Blame it on the Ghost

The Ghosts of Our Past

 

pioneer-1-850x612
Anonymous pioneers from the 1800s.

The faded black and white pictures take on significance with each retelling of the story.

Memories change as the arc of history is reinterpreted with no denouement.

Struggles, hurts, missteps bring the images to life and enlighten our reality.

But is this truth?

Can we ever discover truth when we impose today’s values on yesterday’s faded ghosts?

Can a judge pass a verdict when the accused has no voice?

It’s convenient to scold them for their inaction or cruelty or ignorance.

Would we have reacted differently in their circumstances?

What ordinary acts become heroic or sinister under the searchlight of tainted hindsight?

There is comfort in blaming our failings on them.

350.jpgWhen the journey is complicated and disappointing; a distant reality from the unrealistic expectations we held in our prime, we search for answers.

Who made me like this?  What circumstances are beyond my control because your actions forced me to make difficult choices that resulted in compromise?

“The woman you put here with me. . . she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

“The serpent deceived me and I ate it.”

God is responsible for my fall.  He is the author of my sin.  The excuse for my rebellion. (Genesis 3)

Generations recall injustice; families recoil at childhood hurts.

The blame cuts our souls like shard glass clenched in our fist as we fixate on our role as victims.

There is no remediation when the past is the source of the pain.  The ghosts, whether real or imagined can’t remember and they are silent.

I am your ghost.  What I leave behind will depend on the stories you tell about my faded picture.

I won’t be there to defend myself.  Blame me if it will help you relieve the frustration of walking behind me.  But don’t be surprised if the anger locks you in resentment, or impulsive choices meant to hurt my fading image but only hurting you.

graveYou are the faded image of generations to come.  Whether saint or sinner emerges in the stories that others tell will depend on who you chose to blame.

None of us stand blameless before the inscrutable eye of the Almighty.  Only there are all motives and thoughts fully known from the past to the future.  Royalty and peasants stand equally condemned, in need of grace, at the foot of the cross.

“The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Is.53)

Lord,  I will take the disappointment if you will carry the blame.  I will choose the joy of living over the anger of the past because in you I see reconciliation, forgiveness and grace.  In you, who knew no sin, who needed no explanation or excuse, I am healed.  May those who see my faded image look past the ghost and find your glory.

The Tea Party

By Elaine Knudtson

teaIt’s an age old ice-breaker question; who would you sit around the table at your ideal dinner party? They can be dead or alive, friend or celebrity, even fictional! But they have to interact together, create scintillating conversation, and make a dinner party that will go down in history as legendary. (https://hamptonmanor.com/dinner-party-question/)

It was a simple question that haunted me for days.  Of course, in my piety, I thought of inviting religious figures, or maybe a great reformer or world changer.  Yet they were all men.  Where was my voice and identity?

“I would choose to have a tea party with all my great grandmothers,” was my final answer: Amelia (Rud) Carbol, Anna (Svard) Borg, Geraldine Engman, and Kerstin Anquist.  I had met great grandma Carbol as a little girl on her acreage in Amisk.  All the other women were anonymous.  The stories and legends came to me through my parents, modified over time by memory.  Yet, these four women held my DNA—they were the womb of my character.

Amelia and Ole had built a life for themselves on the prairies after they left their homestead in Warren county, Minnesota in 1908.  She was small and bent over with a bun at the nape of her neck.  I learned that she had once had beautiful red hair, but it had thinned when she contracted scarlet fever.  She taught my grandmother how to bake Norwegian cookies.

tea1By the time I knew her, she could only whisper because she had a huge goiter that blocked her vocal chords—something that I inherited.  Perhaps because of her goiter, or simply because I was only a child of five, she spoke very few words to me, deferring to Ole, her more gregarious husband, who sat for hours reading his Bible with the use of a magnifying glass.

Amelia Rude—a Norwegian from Lillehammer in Norway, packed her steamer trunk and headed for New York to be a house maid to a wealthy Norwegian family in Brooklyn in the late 1890s.  She had an education and could read and write, whereas Ole was self-taught.  She met him through her brother Chris, who was working on threshing crews in North Dakota near Grand Forks. Chris later emigrated to Canada to take advantage of the generous enticement offered by the Canadian government to open up the new provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.  By the early 1900s, all the homestead land in the American Midwest was gone, and what remained needed to be cleared before any crops could grow.  Opportunities were limited, so young men worked on threshing crews, going from farm to farm harvesting crops by hand.  The crew had to be fed frequently, and so each crew had a team of women who cooked and baked throughout the day to keep them nourished.

tea3.jpgWhat drew Amelia away from the comforts of Brooklyn into the raw continent?  Was it a whim, a restlessness, or a carefully thought out decision to move to be closer to her brother—the only family she had in this new land?  She returned to Lille-hammer, briefly, after Ole proposed to her.  Did she need time to think?  Did she “settle” for this pious Swede or did she love the way he had survived on his own as a farm hand from the age of twelve.  Did she recognize that he would be the means by which dozens of others would immigrate to Canada?  It was a long way from the comforts of a wealthy home in Brooklyn to a sod house in the Canadian prairie by Amisk.  Did she regret her decision, or had she answered a higher call?

