Our 21st Honeymoon: A Moonrise, A Sunset, and a Sunrise

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Chris and I celebrated our 21st anniversary on August 3rd.  It is always so hot in August, and we are not fans of heat and humidity.  Why did we pick August to get married, we ask ourselves?  Last year we celebrated our 20th on the hottest day of the entire year!  This year we decided to wait until October.  God provided a beautiful beach getaway at Ocean City, Maryland, and it was lovely!!

I have only been to the beach a handful of times in my life.  Florida when I was a preschooler.  Ocean City, New Jersey when I was in Elementary School.  The beautiful white sand beaches of Belize after I graduated from High School.  Brigantine Island for our honey moon.  Duck, North Carolina with the family 6 years ago.  This time I think I really understood why people return again and again.

First we decided to walk on the beach and then the boardwalk to see what we could see.  We ended up walking 68 blocks that day and night, because we didn’t know much about Ocean City.

Finally we found a beautiful restaurant with great Italian food.  We could sit outside and watch the full moon rise over the ocean.  My first moon rise over the ocean!

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The next day we decided to drive rather than walk.  We drove to the very end of the board walk which was the most exciting part.

 

We saw lots of little shops.  We saw hundreds of fancy cars in a car show.  Chris got some Boardwalk fries and frozen custard.  We went to the Life Saving Station Museum.  It was amazing to learn about the men who would patrol the beaches at night, looking for ships in distress.  The accounts of rescues touched me deeply.  The men would risk their own lives, work for hours in freezing temperatures and horrible weather, and think of nothing else except the person they were trying to save.

“That is like you, Jesus.” I prayed. “Give me your heart for your people in distress.  But how do I save them if they don’t even know that they are dying?”

You don’t have to do my job.  You don’t have to save them, heal them, know everything about them, or make everything right for them.  Just love them and obey Me,” I heard Him answer.

Later we ate a delicious meal on our balcony overlooking the bay.  Then we walked on the bay as the sun began to set.

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It was my first sunset on the bay…

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Night falls.

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The next morning we woke up early and walked to the beach one last time.  The sun was about to rise.

I was surprised by all the other people gathered, watching the horizon.

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There is the first bit of sun peeking over the ocean!  My first sunrise on the beach.  We watched as it rose quickly into the sky.

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We shared the beach with the trucks and the morning fishermen.

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And a woman doing acrobatics.

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And two pelicans.

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I could feel His presence in the wind that carried the birds.  As we walked along the edge of the water, I could hear God’s voice in the waves.  They were unrelenting and drowning out all other sounds.  I can see why people love it here.  Away from the rest of the world.  Encounters with God come loud and clear.

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I am struck by how God reveals himself in His creation.  He is like the ocean.  Unpredictable.  Just when you think you have figured out where to walk to just get your feet wet, a large wave comes and gives you more seawater than you had bargained for. Uncontrollable.  The waves push and pull and can’t be stopped.

Unimaginably beautiful.

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Happy 100th Birthday, Grammy!

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La Vera Gisselman, Senior Picture

If my grandmother, La Vera Gisselman were still on this earth, she would be 100 years old today.  She was an extraordinary woman, and I remember her with such fondness.

John and Amelia Seipp

John and Amelia Seipp

La Vera child     She grew up in Wisconsin.  Her small family lived in the second story above a store that they owned.  She was full of love and admiration for her sainted mother, Amelia.  She had much respect for her father, John, although she described him as being strict and favoring her younger brother over her.  She told me her father was a very handsome man, always attracting the attention of the ladies.  Yet he had a certain smell about him, being very opposed to the overuse of precious and expensive water.  (La Vera was one of the most cleanly people I have ever known, almost to a fault.  As a child, I would wait on her heels and beg her to play with me.  Yet, she could not settle down to play a game or read a comic book until she felt that she had sufficiently cleaned my parents house.  This included taking the mattress off of my bed and vacuuming underneath it!)  Well, as a young woman, she described sneaking around when her father wasn’t home, filling up the wash tub with the rationed water and taking many forbidden baths.

