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Posts Tagged ‘Red River Valley’

God Surprises 2 1/2

Where does it say in “the good book” that the Creator of the universe must continually prove himself to his creation? It doesn’t.  But yet he does.  I suppose that is a part of his sovereign choice; to continually reveal himself in and through his creation and also at various times in specific ways.

It seems to be part of human propensity to have the memory and attention span of a very average fruit-fly. We constantly forget to see God in his creative works all around us.  It takes us banging into something to cause us to sit up and take notice that our universe in its largest parts down to its smallest parts is fearfully and wonderfully made.  But then we go merrily on our way and soon forget again who made it all and who still holds it all together.

A constant refrain in Psalm 106 is that God’s creation “forgot” or “did not remember.” How like us!  It seems that part of The Fall’s curses was a short memory.  Psalm 106 recounts all the great and marvelous things God did for his people but then concludes each episode with “but they did not remember” or “they forgot.”  It seems that one of the purposes of remembering is to believe that what God did before in the past, he can do again.

I, at least, find my life constantly repeating the same mistakes of Israel:they forgot His works and His wonders which He had shown them” or “the day when he delivered them” (Psalm 78:11, 42).  At worst, the experiences laid out in the Bible become only ancient history lessons of what God had done at one time.  At best, my own experiences of God’s “works and wonders” in my life become distant memories of what God did that one time.

One cannot help reading Israel’s Old Testament history and want to yell at the pages of the Bible,C’mon guys!  Look at all that God has done already!  Why can’t you believe him?”  Of course, the arrogance in that is forgetting our own faith journey (or should it more appropriately be called “lack-of-faith journey”?).  It is a rare saint to whom God has not had to prove himself over and over again.  Like I said, I forget.  Forgetfulness tends to breed doubt and unbelief in me.

Fortunately, God is patient. Or, I prefer the old word long-suffering.  For, truly, he suffers a long time with us.  To our benefit and to God’s credit he does not forget.  He does not forget that earthly existences are mere breaths or mists in eternity.  He does not forget that we are as fragile as fruit-flies in a fruit bowl.  “God remembered that they were made of flesh and were like a wind that blows once and then dies down” (Psalm 78:39).

So it is that every new trouble is an opportunity to remember what God has done. Because what God has done before, he can do again.  At least, that is how it is supposed to work in theory.  More often than not, if you are like me, you have forgotten.  And you have forgotten to remember, recall and recount God’s many blessings.  So, if you are like me, I end up frustrated, angry and throwing a tantrum over my troubles.  Finally, exhausted, I turn to God for help.

Once again, fortunately, this is where God not being like me is really a good thing. As the psalmist reminds me, “When God saw the trouble they were in and heard their cries for help, He remembered his Covenant with them, and, immense with love, took them by the hand. He poured out his mercy on them…” (Psalm 106:44 – 46).  God remembers.  God is immense with love.  God is present.  God is abundant in mercy.  Boy, I sure wish I could remember that every time I’m in a place of need or trouble.

A few years after the last God surprise I shared in “God Surprise 2“, my family had relocated to Grand Forks, North Dakota, where I was pastoring Valley Christian Center.  The house we were renting had to be sold and soon we were looking for a house to rent or to buy.  We wanted to be close to the church, which really limited our options.

Finally, we found a house to buy that we could afford with an unfinished basement. The previous occupants had done a lot of work to the house but left most of the basement unfinished.  They let their two young sons use it for a hockey rink.  You have to have lived in that part of the country to understand that idea.  It met most of our family’s needs and so we went ahead and purchased it.

The big problem was finishing the basement. We really need the room.  More importantly, a bare cement basement during a Grand Forks, North Dakota, winter is colder than most places in the lower 48 states.  And my wife absolutely hates being cold; more than she hates the devil.  Hell for her would not be a lake of fire but a frozen lake.  So, this posed two problems:  One was the money it would take to finish the basement.  Two was the “who” of who would fix it since I am no carpenter.  Nevertheless, my family moved into the house.

Late in Fall, I was visiting a plasma center to donate plasma and make a few extra dollars. I tried going once or twice a week.  The extra money paid for gas or for a few extra groceries in-between pay days.  During that time of the year leading up to the holidays, the plasma company held big drawings with prizes.  They hoped to get more people to come in more frequently to increase plasma donations.

Ever time a client went in and was screened, he or she was handed a little sheet or paper to enter the drawing. Those slips of paper were then added to a large wire drum about half the size of a 50-gallon barrel.  At first, it looked huge compared to the little pieces of paper.  Then, as the weeks went on, it looked too small as it began to fill up.  On top of this, this plasma center was one of five other centers that would have names entered into the drawing.

Now, I have never been a big one for drawings. Those that I have entered, I have never won anything.  I have plenty of friends who have had that fortune, but not me.  So, on this occasion I did not bother to fill out the slip of paper and enter my name in any drawing except when badgered by one of the screeners prepping me for a draw.  Only then did I reluctantly enter the drawing.  And, as the wire cage filled up, it only confirmed my suspicion of “what’s the use?”

