Christmas 2022

 © jb katke

Tis the season to be jolly. Are you feeling it? I’ve been told the Christmas carols were lurking about long before Halloween.

While I don’t want to camp here, many look upon the holidays with dread. It’s another year without a loved one, a time where family thinks Grandma should be baking all those Christmas cookies, another season where gifts are expected. So many demands of the season. And maybe you’re just are not feeling it. Yet.

I wish to introduce you to some alternative ways to tackle the holiday season. If you don’t have a home church to attend, try one this year. Lots of people do. The choices are many, but if you find a keeper church, make it a new tradition to go every Sunday throughout the next year. You may be surprised to find many others like yourself. Find joy in getting out of bed to hear an encouraging word.  

We don’t have to look far to see another individual in need. You could make a difference. Particularly this year, with so many coming at us from foreign countries. I don’t wish to camp there either. But I will share a couple experiences Dave and I had long ago.

While still living in Michigan, we learned the family living across the street were renters from Great Britain. The company the husband worked for sent him to the US on a temporary project. It was Thanksgiving and we decided to open our home to them for our big dinner. We all had a wonderful time and later they returned the kindness by inviting us over for a meal. What stands out in my memory was their greeting us by the door, all standing like ducks in a row to welcome us. Traditions vary and its fun to learn how others celebrate.

Another time, here in Kansas our church gathered the names of some in our community that could use a little Christian love. We were encouraged to use baskets to fill with all kinds of food for a Christmas meal. Our Bible study group decided on a laundry basket instead, as it would hold more and be useful the rest of the year too. We shopped together gathering food for a meal not to be forgotten. When we delivered it, we became aware, this family had no oven!

That was not acceptable for the turkey we had in their basket. Fortunately, one of our group had a family member employed at an appliance shop. (Need I insert here that God never makes a mistake? The Good Book says all things work together for good to those who are called according to his purpose.) A range was selected for them and we got it delivered and installed in time for that meal.

Whatever your traditions may be, I wish you the Merriest Christmas ever.

Genuine Thanksgiving

© jb katke

Bear with me as this memory is etched in my memory bank. Good memories are worth retelling.

 A particular Thanksgiving comes to mind annually. The year was 1981,

I had just come home from the hospital, having given birth to our third child. 

Being close to the holiday made commitments to anyone’s invite to join them for our big annual family dinner sketchy. I’ve yet to meet a little one that takes note of a holiday or their parents schedule before making an appearance.

Our friend Carrie thought of that. Its natural she would, being the mother of four.

Our church made a point of delivering meals when a new infant joins the family. And Carrie delivered. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving she brought us a meal with all the fixings. Even down to festive napkins.

I was incredulous at the time and effort she invested for our family. Not everyone would be open to preparing a meal like that to give away. Carrie wanted to make sure we didn’t spend a holiday in want. Mental pictures formed of her returning home and serving hotdogs to her own family.

Each year that memory comes back to life, humbling me every time. Except I can’t recall what we actually did for Thanksgiving that year. Whatever it was couldn’t top what Carrie had done for us. That sticks.

To me, that is a picture of sacrificial love. Unexpected, but appreciated annually. May each of you be blessed with good memories, great friends, and an appreciation of how God works in your circle of people.

Halloween Memories

What makes Halloween memories so great?

We had some good times that included candy, that’s why. Perhaps glad there are no do-overs? My past Octobers used to be filled with sewing costumes. I don’t miss it. Michigan Halloweens come cold. There had to be enough room under the costume for a winter coat.

Another factor, which I don’t share, is getting scared out of your wits. That has never been pleasurable, real life has enough blood-curdling thrills. Consider today.

I hope I am not too late with this message.

If you have been listening to news lately, there are many concerns about Fentanyl entering our country in various forms, one of which is candy. Many are frozen in fear of their children falling victim to this deadly drug.

The fear is not new. When my children were young, there was a scare at this same time of year concerning needles and razor blades found in candy and apples. That and this Fentanyl deliberately placed in the hands of innocent children makes anyone’s blood grow cold.

What can a parent do when children cannot go out Trick or Treating? In the eyes of small people, this is not an option. Parents want their kids to be safe, to have a good time, and make memories to look back upon.

There is an option I will share.