When she was in North Dakota, she had a spiritual awakening.  Fredrick Franson, the founder of The Evangelical Alliance Mission was holding revival meetings in Swedish communities across the Midwest.  Both Amelia and Ole were captivated by the call to a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.  Their faith came alive.  Is that what gave them the courage to leave Warren county, Minnesota, where they tried homesteading after they married in 1900, to follow her brother, Chris to the Canadian prairie near Amisk?  “It’s flat here,” Chris reported to Ole in 1906 on a visit Ole made from Minnesota.  “You don’t even have to cut down trees; you can plow right away.  You get 160 acres for free if you agree to cultivate at least 40 acres and build a permanent dwelling within three years.”

In 1908 Amelia and Ole packed their three children, twin boys Alfred and Joseph, and their daughter, Ruth—my grandmother, along with livestock, Ruth’s cat, and other priceless possessions on a train in St. Paul, Minnesota, headed for Hardisty, Alberta.  From there they took a team of horses to Amisk where they built a sod hut and broke land.  The footprint of this house still exists, surrounded by saskatoon berry bushes that my grandmother, Ruth, remembered picking for pies and preserves.  It was a long way from Lillehammer.  Did Amelia regret her move or was she so busy raising her growing family that she set it all aside?  They were made of tougher stuff back then.  What part of that tenacity is still in me?

tea21.jpgOr what about the impatience and fierce loyalty to family that I saw in Anna Borg.  Her four sons decided to head to Canada to homestead in Matsqi, B.C.  Albert, my grandfather, was the oldest of ten children. Sweden had few opportunities.  His father had been part of the royal cavalry in Sweden, but the land was expensive and the homestead act in Canada was opening up free land to those willing to work and build a life.  “If you go, we all go!” was Anna’s response.  What kind of woman packs up her six children (at the time) and willingly leaves everything she has known behind?  Was it because she was fiercely loyal to her sons, or did she have a restlessness that needed to be satisfied?

I was told that she was very religious.  The only picture I have of her reveals little of her character.  She was a Baptist—a unique choice for a Swede.  How did that come about?  What did their faith mean to them, and how did it shape her confidence in leaving Sweden?  I know her son, Albert, my Grandpa Borg, (the family changed the name from Svard to Borg when they immigrated, thinking that it was too hard to say Svard in English), was a deeply religious man.  The Bible was always at his side and he would give me moral lessons even when I was a little girl.  He liked living in the “bush”, a reminder of his rural roots.  Maybe the impetus to leave Sweden came from a desire to see more.

tea6In April of 1912, Gideon, Anna and the six children left Stockholm, Sweden and headed on a steamer to Canada via Southampton, England.  There they were to take an ocean liner the rest of the way: the Titanic.  However, when they arrived, the Titanic, preparing for its maiden voyage, was delayed. Grandma was impatient and said, “I can’t wait around here for days with all these kids, let’s go to Liverpool and leave now.”  So they trundled off to Liverpool, where they caught the Empress of Ireland,  and set sail for Quebec City.  On the way, as the story goes, the Titanic passed them.  “It’s going too fast,” the captain was reported to have told the passengers.  He proved to be right.

What would have happened if Anna had been more patient and waited to board the Titanic?  Or if she had played it safe and stayed in Sweden, letting her sons, one of whom was my grandfather Albert, go on without her.  Would they have made the same decision to take the Empress of Ireland rather than wait for the Titanic without her insistence? Would my mother have even been born?

I know little of Geraldine Engman because she gave away my grandmother, Annie, to a childless couple when she was twelve years old.  Geraldine, a Swedish immigrant to Saskatchewan,  had been abandoned by her husband after arriving in Canada, and she struggled to raise Jenny, Bill and Annie on her own.  During the five years she waited before she could declare her husband “dead”, Annie was firmly established in the home of the Moes, a childless couple who became her foster parents.  They took Annie to Kitsilano, B.C.  before moving to Matsqui, where Annie grew up and met my grandfather Albert.  The Moes provided Annie with opportunities and stability.  My mother always referred to Grandma Moe as her grandmother, having only met “Grandma Gerry” once.  How difficult it must have been for Geraldine to see her life fly apart once she left Sweden and came to Saskatchewan. Did her heart break to give away her child?  Did it take courage to leave a bad marriage at a time when that was scandalous?  She became an anonymous part of my history.  How would she fit in around my table at my imaginary tea party?

tea10The final place at the table would be set for Kerstin Anquist, the mother of Pete, Nils and Carl.  They came to Canada around the time of World War One to avoid conscription in the army. Kerstin was a widow.  Her husband had been a forester and a farmer near Stoliet, Sweden.  It was reported that his heart had been damaged when a tree hit him in the chest and he died quite early leaving her with three sons, Pete, Nils and Carl.  Pete had emigrated to Canada, sponsored by Ole Carbol.  Kerstin was related to Ole through his step mother.  They were from the same community.  Sweden had a standing army with mandatory conscription.  While the country was neutral during World War I, her sons would have had to serve if they had stayed, so she decided to follow Pete to Canada.

The boys taught themselves English from the book Black Beauty, but their English was limited.  Karen needed new shoes when they arrived in Halifax, but the only word they knew was “lady’s slippers.”  Not exactly what they were looking for.

When they arrived in Alberta, Nils started a ferrier business, delivering packages from the train station to local farmers.  He married Ole’s daughter, Ruth in 1924, and they started a family in Amisk, alongside the other Scandinavian immigrants.  Kerstin lived with them until she died one summer in 1944 from pneumonia.  It had been a hot day, and she rested on the cold water barrel to cool off.  The resulting illness ended in her death.  She is buried in the Amisk cemetery along with the others who had come from Stoliet.

