Time to Smile!

happyFinding some kind of balance in your life may seem like a hopeless quest. I know it has seemed like for me through the years. Once children arrive, life is dominated by their needs, crises and more crises. All kind of life situations can preclude balance. If you get enough of those situations piled on top of each other, life is about survival and it can numb you.

What I mean by balance isn’t a perfectly measured amount of work and rest, that isn’t even possible, but rather some kind of insertion of joy and relaxation into life, to provide a countering effect to work, stress and the inevitable negativity. Maybe I should say life is about finding a”counterbalance” somewhere.

I grew up in a world where the spiritual needs of strangers always trumped our own needs. Sacrificing oneself for the larger Cause was a virtue. Anybody who wasn’t on board for that was suspect, probably worldly and lacking in Christian zeal. The sins of others, the ugliness of reporting it non-stop, can corrode your soul without you realizing it. Living in an unbalanced way over a lifetime is a guaranteed disaster—to health, family relationships and real spiritual life. Burnout is ugly. Hideous, actually.

Jesus Christ himself knew the importance of going away from the crowds and resting (Mark 6:31.)  He also knew how to celebrate with others. In that delightful miracle at the wedding reception at Cana, he turned water into wine for the enjoyment of the guests. He attended the reception, and even as a Man of Sorrows, Acquainted with Grief, he took time to attend and contribute to the joyous event.

I’ve written several posts where I’ve listed what I call “joy blips.” It’s a recurring theme here at my small blog. My life has been a big struggle to focus on those joy blips in the face of a non-stop negative stress. But I think it’s a worthwhile fight! What kind of message do we send our children when we hunker down to battle evil in the trenches with no countering effect of joy, no respite? Nice religion, Mom and Dad, I’ll take a pass. And who could blame them?

Yes, the hour is dark, and I believe our nation is facing the cumulative results of its rejection of God and His Word. But we have hope. We have a reason to smile. We have a reason, yes, to rejoice and even throw a party now and then. Because God loves us, provides for us, and gives us his Son to lighten our hearts no matter how dark it gets.

Tom and I, even in the face of his hectic work schedule, have been trying to have more fun and do things out of the box. We went to a very out-of-the box concert not long ago, and it provided a lot of laughs and discussion about music. I got a library book the other day that was better than a prescription from the pharmacy. It was a book about fiction writing and common mistakes aspiring authors make. It had me nearly on the floor more than once, the authors’ examples of bad writing were so funny. I think you extend your life a few minutes every time you laugh. Seriously. (OK, that was intended!)

Valentine’s Day is one week away. I absolutely love this song below by Irish singer, Shane Filan, because it describes the way my husband of nearly 19 years makes me smile. The video portrays an Irish wedding reception and the true joy of real love. Shane’s first solo album was written about his wife and family, and Gillian and his three sweet children are seen in the video (that’s his wife and little boy at 2:05, and that’s Shane dancing with his daughter at 2:40.) It’s all about the joy of love. Imagine that. In 2014, somebody is still writing happy songs about real love. (And the Mustang he’s driving in the beginning reminds me of Tom’s 1966 Mustang, a burgundy fastback, that we drove away in after we were married!)

Tom’s knee deep in my heart. God is in his heaven, and that’s a reason for me to smile today!

Remembering the Little Things

It is time again to be thankful for simple pleasures. For some reason, in the last few days, God blessed us with a flurry of them.

My beautiful friend Paula stopped by on Saturday and we had a front porch chat. My valkommenporch was all marked up with sidewalk chalk from my daughter and snaked across with a hose and populated with bikes, a wagon and a stroller, but we sat and talked. There is nothing like a good friend chat, clutter around us and all.

I’m still reflecting on how wonderful it is to see the generations mix. Yesterday, I took Will to a church to play an organ concert. There were about 42 senior citizens who turned out to hear the music. They surrounded our son afterwards to talk with him about all sorts of things, not just music. Will is friendly and he genuinely likes people, so both he and the seniors enjoyed talking together. Good music was the catalyst that brought them together. Our son came home enriched for the experience, and I know the people enjoyed it as well. Simple things like this bring real joy.

This morning, Emmy asked to wear a pink summer dress that she normally wears to church. The summer is waning, the dress is getting short, so she dressed in her pink flower dress today just because. All day, she made me smile watching her.