When she was 16 years old, she met the love of her life, Harold Gisselman, at the ice skating rink.  He was immediately taken with her and offered to walk her half of the way home.

She thought to herself, “What kind of a guy is this, that he would only walk me part of the way!”

He ended up walking her the entire way to her front door, and it sounded like they were inseparable after that!  He was 20, so he had to wait for La Vera to grow up a bit before they could think about marriage.  Yet, they waited more than 10 years before they tied the knot.  In the frugal and patient way of their generation, they purchased a plot of land and had a house built before they got married.  (I remember looking at pictures of the basement being dug and the piles and piles of rocks that were pulled out of the ground.  Some of those rocks were used by Harold’s father to build a retaining wall in the back yard.  Many changes occurred to the house and the yard over the years, but 921 Humboldt Ave. remained their beloved home for all of their 50 plus years of marriage.  I have such wonderful memories of that little two bedroom, always clean and orderly, always meticulously maintained.  I remember picking cucumbers in the perfect, weedless garden.  I recall many neighbors and friends commenting on how the yard, bordered and overflowing with plants and flowers, was the prettiest one in Wausau.  Whenever an unusually cool breeze blows through Pennsylvania, I am taken back to those cool Wisconsin summers.  Whenever our radiators kick on that first cold day of fall, I am reminded of the smell of Grammy and Papa’s radiators that they had to turn on even in the summer!)

Finally, when Harold was 31 years old, he wed his beautiful La Vera on Nov 1, 1940.

Harold and La Vera Gisselman on their wedding day

Harold and La Vera Gisselman on their wedding day

They honeymooned in Chicago to pick out some furniture for their new home. When they returned to Wausau, they separated to continue living with their own parents until their home was completed.  Harold was the youngest of his mother’s four boys, and Anna always told him that when he moved out, she would just die.  The day he moved into his own home, which was just up the street from his mother’s home, she did pass away.  Much sorrow and joy were woven together in those early years.

Anna and Erik Gisselman

Anna and Erik Gisselman

Grammy told me that one day Harold was requested to report for duty.  It was WWII, and he had received a summons, but there was a possibility that he could be sent right back home again. Grammy passed the long hours waiting for him to return home by scrubbing every inch of her home.  Then she received a call.  He would not be returning but would be entering the Army Air Corp!  He went to an army base in St Louis, Missouri.  They discovered that he was very good at typing, so the army, in their wisdom, decided that he could best serve his country by doing office work in the states.  He was never sent over seas to fight, and I was always so thankful for that.  La Vera was able to visit him in St. Louis, and she became pregnant with their first and only child, my mother!  How very important that child was!

La Vera had to spend most of her pregnancy alone, although she did have the help and company of her mother.  When she told her father-in-law, Erik, that he was going to be a grandfather, he would walk up the street to help her as well.

The time came for her to give birth.  She entered the hospital and they put her to sleep.  She doesn’t remember any of the birth!  (She would become very uncomfortable when I would broach the topic of my natural childbirth experiences.  She preferred to stay in the dark about the whole mysterious affair.)  Harold received some leave and returned to see his baby girl!

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After his time in the Army, Harold was hired as a bank teller.  He worked his way up the banking ladder until he was eventually the bank president.  Everyone called him Chick, and he was known and loved by everyone at the bank and most everyone in town.  He was an honest and intelligent man, always ready with a joke and a smile.  Years and years after his retirement and even years after his death in 1994, I still heard people around town talk about him with respect and admiration.

La Vera got a job as a kindergarten teacher’s assistant at Franklin Elementary.  Then she was the secretary at Horace Mann Junior High School and worked there for many years.  She was wonderful with children.  She gave me a box full of years and years worth of crafty invitations she helped to make, promoting some sort of school event.  She would often be a part of the school’s variety show in which she and Harold (along with many others) would deck themselves out in various costumes and perform skits.

