Raising an Ebenezer or Two or Three

Wednesday, November 20, 2019
"Samuel took a stone and set it up . . . and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”   (1 Samuel 7:12)
At this season of thankfulness, I want to take a few minutes here on the blog to 'raise an Ebenezer'.  If you're not familiar with the term, you're not alone.  Until my Pastor's sermon this past Sunday, I wasn't either.  The meaning of Ebenezer originates more than 1000 years before Christ.  It means stone of help. "To commemorate God’s mighty intervention on behalf of his people, Samuel wanted the people to remember, not just for a few days, but for years, for decades, for generations, how God had come to the rescue of his people when they humbled themselves before him. They were vulnerable, with their enemies approaching, and they did not deserve God’s rescue, having been chronically unfaithful.  And yet, God intervened to help."  (https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/here-i-raise-my-ebenezer)  Pastor Lee encouraged the congregation to take a stone from a bowl on the altar and use it as a reminder of times in our life when God was there to help.  He took the task a step further and encouraged everyone to write the story of such incidences and then share the story with someone....and raise an Ebenezer to forever memorialize those times God has helped.
I think most of us, whether we're regular church attendees, whether we believe but don't practice in an organized way, and even those who don't regularly think about God....all of us can honestly admit that God was present in our lives at some time of need.  We can probably all agree that He was there even when we didn't think to ask for His help, when we may not have deserved His help, when we have strayed from our commitment to Him.  Let's face it....life is full of challenges.  We are constantly faced with circumstances that put us to the test, challenge our resolve, test our faith.  There are times we are so caught up in them, that even when we are past them....we are too tired, too drained to notice that we didn't get through it on our own.  God was there...helping us even when we failed to notice.   I know I have a number of those times in my life, times when God was at work for me, times when I asked and times I didn't.  

All of us could probably write a book about such times, and certainly there were many prior to this first one I'll share, but this may be the first really big one for me.  It was in March 1981, John and I were in the happy season of our young married lives, living the joy of being first-time parents.  Our beautiful daughter, Katie, 10 months old, was happy and healthy.  She fulfilled my dream of having a daughter.  Suddenly our idyllic life took a turn, a turn that would forever change her life and ours.  Katie was diagnosed with Type I, insulin-dependent, diabetes.  Her blood sugar was over 800.  After a couple days in ICU (Katie was nearly in a coma in diabetes ketoacidosis), we spent two weeks at Ellis Hospital and a week at Joslin Clinic in Boston learning everything we could about managing diabetes. Thirty nine years ago, treating a baby was somewhat of a medical mystery for the average medical professionals. Our carefree ten month old was no longer carefree.  Our job as parents just expanded to include multiple finger pricks a day, two insulin injections, treating low blood sugars, fretting that she'd eat enough to use the insulin we'd just injected and so much more.  The only diabetics I knew till then were a friend of my dad's who was blind and had lost both of his legs.  John's grandma, now gone, had also lost her sight and legs....so you can imagine that this diagnosis was filled with fear, and did not paint a happy future.  Somehow though, John and I found the strength to face diabetes head on and embraced it with gratitude that the diagnosis was not cancer or meningitis (which my brother died of) and chose to deal with diabetes matter-of-factly, doing what needed to be done without self pity or 'why me's?'   God was there.

Years later God once again answered our prayers for Katie.  From almost the day of her initial diagnosis, among the litany of complications we feared, pregnancy topped our list.  I wondered if Katie would be able to get pregnant.  Would she have miscarriages like so many woman with diabetes did back then?  Would she be victim to delivering a stillborn as so many diabetic women did?  And if she were fortunate enough to get pregnant and carry a child, would that child be healthy and full term and would the impact of pregnancy cause harm and stress on her organs which were already at risk from diabetes?  While I knew motherhood was a dream of hers, a dream I hoped was feasible, the mom in me was scared what that dream would mean for Katie's overall health.  Well, God heard prayers, from us and so many who know Katie and He answered those prayers. Katie conceived quickly and delivered a healthy baby boy just a few weeks early with only short-term complications and no lasting damage to her body.  Now God was there for Katie.  He was also there for me because while I spent 30+ years fearing these 9 months, God intervened and miraculously calmed those fears and made it possible for me to find joy and excitement and share this blessing with my daughter, pretty much worry free.

