Saturday, May 7, 2022


My mother, Gladys Jo Robertson Fink, passed away on January 20, 2022. With family scattered far and wide, it took a while for relatives and friends to assemble in Yachats, Oregon, for a memorial service, but the day came at last. 

In 2013, my father Joseph Fink preceded Mama in death. We held a memorial service for him at the time but waited until Mama's passing to follow their wishes of having their ashes released into the ocean. On April 3, family and friends gathered on a temperate spring day at the banks of the Yachats River and let its gently flowing current carry Mama's and Daddy's earthly remains to the Pacific Ocean. Then we made our way to my sister’s house to remember the happy, sad, poignant, funny times that we had experienced with our mother, grandmother, great grandmother, aunt, friend. 


Two circumstances alleviated the sadness of this occasion. The first was the long and productive life Mama had been granted. She was ninety-six at the time of her death, and most of her years had been healthy and active. Those who knew her often spoke of her humor, wit, love for family and friends, and—a word that came up often—“spunk.” 


Even in her later years, Mama's "spunk"
came through!


Mama had served as the inspiration behind many of my prize-winning contest essays and stories, all of which contained an element of her humor. In her last three years, however, failing health and progressing dementia deprived her of her enjoyment of life. She often mentioned to me she had “lived too long.” She was ready to depart this world for a better one.


The second circumstance to lessen the pain of Mama’s death was knowing of her steadfast faith. As a longtime Christian, she believed in life after earthly death—a life in which she would be reunited with loved ones; a life in which she would be released from the shackles of pain and fear brought on by age; a life in which she could spend eternity in the presence of her Savior. One Sunday when she was in her early nineties, she and my sister were leaving church where “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)" had been sung. Hobbling along with the use of her walking stick—for her, a form of “chains”—Mama remarked, “I want that song sung at my funeral.” I know she was thinking of the day she could throw away that stick. 


Mama also loved the old gospel song “I’ll Fly Away,” finding great joy in the lively tune and comfort in the words of assurance of the better life awaiting her. The first comment I read on this rendition of “I’ll Fly Away” was “If this song isn’t sung at my funeral, I’m not going.” It sounded exactly like something Mama would say. 


As friends and relatives said our earthly farewells to Mama, the melodies and lyrics of these songs rang in our ears, reminding us of the hope and assurance Mama had. My prayer is that as you listen to them, you are reminded of the same.



Gladys Robertson Fink 1942; 2021







Sunday, April 17, 2022


Weeks ago, I thought I had the perfect hymn picked out for Easter—“How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.” I love this song’s moving melody and easy harmony. A recent reading of Mark 14-15 tells me the lyrics give an accurate account of the Crucifixion: the physical pain—“wounds which mar the Chosen One”; the humiliation—“I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers”; and, perhaps most devastating, the sense of desertion—“The Father turns His face away.”


But Chapter 16 of Mark, tells of the Resurrection. And this past week I’ve seen the stirring words of S. M. Lockridge shared several times on Facebook posts: “It’s Friday. But Sunday’s coming.” I am reminded that Easter is a two-part story. 


In Chapter 16, Mark describes the women who come to the tomb early on Sunday morning to anoint Jesus’s body with spices. They discover the stone covering the tomb entrance has been rolled away. Inside, a young man dressed in a white robe delivers astounding news: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified. He isn’t here! He has risen from the dead!” 


In Mark’s Gospel, he reports only that the women ran away, confused and frightened. But Matthew informs us the women were “very frightened but filled with great joy.” (Matthew 28:8) I like Matthew's version better. I don’t think I can come close to imagining what these women felt. Along with Jesus's other followers, they had just experienced two horrendous days. On the first day, they had watched as their beloved teacher and leader had been brutally tortured and crucified. In the silence of the second day, they had endured paralyzing doubt and fear, wondering if Jesus's claims would prove true or if they'd bought into the scam of the centuries.


Then on the third day, they learned he had risen just as he said he would. What relief…what renewed hope…what indescribable joy! 


And that’s why the Easter story needs two songs--a haunting one to tell of a horrible, hopeless Friday and a jubilant one to remind us Sunday came.



Wishing you a blessed Easter!


Wednesday, March 2, 2022


I’d been considering a series of posts on “This Is My Father’s World” for over a year because I love its inspiring imagery and comforting message. Then I heard another hymn that sent my song blogs in a  different direction. Recently, however, two events occurred that convinced me the time had come to give attention to this hymn, for it is as relevant today—if not more so—than when the poet penned the words in the 1890s.


