Dancing Shoes

ballet shoesAs a child I read Noel Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes, a lovely story about three little orphan girls. It also made me want to dance. I couldn’t take ballet lessons, so I got a library book home on the various basic steps for ballet dancers and in my room, I practiced the positions in the book, pretending my dresser was my barre. Not having a leotard, I used my bathing suit and pretended.

Dance was not something that the evangelical and fundamentalist world accepted. It was considered fleshly/sinful and dangerous. Classical ballet was included in that definition. Rumors swirled about a female member of a local fundamentalist church who had the audacity to want to open a dance studio. It was a sort of dark blot on her name, a possible sign of fleshly leanings.  “A dancing foot and a praying knee don’t grow on the same limb,” was a favorite quote, darkly intoned, from Billy Sunday, the itinerant evangelist of years ago. But what about that anyway?

It always seemed to me then and it still seems to me now  that if we really believe what we claim to believe as Christians, we have good reason for a physical expression of joy and freedom. What appealed to me about the ballet as a child was that feeling of a fresh wind lifting my spirit watching the grace and beauty of dancers. I studied the photographs of the great ballerinas in my library books. They looked like they were floating on air at times. I wished I could do that.

The performing arts are a gift to us as humans. I remember watching Swan Lake in the audience years later (with my Tom playing in the orchestra pit) and seeing the corps of dancers all in a lovely line in their bright costumes. I felt tears come to my eyes. The stamp of God was so clear to me in the order and beauty, the grace, and the gorgeous music.  What a talented creation He made!

I think the same thing every time I see various cultural dance displays. I love watching Irish dancers in their beautiful outfits. I watched a display of Asian dancers in their bright costumes the other night in a video. It is fascinating to watch African dance and hear the various rhythms and sounds of all parts of the world. Each culture’s dance unique and interesting in its own way. Humans were made with this desire. It’s hard-wired into us.

One of my all time favorite memories is from an evening with Tom’s aunt and her husband who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with loved ones and friends. There was a little polka band there in the church hall that night. I watched this delightful couple, still so in love after all that time, dancing together. It was a happy scene full or God-given joy with family surrounding them.

Life can be full of sorrow and discouragement and grief. There’s a time for mourning. But there is also a time for joy. If we don’t try to find a few moments for joy, if we don’t teach our children to shut off the news for a moment and turn on some joyful music, we’re pathetic examples to them them. Life is hard. Very hard. But even at dark moments you have to stop and say, “Thanks, Lord. I am still alive and I’m still alive inside! I’m grateful for every day I have.”

Emmy likes to twirl and whirl to music. I love it when she does that. I always think, Be joyful, little girl, and let the wings in your spirit lift you high in the air. Don’t let anybody ever take those wings away.  No matter what.

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When the Show Must Not Go On

canceledHaving witnessed and experienced a great deal over my lifetime in parachurch ministry, I have come to the conclusion that the most important question we can ask ourselves in ministry work is this: Why am I doing what I am doing and at what cost to my health, spiritually and otherwise,  and the most important people in my life?

Those who are single must also ask these questions, but those who choose to create families and then go out and work in additional ministry are the ones who need to ask this question frequently and allow themselves to give honest answers.

There is a wrong-headed view that we are ultimately responsible for carrying forward God’s work. While it is true God works through humans, I don’t believe that abandoning our first responsibilities to our families to reach strangers is OK with God. The human toll on families can be horrific.  Ask some of the children of foreign missionaries who were left at boarding schools most of the year to be raised by strangers how that worked out for them, as some of the tragic stories have made recent headlines. God didn’t give you children to outsource their upbringing to hirelings so you could minister to others. He didn’t give you a spouse for you to be AWOL. The unreached tribes are not more important than your own children. The unreached of America are not more important than your own families. No, they are not.

A mindless obsession with busyness for Jesus ends up being counterproductive. Ministries that insist on growth at the expense of the humans running the machine will ultimately crash or at the very least, lose what impact they might have had. Also, the business that creates the busyness often becomes the subconscious focus. Keeping the gears turning becomes more interesting and compelling than the spiritual and physical realities on staff. Workaholism (even when called ‘sacrifice for Jesus’) creates burnout, burnout can maim and kill, literally and metaphorically.