Once they both retired, they would spend their winters in Florida and Arizona and their summers gardening and visiting their two beloved grandchildren (myself and my brother Jason) in Pennsylvania.  La Vera despised the heat and humidity of PA.  She would end up playing games with us in our cool basement to find relief.  We would also go to visit them in Wisconsin for 2-4 weeks in the summer.  Oh the fun we had playing at Marathon Park, hiking on Rib Mountain or the Eau Claire Dells, and visiting the cottage up north. We would swim in the frigid water until our quivering lips turned purple.  Once we all took a trip to Yellowstone National Park.  It was one of the best times of my childhood!

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Harold and La Vera celebrating their 50th anniversary

My Papa passed away the night that I graduated from High School.  La Vera was devastated and heart-broken.  He had prepared her for his death, and she knew how to take care of herself.  She was strong and self-determined.  One of her most memorable character traits was that she ALWAYS knew the right thing to do in EVERY situation, and she NEVER hesitated to speak her mind.  She could be taken as rather prideful and bossy at times, yet to me, that was just Grammy.

Several years passed and Grammy moved herself into a retirement community, selling her beloved home and going through all of her belongings.  Years after that she moved herself into a new retirement community, because it had a balcony off the living room that she liked better.  She loved that place and never wanted to leave.  She kept herself busy with cribbage games and a string of adoring boyfriends, always much younger that she was.  She lived independently up until two months before her death at age 96.  She was a marvel and a wonder to all who met her!  Her secrets to long life and vitality?  Exercise, fresh air, gardening, and a table-spoon of vinegar and black strap molasses everyday.  Her father, who died in his own home at age 96, swore by his vinegar and honey, and she carried on that tradition with a twist.

One point that Grammy was rather adamant about over the years was that I should not be a “baby making machine”, as she put it.  She was overjoyed with the first few children we had.  Then her excitement waned with the next few.  Somewhere around the 6th child, she acted annoyed when I announced a new pregnancy.  Pretty soon I was very hesitant to even tell her that I was pregnant again, almost wishing that I could assure her that we would absolutely have no more children and gain back her approval.  Her approval was always something that I highly coveted.  Woe to the person who had lost it!  Yet I knew that God had more precious babies for me, whether Grammy liked it or not!

My Grammy, LaVera Gisselman

My Grammy, LaVera Gisselman

In her final years, La Vera appeared to become less controlling and more accepting of others.  I had the privilege of spending the last week of her life by her side. She had a stroke and was no longer capable of making decisions on her own.  Chris and I traveled to Wisconsin and moved her into a memory care facility.  She was the most talkative, most opinionated, and spunkiest resident in the entire place.  She could hold the most lucid conversations, and a few times Chris and I thought we were making a horrible mistake by taking away her freedom, her apartment, and her car.  Yet the next moment she would think that Chris was a nurse and that another resident, Leonard, was actually her boyfriend, Harry.  She had the most hilarious conversations with Leonard, still believing that he was Harry, even after he refuted that fact in many ways.  Yet Leonard was smiling the whole time as though he didn’t mind the thought of being her boyfriend.

She passed peacefully in her sleep on February 4, 2011.  I was hard to say goodbye, but I was thankful that she didn’t have to live very long with dementia.

Later, in her belongings I found at least four typed note cards listing the names and birth dates of all her great-grandchildren (including Jason’s two children), as though she was afraid that she would forget one of them.  I also found a precious little bundle wrapped in white tissue paper.  It was a group of seven silver angels, one for each one of my children that I had at that time.  Each one was inscribed with the child’s name and inset with their birthstone.  Each great-grandchild was precious to her…I could see that clearly.  Now that she is on the other side of eternity, I know they are even more precious in her eyes.  I know that she is cheering me on as I am expecting our ninth little one in April.  She can now see into the fathomless depths of time; generation after generation, thousands of years upon thousands of years.  Every good thing my children accomplish during their lifetimes is part of HER legacy!  Their imprint on history is also HER imprint on history!  And their love of humanity and their love for God add to HER eternal bliss.