I worked hard today. The house looks nice. That always makes me happy. Our home is a busy place, and clutter, fingerprints and dust are a reality sometimes, but doesn’t it feel awfully nice when for a few moments, things are shiny and clean? All ten minutes worth of it!

chocolate chip cookiesThis afternoon, Em and I made some chocolate chip cookies, and then, a pan of brownies for the man of the house after dinner tonight. Em made the dough balls, and I stirred up the brownie mix. The air is autumn like today, hardly like August at all. The beautiful cool breeze is carrying the aroma of the cookies and brownies through the house and outside again. The house is going to smell awfully nice when Mr. Schlueter walks in tonight.

These are simple pleasures of daily life, pleasures that many do not have. I am very grateful for each and every blessing from the Lord’s hands.

Joy Blips

031Every so often at the Hope Blog, I post “joy blips” — little things that bring a smile to my face  and heart, things that happen in the course of an ordinary day.

Here are a few blips on my life radar.

Emily told me this morning, “I love your more than a cricket can squeak!” That made me smile!

The woman in the red car in front of me at the coffee shop drive-through paid for my coffee this morning.  I got to the window and the lady said, “Your coffee is already paid for!” It’s the second time this has happened to me in the last few months. I returned the favor to someone a few weeks ago. Just a little joy blip, hopefully, on that woman’s radar, too.

Tom had an unexpected night off from the six-week long music job he’s playing. He whisked me away last night, and we had a sandwich and conversation without one, single interruption from anybody in a nearly deserted Arby’s, at a table in the corner. I was reminded once again of how thankful I am for Tom.

School is nearly out! No more taxi mom every morning. Preschool is out, Will is going to be done after 3 days of exams next week. That is a very happy thought.

We have the Crazy Season coming up on a different front, however, but it’s a happy one. We have the most amazing number of birthdays, holidays and anniversaries coming up, it’s nearly unbelievable. We’re doing 2 double parties to celebrate. Sam and Will’s birthdays come first, then Peter’s first birthday party and Tom’s all in one. So we are a partying bunch here for several weeks. Sanity doesn’t resume until after September. And our second grandbaby is to arrive that month, so there will be 2 in September soon!

We are going to shop today for a basket of pink geraniums. I have a black thumb, meaning that I am not very good at keeping plants alive. Emily, however, has asked if she could have some flowers to take care of this summer. She has a small, personal watering can and would like to have some flowers. I figured that geraniums are hardy enough to survive us. Maybe Emily will have a green thumb and flowers will thrive. There was a frost warning last night in our area (unbelievably), but I think geraniums will be OK now that June is almost here.

Here’s joy from Jesus. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” ~ John 10:10

Do you have any joy blips today? Life is mostly made up of many small things, and in these small things we can usually find something to smile about!

Don’t Let Them Take Your Song

songbirdsA little girl went off to kindergarten and was thrilled when singing was a part of each school day.

She loved to sing, and put her small heart and soul into it. At home she had learned lots of songs and when she found out the class would be singing some of the same ones that she knew, she was delighted.

Preparing for an upcoming program one day, the class was practicing “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb”, one of her favorites. She was singing with all her heart when the girl next to her jabbed her sharply in the ribs with her elbow.

“Stop singing so loud, you sound awful!” she hissed.

The music stopped for the little song bird. Sure, the children kept singing, but suddenly she didn’t hear it anymore. It had never entered her mind that she sounded “awful” or that she was singing too loudly. Tears welled up in her eyes and she swallowed hard.

The teacher never noticed that after that day, one of the children didn’t sing anymore. The child mouthed the words, but no sound came out. It was years before she felt confident enough to sing out again when she was assured in choir that she did not sound “awful.”

The world is full of those who will take your song if you let them. Some children (or adults) have the confidence to see the spiteful, nasty people for what they are and sing anyway. Others who are sensitive and shy take hurtful words to heart and believe them, and the song dies on their lips.

Whether we are young or old, we can’t let the song-killers win. As recently as today, I received a sneering comment here at the Hope Blog. One of Satan’s minions out for a ride on the Internet decided to do a drive by. It’s the risk you take when you do anything out loud, be it singing or writing or something else that is an expression of who you are. There will always be trash hurled from the twisted and unhappy souls who live in darkness.

I choose the Light. I am a flawed human being, but I was made by a perfect God who planted me here now for a purpose. My own song sometimes wavers or gets off key, but God mercifully brings it back into tune if I focus on Him. Don’t let anyone kill your song. The world needs it.