The mothers in my neighborhood threw a party. Instead of going door to door, we decided the safest bet was providing a different memory. This was not an easy task for yours truly, who is not a party animal.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. One mother offered her yard. It was an ideal setting backed up to a park bearing spooky trees at night, complete with wind blowing through them. All of us volunteered homemade treats; we had to make a large quantity to compensate for not begging candy from the home of strangers. At least we knew what was there and that all food was safe for consumption.

Games were planned and the kids all seemed to have a great time. Most of all though, we mothers could take a sigh of relief knowing our kids were not going to be a statistic of a death related to this foul play.

That’s what loving parents do. Provide stability in fearful times, showing a different way of having fun, keeping innocent ones safe. Just like Jesus did. He showed a different way of life, provided a safe place to live.

And fun. It doesn’t have to have an evil intent.

Labor Force

© jb katke

What does a cookbook have to do with labor? Not much, if anything..

The year before our wedding, Dave gave me this cookbook for Christmas. A smart girl would have eagerly opened it to try out a few recipes. Not I. After the wedding I took the cellophane wrapper off to use it.

Red flags should have been flying for both of us. Food is important and cooking shouldn’t be. A side note: I have reason to believe that this particular cookbook could be valuable. This picture caught my attention. It doesn’t belong in a book of recipes. On the plus side, numerically the pages continue, so I’m not missing any recipes.  As if I would.

© jb katke

I wasn’t excited about cooking, then or now. Because I like eating I have been prompted to try my hand navigating around the kitchen. My first venture was making a roast beef. I highly recommend understanding the recipe prior to preparation. Unfortunately, I misread the roasting temperature to what was actually the inner roasting temperature. A long and slow 300⁰F brings better results in a timely manner, rather than the 165⁰F that takes all night. As the hours ticked by and bedtime was looming, we chiseled off a few bites to keep body and soul together.

It’s difficult to do an unlikeable task. I understand. Around town, we are finding help wanted signs everywhere. This concerns me and will pass what I have learned on to you for future reference.

When a person reaches senior citizen age, Social Security will come. A situation may arise. The income received in your elder years stem from how much you put into Social Security during those years of employment. With fewer people working now, it’s only a matter of time when it will not be pretty. Age happens, ready or not.

The government uses the social security we pay, if there are few employed, funds will be low. So low that by the time you reach retirement, there may not be a Social Security.

For our own best interest, employment should be considered. It has its benefits. Working gives us purpose. When I became employed my mind expanded, taking in knowledge of how one business serves another. Thank you Jesus for farmers and truckers. With no thanks to COVID, we had a taste of empty shelves at the store.

Employment keeps a person occupied so that time is not wasted on the frivolous. I learned time management, my job provided income, my responsibilities at home sustained our family. Both have value and bring positive self-esteem for the effort. At the moment, there is not an over-abundance of self-worth.

Contributing to society had another bonus. It taught my children the value of hard work. Even though life is work, I dislike the word ‘force.’ Like it or not, living does bring a kind of force. Balancing a job with pleasure takes work. Spending quality time with those we love takes time. Instilling a sense of right and wrong in our little people takes patience, and portion of our sanity. Take it from me, it’s worth it!

May the force be with you this Labor Day weekend, and beyond.

School Shopping Nightmares

Can I get an amen for how grueling back-to-school shopping is?

My first experience, when prepping our son, Jamie for kindergarten was hair-raising. It happened so many years ago but the memory never fades. I had asked my mom to come with us as Cindy, our youngest at that time could be a concern. She did not disappoint.

Cindy grew restless, so mom suggested they go for a walk. They had made it only a few steps when Mom encountered a friend of hers. They stopped to chat for only a moment, but that is all the time Cindy needed. As they moved on, mom reached for Cindy’s hand—which was not there. Cindy was gone.

Mom looked anxiously around, no Cindy. Up one aisle and down another, she was nowhere to be seen. How mom must have feared coming to me without my daughter. Together we fruitlessly searched clothing racks where little people like to hide.

As both of us were preparing our hearts for a missing child to be forever gone from us. A voice over the PA announced a missing child. Cindy, because she was well aware of where the toy department was, had gone up the escalator on her own to the furthest part of the store, collected a teddy bear and plopped herself down at the top of the escalator where she assumed we would meet her.

