Friday, April 14, 2017

He's Been Gone Ten Years!


I just can’t believe it. It’s been ten years since my brother died.

He had deep thoughts.
I came into the house on a Sunday afternoon after my Bible study. My husband, never a speech maker, said, “Ben died. They found him in his apartment today.”

We use Sunday, April 15, 2007 as his official death date, although he hadn’t been talked to since Wednesday and it could have been any time between that. In fact, it was probably sooner than later. I won’t go into that.

Ben was a schizophrenic. He was also a diabetic. He had myopia, which got worse over the years. He hadn’t driven in years. He was 51 years old when he died.

I mourned the life he struggled with as much if not even more than his death. He was a darling little boy, but the vision was a problem since he was young. Unlike today, it was not diagnosed until he was already in school. Strike One. He was unable to pass first grade (because he was on the very young edge of the boundary, and today we would just hold him back). Strike Two. There were things physically he just wasn’t good at, things we held then and now in esteem. Strike three.

Mom and I were talking just the other day about how easily we might have lost him. He couldn't see properly and we were at the top of a cliff. He wanted to jump off the cliff and land on the green "pillows." Had he done that, and we lost him, we would never have understood why a child would do that. His reality was different because of what he could and could not see.

However, he was a genius in music. We had a ukulele which he picked up at four or five, and by seven it was obvious he needed more. My parents found a “junior guitar” for smaller hands. He played that for a long time, but I think he moved up to normal size around ten. (By then I didn’t mind playing the little one with my small hands).

Around eight, he also started playing my cousin’s four string banjo. Eventually, my parents purchased a used one for him, until they could see where that was going to go. He played the banjo, but he PLAYED the guitar. During this stage of life, it was mimicking what other musicians played. It wasn’t until he was in his early adulthood and following that he began writing and recording his singing.

Mind you, this was only for his own use; he wasn’t trying to sell it to anyone or make money with it. He was just that person that everyone sat around and sang with. Our two cousins were often involved also. Like just about everyone else in the world at the time, he had a “garage band” in our basement. I think that only worked because my father worked early evenings.

While music defined him, there were other things going on also. He graduated from high school in 1974. He matriculated, but never earned a degree. One can never point to one day and say “That’s the onset of his schizophrenia,” but he was unable to hold a job in his young adulthood. My Dad attempted to find him a place at the company he worked. Dad died when Ben was 22 for reference.

After Dad died, Ben attended Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana. He was one semester short of graduation, when he came home and joined the army. I don’t think he served two years; they wanted to do knee surgery on him and he wouldn’t let them (paranoia) so he received a medical discharge. That would be a Godsend later in life.

It wasn’t until he was 35 (maybe 7 years later) that he/we had a firm diagnosis of schizophrenia. NOW, it could be treated. He was hospitalized for a time in a VA hospital, and medicated and monitored by the VA hospital in his home city. I shudder to think what would have happened to him had he not had those benefits. He worked for the University Hospital which put him in the PERS retirement and benefits system. After several years, he got what I think of as medical retirement. While not large, he had an income, because he wasn’t functioning in the working environment.

He lived in a couple of apartments, and sixteen years later, his heart gave out. His antipsychotic drugs put weight on him, and I don’t think as a diabetic he was taking care of himself.

We will assume he died on a Sunday. The following Saturday we had a visitation-funeral and burial in the family plot. I have good memories of getting all the family together that day, as five weeks later was my son’s graduation from high school, and not everyone was able to attend.  The most precious moment for me was at the burial, the family sang “Long May You Run” recorded by Neil Young, who was one of Ben’s absolute favorites. “Long May You Run” is a long song, with several choruses. In the beginning, just us “old folks” were singing, but by the end of the song, all the younger relatives had joined in. It was a 70 degree Saturday in April and it was a beautiful day.

Ben is remembered for his music and his genius in composition. Although the illness was always there, and I can’t say it was in the background, it is not what he is remembered for.

He is still missed.


This is the last picture of the four of us, taken
at my daughter's wedding in 2005.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

We Can't Do Spur-of-the-Moment Anymore!


Although there are many differences between today’s world and the one that I grew up in, one that comes to mind is that no one ever “drops in” on anyone anymore. That includes relatives. If I Iived closer to my mother, I could “drop in” on her, but I can’t drop in on my kids.

I think the main “causes” or “differences” is the business of everyone today. We have schedules, and they do not include marginal time for “Divine appointments,” as I used to think of them. I read somewhere where it’s not correct “etiquette” to drop in on folks. I think that is sad.

When I was young, the only reason someone would turn you away at the door is if someone was ill or they were in the middle of painting a room. Even if the person (my peer) wasn’t home, I was welcomed by whoever was home! I knew the parents and siblings of my friends. Not that we planned this, but different families ate at different times and many times I found myself pulling up a chair and eating supper with them. The same thing happened in our house, no one was turned away. Meals were not fancy.

We had several running gags at the dinner table and one of them was the entire family stopping, and “watching (the guest) eat.” This was reserved for boyfriends, if he wasn’t offended and could laugh with us, he passed muster. Even my husband had to pass muster.