Her husband’s grave is unmarked in the stave church in Stoliet.  I stood there in the summer of 2010 and told him that his family had done alright in the new world.  I wish I could have said the same thing to Kerstin  It took a long time to find the grave because my grandfather changed his name to Anquist when he came to Canada.  His father was Ole Larsson.  That made him Olson.  As there were too many Olson’s in the Scandinavian settlements, Nels chose the name Anquist (one branch), after a couple he had admired in Sweden.

To find Kerstin in the Swedish census would be a daunting task; to see her in my DNA even more challenging.  What would she bring to the table?  Did her love for her sons provide the motivation to leave her home, or was it the draw of those who had gone ahead, like Ole Carbol and her son Pete, who made it possible to step out.  World War One had its effect, and the politics of conscription and socialism added to uncertainty.  What effects of World War One were felt in the western forests of Sweden near Stoliet?  Was her emigration a matter of survival or adventure?

Those are the legends I’ve carried with me through the years.  They are my ancestors—like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel.  United with their families, they had the courage to leave behind country, family and security to seek a better life for their children.  I am the inheritor of their courage, vision and ambiguity.

I look ahead at my children and grandchildren.  What qualities will I pass on to them?  Tenaciousness?  Vision?  Piety?  Impatience?  Impulsiveness?  A sharp tongue?  A fierce love of family?  An inquiring mind?  Restlessness?  How will I be remembered?  Who am I to them?

My Legacy

Would I recognize you if you arrived at my tea party?

Would I see my face in yours?

Did you ask the questions I ask myself about

                The providence and faithfulness of God,

                Your impact on family,

                Or the influence of your actions and character on generations to come?

Or were you too busy forging a life from the raw soil of a new land to stop and think?

Am I a “doer” because I came from you?

Is my restlessness harvested from the Scandinavian soil of a hundred years ago?

Did your love for family sustain you through the hardship of staring a new life in the harsh realities of western Canada?

How did you view the prairie mornings and the frozen landscape, or the endless rain of the Fraser valley?

Did you find beauty and hope and God’s love in this land you came to, or did you have the luxury of reflection?

Did anyone see you in the shadow of your husbands’ acts—whether heroic or cowardly?

Why are your stories forgotten?

Does it matter?

Am I not a product of your lives?

You are not anonymous to me.  I exist.

I know God because you were held in His hand, whether you knew Him or not.

I am the inheritor of His blessings through you to the thousandth generation.

I pass on His story and your story to generations yet unborn.

United in that one story—of alienation, redemption and grace,

I hope we will ultimately meet and have that tea party at the marriage feast of the lamb.

Together we will raise our voices in praise as we answer the question, “Who am I?”

With the resounded affirmation—I am your child.

The Busy Signal

By Paul Knudtson

459Yesterday I missed my mother.  It’s been almost two years since she died, but I still refuse to delete her number from my cell phone.  Her daily conversations were part of the rhythm of my life that is now silent.

I was reminded of a time several years ago when I spent an entire morning trying to call her.  I was concerned because mom had reported that for two days she had great difficulty getting around her apartment because of a sore foot.  When I tried to phone her at 9:00 AM, her line was busy—I got that beeping of the busy signal. Now my mom used her phone often, so this was not unusual. Her phone was often busy.

I phoned mom all morning. I even went for a long walk, because I couldn’t concentrate—and gave her lots of time to finish her phone call. But when I came back at 11:00, her phone was still busy. Still at noon, I couldn’t get her. I began to worry. Was mom alright? No one talks on the phone for three hours. My imagination started to work. I hoped that her phone was simply off the hook—but I thought that, who knows, maybe she knocked the phone off the hook when she was trying to call for help, and now she lay unconscious or worse in her apartment.

mom.JPGMom got meals each noon from “Meals on Wheels.” So I thought that when they showed up to her apartment, having tried to phone her from the door to the apartment on the first floor, they would tell her, “Do you know that your phone is busy?” Or, they would discover if mom was in some state of dire need. They arrived between 11:30 and 12:00 noon each day, so I thought that when I called at noon, she would get her phone back on the receiver. But when I called  noon,after her phone was still busy. I didn’t know what to do.

So I texted my sister, “I notice that mom’s phone has been busy all morning. Do you think it is off the hook?” Then I waited. But my sister must have been busy too. She didn’t respond to my text. I sat on the little couch in my office and wondered what to do.

Then I remembered that we had had trouble with my cell phone recently and had to re-enter some phone numbers. I wondered if the right number had been entered for Mom’s phone number. There it was; it was the wrong number, with the wrong area code.  I had been phoning the wrong number all morning—that’s why I could never get through to mom.

So, I tried the right number, using the correct area code, and guess what? The phone was busy!  But when I tried again a few minutes later, the phone rang and I heard my mother’s voice on the other end. That was a great relief!

It illustrates our frustration with prayer:  sometimes we get the wrong number, or when we try, we get a busy signal.

20161216_154347.jpgWhen it comes to getting through to God, Jesus is the right number. The apostle Paul often uses the word “through” when speaking of Jesus, as in Romans 5: “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand” (Rom 5:1-2).

At times, we get a “busy signal” and God does not seem available to hear our prayers. But there are two who need to listen in prayer: God, and us. Prayer is not about a one-way conversation, where we do all the talking and God must do all the listening. Prayer is about a relationship with God in which there is dialogue, where we listen as well as speak.