I love you Grammy!  I can hardly wait to see you again!

Our Love Story is My Favorite!

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The first time I met my husband, I was in a church gym surrounded by cheap lunch meat and the overpowering smell of raw onions.  My “boyfriend” Jesse had invited me to a sub-making fundraiser for the youth group of his church.  I must qualify the term “boyfriend” by saying that we were in junior high, and our “serious boyfriend/ girlfriend” relationship meant that we had each acknowledged that we liked each other, and on rare occasions our parents would drive us to see a movie together.  This time, my parents had driven me to Jesse’s church.

It was there that Jesse introduced me to his best friend who had just coasted into the gym on a skateboard.

“Anne, this is my friend, Chris.”

And that was the first time I met him, the man of my dreams.  Of course, at the time he was still an awkward teenager who simply said, “Hi,” and then skated off again.

I became very involved in Jesse’s church until it became my church as well.  I went to every Wednesday night, every Sunday morning, and every special event.  Chris and his brother and mother stopped going to church, so I never saw him.  Jesse and I broke up, but stayed really good friends.

About two years later Chris showed up for the annual youth group retreat. During that retreat, I realized that Chris had been an integral part of my circle of church friends before they had become my circle of friends.  He easily became part of the gang again. We all had a lot of fun.

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We were all together again at Jesse’s birthday party when Jesse blurted out, “Chris, you should take Anne to your prom!”

This seemed like a totally bizarre outburst on Jesse’s part, but Chris answered as though he had been already thinking about it.

“Yeah, do you wanna go?”

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“I guess so,” I replied.  I never thought it would happen.  He was a senior, I was a junior.  We went to different schools.  We didn’t know each other that well.  The prom was three months away.  He would most certainly have a girlfriend by then.

Chris started calling my house a few nights a week.  Then he asked me to accompany him to pick out a tux.  It was on that little date that he asked if I was his girlfriend.

I sat in stunned silence for what seemed like five full minutes.  I thought that in order to be his girlfriend, he had to ask me to be his girlfriend.  Perhaps I had missed something very important during our interactions the past few months.

“I don’t think I am,” I replied.

“Well, do you want to be?”

Again, silence.  I hadn’t thought about it.  I just didn’t know what to say.

“Could I think about it and let you know?”

We got together the following weekend to discuss our relationship.  I told him that I wasn’t ready to be in a serious relationship, and when I did get into one, I wanted to be sure that it was what God wanted.  Chris agreed and didn’t seem too discouraged.

Our friendship grew and deepened, and we did go to the prom together.

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We spent my entire senior year just “being friends”, although everyone else knew that we were more that just friends.  We would go on marathon dates that would consist of wandering around the city for 10 hours or more. We became youth leaders and had fun and wild times at church functions.

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We would pray, teach, preach, and put on crazy skits.  I played a party animal and heavy drinker in one skit, though in real life I had never had a drop of beer.  Chris dressed up as a nerdy scientist for another drama.  His entrance into the youth room was supposed to be especially dramatic as flash pots exploded behind him.  Unfortunately the flash pots were poorly timed and went off right in Chris’ face.  His eyes were sprayed with part of the explosion, and they were watering profusely for the entire skit.  Chris didn’t miss a beat and continued to act his part perfectly.

Once, the youth group went white water rafting.  It was great, except there was no white water.  We were floating lazily down the river.  This was ideal for Jesse and me, but Chris required more excitement.  He proposed taking the bailing buckets that our raft was equipped with and using them to douse a nearby raft with water.  Jesse and I insisted that such behavior would be rude and uncalled for and would ruin the peaceful boat trip we were enjoying.  Chris proceeded to fill up the bucket and dump the entire load of water on my head.  As I was dripping and gasping in utter disbelief of the horrendous treatment I had just endured, Chris leaned in to my soggy ear and whispered, “I love you!”