A stranger, recognizing the child was by herself, took her to Customer Service. I consider this shopper to be an angel in disguise. Today, Cindy is a grandma.

Another year of back-to-school shopping had me facing a fellow shopper ripping my face off. I was noticeably pregnant with Naomi, our third child.

“How dare you have another child!”

Sincerely, I did not know how to respond. This was back in the era of zero population growth, so she may have been of that persuasion. Or—she may have longed for more children, and that was not to be. We can never know the pain others may be dealing with.

My last unpleasant back-to-school shopping left me dumbfounded. As anyone knows, the children’s department is an upheaval from searching the right size. The lines into the fitting rooms were enormous. One mom, would have no part of that. She insisted her son, around eight years old, big enough to have a sense of modesty, to undress right there in the middle of the store.

The boy, sobbing, begged his mom, imploring her not to make him do it. She had reached her breaking point and forced him. I could not believe my ears or my eyes. I wonder what her relationship is with her son today? Those are things that stick in the memory bank.

To this day, they all stick in mine. I thank the Lord for bringing our Cindy back to us, for a tidbit of compassion for an angry mom, and giving us a healthy little Naomi.  Not to mention a God that only asks us to follow him, stretching us out of our comfort zone in a way that encourages us to keep our focus on him.

Each Day a Gift

“It’s a gift.”

The words easily rolled off my tongue. I meant it.

A new school year has begun, placing my husband back to work. Translation: Our summer days of living as if we were truly retired have come to an end.

Dave works for a company that services our local schools. Each day, late in the afternoon, he gets his work order for the following day. However, no contact was made for the first day of school. This seemed unusual to me, “Are you going to go in anyway, just in case you were accidently overlooked?”

“No, no work order means I’m not working.”

What we thought was our last full day together actually was not. We had one more to enjoy each other’s company. Hence, my ‘gift’ comment.

Not only had we received a gift, but I also had an opportunity to give a gift.

I was about to enter a small grocery store when a young man approached me. “Excuse me ma’am, could you help me out? This is not easy for me ask, but could you give me some money? My car is out of gas and I am in need of getting some formula and diapers for my baby, along with some food for the week too. I won’t get paid until next week.”

That is a lot of need. I hesitated at first. But have come to recognize our Good Lord knows who should be approached to meet some needs once in a while. Our family has known need from time to time too.

“I can go with you across the street to Target and help you purchase some things. Would that work for you?”

“I’m not sure they have everything, but my car needs gas too.”

“Would it help more if I got you gas instead?”

“That would be nice, if you could do that.”

We met at the corner station and as I filled his gas tank he proceeded to go to others nearby petitioning them. I realized there was a male passenger in the car. Be careful girl, you are alone.

Upon his return, “This is so good of you. Most people just tell me no and to shove off. They don’t give a damn about my needs. I went to my church, and they refused to help me too. I really need the money for diapers and formula, food too. I live in Paola, but was here to see my girlfriend.” The more he talked, the more flaws I recognized.

“What church do you go to?” He gave a generic name just about every community has.

“Let me call my husband, he will be expecting me home soon. “Hi Babe, listen I have received a ministry opportunity and may be a little late. There is a chance I might be going to Walmart, but I will let you know when we can meet up.”

“Would you like me to follow you up to Walmart where I might be able to help a little bit?”

“Oh no ma’am, you have already helped so much. All I need now is money.”

I could see where this is going. He wanted cash, nothing else would do.

“Well, if you change your mind, let me know. God be with you,” as we parted ways.

Almost at the grocer for the second time, I realized I didn’t get my receipt at the gas station. Rushing back, can I remember which fuel pump we were at? I did and it was still hanging there waiting for me.

Finally, arriving at the store for the third time, there the young man was. Asking for help to anyone who would listen. Red flags flew as the light dawned.

He was peddling at locations that did not have what he claimed he needed. This grocery store was limited in merchandise, but what they did have was good prices. There was a risk in seeking help at Target or Walmart because he may encounter someone willing to do what I did. Meet his supposed need, what he wanted was money.

