Archives for : All

New Beginnings

The year 2018 had it all:

A time to weep and a time to laugh . . . A time to mourn and a time to dance

By Sharon Sheppard

            Media outlets have showered us with a plethora of Year-in-Review lists chronicling the good, the bad, and the ugly from the previous 12 months. We’ve had lists of natural disasters, best books of the year lists, lists of movie favorites and flops, and lists of the year’s most riveting news stories, including accounts of notable political wins, losses, and faux pas.

            From the endless coverage of every minuscule detail of Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding last spring to the somber pomp and honor paid to the late President George H. W. Bush on his recent passing, our heartstrings have been duly tugged.

            But it was scenes surrounding the mourning of the President’s death that moved me most: the emotional tribute paid by his son, former President George W. Bush, and the sight of the frail, 95-year-old Robert Dole, wounded military veteran, former congressman and presidential candidate, who, with the help of an aide struggled from his wheelchair to his feet to offer a heartfelt salute before the flag-draped casket holding the earthly remains of President Bush.

            Hours of on-air time were devoted to analyzing the former President’s political legacy. But his son’s heartfelt eulogy and the silent salute of his former rival-turned-friend spoke volumes about Bush 41’s real impact.

            Turning to the first page of a new calendar is, in many ways, a sobering gesture. I’m reminded of the fact that all of us—not just the rich and famous—will leave some sort of legacy, for good or ill, whether intentional or not.

            After my dad retired, he told me that he began each day by asking, “Lord, what work do you have for me to do today?” He left a legacy of cheerfully offering encouraging words and helping hands to ease the loads of friends and neighbors in his small home town.

            So I’ve started asking myself some scary questions of my own: Have I been so caught up in my comfortable life that I overlook chances to help someone in need? Are there things I could be doing today that would make a positive difference in another person’s life? Is there someone who needs an encouraging email or phone call from me?

            Among the Christmas cards in my mail box last week were several from former college students who were in my English classes years ago. One included an account of serious health issues and financial reversals. Another former student told me his doctors say he can expect his cancer to return.

            For most of us, our deaths will make few ripples. But we can, by God’s grace, be remembered for loving and listening to some of the hurting people around us. Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it unto me.”

            Gotta run now. I have a couple of letters I need to write.

Christmas Greetings!

One month ago I had the great pleasure of being with three of my Great-Grandchildren.  I am delighted to share the joy. Merry Christmas from my house to yours, Mary Zigan

One of God’s best blessings has been the opportunity to be close to both my son and daughter.  Here’s a wonderful memory from last summer: A backyard barbeque with my son and family.  – Sharon Sheppard

Christmas Gifts that Matter

Christmas Gifts that Matter . . .

Each year many of us say to ourselves, NEXT year I’m going to make it a point to give more meaningful Christmas gifts.  NEXT year we’ll spend less on ourselves—since we really don’t need anything–and remember those who actually are needy.

Here are a few ways you can do this:

Locally:

  • Go online and type in Angel Tree – Prison Fellowship to see how you can donate online. OR if your church or other organization has an Angel Tree, you can pick a tag off the tree that gives the name and age of a child whose incarcerated parent has signed up for the program. The tag will give you some suggestions for a gift you can buy for a child who has a parent serving time in the correctional system.
  • Go online and type in Angel Tree – Salvation Army for making a donation to a similar program that serves needy children whose parents are not necessarily incarcerated.
  • Visit someone you know in a nursing home. OR if you don’t personally know anyone, call a nursing home and ask for the name of someone who gets few (if any) visitors. You might bring a small gift of homemade cookies or a CD or another thoughtful gift. If you have young children or grandchildren who might be willing to sing or tell jokes or play a musical instrument, bring them along.
  • Go food shopping and bring bags of groceries to your local food bank.
  • Volunteer to help serve Christmas dinner at the Salvation Army or other mission facility, or make a donation toward feeding the homeless and other needy people. OR invite an extra person (or 2 or 3) into your own home for a Christmas meal with you—someone who might otherwise be alone for the holidays.

Globally:

  • Go online and type in Samaritan’s Purse – Disaster Relief. This organization provides food, emergency shelter, medicine, and other practical help to bring relief from poverty, war, and natural disasters both in the U.S. and abroad.
  • Check out World Vision online to see how you can sponsor a child or make a donation toward needs worldwide.