There is an aspect of prayer that involves getting away from the crowd. It involves solitude and stillness, freedom from distractions.  It is about being alone, in a deserted place: quiet, by ourselves, undisturbed, shutting the door to the outside.

It is about paying attention. Listening.

Prayer involves not only listening to and answering God—“where are you?” (as in Genesis 3 in the garden)—it also involves listening to ourselves. Prayer is giving verbal expression to what is stirring deep within us. This deep stirring is referred to in Paul’s statement on prayer in Romans 8.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (8:26)

listeningPrayer is a vocalization—sometimes wordless-of these pains.

Prayer is listening to the suffering within ourselves, and expressing this pain to God.

Prayer is a way of dealing with the suffering of this life—and I think it is good to realize that the worst kinds of suffering are often not physical, but mental and emotional.

Prayer is about consolation for our afflictions:

16So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 18because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4)

Along with these frequent cries of pain that are scattered throughout the Psalms, there are also frequent testimonies of the LORD’s help and comfort:

  • Psalm 130 – “7O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”
  • Psalm 6 – “9The LORD has heard my supplication; the LORD accepts my prayer.”
  • Psalm 4 – “7You have put gladness in my heart more than when their grain and wine abound. 8I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O LORD, make me lie down in safety.”
  • Psalm 22:24 – “For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.”

 

Cracks in the Wall

By Paul Knudtson

“So we do not lose heart. Even though out outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. . . . For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (2 Cor 4:16; 5:1)

Cracks in the Wall

cracks2There are cracks in the wall,” my son reported in his distress.  

     “There are now more cracks in the wall,” he says in his alarm.

The house was refinished, with new plaster and fresh paint, new walls and fixtures,

     An attractive little house, a bright new home for a new married couple,

     A place for dreams to grow, for a family to live beneath its great, sprawling tree.

 

But now cracks have begun to appear on the pristine newness of freshly plastered walls,

     Cracks that come out of nowhere and grow with disquieting unpredictability.

Cracks that spread from the walls of a house into the walls of one’s mind,

     Reaching down deep into the unseen caverns of the soul.

Are these mere cracks in the wall, one asks—superficial and harmless, nothing to worry about?

            Or—dread the thought!–do they appear as signs of a deeper, more dangerous flaw?

     Could these cracks turn a happy dream into a nightmare of regret?  

 

grey road painting
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“Cracks in the wall” are so distressing because they are so visible.

     They stubbornly insist on being seen—they cannot be wished away.

     Their existence cannot be denied or ignored—they are there!

They are vexing because they lay outside one’s control,

     Possessing a life of their own, appearing and growing at will,

capricious, unpredictable, defiant.

“Cracks in the wall” are usually benign—thank God!

they are normal,

inevitable,

superficial,

harmless.

     But it is the knowledge that catastrophe is also possible

—that cracks can widen into crevices and chasms—

that keeps one forever wary,

always on one’s guard.

     Houses have collapsed. Worlds have fallen apart. Calamity has overtaken.   

 

img_20161202_202725I sometimes become alarmed at new “cracks in my wall” when looking in the mirror.

     Is that just a blemish before me, or it is evidence of something more sinister,

     evidence of a hidden and catastrophic flaw?  

Every new report of someone dying in their 60s is like a tremor,

     causing me to check for new cracks in my wall,

Every new ache and pain,

     A potential symptom of approaching mortality.

 

“Cracks in the wall” are always unsettling,

disturbing,      

troubling,

nagging.

 

Still . . . I realize that there will always be cracks in the wall.

     Cracks of climate-change in the delicate ecosystem of our planet.

     Cracks from terrorist acts that shake the stately buildings of western culture,  

     Cracks in families and marriages, breaking hearts and wounding spirits.

Cracks continually show up in one’s psyche,

     a sensitive instrument that registers even the slightest tremor.

 

IMG_0067Sometimes a crack opens up beneath my feet in the ground of my being,

a fissure between a secular age and Christian faith,

a canyon so wide and so deep that I fear that I shall become stranded on one side or the other,

perhaps swept away to an island of despair,

cut off from that bright and secure land of Israel’s scriptures,

unable to live in that house built on the rock and that stands through wind and storm.

 

I am beginning to understand that there will always be cracks in the wall,

     And that they teach me that this home is not my permanent residence,

     that it is but a temporary dwelling.

I need to keep seeing those cracks,

 so that I may be educated about the nature of this life.

     Seeing those cracks, though annoying,

remind me time and again that this place is transient,     

                       only a resting spot on my journey,

                                        only a tent on a camp site,

Not a mansion on a vast estate.  

 

“By faith [Abraham] stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents. . . . For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:9-10)

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.”    (Hebrews 12:22)

“For here we have no lasting city, be we are looking for the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)

My Father’s Example

By Elaine Knudtson

dad.jpg

Today, September 17, 2018 is my father’s 88th birthday.  I am grateful to have him alive and available to counsel, encourage and pray for me and my family at any time of day, throughout the year.  God gifted me with a man after his own heart.  “The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yes I have a goodly heritage.” Ps. 16:6

Many people have an aversion to calling God their heavenly father because of the failings of their own father.  For me it was just the opposite.  My dad helped me to know the meaning of discipline when he held me accountable for standards that kept me safe—like not crossing a major road with my tricycle when I was three or breaking my brother’s kite when the wind had destroyed mine.

