavioral modification.  And the thought keeps coming back.  And that is why one of Pastor Joy’s most basic sermons is what I label as the “Best Sermon.”  It keeps coming back.  It keeps having effect.

Now admittedly, I’m not well-behaved all the time, still not even the vast majority of the time.  And at my age, I have doubt that I ever will be.  But I have made improvements, and I believe God and Jesus know I am trying (and I’m thankful they are forgiving).  I believe that they also know I’ll fall off the wagon often.  But I believe they have given me Pastor Joy and many kind people around me and my own reflection to help me get back on and try again.  It will be a continuing battle and a battle that I will fight now better-armed with my “Best Sermon.”

Blurbs for My Boys – “Applying” The Golden Rule

The Golden Rule gets a lot of reference, but these days, it doesn’t seem to get much application, since winning by any means necessary is growing in acceptance.  In fact, I’m not sure people could tell you what the rule is beyond, “be nice.”  So here are some definitions – many of which stem from the new testament of the Bible, but note that nearly all religions and cultures support a golden rule.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” “Treat other people with the concern and kindness you would like them to show toward you.”  I would also add “judge lest not you be judged” since increasingly our societies and groups of all kinds (including the media, politicians of course, many congregations, competitive parents, aggressive drivers(!), <insert group here>)  do a lot of judging but fail to review or police themselves.  We can all improve – and yes, I can too.

These rules don’t really need much explanation.  What they need is application.  And application of the rule isn’t difficult – it doesn’t need a user manual or a play book.  Common sense and common courtesy is really all that is required to execute the Golden Rule.

Another good set of rules is the Ten Commandments.  Regardless of your faith and even if regrettably, my sons, you follow a path without faith, the Ten Commandments are good rules to live by.  Yes, many will and do interpret them somewhat differently in terms of the extremes of their definition, but they need no extreme in their application.  They are pretty simple and are a general indication of a good way to live your life.  Take them out every once in a while and read through them.

(As a side-note at this time and for the foreseeable future, I’d like you to pay particular attention to:  “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”  I’m not saying it’s the most important (I think Jesus indicated the golden rule rules because of its simplicity), but I would encourage some emphasis on honoring your mom and dad, particularly when we ask you to stop picking on each other, to quiet down, to stop running around the house, to stop pulling the cat’s tail, and of course, when we request that chores be done immediately.)

Decorating for Christmas with a Four-Year-Old – and ah, Explaining God

My first mistake in decorating the Christmas tree was assuring Nicholas, my four-year-old that hanging the bulbs at about his head height would be high enough that 17-month-old Alexander wouldn’t be able to reach them to take them off.  Now four-year-olds tend to hang all their bulbs in one spot – so much so that the branches of the tree hung low as if encumbered with bountiful fruit for the harvesting.

Upon rising from his nap, Alexander immediately noticed the shiny décor and bolted from my arms.  He started plucking off those bulbs like they were indeed low-hanging fruit.  There were bulbs flying over Alexander’s head and shoulders, and once he saw mom diving to catch them before they hit the carpet, he plucked faster and faster, smiling and exclaiming in glee.  We lost only two.  We were lucky.

Now lest you believe that I am 100% clueless, the bulbs hung at that level were those “filler-bulbs” that one gets to add beauty and shine to the tree, but that aren’t necessarily tied to memories of times gone by nor are of great monetary value.  Those bulbs were placed a good six feet up and above.  So, our 2008 Christmas tree is decorated – starting at about four feet up.  I had purchased a number of “okay to pull off and throw or chew ornaments” which are hanging within Alexander’s reach (though he doesn’t seem interested at all in them), and moreover, they come off the branches easily to avoid the heavy yanks of a toddler from bringing the tree down – and he could do it.

Nicholas and I had spent a good part of the weekend decorating the house, and I so enjoy his excitement about it all.  The tree was the final task.  Just before the tree decorating, we had worked on our Nativities.  I explained that Mom has a special one that she bought with Dad at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland just shortly after we were married (we were married in late December), and that it is one we look at versus play with.  And Nicholas has one that his God-mother, Aunt Gina, bought him and that is appropriate for his age.  And we have a third one, a Fisher-Price nativity that is great for any age, but particularly for toddlers who often need to taste the characters as they play.

As Nicholas and I were arranging the nativities, we started talking about the baby Jesus, and he affirmed that he knew Christmas was in celebration of Jesus’ birthday, who we thank each night when we say the blessing at dinner time – even when we have food in front of us that were not that thankful for, like pot pies or fish nuggets.  And we talked about how the wise men brought the first gifts of Christmas to the baby Jesus, and that the shepherds followed the star to find Him.  And oh yes, all the nativities had an angel – much like Aunt Debbie who now lives with Jesus.  And Mary, as Jesus’ mom, was an easy explanation.

Then, I stumbled on Joseph.  The easy analogy would be Joseph as a stepfather, but that’s a concept unfamiliar to Nicholas, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to lead us down that path just yet.  That will come soon, and we’ve already had the discussion that there are many different types of families, but he has no real literal example to draw from just yet.  And four-year-olds are literal.  So I mumbled around Joseph and went straight to God as the Father.  To which my oldest son began to look into the box and across the floor for a figurine.  “Where is God?” he said.  I stumbled again talking about how He is in heaven, and in our hearts, and we talk to him at church, to which he replied as he scanned the room again, “Yes, but where is God?  I don’t see him.”

I tried again, talking about the Spirit of God, and how He is in our hearts and minds and the good things we do for each other.  “Do we have to crawl into our heart to see him?” he asked.  I explained of course, that we wouldn’t do that, but that we can talk to him by praying and He’s not here as a person, etc., etc.  He looked at me a bit bewildered, and then replied, “Mom, can we put the decorations on the tree now?”  Whew, I had escaped.

Now we are practicing Protestants, and we get to church every Sunday that we are not traveling to the grandparents, north to our cottage, or when we are all healthy – it averages out to about 1-2 times per month, though closer to one currently.  We’ll do better in the future, I’m sure.  But we’re doing the best we can right now, and our pastoral staff seems to understand our current predicaments.  So Nicholas has had exposure to Christian education, most notably this past summer at vacation Bible school.  I think, however, that the nativity discussion really put faces to the people we talk about which makes sense for a mind that is almost entirely in the literal world right now.

So, it has been a good Christmas season already for us.  Christmas has served its purpose in our household – it has reminded us why we are decorating and celebrating and singing and donating and baking and buying gifts for those we love.  It’s also reminds me personally where to look when I myself sometimes wonder, “Where is God?”