Then there was what I call the Ides of March.  On March 1st, 2008 our son-in-law was badly injured in a rollerblading accident.  He and my daughter were practically newlyweds, married only 6 months and in their 20's.  Eric suffered a brain injury, a fractured skull and a ruptured ear drum from a freak fall at an indoor skate park.  He spent several days in ICU, doctors unsure about his recovery and his future, and then several days at Sunnyview Rehab relearning basic life skills.  To say it was a scary time for our daughter, and all the family, is an understatement.  Six days after Eric's accident while he was still in ICU, I got a call from my mom at 10:00 pm that my dad had died suddenly.  My dad had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's a few years earlier but was still quite alert and aware. He died of an apparent heart attack.  He'd had bypass surgery 13 years earlier after a heart attack.  This scare changed how he lived.  He not only quit smoking and drinking, he was religious in following a strict diet.  Now though, he had Alzheimer's, and when I got the call I was devastated.....but immediately felt blessed that God took him before the Alzheimer's had completely taken him from us.  He was spared the worst stages of a horrible disease and for that I was so grateful.  A couple weeks later our 11 year old Sheltie died of lung cancer.  They say when it rains it pours, and most would agree we were in the middle of a monsoon, but somehow we got through it...all of it.  Eric recovered and returned to his old self.  God was there lifting us and carrying us through, step by step, quietly but powerfully giving us strength, even through our darkest hour.
In December of 2011, I had just retired.  John was already retired and we were babysitting our then 2 1/2 yr old granddaughter.  I only worked part time so mid-December I decided to retire and babysit full time.  Not two weeks after my retirement, Laura announced she was offered a big promotion with her company, a promotion she'd worked very hard for, her dream job.  What an accomplishment.....but....that job would mean a move to Indiana.  Instantly my heart sank.  My daughter who never went on sleepovers, who called me everyday from college, my mini me, was moving to Indiana and taking our beloved granddaughter with her.  While this sounds normal and everyday to many of you, for me it was utter devastation and gut wrenching.  That first year was awful.  I didn't think I could go on.  I was sad beyond words, empty inside,  and so far deep in depression, I didn't know how life could go on.  We visited them and they came home a couple times that first year.  As the time passed, visits became more frequent but the goodbyes never got easier.  The goodbye when we had to leave them and our brand new, second granddaughter in Indiana just about killed me.  The 13 hour drive was a total teary blur, a sadness I didn't know was possible.  Laura and her family stayed in Indiana for three years. Eventually Laura decided it was time to come home but that meant she would need to find a job back home.  Again, God was there with His hand in the details.  Laura was offered a big job with the American Diabetes Association.  I don't know what you're thinking, but me.....I'm convinced that was absolute divine intervention.  Not only did He facilitate the perfect job considering her experience with a sister with diabetes, He kept me sane those three years and I believe was instrumental in helping me discover my passions in retirement -photography and blogging.  Those two things bring me so much joy and purpose; I know for sure I would not have discovered either had it not been for Laura moving away.  I'd survived and thrived what first felt like a devastating blow.  I know I wouldn't have fared so well without God's help.  To this day when I look at photos from those three years...photos taken in Indiana, photos from their visits home...I still get emotional and teary....5 yrs later.  That is how deeply I was affected.