When time came for me to graduate, I had decided to spend a year doing missions with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) rather than go straight to college.

For the next year I was training in Texas and then went on outreaches to Belize, Central America and many places in the US.  I would write Chris long, chatty letters almost everyday.  Chris would write maybe once a month.  There were no cell phones and no land lines in the girls’ dorm where I was staying.  Chris and I would plan via letter weeks in advance to talk on the phone on a specific day and time.  I would take my quarters and go to the pay phone in the cafeteria, praying that there was not a line.

Both of us had to answer the question our hearts kept asking, “Is this the person I will marry?”

In my training classes, there was a teaching about laying everything important in our lives on the altar before God.  Being a Christian didn’t just mean believing in God.  It also meant giving Him everything!  I spent a good prayer time with God giving Him my dreams, ambitions, and Chris.  I wasn’t sure that God would give him back.

I knew that I loved Chris.  I loved his sense of humor, his incredible work ethic, and his high morals.  I loved that he always respected his mom.  I loved that he loved God.  I loved his dark brown eyes and his single dimple that would show itself when he smiled.  I truly felt that he was the most handsome man I had ever met.    But perhaps he wasn’t THE ONE. Maybe God’s perfect plan for my life didn’t include marrying Chris.  I was willing to do anything He told me to do.

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I was talking a walk around the lake in the beautiful countryside of the rural mission base when I felt God speak to me so clearly.

Do you think I blessed your relationship with Chris just to take it from you now?”

From that moment on, I never doubted that he would be my husband.  It took Chris a little longer.  He was talking classes at a community college, renting a room from a gentleman at church, working as a waiter, taking impromptu road trips with his crazy guy friends, driving fast in his sporty CRX, using his limited spending money on CDs instead of food, sporting a new bleached blond hairdo, and turning down offers from interested pretty young women.  I was a bit worried about him.

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He decided to fly out to Texas to visit me in May, even though he was basically a starving student.  He must have gotten his answer during that trip.  As soon as he returned home, he drove straight from the airport to the jewelry store to pick out an engagement ring.  I had no clue.  In my slow-moving fashion, I thought marriage would be years away, perhaps after college.  I did have a small scholarship to Eastern College that I was planning on using to study Elementary Education.  Yet I thought God might have other plans.

When my training school with YWAM was coming to an end, all the students were encouraged to ask God for our next step.  I was determined to hear His voice.  There were so many opportunities to be a missionary in any country in the world with YWAM.  I really thought that God would tell me to take everything I owned in a backpack and go to some exotic place.  His answer surprised me.

Go Home.”

I was home only a month when I decided to plan a special picnic dinner for Chris’ birthday.  I wanted it to be a special surprise.  My best friend, Autumn, was over, and she helped me prepare four courses and pack them carefully into a picnic basket.  When my mom heard of my plans, she offered the good china and a special table-cloth.

As I laid out the feast for Chris at our favorite date place (Negley Park), he seemed distracted and hardly ate anything.  After the meal, we sat together on the swings that overlooked the Harrisburg skyline as the sun set and the lights made the city sparkle.

Chris got up and then went down on one knee.

“I had a long talk with your parents….”

He took out a tiny box and I knew what he was going to say!  I gave him a huge hug and again, I was speechless!  I was overjoyed to become his wife, yet I was so surprised, I could not respond.

“Is that a yes?” he asked.

I nodded.

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love story 9Eleven months later, we became Mr. and Mrs. Brandenburg!  That was 18 years ago today.  So many volumes I could fill with all the adventures we have had, all the mountain tops and all the valleys, all the joys and all the sorrows, all the faith and all the doubt…but mostly all the love!  Perhaps that story is being written here on this blog, one precious chapter at a time.  It is my favorite story!