Or broaden your own vision by putting up your antennae and looking around you to see who could use some time or attention or physical or financial help from you. You will be doubly blessed, and you’ll ask yourself, “Why haven’t I done this before now?”

by Sharon Sheppard

Gratitude

     Unhappy is the man, though he rule the world who doesn’t consider himself supremely blest.                                                                                                                                                                                             ~ Seneca

 

In November, more than any other month, our hearts turn toward thankfulness. Thanksgiving, always the third Thursday of the month, causes us to pause at least momentarily and offer gratitude for all our blessings. Yet, as I write, it seems like a more thankless and threatening time in our world is happening. Pipe bombs are being sent to prominent politicians, multiple fatalities have occurred on an attack in a Pittsburgh Synagogue, where a house of worship ought to be a refuge. Democrats and republicans are undermining each other across the aisle with lies and deception to stay on top of their game and be the winner. This hate and evil causes me to ponder, and question, where is the love of God being shown in our world?   I am reminded of a recent lesson I experienced at the supermarket in the check- out line. We were held up for a price check…and it was my price check that was holding things up! When I apologized, the man behind me said, “I am in no hurry! You just take your time. I’m so happy to be alive at 87 that when the good Lord is ready to take me home, I have faith in Jesus that I will arrive safely.”

 

Wow! I was immediately filled with hope in mankind. That elderly gentleman had his sights set on things to come, what the Bible says; on things above. While living in the now, his thoughts were on a future home. Thoughts of all the great and glorious blessings of living with his Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ forever. This way of living, granted him a perspective of faith, hope and love; that seems neglected or for sure negligent in our society. It would behoove me and possibly you, to choose this month of November, to dwell on things above, and pray for those who don’t!  A thankful heart will be your reward!

 

 

              Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Above all, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule your heart, since you were called to peace.  And be thankful. Sing songs of praise with gratitude in your hearts giving thanks to God the Father forever and ever, amen.                  (A paraphrase from Colossians chapter3)
Mary Zigan

 

Pumpkin Loaf

It is definitely Pumpkin season! The offerings are prevalent. There are pumpkin flavored coffees, pumpkin cookies and cakes, pumpkin soup, and one more…..I am going to share my pumpkin loaf recipe. This pumpkin treat can be eaten at breakfast with butter or as a dessert with cinnamon ice cream for dinner. Yum! This recipe is an easy one bowl, no mess, delicious offering for any occasion. Enjoy

 

Pumpkin Loaf

 

2 c. sugar                                                   4 eggs

1 c. oil                                                         2 c. canned pumpkin

3 c. flour                                                    1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. baking powder                           ½ tsp. allspice & nutmeg

2 tsp. soda                                                1 tsp. cinnamon

½ c. walnuts, chopped                         1 ½ c. raisins

 

Beat together sugar, eggs, oil and pumpkin. Sift together all dry ingredients and add to the wet mixture. Add the nuts and raisins. Turn into 2 large or 3 small loaves. Bake one hour at 325.

~ Mary Zigan

 

Blake Anderson, Veteran’s Day

GUEST BLOG:  In honor of Veteran’s Day, history buff Blake Anderson pays tribute to some extraordinary people.

It’s unusual in this day and age to find personal accounts from World War II, but from the time I was quite young, I’ve always had an interest in that era. It was common when I was growing up to be able to talk with veterans of World War II or the Korean War and to hear first-hand stories of personal heroism. If a newscaster or teacher made errors in their accounts, all you had to do to find out what it was really like was to find a veteran who had actually been there.

My grandpa was one of these. He was assigned to a destroyer escort in the South Pacific in WWII, and he helped in the Lingayen Gulf Philippines Liberation.

More recently, I have had the privilege to hear first-hand accounts from Claude Kowalski, a Vietnam veteran from Kimball, Minnesota, and a friend I’ve known for 13 years. He is a man of honor and he lives out his Christian values. I’ve been intrigued with his stories, and occasionally I pump him for more details.

Nineteen-year-old Claude volunteered to go to Vietnam as a member of the 1st Marine Division, with some of the earliest American ground force presences in Vietnam. He was assigned to the I Corps sector in a village called Chu Lai in 1967. His job most days was to lift and carry howitzer shells and load the big gun. These shells weighed over 100 pounds each, once the four-pound wick was installed, and he hefted these heavy shells, one after another, for what must have seemed like an eternity, day in and day out. It’s no wonder that Claude suffers from PTSD and a significant hearing loss today.

“I was young and fit in those days,” Claude says, “and I had a job to do.”