 

Moments in a Lifetime

“…and draw her home with music.” ~ Merchant of Venice, Scene V, Act I

It is said that we don’t remember days, we remember moments in life. That is probably true for most of us. For me, some of the best moments have involved listening to music.

Several years ago I wrote of coming home from the grocery store to find my husband Tom and son William sitting in the family room in the dark. Out of the stereo speakers came music that drew me in immediately. The grocery bags were quietly lowered to the floor, and I joined them in the dark for moments I will never forget.

They were listening to the last movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony, a piece of music so shimmering in its beauty that it reminds me of seeing a priceless gem turning slowly around on black velvet, the light picking up each different facet of the gem as it revolves. Somewhere in that music all the joy and pain of life are encapsulated, crystallized into one glittering half hour. You cannot listen to this music without shutting out distractions. It commands your full attention.

William was around 10 at the time, but he never moved as he sat with us in the dark. Those moments are sealed in my memory for always.

Years before that, on a gray, bitterly cold, Sunday afternoon, I made my way through the slushy, icy streets on the east side of Milwaukee to St. Paul’s Church. The church was chilly and the lighting was very low. I sat in the bleak sanctuary, hunkered down in my coat , waiting for a choir concert to begin.

Out of the chilly darkness of that church suddenly came a burst of sound. A brass group played the opening lines of John Rutter’s, Gloria! (Click here to hear Gloria! yourself.) Leading the trumpets was my Tom that day (we were not yet married.) Walking back through the slush and snow to my car, arm wrapped in his, I was warmed by the sound of Gloria!  Eighteen years later, I am still warmed by those memories.

Last January, I sat at Church of the Gesu in downtown Milwaukee, once again waiting for a concert to begin. It was surreal for me. Only a few months earlier, our son Will had begun organ lessons after years of piano study. At his insistent request, I had located an organ teacher, and he took to the instrument immediately. So our organ fledgling was suddenly sitting at a newly refurbished Schantz monster of a pipe organ. For 30 years, Tom had played for weddings and concerts with the organist there. From babyhood, Will had accompanied him, taking it all in. To have Will so unexpectedly playing that instrument with his father was a real musical moment, to put it mildly. When they played the Manz Aria together, the tears spilled over a bit. That lovely piece was on a cassette that I had worn out years earlier, something Tom had given me when we first got to know each other.  It hit me that here was Tom’s son playing that brooding, sad and sweet-at-the-same-time, piece of music, his Dad’s solo trumpet voice over the top. Unforgettable.

There are many other musical moments I cherish: Hearing trumpet legend Bud Herseth play the Haydn Trumpet Concerto in Orchestra Hall in Chicago (the old, historic one before they remodeled it), hearing the amazing Frank Almond play the newly rediscovered Lapinski Stradivarius violin in a small chamber setting, (see a clip of the recital here), and sitting near the stage and hearing Marilyn Horne sing Shall We Gather at the River leaving not a dry eye in the house. Those are just a few.

Everyone has moments in time that are sealed forever in the vault of their minds. Good memories are stored along with the bad. But the moments I retain will always and forever be wrapped in the strains of music.

Don’t Forget Your Blessings

I love this song. I know I posted it once before a couple of years ago. It is not the familiar “Count Your Blessings” many know, but this version, sung by Welsh singer, Aled Jones, is really lovely, and sums it all up. The lyrics are below the video.

 

Count your blessings one by one,
When dawn appears and day has just begun.
They will light your heart with happiness,
Make each hour bright and bring you gladness.

Count your blessings one by one,
When twilight falls and toil of day is done,
And in sweet dreams they’ll come again to you,
If you will count your blessings each day through.

Count your blessings while you may.
For we are here but little time to stay.
All around are friends, sincere and true.
Lovely things abound, just waiting for you.

Count your blessings while you may,
The big or small, whichever comes your way,
For then you’ll find this world a place of love
If you will count your blessings from above.

Be Joyful. Satan Has Been Defeated!

The enemy of souls hates it when families laugh.

So we will laugh and be happy, knowing that joy comes from knowing Jesus who defeated that enemy.

The enemy hates it when families forgive each other, so we will reach out to those we have hurt or who have hurt us and forgive them even if they reject us, knowing that we can do this in the power of Jesus Christ who forgave us.

The enemy hates it when those in pain refuse to curse God and instead trust Him in the dark of suffering. So we will trust God in the dark of suffering and hold tight to the hand of the One who never will leave us or forsake us.

The enemy hates when God turns what he meant for evil into good that praises and exalts the Lord’s holy name. So we will watch expectantly for God to take what is consummately evil and turn even that to accomplish His perfect purposes.