My friends and I would get in a car of an evening and say, “who shall we visit tonight?” Then we were off trying to stir up some mischief in someone’s home, OR pick them up and go for pizza.

I wonder if girls were more likely to do this because we had slumber parties and in doing so, we DID get to know the families better. However, I must admit that there were plenty of guys who dropped in to our house! That’s a testimony to both of my parents, who made people of all ages feel welcome.

This is how I met my husband. I was 22 years old and my friend Debbie* and I were out running around. SHE suggested we visit another friend, who was Jerry’s neighbor. This is all recorded here in a previous blog here. We walked two apartments over and were introduced by our pal’s wife to Jerry. If we didn’t have the “nerve” to visit other people, I most likely would never have met my husband.

I know, we are all so busy today, even though I write this as a retired person who does have more time. Unless we are sick or painting a room, I would love having drop-in company! Living in a condominium does mean it could happen, although my next-door neighbor and I would text each other first. You SEE so much of how the others live that you aren’t surprised very often, so you just knock on a door (and hope no one is taking a nap!)

I guess I miss the informality of relationships, AND the interaction with family members, the way it used to be. I may have a handful of people I could drop in on, and vice versa of course. Debbie* is probably at the top of that list, even still.

It’s a shame that we are so scheduled that we can’t do anything spur-of-the-moment anymore. Those are some of the best memories I have.

As a society, we have lost something.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Why I am Reformed


It is usually not my style to go into the specifics of what I believe. It’s obvious from my profile that I am a Christian. I surely hope that most of my friends recognize that in me, although I am far from perfect. In my checkbox on Facebook, I am Reformed.

Over my lifetime, I have attended several denominations. I was raised United Presbyterian. When I lived in Columbus, I attended a United Methodist Church. When I came home, I returned to my Presbyterian Church and was eventually married there. During my young adult years (literally 1983), the Presbyterian Church in the United States united with the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America and became the Presbyterian Church (USA). While this denomination still believed as I do in DOCTRINE, it became more liberal in practice and I decided to move on. That was a tough decision.

I attended a small church up the street. It was a Church of God (Anderson, Indiana). They were lovely people and took me in and became wonderful friends. However, after three years, I discovered we were not on the same page AT ALL. Now, if I weren’t planning a family, I could have agreed to disagree and have been fine. But how do you tell your children, well I (we?) believe this, but we don’t believe that. You don’t.

In 1982, I was invited to the baptism of a friend. It was in a Southern Baptist Church. I spent the next 11 years at this church and both my children were born while I attended there. When my daughter was 8 and son was 3, we decided to attend another Baptist church where some friends were attending. It was smaller and more like family. To be honest, I felt like I was re-creating that feeling of the church in which I was raised at their ages. It was a very special season of life. I was also employed there for two years.

Changes occur and I am not one to church hop, but when my son asks to visit other churches, we tried some. Then when he entered college, he was going to work every Sunday, so I went back to the Southern Baptist Church. Mainly, I went back for the choir. My kids were out of school and now it was time for me.

While I still have a relationship with that church, and I worked there for ten years from 1986 until 1997 in their Preschool, I decided to come back to the smaller church. Why? Family. I attend alone and may be alone someday and this church will gather round me for my spiritual and physical needs.

These are all denominations, but no denomination defines me. I am Reformed. There is no “Reformed” Church within 25 miles and I simply am not driving that far at this stage of my life.

What does that mean? Put simply, it means that I follow the teachings of the Reformers and those that have followed them. Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrich Zwingli, John Knox, and their students.  Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. His intent was to start a dialog with other theologians. Luther wanted to change the Roman Church from within. His main disagreement was about the sale of indulgences, intended to "buy" loved ones out of Purgatory and to Heaven.
Well, in a nutshell, it didn’t work that way and he was excommunicated from the Roman Church in 1520.

Many denominations came from the Reformers. Luther did NOT want his followers to call themselves Lutherans, but they did. There were others as the Reformation grew and spread.

When we think of the Reformers, we think of the Five Solas.
Sola Scriptura—by Scripture alone.
Sola Fide—by Faith alone
Sola Gratia—by Grace alone.
Solo Christo—in Christ alone.
Solo Deo Gloria—Glory to God alone.

These are a foundation set of Biblical principles held by theologians and laypersons to be central to the Doctrine of Salvation by (Reformed) Protestants.

Me and 8500 of my new friends.
The speaker is John Piper
I had the extreme pleasure of attending a conference of The Gospel Coalition, which they have every two years. The theme this year was naturally, the Reformation. I heard 9 speakers in plenary sessions and three more (well, one overlapped) in workshops. The music in keeping with the theme was hymns of the faith. With churches doing more contemporary music these days, I never realized how much I missed these old hymns. With 8500 of us singing, it felt like we were knocking on Heaven’s door.

I didn’t know that Martin Luther wrote, among other hymns, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” It is known as the Reformation Hymn. It sounded awesome with 8500 voices singing a cappella.

This conference sends you home with enough books to keep you reading for two years. I was amazed! I did buy a couple of others.

I don’t know what the theme will be in two years, but I am looking forward to doing this again. I hope it's close enough to drive.