There have been numerous, less monumental instances that God was there to help....some of those times I may have taken for granted, many that I understood and acknowledged.  I know He was there when I lost a job but found one more rewarding with better pay.  He was there when my life-long bestie beat cancer - three times.  He's been there guiding our travels, bringing people whose stories long to be told into my life.  He's there each and every day to listen to my prayers and concerns,  replacing the world-class worrier that I used to be with a calmer and more peaceful existence. .  And the list goes on.  By now, I'm pretty sure if I had raised an Ebenezer every time God was there for me....my pile would resemble this.

He does this and more....even when I'm not a dedicated, perfect church attendee, bible reader or notable Christian.  He is there for me and I believe He is there for you.  We fail Him consistently, yet His faithfulness to us is never ending.  Isn't it appropriate then for us to raise an Ebenezer to honor and recognize His help?  I encourage you to do as Pastor Lee challenged.  Think of some ways God was there for you.  Write a couple down and share them with someone.  At the very least the act of doing so will remind you that you have not traveled your journey alone...you will not travel it alone.  No matter what life dealt you, God has helped you..... thus far.  And He will help you again.  Isn't it time you raised an Ebenezer?  Maybe your Thanksgiving table would be a good place to share yours!

To hear Pastor Lee's full sermon, use this link: 
If you're looking for a church that will not only inspire you to raise your own Ebenezer but will be there to pray for you and support you during your difficult times...Shenendehowa United Methodist Church connects people to Christ and community. 


City of Souls Find Eternal Rest in the Albany Rural Cemetery

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

City of Souls
  • a special fondness or interest in cemeteries or graveyards; especially in collecting epitaphs that are written on tombstones,
  • a fascination with seeing gravestones and sarcophagi
  • a stone coffin typically adorned with a sculpture or inscription. 
Neither of these words I'd heard of before, yet after my recent visit to Oakwood Cemetery, I feel it's time I learn them, especially since our recent visit to the Albany Rural Cemetery.  Who knew?

Once again I find myself in awe of a place so close to my hometown, a place less than 30 minutes from where I was born and lived my whole life, a place I heard of but have never explored.  I find this such a common phenomenon that we spend our whole lives traveling away from home to explore and discover all the while missing so many treasures that are practically in our hometown, places people actually travel to on vacation.  Certainly no one comes on vacation to a cemetery, but I'm beginning to think visiting cemeteries like Oakwood and Albany Rural should be something we do with our kids.  There's so much history there, so much beauty, so many stories we leave wishing we could hear.  I suspect I'm not the only person who hasn't explored these historical masterpieces so I hope these blog posts might inspire you to do a little research of your own.

Rural cemeteries, also known as garden or landscape cemeteries, came about due to several factors of the 19th century. Just a few of those factors include:

  1. Overcrowded, ill-smelling, and unsanitary church burial grounds. Burial in the church cemetery adjoining most churches was the usual interment practice in the 17th and 18th centuries, especially for those living in cities. 
  2. Epidemic such as the cholera epidemic in 1832, that resulted, in part from overcrowded and poorly buried bodies in church and other urban graveyards. The cemetery is the burial site for 135,000 people.  
  3. An increasing wealthy class, particularly the tycoons of the 19th and early 20th century, who had few outlets for their wealth, and built funerary monuments to themselves and their prosperity.  
Like most rural cemeteries, following its first burials in 1845, ARC became a very popular destination for family members of the deceased, as well as visitors and tourists from around the world. During this time period public parks did not exist, and rural cemeteries (such as Albany Rural) became the place for people in the city to escape to more natural surroundings for a weekend picnic with the family. Postcards and stereoview pictures of the Cemetery highlight the fact that ARC was a destination for travelers in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s as well as a tranquil resting place for the deceased. (taken from the ARC website)