The first event was subtle. Sunday before last, our choir sang “This Is My Father’s World” as the offertory hymn. Although the words were familiar to me, the melody was not. I have to admit that as taken as I am with the song’s words, I’ve never been a fan of the original tune. Its simplicity seems underserving of the lyrics’ grandeur. This disconnect made more sense to me when I learned the melody was that of an English folk song and not composed specifically for this hymn. 


When our choir sang the new version of the hymn, I listened with pleasant surprise and reverent awe. Composer Lee Dengler paired Babcock’s exquisite words with a melody worthy of their message. The union of the two allowed me to catch a gleam from what Richard Rohr calls, “A liminal space. A holy place.”


Inspired by our choir’s performance, I researched the song’s history and learned it was originally a poem, written by Maltbie D. Babcock and published posthumously in 1901. Babcock, a Presbyterian minister in upstate New York, had a habit of taking morning walks to the top of a hill that overlooked Lake Ontario. Before these excursions, he would often say, “I’m going out to see my Father’s world.”


There is so much emotion and wisdom packed in that single phrase. The imagery and adoration infused within the lines that resulted from those walks give testament to both Babcock’s poetic skill and his Godly devotion. 


Far from being subtle, the second event that prompted this post was an Earth-shaking one—Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. Along with the rest of the world, I wait with anxiety to see the consequences this atrocity. As I do so, lines from this song play over and over in my unsettled mind: “That though the wrong seems oft so strong/God is the Ruler yet.”


This isn’t a frivolous dismissal of a serious problem. A discussion with my husband brought me to the conclusion there are no easy solutions to this frightening, tangled web of politics and power. Indeed, the wisest and perhaps the only course of action is for the world to pray for guidance that can lead to peace, all the while remembering that, despite the actions of a despotic dictator, “God reigns...”!


With this in mind, I have an assignment for you. So many of Babcock’s phrases resonate with me as I take in the wonder and beauty of nature. Over the years, I’ve collected evidence of God’s masterful hand at work in his world through photographs. I often scroll through them on my phone to lift my spirits and remind me God is in control. I’m going to share a few of my photos and one borrowed one at the end of this post. I ask you to please comment on Facebook by sharing one (or more) pictures that you think perfectly reflects words or phrases from this song. To help you in this task, here are the stanzas:


This is my Father’s world,

And to my listening ears

All nature sings, and round me rings

The music of the spheres.

This is my Father’s world:

I rest me in the thought

Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas—

His hand the wonders wrought.


This is my Father’s world:

The birds their carols raise,

The morning light, the lily white,

Declare their Maker’s praise.

This is my Father’s world:

He shines in all that’s fair;

In the rustling grass, I hear Him pass,

He speaks to me everywhere.


This is my Father’s world:

O let me ne’er forget

That though the wrong seems oft so strong,

God is the Ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:

Why should my heart be sad?

The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!

God reigns; let earth be glad!


To further inspire you, I’ve linked to a performance of the song. The video quality isn’t the best, but it is one of only two I could find of Dengler’s version. If you prefer the traditional melody, there are many choices. Whichever you prefer, may you find peaceful assurance in the words.


 Of rocks 
                              















 and trees


of skies and seas-- 


 














    The morning light,

 




 


 

    the lily white,

 
    He shines in all that's fair            

In the rustling grass, I hear Him pass,

                                               
                                     




 










Sunday, February 13, 2022


As promised last month, many of my posts this year will be concerned with hymns/songs that stir my soul. Songs that so perfectly combine words and melody as to allow a peek through the thin veil which separates the earthly kingdom from the spiritual one. 

I had a specific song in mind when I conceived of these posts and intended to lead with it. But last Sunday, pastor Jay alluded to the dry bones of Ezekiel’s vision in his sermon, and that prompted me to think about our church’s collective read through the Old Testament last year. It seems members who participated in that activity were of two factions: those who enjoyed reading the Old Testament and those who couldn't get out of it fast enough. Unlike most opposing factions today, we didn’t threaten to sue each other or unfriend each other on Facebook. We just had a fun and civil discussion. 

I happened to be with those who found reading the Old Testament—for the most part—fascinating and uplifting. I add “for the most part” because only the most hardcore of Bible scholars—which I’m certainly not—could find the entire Old Testament fascinating. Genesis and Exodus provide an interesting start, but slogging through the 613 laws of Moses worked better for me than melatonin. And there was way more information than I wanted on how to build a tabernacle or sacrifice a bull. 