Veterans often modestly refer to themselves in this way, I’ve noticed, downplaying the hardships they endured. I’m more inclined to refer to them as patriots or heroes.

But Claude is not the only hero in his family. Over a period of many hours in his presence, I have gradually learned more about his background. Claude’s parents grew up in Poland, and during that time in history this was an unbelievably dangerous place to live. The Nazis invaded Poland in September of 1939, and a few years later, the Soviets came from the other direction.

Claude’s father was captured by the Nazis and forced at gunpoint to work as a mechanic for them. He escaped three times and was recaptured twice, finally escaping for good after the third time.

Claude’s mother has stories of her own. As a teenager, one of her classmates, who was something of a story teller and a braggart, boasted about wanting to become a Nazi someday. He would come back to haunt her and their other classmates, he threatened.

She was no shrinking violet, and she retorted, “If you go down that path, someday I’m going to point at your dead body and say, “You’re dead, but I am free.”

Claude says, “My mom was Polish, and she was spunky and brash.”

(A side note: my wife Laurie is mostly Polish, and I get that.)

When the Nazis came through she hid in a haystack, and they searched for her by repeatedly poking the stack with their pitchforks in an attempt to find her, missing her by inches.

Sometime later, she opened her door one day to find her cocky former classmate standing on her doorstep, dressed in the full regalia of his Nazi officer uniform, with its long black coat and high boots. He was not a boy anymore, but a man.

Instead of cowering, as many in Occupied Poland would surely have done, this gutsy young woman mouthed off to him with the worst insults she could think of. The Nazi raised his gun, pointed it at her, and shot. Fortunately, a friend had seen this unwelcome visitor, and as the soldier was raising his gun, she quickly shoved her friend into a potato cart just in the nick of time. The bullet shaved past her shoulder, missing her by a fraction of an inch. She yelled at the man until he finally left the property.

A short time later, word reached them that the young man who had shot at her had just been killed by the Soviets. Upon hearing this, she took off on foot, running toward town. When she reached the site of the skirmish, she pointed at his dead body and yelled, “I told you that someday you’d be dead and I’d be free!”

A couple of short years later, Claude’s parents escaped to the Western side of Berlin’s divide, and Claude was born in the American sector of West Berlin.

In recent years, KSTP TV covered the story of Claude’s relatives in Minnesota, not realizing that they still had immediate family in Poland who had survived the occupation, and they recently reunited with them in Minnesota.

My thanks to all the men and women who stared tyranny in the face and said: “Not anymore!

You are dead, and we are free!”

 

 

October Brings Nostalgia for all Things Warm and Cozy

October brings nostalgia for all things warm and cozy. And though most of us are far removed from hunting and gathering in the old sense of living off whatever we could produce on our own land, as the days get shorter and darkness closes in earlier, there seems to be a natural sense of wanting to gather in.

We love the idea of warmth, security, and belonging. All of us long to be cherished by someone.

Some people are fortunate enough to be part of a loving family. Others are blessed with many friends.

Yet others feel unloved and are very much alone.

No matter what your situation might be at this point in your life, there is One who loves you very much.

  • The Bible paints a wonderful picture of “a Friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24, NIV) –the kind of friend we would all love to have!

 

  • Another passage says “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, NIV). We may not know a single person who would take a bullet for us.

 

  • But the Bible’s most famous verse of all says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NIV)

 

So even if you’re feeling a bit lonely during these short days and long nights, remember: You have a Friend in high places–Someone who would love to make friends with you!

Sharon Sheppard

 

A Fireplace and a Stack of Books

A Fireplace and a Stack of Books: What more could a couple of English majors possibly want?

By Sharon Sheppard

The circumstances surrounding what could have been our own “winter of our discontent” (to quote from a famous first line in Shakespeare’s Richard III), looked bleak. The doctors had pretty much reached the end of treatment options for my husband’s multiple myeloma.

But some of the most precious times in our marriage occurred during those last months of his life as we spent wonderful hours in front of our cozy stone fireplace indulging in our passion for reading.

As ex-English teachers and avid readers, we now had lots of uninterrupted time to read. Often with a snack or a hot drink and the warmth and crackle of the fire, we were in a cocoon of our own making. And reading books out loud to each other gave us the chance to comment, agree or disagree, critique, debate, and laugh together.