Founded in April of 1841, the Albany Rural Cemetery is a National Historical Landmark.  Even bigger than Oakwood in Troy, ARC is 467 acres large.  Paul Grondahl, in the forward of his book, 'These Exhalted Acres-Unlocking the Secrets of Albany Rural Cemetery', wrote, "It is an epic city of the dead, a history lesson carved in stone."  Stone....there's no shortage of that on these 467 acres.  It's hard not to be impressed and awed by the elaborate and ornate monuments, gravestones and mausoleums in a cemetery 175 years old.  Certainly no modern cemetery boasts the likes of such artistry, at least not in such quantity.  Stonework was definitely an art, perhaps a lost art. Walking through this city of souls beckons the living to step back in time and make the acquaintance of some of the people who are laid to rest beneath such lasting tributes, meant to last an eternity.  Even the smallest speaks volumes and provokes feelings of grief.
Among the ordinary, everyday folk buried here, this cemetery is the burial ground for 34 members of Congress, 8 Presidential Cabinet members, 5 NYS Governors, 55 mayors of the city of Albany and most notably, Chester A. Arthur the 21st president of the United States.  Other notables include General Schuyler, Revolutionary War hero and father-in-law of Alexander Hamilton, Stephen Van Rensselaer III, last Dutch patroon and founder of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Erastus Dow Palmer, world-renowned sculptor.  Albany Rural Cemetery also has at least 1,030 Civil War soldiers and sailors buried in it, with the Cemetery Soldiers’ Lot being the resting place of 149 who are specifically commemorated by the Grand Army of the Republic monument constructed here at ARC in 1873.
Albany Rural Cemetery

Albany Rural Cemetery

Albany Rural Cemetery
Among the most famous sculptures at ARC, Angel at the Sepulcher, is the Erastus Dow Palmer monument to the wife of Robert Lenox Banks.  Erastus Dow Palmer is also buried in the Cemetery.
Albany Rural Cemetery

 Notice the detail in the cross close-up:
Hundreds continue to be buried here each year.   Driving and walking through this city of souls, one can't help but wonder about their stories.  So many women of the time were listed by their first and maiden name, described only as 'wife of.....'.  Who were these women and what was their legacy?  Surely more than the 'wife of' someone.  It reminds me of the importance of writing our own stories so that someday, years from now when all that's left of us is a stone marker, or an urn, or tattered photos, our descendants might wonder just who we were, aside from the name on the stone marker.  I'm proud to be a wife of and a mother of, daughter of, but certainly there's more to me than those descriptions.  And while my life story is doubtfully as exciting or interesting as some of the people whose coffins lay below these ornate markers, someone just might want to read it.  Let these blog posts of these beautiful sacred grounds be an inspiration to you to remember your loved ones who came before you. Tell their stories to your kids and grandkids.  Inspire them to cherish the past and the people who came before them.  Don't let your legacy be limited by the numbers before and after the dash on your tombstone.  Let your legacy be 'the dash'....the time in between when you arrived and when you departed.  Start today!
Just like our visit to Oakwood Cemetery, I took more photos that I can include here, so there will be a complete collection later on my Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/GAWelter/. 
For more information about Albany Rural Cemetery:
The most up-to-date publication available for purchase from the ARC office is Times Union writer Paul Grohndal’s These Exalted Acres—Unlocking the Secrets of Albany Rural Cemetery (2013).
Thanks for reading!  Come back soon for more Life As I See It!

An Unexpected Visit to a Heavenly Resting Place - Oakwood Cemetery

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Just when we think we've seen it all, we find out we haven't.  Certainly no one really believes they've seen it all in the literal sense, and realistically speaking, life isn't long enough for anyone to really see all there is to see.  Once in a while though we are lucky enough to happen upon something in life that we never thought we wanted to see but once we saw it, we immediately felt grateful we did.  That is what happened to us yesterday when we paid an unplanned visit to the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, NY.