He taught me that “to whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48)  in his leadership and generosity towards Centre Street Church throughout the years.  He was there for the church when it had 50 members in a community hall, through the transition to a megachurch with multiple campuses and thousands of attendees.  He gave his finances and his time to the Lord’s work by teaching Sunday School, serving on council, and praying for and mentoring pastors.  After his retirement he took on prayer ministry as an outreach.  Dad has spent a lifetime in prayer and meditation; he is the first one I call when there’s a need.

When I needed counsel and wisdom as I went through school, he shared his viewpoints and allowed me to dialogue until I was satisfied with the conclusions.  Navigating science, world history, politics, and social norms from a Christian perspective while engaging with new ideas and alternative truths was challenging, but he gave me permission to think.  Ultimately, I learned never to fear the truth because all truth is God’s truth.  He reminded me that with rights comes responsibility, that government cannot legislate morality, that the natural world is not all there is, and that some questions will only be answered in eternity.

Dad showed me how to be more tolerant without sacrificing personal convictions as the values of society have confronted the church with an influx of seekers and new believers.  He has watched it evolve and grow through the decades and has embraced every new member with grace and love, even if their backgrounds were very different from his own.  He never dismisses or condemns; he listens and adapts, even if it means challenging long held views.

20180624_161455He demonstrates patience and humility by caring for my mother and lovingly supporting her, first as a homemaker in the early years, and now as his best friend and companion throughout retirement.  To watch the former chief of staff of the Calgary General Hospital hold her purse and offer his arm so she can walk up the stairs is a model of love and servanthood.

He showed me mercy when I failed to reach my own standards of perfection and lost my way in my early twenties.  He knew when to correct and when to encourage.  “A bruised reed he will not break” (Mt. 12:20).  He offered me a safe haven when I felt hopeless and alone, and gave me the means to finish my education so that I could provide for my young family and restore my self esteem.

He showed me that the best support is a listening ear, an encouraging word, and a grateful heart.  Dad understands that the faithfulness and love of God is enough to carry us through the darkest night, whether it be emotional, physical or spiritual.  The response is always the same, “God is good.”

My dad often speaks of the impact his grandfather had on him in shaping his view of the faith.  My great grandfather, Ole Carbol, stood as an example of God’s faithfulness through adversity.  He passed that on to my dad, who is now a great grandfather to my grandchildren.

I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God. . . , 10 showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Deut. 5:8,10

May we remain faithful.

dad3

Front:  Elaine (Anquist) Knudtson on Amelia (Rude) Carbol’s knee, beside Ole Carbol.

Back:  Ruth (Borg) Anquist, Ken Anquist, Nels Anquist, Ruth (Carbol) Anquist

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The fourth, fifth and sixth generations of Ole Carbol.

 

Death and Resurrection

river.jpg

“Everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die to get there.” (anonymous)

Every once in awhile life throws us a curve ball.  We remember these moments because they are rare and game-changing.  It is never easy to face these challenges; we work hard at avoiding them, but life happens.  At times like these, it is helpful to remember that there is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday.

God is more interested in developing our character than in providing us with a smooth journey.  By experiencing difficulties we learn that “we hold these treasures in clay pots to show that the absolute power belongs to God and not ourselves.  We are often troubled but not crushed, sometimes in doubt, but not despair.  There are many enemies, but we are not without a friend, and though badly hurt at times, we are not destroyed.” 2 Cor. 4:7-9.

None of us choose to walk through the “valley”, but I once heard that it is in the valley that the fruit grows.  Great testimonies all come out of the crucible of life and they guide us on our way as we learn from each about the faithfulness of God.

And that’s what it’s all about—God’s faithfulness.  When we come to the edge of the cliff, and there is no way forward but to jump, we need to know that God is there to catch us.  Here He proves His love and surrounds us with supernatural peace that is above our circumstances.  It is ironic that some of our greatest moments with God are found in the midst of our greatest disappointments.

If we could see the end from the beginning, it would perhaps be easier to trust and have faith.  We would know that ultimately “all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Rom. 8:28

Because we do not have that perspective, we have to let the Shepherd guide us through the deep waters to green pastures.  “He makes me lie down in green pastures”  Ps. 23:2   He carries us through the flood.

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

And when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.

When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;

The flames will not consume you.” Is. 43:2

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jer. 29:11

But it comes at a cost—death.  Death of a dream, a hope, even our own lives.

“Resurrection” by Elaine Knudtson

person standing near lake
Photo by Lukas Rychvalsky on Pexels.com

The eternal “No” silences my hopes.

I crawl into a ball and weep for a dream that vanished like a sunset in the darkening sky.

Why?  I can’t even ask.  I sit in silence.  No words come.

To think is too painful; the wound too deep, the scab too fresh.

But I’m surrounded by this death.

The stench of the wound fills my nostrils and I can’t smell the fragrance of the flowers.

My tears cloud my eyes and I can not see the smile of a child.

My hands are tightly clenched and I cannot feel the softness of your touch on my cheeks.

I cannot hear, “I love you” when I am deaf to life because of my pain.

20180415_102804Coldness, tightness, intensity;

It will never end. 

I faint away and release the pain.

I feel nothing.

Silence.

Then, I forget my hurt for a moment and laugh.

I notice the silver on the willow in the rain.