On one visit to donate plasma, the cold air from the Canadian Arctic was settling into the Red River Valley of the North.  Snow was already blowing and the frosty air would take your breath away if you breathed too deeply.  I thought about the unfinished basement.  How in the world would I heat that to keep it comfortable?  My wife hates the thought of being cold more than the threat of catching the West Nile Virus.  What would we do?

As I entered the center, the young attendant screening the people that morning asked if I was entering the drawing.

“Naw,” I said nonchalantly.  “Look at all the names in there!  I never win anything from these things anyway.  I’ve put my name in only a half-dozen times at most.”

“Well,” she challenged, “you can’t win if you don’t enter.”

“Now you sound like a commercial for the state lottery!” I kidded.  We both laughed.

“This is the last day to get your name in,” she reminded me.  “What’s there to lose?”

“All right,” I relented.  “I’ll fill out the little slip of paper just to make you happy.”

“What if you won the Grand Prize?” she asked.  “What would you do with the money?”

The Grand Prize was $10,000.  That was beyond my ability to even think of winning that in the drawing.  I would set my sets a little lower on one of the dozens of Apple Nano-pods being offered in it.

“I don’t know,” I answered.  “I guess I would give some money to a hospital for handicapped children I just found out about in India on a recent trip there.  Then, I would finish my basement with the rest of it.”

“How unexciting!” she announced.  “No trip?  No party?  No buying something special?”

“No,” I answered back.  “In my book those would be pretty special enough.”  Leave it to a young college student phlebotomist to consider the average things in life unexciting.  Wait until she grows up and has a family, I thought to myself.  I smiled and moved on to the next station.

As I went back to one of the many beds to have my plasma drawn, I thought half to my self and to the Lord, “Lord, it sure would be great if I did win that $10,000.  What a great way to help with the children’s hospital and to also finish the basement in my house.  $10,000 is not big in your economy.  You’ve done that before for us.”

Soon, I was hooked up to a machine drawing out plasma and putting back in red blood. I started to read the stack of magazines I took with me each time I went.  I found the time to be a great way to catch up on reading.  A little over ninety minutes later I was on my way with a few more dollars in my pocket.

Sea Anemone, Port Townsend Marina, Washington, July 2010

Sea Anemone, Port Townsend Marina, Washington, July 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

After the beginning of the New Year, I returned to the plasma center. The place was full of University of North Dakota students back from winter breaks.  This was a popular place for university students to make a few extra dollars for school life.  After signing in, I went to the waiting room with the rest of them.  Soon one of the nurses approached me.

“Mr. Almberg?” she asked pensively.

“Yes?” I replied wondering what was up that a nurse was talking to me.

“Mr. Almberg.  We need to talk to you.  Do you have a few moments to come with me?”

“Sure,” I answered.  Inside I was thinking that my last plasma draw must have been off somehow.  If you have too low of iron or too high of something else, you have to take a break for a couple of weeks before you can come back in.  This had happened a couple of times before.  So, I was preparing myself for the usual dietary questions.

We entered a small room.  There were a couple of other phlebotomists there as well as the center’s director.  He sat down opposite me and said with a very serious face, “Mr. Almberg, we have something very serious to discuss with you.”

“Uh, oh.  What did I do now?” I responded trying to diffuse what appeared to be a serious situation with a non-serious response.  “Cholesterol too high again?”

“No, no,” he smiled.  “We’re just wondering what you’re going to do with $10,000?”

I stared blankly back at him.  I was sure that this was a joke.  One of my friends worked at the center and she was standing in the corner of the room with a Cheshire cat-like grin on her face.  I was suspicious.

“Who knows,” I smiled back trying to hide my nervousness for the punch line I knew must be coming up.  “I’ll let you know when I have $10,000.”

“Well, the reason we called you back here instead of telling you out in the waiting room is because you won the Grand Prize drawing of $10,000.”  His smile got bigger.

I looked at him.  I looked around the room.  I looked over at my friend and she was nodding her head like a bobble-head doll on the dash of a four-wheel drive truck gone mudding.  I was dumbfounded.

“You’re kidding me,” I spit out.

“Nope,” the director reassured me.  “Congratulations!  You’re our winner out of all the entries from all six centers!  It will be a few weeks before you get your check, but for right now we need you to fill out some paper work to get it processed.  Are you OK with that?”

“Good grief, yes!” I responded somewhat still befuddled.  Each of the people in the room came by to shake my hand and congratulate me.  My friend was last and said, “I’m so glad it was you who won it!”

“Unbelievable!” I responded.  “Who’d have ever thought!?”

After filling out the paperwork, I went back to one of the beds to do what I had come to do.  Give plasma and make a few extra dollars for gas and odd groceries.

As it turned out, I was able to donate $1,500 to the children’s hospital in India as well as finish the house’s basement with the help of a friend.  I paid him and he used the pay to launch his journey into full-time missions work with Royal Rangers International.