The books we chose were, in many cases, lighter reading than the kinds of literature we had both read in college. But they were no less enjoyable. Each evening we began by reading from The Message, The New Testament in Contemporary English, for a fresh look at Scripture.

Then we read historical novels by Bodie Thoene, including her World War II series chronicling the era my husband’s father and uncles had spent in the military, followed by her series about the establishment of the nation of Israel. We read several political thrillers from a more contemporary era—nail-biters by Joel Rosenberg involving scenarios as up-to-date as current newspapers.

But what is most memorable about those evenings of reading is simply the shared coziness, warmth, and closeness of those quiet evenings by the fire: The gift of books and contentment on borrowed time.

The Best Tomato Soup

Wow! Where did summer go? Seems like the weather dropped 20 degrees overnight from a hot humid 92◦ to a comfortable sleep with windows open. I would say fall is upon us in all its glory. The leaves are turning a golden color, the smell of bonfires is in the air, and the soup kettle is simmering on the stove as I write. I think you will enjoy this recipe. It is not complicated, but hearty and healthy.

 

The Best Tomato Soup

Ingredients

14 oz. can of crushed tomatoes (or from summer surplus in the garden)

28 oz. can of peeled tomatoes

2 Tbsp. chopped Basil

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 onion and 4 cloves of garlic

4 cups of chicken stock

1 cup of whole milk

1 cup of 1/2 & ½ cream

Tbsp. butter

1/4 cup flour

1 (oz. fresh) tortellini (I like with cheese)

 

Instructions

Sauté the onion in melted butter right in a soup pot. Add the garlic, salt and basil the last few minutes of the sauté process. Add the chicken stock and tomatoes, when gently simmering, add the flour, with about 1/3 cup of the milk, whisking to make it smooth. Slowly stir this mixture into the pot.  Allow the soup to simmer for about an hour. The last ½ hour add the rest of the milk, cream, and the tortellini until the tortellini is cooked through.

(The milk, cream and broth can be adjusted to your own likeness in richness and thickness.)

 

Enjoy with a leafy green salad and Parmesan crusted bread

 

Hunting and Gathering

GUEST BLOG: In keeping with our theme for October: Hunting and Gathering, here’s a memory from Blake Anderson, who grew up in a tiny northern Minnesota town where hunting was a major part of the autumn culture. Whether the weapon is gun or bow and the prey is deer, bear, pheasant, duck, goose, or grouse, Minnesotans remain passionate about hunting. And some families still depend on hunting for part of their winter’s meat supply.

Learning to Hunt from the Pros – by Blake Anderson

I suppose I was about twenty, and this wasn’t my first hunting experience, but it was one of the most memorable. My Uncle Shep (aka Duane Sheppard) called and asked if I wanted to hunt with him and Cork (aka Arvid Anderson).

Cork liked the area called the “Bull Moose Trail,” about 10 miles west of Backus. I had hunted there on occasion and was familiar with the location. During deer season this long trail attracts a lot of people, so the woods were concentrated pretty heavily with hunters.

The three of us rode out together, and when we arrived at the point of the hunt, we all decided to walk in different directions, agreeing to meet up for a break a few hours into the stand time. It was colder than usual for November, but having grown up in northern Minnesota, I was accustomed to brutal temperatures.

After separating—each of us to our own standing position—I heard other hunters shooting and carrying on. Soon one bullet from another hunting party whizzed literally right past my ear, so I now know what a super close shot sounds like. This might sound weird, but because it makes such a good story, I almost didn’t mind. Though I am not crazy about it ever happening again.

Standing stationary in the same spot in these temperatures began to chill me to the bone, and I was counting the minutes before Shep had told us to meet up. By the time of the pre-determined meeting, the wind was rough and conditions were rugged, even for Minnesota at that time of year. During the hike back, I fantasized about the warmth of the vehicle, hot coffee, and maybe calling it a day.

As I stumbled into the clearing, there stood Cork and Shep with the thermos of coffee on the hood of the car. Their jackets unzipped, laces of their boots loosened, both of them acted like it was 80 degrees. The engine of the car wasn’t even running.

Cork and Shep didn’t complain or act in the least bit cold, and though I couldn’t feel my feet, it was becoming clear that we were not even going to get into the vehicle to warm up. Strangely, after ten minutes of coffee outdoors, laughter, and lively conversation, I felt a little warmer. But all day I kept asking myself “What kind of grit or mettle is this? Where does this kind of fortitude come from?”

I pondered the expression, Standing among Giants. And that day I felt that I had.