I hear the harmony of the birds and the river as if for the first time.

An unexpected visit, a text from a beloved friend or a distant relative, a kind gesture from a stranger—angels unaware.

The infinite time gives way to the rhythm of the day and I inhale the cool air once again.

Slowly hope returns, and the way through the fog emerges.

197When I turn and look back, I can see that I was not alone.

At times, I can even see that the diversion sent me on a new path far better than the one I had set for myself.

But even so, at times I can’t look back because it is dark and will always be dark and there will never be anything there but pain.

I have heard your voice in the night.

The warmth of your love caresses me,

I see your pain in the midst of my own as we

Walk through the baptism of death into the light of new dreams

Through the resurrection.

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Search Me O Lord

Elaine Knudtson

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How strange to discover that my struggles are not unique.

When we gather in community around the living Word, the laser of conviction and confession disquiets me.

Alone I make excuses, blame the circumstances, or quarrel with my impact.

I disguise my flaws in the mirror.  Years pass without acknowledgement of change.

Today replaces yesterday and soon memories of former days fade.

Was I different before life happened?

The camera is much crueler.  It remembers. 

Candid shots are deceptive: bad light, not prepared, wrong angle?

Really?  Or do they reveal the truth I don’t want to see?

I resist mentors, truth tellers, teachers who want to dialogue without mutual vulnerability.

Is that just a diversion so I do not need to own the truth?

The child craves rules to use against others;

They resist the application to themselves.

“One base on an overthrow” I recited daily as we played kickball on the concrete playground.

Then one day I kicked the ball and made it around the bases on an overthrow.

 The indignant rant from the other team reminded me of my rule.

“No!” I retorted.  “That’s not right.”  The rule shouldn’t apply to me.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph. 4:29)

Let me speak of your sins; I can excuse mine.

As long as I control the dialogue, there is no accountability.

When I submit to you—it unsettles me and

I want to run back to the place where I am unique, special,

and posed for the camera that only remembers my perfections and hides my flaws.

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“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting  Ps. 139:23, 24

 

Waiting for the School Bus

Paul Knudtson

I can still remember the very first day I rode the bus.  In those days public school began at grade one, so I started at age six. The day began with getting up and getting dressed, having breakfast while mom made and packed our school lunches in our lunch kits, and then walking out the driveway to wait at the road for the bus.  Mom lined us up in our new school clothes and took our picture.  Dad was also there to take me onto the bus for the first day. I imagine that our dog Sport and later Sparky, would also be with us as we waited together for the bus. I remember hearing my mother say that Sport would go to our gate when it was time for the bus at the end of the day, around 4:00 p.m.

We went to the road five or ten minutes before the bus was scheduled to arrive. The bus always arrived from the north and we could see it coming as soon as it turned the corner onto our road at the church two miles north of our place.  For some reason I recall having a negative reaction to the color of the inside of the bus. I was expecting it to be a cheerful yellow to match the color of the outside of the bus. Instead, it had a pale, pinkish-tan interior. I didn’t like it. It made me feel yucky.

DSCN0492We played games while we waited beside the road on mornings.  We would put our lunch kits down beside each other and find various things with which to occupy ourselves. Sometimes we would throw rocks from the gravel on the road at the power pole in the ditch on the south side of our driveway.  In this same ditch there was also often standing water. In the late fall this water would form a layer of ice on its surface, and we would throw the rocks at this layer of ice and try to penetrate it.   It late fall, when the ice became thicker, we would walk on it.   Even though it would crack and sink—the water in the ditch was very shallow, so we were never in any danger of even getting wet. If there were air bubbles under a thin layer of ice we would break through these.

bus8It was harder to wait for the bus in the cold of winter. When it was very cold we would sometimes have one of us stand and look for the lights of the school bus through the bathroom window. When we saw the lights we would have enough time to get out to the road before the bus showed up.

 

 

Our driver was Ralph Tate.  He was an older man (at least he was not a young man), a common man. He and his wife lived in a humble house in Donalda. I don’t think he made a great income.  Apparently he owned a truck. There is a photo in the Donalda history book (Donalda’s Roots and Branches) of his smashed up truck after it was hit by the train as he was crossing the tracks in Donalda.

Mr. Tate liked hunting and trapping. In the spring he would sometimes swerve to see if he could hit a gopher that was on the road. I’m not sure that he was always the best driver either. Once he took the speed corner at the church (Bethany) too sharply and drove right into the ditch. I believe he was able to back up onto the road again.  Dad was unimpressed when we told him about this.

bus4One morning we were later than usual in getting out to the road. We didn’t quite make it before the bus drove by. Dad must have been outside with us and saw the whole thing happen. In the past there were mornings when the bus would show up at our house or that of someone else with no one waiting at the stop. In such cases Ralph Tate would wait for a minute or two and maybe blow the horn. Usually the late kids would show up running to the bus while pulling on their jackets. But on this morning, he didn’t even stop.  The bus drove right by! I remember that this made dad very angry. He had to drive us to school—or perhaps he caught up with the bus before it got to school. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I clearly remember how my dad was angry and that I have the sense that he boldly confronted Ralph Tate about this: “You didn’t even stop!”