Around about Judges, the action picks up again—and gets a little weird. Okay, a lot weird. I guarantee some of those stories of biblical heroes never made it into my childhood Sunday school curriculum. Same goes for the stories about Israel’s kings. But the Wisdom Literature gave me much to ponder with its unanswerable questions and much to enjoy with the beautiful poetic language. 

Then came the prophets. I loved them. Many people consider the prophets messengers of doom and gloom and punishment (albeit well-deserved). Friend Sara, who isn’t an OT fan, contends there is way too much “smoting” taking place. She has a point, but there are also messages of hope and renewal and restoration. Messages that assure God’s people he has not abandoned them. Messages that point to God’s offer of hope through Jesus. As pastor Jay put it so beautifully, “The Old Testament is God’s continuous rescue plan.”

And that brings me back to Ezekiel. Later that Sunday afternoon, I reflected on the meaning behind Ezekiel’s vision. Lines from “Days of Elijah”—a song I hadn’t heard in a long time—came to me: “And these are the days of Ezekiel/The dry bones becoming as flesh.” Unlike most of the other songs I was considering for this series of blogs, this one is fast-paced with a pounding beat. And then there are the words. “And though these are days of great trial…out of Zion’s hill, salvation comes.” Seems to be written exactly for current times. 

I’m not now nor have I ever been a very demonstrative person. Standing up in church and/or lifting my arms is not my modus operandi. Occasionally, if the music is particularly rousing, I’ll manage a discreet toe-tap. But I challenge anyone to listen to “Days of Elijah” and remain completely still. If this song doesn’t make your heart beat faster and send a slight chill down your spine, you might want to check if you’re alive. Turn up the volume, clap your hands, wave your arms, sway your body to the beat. If you do, you might get a tiny glimpse into one of heaven’s rowdier moments.

I chose this YouTube version because it provides stunning visuals along with the lyrics. But there are lots of renditions and artists to choose from. Choose the one that most inspires you!


Sunday, January 16, 2022


Over the past few years, my appreciation for and fascination with the written word have grown exponentially. These days, among my greatest delights is discovering beautifully and meticulously written passages—words that artfully express the writer’s thoughts and deeply touch the reader’s sensibilities. Such passages inspire me and challenge me to rise to equal heights. 


But last week as I sat in our church sanctuary and listened to the choir sing a beautiful hymn, I realized that for me, song—the union of words and music—holds the greatest potential for giving me, a mere mortal, a peek into heaven. The combining of uplifting words with haunting melodies allows me a glimpse of the sublime, however fleeting that glimpse might be. 


That discovery prompted me to veer from my tradition (if four years of doing something can constitute a tradition) of choosing a word to focus on throughout the year. While that practice served me well, this year I’m returning to making a resolution. Just one. And it won’t be broken before the ink with which it was written dries on the page. Rather than dreading this resolution, I’m looking forward to it.


I resolve in 2022 to listen thoughtfully and prayerfully for songs that speak to me in a meaningful way. I’m going to delight in their melodies and ponder their messages. From time to time, I’ll share those songs—mostly hymns, but not always—and my thoughts on them.  


I already have a few songs in mind and am anxious to discover new ones. I hope you’ll tune in to my posts. (Cheesy pun intended.) Maybe some of my favorites will be your favorites, too. Or hopefully you’ll share your favorites with me.


  


Friday, October 15, 2021

Shiny Things on a Cloudy Autumn Day

I fear I haven’t done justice to my WoY (Word of the Year) for 2021. And it isn’t because I don’t love it. I mean, what’s not to love about such a cheerful, encouraging word? And despite the fact that we’re still experiencing health, political, and economic debacles, there remain plenty of reasons to … shine

Taking advantage of a fall traveling opportunity, husband Bill and I ventured into eastern Tennessee. In addition to being excited to see family, I was also hoping to take in some spectacular fall foliage. I wasn’t disappointed by the family visit, but we might’ve been a smidge early to fully enjoy the foliage fantasy. Maybe, we’ll be able to catch at least part of it on our return home. In the meantime, it’s still beautiful country, the weather is warm, and there are plenty of hiking trails to enjoy. So today, I set out on a short nature walk. 

Now you might think that in order for something to shine, the sun must be out. And that does help. But even on a cloudy day like today, “shiny things” can abound. And I found plenty of them on my hike today in the form of... mushrooms! 