He may or may not have a girlfriend and a baby. Only God knows. Having filled his gas tank, I may have enabled him to carry on his quest for cash. He may have considered me a fool. What he would do with the money is anyone’s guess. But…

Listening to my phone call, he learned I considered him a ministry. On our closing conversation he received my blessing of God being with him.

I am no gardener, but seeds were planted. What is done in the name of Jesus is never wasted. Never forget that.

No Staycation

Are your vacations via the posts of others on Facebook? That would be me.

This year though, we did a little travelin.’ It started out as business, with a conference I attended, but we took the scenic way home.

Our first stop was Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Thought I was gonna die there. The heat was unbearable for this Michigan girl with British blood. We found it best for me to enter lots of shops for the air conditioning.

A dangerous thing for a vacationer to do, shop. I came home with the most expensive purse I have ever owned. Remembering whatever we purchase must find a place to fit in a down-sized home is essential. Keeping in mind too, when moving to my eternal home, nothing comes with me helps too.

Continuing homeward we landed in Branson, also in Missouri. We encountered the Veteran’s Memorial Museum. I recommend visiting any of the Veterans memorials as they ooze so much information about a life not everyone has experienced. Considering what we hear in the news, I am not confident our children are getting historical facts of our country.

© jb katke

Memorials of all kinds are essential. More about that another time.  

We willingly endured a sales talk concerning time share vacation apartments. It wasn’t our first experience. Knowing what we set ourselves up for was worth getting a show at seventy-five percent off, plus a fifty-dollar gift card. A heads up for you, those salespeople don’t take no easily.

Traveling on, I noticed with pleasure the differences in locales. We passed a restaurant under construction. The site bore signs announcing the coming of a Schlotsky’s. At home we learn which bank is funding the build and who the construction company is. I don’t care about that, just let me know what’s coming.

We encountered minimal road construction, as opposed to enduring it everywhere in Johnson County. One can count on that every summer. All this to say we had safe travel and made some good memories. © jb katke

Travel is nice, but there is no place like home. Where the responsibilities lie. Reality bites but I cannot tell you how wonderful DVR’s are. It’s petty thing, but watching TV in the hotels and having to set through commercials are a pain. The commercials seem to run longer than the show itself.

Sleeping in our own bed is priceless. Settling down in our easy chair at home without sinking down to the bare wood frame is appreciated as well. Take a deep breath, enjoy where you are, vacation or no.

Seek joy wherever you can because I am convinced when settling into our eternal home, it’s gonna feel just as good.

Kidnapped or Ransomed

Have you ever been kidnapped, without realizing it?

Possibly so, but not in the sense of how we define kidnap. Our society considers kidnapping to be taken against our will and held captive. Usually demanding a financial transaction to take place before setting free.

There are other dimensions to the word that we can pursue. Instead of being taken physically, some may be drug dependent, addicted to porn, subject to alcohol disease. Or perhaps fastened to social media on your phone? I know, ouch, right?  Not all of these issues are considered  life-threatening.

Obviously, drugs can kill. Alcoholics can eventually pickle themselves to death. But porn? That hurts no one. No one except maybe the spouse, or children if they are exposed to it. Involving children is a whole other issue I won’t focus on today. Our cell phones can easily take over the time and energy we normally devote in person-to-person interaction.

Look at what the Good Book has to say:

“For you know God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver”. NLT I Peter 1:18

The things of the world has the power to hold us captive. In the eyes of our creator, it is considered emptiness. Probably because addiction to stuff doesn’t provide lasting satisfaction. We want more. And then still more. Before we know it, we are held captive by our desires.

To a degree, I can relate. Maybe my desires were not life-threatening, but it did prove lasting satisfaction was not to be had. Continual wanting of more ties us down. Kidnapped. This has been the lot of humankind from the beginning of time.

In reference to the above verse, if gold or silver is an inferior payment, what could be of more valuable?

“ He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.”               NLT I Peter 1:19

The guy we are talking about here, is Jesus, God’s only son, that he specifically sent to earth to die for our sins. The only way we can get to heaven is to confess our wrongs and agree with God that we need the kind of help Jesus offers. He paid the debt with his own blood, something far more valuable than gold or silver.