Founded in 1848, Oakwood Cemetery  (a nonsectarian cemetery) was designed by Philadelphia engineer, John C. Sidney with the help of Garnett Douglass Baltimore, the first African American to earn a degree from RPI.    The 352 acre property is long and thin, running north and south along Oakwood Avenue in Lansingburgh.  Although Sidney was the engineer, it was John Boetchner who gave Oakwood its charm.  Boetchner incorporated rare and foreign plants to fill the rolling hills and flowing lawns making it look more like a beautiful park than a cemetery.  The cemetery features four man-made lakes, two residential structures, a chapel, a crematorium, 24 mausoleums, about 60,000 graves and about 29 miles of winding roads throughout the cemetery.  I was shocked to learn that last fact, but then again, we spent nearly two hours exploring the cemetery.  We would have stayed much longer had the sun not set.  The cemetery offers a famous panoramic view of the Hudson River Valley that is said to be the "most concentrated and complete overview of American history anywhere in America" (Wikipedia)

While Oakwood is the resting place for a number of notable people, perhaps the most well known is Uncle Sam, Samuel Wilson.  Other notables include educators Amos Eaton and Emma Willard, financiers and business leaders George M. Phelps and Russell Sage, community founders Abraham Lansing and Jacob Vanderheyden, and civil war heroes Rice C. Bull, Joseph Bradford Carr, William H. Freeman, George H. Thomas, and John Ellis Wool.  Fourteen members of the House of Representatives are also buried herhe.  While all those distinguished people certainly make Oakwood impressive, what I loved about it was the elaborately sculpted and carved gravestones...so exquisite for the time.  Unlike other cemeteries of the time where stones are normally very thin and simple, so many of the gravestones here were massive, thick and ornate.  Many towering, reaching to the sky, some holding intricate human forms with expressive faces.  Oakwood Cemetery is the 'museum' of resting places, at least in upstate New York.  It was Oakwood was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

The cemetery on its own is probably beautiful at any season, but it was particularly breathtaking yesterday with the blazing foliage.  The mature trees, setting sun, hawks hovering above, even a lone deer pausing upon our approach all made for something out of a beautifully penned novel.  I'm not sure I could imagine a setting more peaceful.  It's no surprise we saw a large number of folks walking their dogs.  One car came through with it's passenger window open and a hound-type dog riding shotgun, head out the window, howling the entire visit....for a good 15 minutes.  I couldn't help but wonder why, perhaps he knows someone laid to rest here?  If only dogs could talk!

The only thing that could compete with the scenery may have been the mausoleums scattered throughout.  I admit I'm no cemetery expert, but Oakwood Cemetery is definitely the most beautiful I've ever seen.

The largest structure on the property is the Gardner Earl Chapel and Crematorium. The chapel's namesake, Gardner Earl, was the son of a wealthy Troy shirt collar maker, William S. Earl.  Gardner learned about cremation when he visited Europe and left a bequest to be cremated upon his death.  Sadly Gardner died young and because cremation was not yet popular in the U.S., his parents took his body to Buffalo to be cremated.  When they returned, they hired Albert Fuller, a well known Albany architect and "asked him to make the building the most modern, artistically beautiful and enduringly strong crematory in the world."  He succeeded and hopefully I can dedicate another post to just the chapel.

Beautiful, right? I'm both thrilled and ashamed to say this is only a fraction of the photos I took. I will be posting a complete collection of them on Facebook in a day or so.  I apologize for the seemingly endless scrolling this photo-packed post caused.  I hope in the end you found it worthwhile.  Neither John nor I are 'cemetery' people.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I don't want to be taking up space someplace for all of eternity and the idea of cremation seems even more appealing after visiting Oakwood Cemetery.  I might be making an appointment for a tour of the crematorium soon to check it out.  Regardless of how you feel about where your remains will be after you've passed, you've got to admit Oakwood is a beautiful place.  Thanks for coming along for another adventure at Life As I See It.  You never know where the road will lead, but you know for sure I'll have photos to document where we've been.  Have a great week.  I'll leave you with this quote:
 "Every man should keep a fair-sized cemetery in which to keep the faults of his friends." 
- Henry Ward Beecher

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