I love mushrooms—not to eat, but to observe. I think part of my fascination with them comes from those whimsical, fairy-like illustrations in children’s books. But those that appear in nature are no less endearing. There’s just something magical about funny little fungi that pop up in unusual places and come in myriad shapes, sizes, and colors. 

So with the first sighting of mushrooms on my hike today, I knew I wasn’t going to miss the glowing reds and golds of autumn. I could catch those later. Mushrooms would more than suffice as my shiny things. And to prove my point, here are a few photos. I hope you find these woodland treasures as fascinating as I did!



                   
This one shyly peeked from beneath a pile            
of leaves, while others boldly displayed                                 
 their showy shapes ... 

                                                                                                       









impressive sizes...



and vibrant colors!








Wishing You a Fall Full of Shiny Things!



 

 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

When Someone Tarnishes Your Shine


The shiny spring day matched my mood. I literally was in a good place—the garden center of my local Lowe’s store. To add to the bliss of the occasion, I’d managed to score the last garden cart. 


Although the sunny, windless day seemed ideal for planting, experience with Oklahoma weather told me it was still too early to place any tender vegetation into the ground. So, anxious to dig in the dirt,  I was following the gardening advice of experts and picking up supplies to prepare my soil. I pushed the cart right next to the forty-pound bags of compost and managed, without too much strain, to slide it onto the cart. 


Close by, a man and a woman—I’d say late forties, early fifties—were deliberating on which fertilizer to buy. As I reached for my second bag of compost, the woman hurried over, saying, “Let me help you with that.” Giving me no time to respond, she heaved the second bag of compost on top of the first one and said, “How many bags do you need?”


Now, I’ll bet you think you know where this post is going. That I’m going to write about the kindness of a complete stranger. That her generosity and willingness to help warmed my heart and gilded the already shiny moment. That I thanked her with an offer of coffee at a nearby Starbucks and now we’re friends on social media.

 

Well, you’d be wrong. 



The woman had cast a shadow on my sunny day, and my immediate reaction was one of irritation. Did this woman think I was too old and feeble to lift those sacks by myself? Did I look that frail and helpless? Obviously this woman hadn’t read any of my posts about my exercise community and hadn’t seen my Facebook profile picture—the one where I’m performing my tricky yoga pose. I suppressed the urge to challenge her to a planking contest right in the middle of the soil improvement aisle. 


    In case you've missed it, my tricky yoga pose.


Instead, I replied to her question with “That’s plenty.” Then with an admittedly chilly “Thank you,” I walked away. As I maneuvered toward the checkout line, I ohyahed (defined by my friend Shel Harrington  as thinking of the perfect retort . . . too late). I should’ve told that woman I needed ten bags and watched with satisfaction as she worked up a sweat loading them onto the cart. Of course, then I would’ve never been able to push the cart out of the store. But that’s beside the point.


Please stay with me. I promise there’s more to this post than a whiny rant. 


The incident spurred much reflection and introspection on my part, which eventually polished away the tarnish. First, by the time I’d gone through checkout, I’d had a friendly chat with the lady in line in front of me and with the cashier. Neither had reacted to me as if I were feeble-bodied or feeble-brained. Why should I let the actions of one person spoil a perfectly shiny day? 


Second, what had the woman in question done that was so bad? She’d truly thought she was being helpful. With my full head of gray hair and with no make-up, I’m sure I’d supported her assumptions that I was old (correct) and needed assistance (incorrect). I’d let my ego get in the way of being gracious. 


Finally, I had to reflect on the times I’ve made similar errors based on stereotypes. How many times have I allowed outward appearances to dictate my assessment of someone’s abilities and to influence my response toward them? More than I care to remember. 


By the time I arrived home and unloaded those two bags of compost, I’d cooled down and was able to laughingly recount the incident to my husband. (Who, btw, has no reservations about my ability to do yard work and heavy lifting.) And, although I’m reluctant to reveal it, here’s the kicker: Before going to bed that night, I had to take a pill to relieve my aching back. Maybe I should’ve let that lady load both bags of compost . . .  and follow me home and unload them. My ego might’ve been a bit bruised, but I could’ve saved myself some physical pain.





A FUN NOTE! That term my clever friend Shel coined? She has an entire book of quinbloitswords that cover situations we all face as we age. You’ll be hearing more from me about Over 50, Defined, which debuts on April 30!