There is a frequently quoted “fact” that “Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice.”  That may or may not be true.  I do not know.  What I do know is this: God’s blessings do.  What he has done before, he can do again.  We – that is I – just need to remember that important fact.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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Lutefisk Lessons

When the holidays come around, my mind immediately wanders back to the days our family gathered around my grandparent’s dining room table with a huge plate of steaming lutefisk set upon it.  My grandmother was from German descent, but my grandfather came directly from Sweden as a young boy.  So, my grandmother learned to cook the Scandinavian fish delicacy for the family.  We always ate it on potatoes with white gravy.  That is just the way it came.  I was told that it was because we are Swedes and that it was the only proper way to eat it.

My grandfather, Walter, took pride in finding lutefisk fresh in the Ballard, Washington, markets.  Ballard is a city just north of the city of Seattle, across the Lake Union canal, and sports more than its fair-share of Pacific Northwest Scandinavians.  My grandmother, Evelyn, took pride in complimenting the seasonal foods with all things Scandinavian – yulekake, krumkake, rosettes, lefsa, and kringla.

Now, lutefisk lovers all over the world have suffered ridicule at the hands of non-lutefisk eaters.  I do not know why there is such animosity towards us.  So, to better garner mutual understanding and perhaps greater dialogue on such culinary subjects, I offer below the recipe for cooking lutefisk from “Our Favorite Grange Recipes,” which was compiled and edited by the Home Economics Committee of the California State Grange with Gladys True as Chairperson and printed in 1965 by the Record of Yolo County:

  • Clean thoroughly and place in a wooden bowl or pail.
  • Add water to cover and set in a cool place for 5 to 6 days.  Change water each day.
  • Remove fish and thoroughly clean wooden bowl.
  • Make a solution of water, lime, and ashes and allow to stand overnight.
  • Drain off clear liquid and pour over soaked fish.  Set in a cool place for 7 days.
  • When fish is soft, remove from solution, scrub bowl well and soak fish for several days in cold clear water.
  • Cook in boiling salted water at simmering temperature for about 20 minutes.
  • Drain well and serve.

NOTE:  The Norwegians serve the fish with melted butter; the Swedes serve it with white or mustard sauce.  Allow 1/3 pound per person.

And that is just for the first piece of lutefisk!  Two things are made very, very clear when reading this recipe.  First, preparing and cooking lutefisk takes a lot of forethought and planning.  There is a good three weeks before one could eat this delicacy.  Also, I would like to humbly point out, this obviously takes a higher than average level of intelligence.  Secondly, at the end of the process, the cook has a very clean bowl.

I have recently lived in another lutefisk eating haven of North America. It is the Red River Valley of the North.  The beautiful thing about living there is that virtually every truck stop and restaurant serves lutefisk for the holidays.  Why, one could eat out at a different restaurant every night of the week from Thanksgiving until Christmas and have lutefisk every night!  It is obvious that this truly is the place of “Walhalla” – “the valley of the gods.”  These people are blessed.  Truly blessed by the divine.

Walhalla, Pembina Gorge, North Dakota

Walhalla, Pembina Gorge, North Dakota ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

I consider myself to be a fortunate man to have such a rich heritage and life experience.  I am thankful that I live in the United States of America.  This is a rich and bountiful land filled with people from all over the world.  These holidays allow us to give thanks and celebrate the religious background that helped us attain such blessings.

However, if you are like me, as we enter into the holiday seasons, it is much too easy in the hustle and bustle to forget that gratitude and appreciation should be the greatest marks of the season.  Somehow this gets lots in the midst of frantic Christmas shopping, Thanksgiving meal planning and cooking, company Christmas parties, family gatherings, and decorating.  The greatest challenge to all of us is to not let the overindulgence of our materialistic society numb us to all that we are blessed with in this world.  I want to gently caution you as I remind myself:  Do not forfeit your future as collateral for fulfillment today with material goods that fade so quickly away into a closet, storage unit or Goodwill bin.

Americans seem to think that God will wink at our gluttony and overindulgent materialism in the face of the rest of the world’s needs.  I think we are wrong.  I believe we will be judged as a nation by how we treat the hungry, poor, naked and immigrant in the rest of the world.  Our expanded waistlines as well as overstuffed closets and storage units testify against us like the blood of Abel crying out from the ground.  How can we have and enjoy so much when so many have so little?

I want to challenge all my friends to consider the food you eat and the things you purchase in light of eternity and your eternal reward.  My family, for example, gave Christmas money this year to Gospel for Asia to help purchase a goat for a needy family.  This goat will provide milk and cheese for a long time.  We did this to remind ourselves how blessed we truly are in this world.  There are plenty of local and global ministries that help the poor and downtrodden.  I would recommend visiting the website adventconspiracy.org to get more ideas.  I challenge you to remember these ministry efforts in your giving during this season.  Remember what Jesus said, “In as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me”.  Now, there is something that will last much longer than three-week old soaked lutefisk.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

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