One morning I brought my truck along with me as I waited for the bus.  Other boys in my class had begun to bring their toys from home (toy trucks and so forth) and would play with them in the sandbox beside the school during noon hours. This practice gave me the idea of bringing my prized toy truck to school.  As I was climbing up into the bus that day, Ralph Tate scolded me and said that it was too dangerous for me to take this truck on the bus. I felt quite embarrassed and had to run with my truck back to the corner of the yard and drop it there and run back to the bus with everyone watching. I had to go to school without it.

We lived very close to our neighbors, the Halseides. Their house was just across the road and a little south of our house. They had three daughters, Anna, Helen, and Edna. These sisters were all older than I was, so Edna was the only one who still went to school.  I remember Edna getting on the bus, her large, swooshy skirt brushing me as she walked past me down the aisle in the morning.

I spent many hours of my childhood riding a school bus from grade one to grade twelve. I learned to daydream as I looked out on the passing countryside through the bus windows.  Those were the early days of contemplation and meditation.  I learned to be comfortable with my own thoughts and silence.

 

Shortening Days

Elaine Knudtson

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Ps. 90:12

Why don’t we recognize precious moments when they happen?

Is it because the best memories emerge when the ordinary meets the unexpected?

Or is it because the big events are engineered, but the idyllic moments are gifted.

20180905_095504The light is dimming in the prairie sky.

Days are shorter.

The sun, while still warm, is competing with cooler breezes from the north.

The day begins with heavy sweaters, followed by shorts and sunglasses, and ending under a warm blanket on the back patio.

20180731_105442Weeks ago it was too hot.

I looked for cooler air inside public spaces or by the water.

The sun stung my eyes and made it hard to sleep.

Early light invited birds to sing along with chirping crickets.

Neighbourhood dogs howled in response to nature’s symphony.

I covered my ears, pulled on the blinds and tried to sleep.

20180907_101030Now it’s gone.

The sun no longer conducts the song birds’ chorus.

There’s no need to pull the shades.

Darkness is creeping into the day, making it shorter.

I like heat!

Bring back the light!

I’ll join the birds!

I like pulling weeds!

Who needs sleep!

Please don’t take away my summer.

Ignore my ungrateful response to those golden moments I long for all year.

Will I look back on this moment in the twilight years and scold myself for chasing away today?

I long for upcoming events and ignore the precious now.

Forgive me Lord.

Teach me to number my days with gratitude, praise and contemplation.

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“Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. . . But now, Lord, what do I look for?  My hope is in you.” Ps. 39

Country School

Paul Knudtson

Our education shapes the person we become.  Out of this soil emerges our self-concept, character, and view of the world. For me, the world was predictable, stable, and supportive.  It matched my home life on the farm.

donaldaWhen I attended school in 1960 this was the old building that housed grades one to five, The new school addition had grades six and up, as well as the school auditorium and school office. The school day ran from 9:00 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., with an hour off at noon and fifteen minute recesses in the morning and afternoon. Interestingly, we never entered the school through the front doors shown in the picture, but entered at the back.

Boys and girls entered the school through different doors. The basement underneath the old part of the school was divided into a boys section and a girls section. So the boys entered the school by going through a door and down stairs into their section of the basement. I often thought that it was hard to see when going down these dark stairs into the basement after spending time outside on the playground in the bright sunlight. Our eyes had to adjust from the bright light of the sun to the dimly lit basement.

Along one wall of the basement we were each assigned a coat hook where we hung our coats—with another hook above for our caps–and below on the floor we left our boots. On the one end of the basement opposite to the door by which we entered, and just below basement windows, were rows of wooden boxes in which we left our lunch kits. Then to the right of these shelves or boxes was the stairs leading up by two flights to the main floor.

During my years in this old building, I don’t think there was a single time when I was in the girls’ section of the basement, though I may have glimpsed it once or twice through an open door. I think, though, that when I was in grade ten there was a typing lab set up in a corner of the girl’s side of the basement with ancient manual typewriters sitting atop old desks. It was here that I learned the keyboard, something that I am using now as I type on my computer keyboard.

If we were not able to go outside (due to poor weather) for recess or during the noon hour, we would sometimes go to the basement—the boys to their section and the girls to theirs. There we would play games like pum-pum pullaway (or “pump pump pullaway”). “Pum pum pullaway, you all come now or we’ll pull you away!”

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Miss Lawson with my brother, Arthur’s class. He is the first boy on the left in the back row.

I began school in September 1960  in Miss Lawson’s grade one classroom. Miss Lawson was a single teacher who began teaching in Donalda in 1937 and retired from teaching in 1968.  She taught thirty one years in Donalda. This means that Miss Lawson must have been in her late fifties when I was in grade one. I perceived her as grandmother figure: roundish, though not plump, always in a dress, never in pants, with greying hair.

I think Miss Lawson was friendly and welcoming to the timid little lambs that entered her classroom on their first day of school.  My brother Arthur showed me to my classroom on my first day; it was just beside his room, the grade five classroom.

I remember Miss Lawson as one fully in control of her classroom, though not severe or intimidating. On one occasion she displayed a little frustration as she used a yardstick to settle down an unruly boy by tapping him on the head. I went to school in the age when teachers could still use the strap on misbehaving children, but I don’t recall that ever threatened us or kept us in line by the threat of such punishment. She was firm, but also kindly.  I learned from my cousin that she would force left handed students to switch to their right hand if they were in her class–making it more traumatic.  It was a different era.