The enemy hates joyful, loving, healthy families, so we will be joyful, love each other and reject anything that is not healthy in relationships. We will praise God that He destroys strongholds of the enemy and vanquishes Apollyon.

God is not the author of confusion, of conflict, of hatred, of vengefulness and of fear. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is peace and life and sound minds.

Wherever there is conflict, hatred, slander, dishonesty, paranoia, fear and betrayal, there is Satan. Reject him in your life. Look to Jesus and sing joyfully like Miriam did on the other side of the Red Sea. Pharaoh had sent out his chariots to destroy God’s people. But God stopped them, and his people were brought to safety on dry land on the other side.

“Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously! The horse and his rider, hath He thrown into the sea. The Lord shall reign forever and ever.” 

Exodus 15

Exultet

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give him thanks and praise.

It is truly right that with full hearts and minds and voices
we should praise the unseen God, the all-powerful Father,
and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam’s sin to our eternal Father!

This is our passover feast,
When Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night,
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slav’ry,
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night,
when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin.

This is night,
when Christians ev’rywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night,
when Jesus broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?

Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
“The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy.”

The power of our Risen Lord dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed,
when heaven is wedded to earth
and we are reconciled to God!

Therefore, heavenly Father, in the joy of this night,
receive our evening sacrifice of praise,
your Church’s solemn offering.

Accept this Easter candle,
a flame divided but undimmed,
a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.

Let it mingle with the lights of heaven
and continue bravely burning
to dispel the darkness of this night!

May the Morning Star which never sets
find this flame still burning:
Christ, that Morning Star,
who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind,
your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Cheerfulness Breaks In

cuppa2

Mirth is like a flash of lightning, that breaks through a gloom of clouds, and glitters for a moment; cheerfulness keeps up a kind of daylight in the mind, and fills it with a steady and perpetual serenity.”  –Joseph Addison

Little things make me happy. I call them “joy blips” because these are just the little things during a day that bring satisfaction or a little pleasure to mind. Even when you are dealing with a rebellious child, a broken sump pump, a car on the blink, or any number of daily catastrophes, those little joy blips break through. Yours are probably entirely unique to you, but here are a few of my own.

1. A shiny kitchen sink. I have a minor passion about shiny sinks. When the kids leave the sink less than pristine after loading the dishwasher, I either make them re-do it or shine it up myself. Nothing nicer in the kitchen than a shiny sink and a gleaming faucet. Call me funny that way.

2. Delivery of Country or Reminisce magazine in the mail. The bills are downers, but either of those magazines gives me a lift because I can see a pleasant hour spent with antique photos or traveling down country lanes to see the spring wildlife in full color.

3. Hearing Will playing the piano downstairs while I have my feet up upstairs. One of the compensations of doctor-ordered bed rest is that I get to really listen to him practice. Besides the classical barn-burners, he plays hymns that get me singing, and also some of the old popular standards. He just learned “As Time Goes by”, and that’s one of my favorites. When I call out, “I love it!” to him, he always laughs and says, “You always say that, Mom!” Yes, I guess I do. That’s what moms are for.

5. A laundry basket (or two) containing washed and neatly folded clothes, sitting on the landing at the top of the stairs. I have a barter arrangement with one of my young adult children that helps me get the laundry washed and folded and ironed. It is working splendidly.

6. A cup of Constant Comment tea with just a little honey.

7. Finding an undiscovered book by a favorite author. I was over the moon recently after discovering Winter in Thrush Green at a branch library I had never visited. I thought I had read every single book by Dora Saint in her Miss Read and Thrush Green English village series (over 30 books), but I was wrong! The book served as a prequel for me that explained the earlier lives of certain characters that became mainstays in the rest of her stories. I didn’t want the book to end!

8. Hand-written notes. I received something I will write more about soon called a “PrayerGram.” Dear radio friends in Missouri had the members of their church prayer group write me little notes on a piece of church stationary assuring me of their prayers for me and the baby. I was so touched, I cried. I’ve never gotten anything like that. That was a major joy blip! Thank you friends at First Southern Baptist Church in Stockton, Missouri. I am so grateful for your Christian love.

What are your joy blips? I’ll bet there are more than you think each day. No matter how gray the skies or how ugly your co-workers or how bad we sometimes feel for many reasons, try to find some joy blips that come your way, and thank the Lord that, as one English writer once put it, cheerfulness breaks in!