The two of them are waiting to hear from you, the ball is in your court. Tonight, you may be looking skyward admiring a fireworks show. Think beyond that to the celebration held in heaven when you invite Jesus to be part of your life. It will set you free. Free of worry, free of fear, free to tell others of what a difference Jesus makes in life here, and in eternity.

 Despite the confines of government, you will be free indeed because you are looking beyond the here and now. The hope of living in perfection forever awaits you.

Father is Watching2

 © jb katke

In my childhood our family didn’t take vacations, so I was eager to get to Burroughs Farms. It was beachfront park land owned by Burroughs Corporation, where my dad worked. Only Burroughs employees were admitted in. Looking back, I don’t know why I was excited. Mom would secure the ties of my swimsuit so tight around my neck I couldn’t stand up straight. Besides I didn’t know how to swim. Most of the time I was at the waterfront making sand castles.

There was this slide in the water that all the kids loved. I am a land-lubber at heart, even as a child. But decided to give it a try. However, once I got to the top of the ladder, my perspective changed. From my new perch, the water looked ominous. I was reconsidering my decision. My brother was nearby. He told the kid behind me, “Go ahead and push her, it’s OK, she’s my sister.”

Ready or not, down I went, with my arms and legs thrashing the water. Panic-stricken I couldn’t rise to the surface. Fortunately, Dad was watching and came to my rescue.

Did he see that I had been pushed? Was my brother in trouble? Had dad not been paying attention; I could have drowned. From that episode, I learned a greater respect for the power of water. 

There is always something powerful in our midst that can bring about danger. Have you noticed that too? Now days, we have something else to be mindful of. Video cameras are everywhere. They record the suspicious, traffic violations, and people doing stupid. On the flip side, they can offer protection and validation.

Our Heavenly Father also looks after us. Many a time he has saved me from what could have been a dangerous situation. He is attentive 24/7, nothing gets by him. His heavenly perspective is more accurate than what I see. What any of us see.

I am grateful for both my fathers. The one I had on earth and the one I have in heaven. As well as the father of my children. We have just wrapped up a weekend celebrating Father’s Day. Maybe there are a few that do not realize how valuable they are, how much they have to offer that balances what mothers teach their young. It takes all three to train up a child, don’t leave out our heavenly father. His love is greater than any evil power lurking about.

Thanks Dad

© jb katke

Dad, I’m glad you didn’t leave. There were tough days when it would have been so easy to walk out and never come back. Thank goodness that was not even an option in your thinking.

I don’t know if Mom ever said it, but she needs you. It’s not just her either, so do Sis and I. Looking back at all those camping trips, teaching us how to fish. Even if we didn’t like eating it. Mom is not as fond of fish as you, she would never have shown us the fun and challenge of catching them.

All those sports games you and Mom attended, just to watch me flub up. Your support meant so much, thank you for coming. Some parents never came. I guess I should include all the dance recitals too. Did you really enjoy all that tippy-toe dancing? The same heart went into attending those as my games, and it pleased Sis too, to see you proudly sitting there watching every her every move.

Many of my friends don’t have two parents at home anymore. I feel for them. I’ve seen Jimmy’s mom, after working all day, to come home to cook dinner. Then, help him with his homework, she doesn’t get the new math either. But she tries, sometimes she looks so tired.

You know what I loved the most? The times you entered my world, trying to master some musical instrument that just wasn’t going to happen. But you tried, so that we could have a good laugh together.

I know we kids have not always been so fun to be around, but heck, being a kid is tough. Hearing about when you were a kid is neat. Life sure was different back then. I’m still trying to figure out how walking to and from school was uphill both ways. And barefoot? Wow.

Sis and I have grown up now and left home. Bet you never thought we would do that, huh? We sure do appreciate knowing we can call you with some problem, knowing you will always be there for us. Now we learn, it’s not just us.

A little bird told us what you did. Cleaning the floors and dusting? Are you losing it, or do you love Mom that much? Never mind answering, we know. Sis and I are glad you treasure her, so do we.

All this to say, thank you for being you. I cannot imagine anyone else could be as good a Dad as you are. We don’t say it too often, but Sis and I love you. Mom does too. In fact, we sorta look up to you as a national treasure. No one else could fill your shoes.

Thank you for not leaving, Dad. You have no idea how important you are. Oh, BTW, Happy Father’s Day.

Love, Us