There was much to adjust to in making the transition from the freedom of my life as a pre-school boy on the farm to the regimentation of the classroom. I enjoyed the freedom of being on the playground at school during recess and at the noon hour break.

playgroundOnce when all the other kids left the playground at the end of recess when the buzzer sounded, another boy and I stayed outside. We preferred being on the playground. The school janitor, Charlie Stiles, and our teacher, Miss Lawson, soon appeared by the doors to the school and coaxed us to come inside. We learned that we were not free to do as we pleased, but had to return to our classroom during class time.

I don’t recall how Miss Lawson assigned our seating on that first day of class, nor do I remember if I sat in the same place throughout the year. I do remember at one point sitting behind a girl, Rhonda, with her blond hair. I remember she once leaned her head back so that her blond hair was laying in front of me on my desk. I didn’t know how to handle this, and said nothing. What is a boy supposed to do when a pretty girl lets her hair fall on his desk?

donalda3I was shy as a boy—I still am shy—and did not like to have attention drawn to me. One ordinary incident from grade one illustrates my shy nature. It was the ordeal of having my photograph taken by the school photographer. The photographer had his camera and lights and backdrop set up in a corner of the school gym. Like all the other grades, our grade one class was led to the gym where we stood in a line and had our pictures taken one by one. For some reason, I found this to be a very unpleasant ordeal. When it was my turn and the photographer told me to “smile” I couldn’t seem to do it. To make matters worse, I saw my teacher, Miss Lawson, and the photographer laugh at the way I “smiled.” I felt that I was being laughed at, and felt shamed by my inability to smile. One can perhaps sense some of the discomfort and even terror in the photograph taken that day.  To this day, I won’t smile when people take pictures of me.

Miss Lawson taught me how to read. We learned the names and sounds of each letter, and how to read the stories in our readers about Dick and Jane. She had us follow along in our readers as one student after another would read a line or two. She used a ruler to put under the line that we were to read, going from student to student as we sat in our rows of desks.

Miss Lawson initiated a special fund-raising project that was also educational. Students were invited to bring spare pennies to school for this fund-raising project. I don’t recall now what these funds were ultimately for—it seemed like it was for a local need, like a family that had suffered loss in a fire. I simply cannot recall. penniesA daily part of our daily classroom routine was for us to give whatever pennies we brought from home to Miss Lawson, who would take them and lay them each day in a row along the wall of the classroom. The goal was to bring enough pennies to go entirely around the perimeter of the classroom. Each day she would lay out the pennies brought that day along the floor against the wall and then mark how far they went with a thumb tack. The pennies were then put into a large jar, and then the next day the row of pennies was extended from the point of the thumb tack along the wall. I believe we did eventually get enough pennies to go entirely around the edge of our room. At that point Miss Lawson put these pennies in paper rolls.

donalda4When this was completed, we had a special day when we took these pennies to the bank in Donalda. We each carried two or three rolls of pennies as we walked the few blocks from the school to the Bank at the end of main street. There we were even taken inside the bank vault as we entered through its massive doors.

       After the bank was closed, it became the Donalda Art Gallery.

Miss Lawson also taught us how to  print. For some reason in grade one we used large diameter pencils, apparently because it was thought that they would be easier to use than regular sized pencils. In grade two we were able to use ordinary pencils. I don’t think we were able to use pens at school until grade four. Also in grade four as we learned how to write cursively, rather than simply printing, we used stick pens that we dipped into little ink bottles that sat on our desks.

penThis was always a somewhat risky exercise, and I recall at least one student accidentally tipping her ink bottle onto her desk and clothes. But maybe our grade four teacher, Mrs. Olson, was onto something with her idea that it would be easier for us to learn how to write beautifully by using a stick pen rather than a ball-point pen. We were allowed to use a ball-point pen for our regular work in grade four (other than arithmetic), but we had to use our stick pens for our writing classes. I still remember the ball-point pen that I had for Mrs Olson’s class. It was blue plastic, not round but had three sides, and it had a retractable nib that one operated by turning the end of the pen.

 

Miss Lawson went to extra effort to make our celebration of Christmas a special one. Along with the rest of the school the last day of school before Christmas holidays was given to a Christmas party. One aspect of this celebration in Miss Lawson’s room that year involved all of us gathering in a circle around a big square galvanized steel wash tub that had been filled with saw dust.

wash tubThere were different colored threads of yarn coming out of the sawdust in the washtub, with each of our names on a little tag attached to the ends of pieces of yarn coming out of the wash tub. Each child found their name and held onto the end of their piece of yarn. At the same moment we all together pulled on our pieces of yarn and each found a little toy—like a Dinky toy truck—attached to the end of the piece of yarn. This was a present to each of us from Miss Lawson. As we stood around the washbasin we said together, “he stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plum” and at that point we all tugged on our threads and pulled out our Christmas surprises.

Living in the country, in a small, stable community meant that I was able to grow up with my peers.  All the children who entered grade one with me were there when I graduated in grade nine.  That gives one the illusion that life is safe and predictable.  For a quiet introvert, this was ideal.

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Here is my grade nine class at Donalda School. Most of these kids were with me in class from grade one on.  I am in the center of the back row.

Ecclesiastes holds a somewhat pessimistic view of life, with a nostalgic remembrance of youth.

“Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.  Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment.  So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless.” 11:9-10

“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them’  .  .  .” 12:1

Not only was the Teacher wise, but also (she) imparted knowledge to the people. . . The teacher searched to find just the right words, and what (she) wrote was upright and true. . . 12:9-10