A friend of mine who lived nearly exclusively for his work ended his own life last fall. He did great work, and he did it all hours of the day and night, but in the end, he died by his own hand, the same way his non-Christian brother had. It is a tragedy I am still getting over. Every life needs balance. Without even a little counterbalance to work, we are doomed.

God never calls us to do personal kamikazes for Jesus on the deck of ministry. If we’re personally self-destructing to keep gears moving in ministry, we are doing more than we are called to do. If we are imploding because of someone else’s vision and wrong priorities, we are called to say no. A sanctified, holy, NO.

God is gracious and merciful. He frequently allows wake-up calls. He allowed me a wake-up call, thankfully.  But the sobering reality is that the damage to spiritual lives, physical lives, and relationships is sometimes not easily repaired. It can be permanent and life-altering.

The “show” must not go on as usual when it is harming others. That is not the work of God. That is the work of flesh and it will fail. No person, single or married, can withstand years of burnout and be OK. Those with family responsibilities have their first calling, and any job that requires more than a decent work schedule is asking you to go out of God’s parameters in terms of priorities. Any leader or leadership structure that requires or allows you to go outside a work schedule that respects your spiritual and physical and family needs is outside of God’s parameters. Idolatry of someone in ministry doesn’t end well. And when we listen to someone else’s voice over the loving voice of our Shepherd, we are asking for trouble.

There are still birds singing, flowers growing, blue skies and love in this world, and how easily we forget that in the race. We are also doing God’s work by loving and laughing and caring for those in our families first. Everything else must come a distant second in our hearts and thinking. The payoff for right priorities is without price.  And the price for wrong priorities is too high.

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. ~ Mark 6:31

Simply Voices

CongregationalSingingThere’s nothing so wonderful to me as standing in a congregation with good singing. I love organ and brass accompaniment, but when a congregation sings acapella, breaking off into four parts, it can be a foretaste of heaven’s music.

Late one night I discovered a YouTube channel that is produced by the Church of Christ denomination. One of their distinctives is acapella singing in parts.  On this video channel I discovered old gospel songs I hadn’t heard since childhood. If you’d like to sing along, they often sing all the verses as well, which is great. So often in (the few) churches that still sing these, they skip verses. So here you are at this link for those who like the simplicity and beauty of the human voice without other instrumentation. I hope the songs are a blessing to you.

Here’s one of my favorites.

 

Will’s Home – Just in Time for Mother’s Day!

Will’s back home from his first year at college. He had a wonderful year at Wheaton College Conservatory and made the Dean’s List. We are thrilled to have him home again, but he’s working hard this summer with a landscape company, so we’ll catch him when we can.  Here’s Will playing Toccata Festiva by Purvis which expresses the feeling of having our son home again. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there.

Night Watch

childsleepingredondoWhen I can’t sleep at night I make my way to my favorite seat in the house, Emmy’s rocking chair. Tom bought it for me before she was born. When trying out upholstered rockers, I knew instantly that this was the one. The back is wonderfully soft and comes up high enough that you can lay your head back. Also, the arms are low enough to be comfortable, a rare thing to find in rockers. It’s a glider with a footstool, and often the rocking is so smooth that I can doze off in that wonderful chair.

The other night I tucked Em in bed, and she took my hand. “I know that sometimes you come in here and rock in my chair,” she said. “It makes me happy.”

I hadn’t realized that she was aware of my presence in the dead hours of night, but she was. Children without close siblings or any siblings don’t know the comfort of having someone near at hand when there are shadows on the wall or when bad dreams frighten. When I was little, I had my little sister close by. When we were small, we had a double bed, and there was absolutely nothing more comforting than to feel my warm little sister by my back at night. We shared our secret plans for playing the next day and all our sisterly secrets. When she was near, all was well.

Charlie and Sammy were the same way. When they were small, I moved to a duplex with three bedrooms, the third being a perfectly-sized little room for my three-year-old, Sammy. I bought a twin bed and set it up for him with a cowboy bedspread, thinking he’d like having his own little place. But every morning, I kept finding either Charlie curled up on Sammy’s bed or Sammy curled up on Charlie’s bed. They didn’t care about having their own space. They wanted the comfort of having each other nearby at night. So I got a double bed for Charlie’s room, and they were pleased as punch to be back in the same cozy bedroom.

I read an article once about a movie celebrity who had two young children. She had a huge house in New England, and there was an accompanying photo spread of the luxury bedrooms fitted out by a famous designer. But one line in particular in the story caught my eye. It was beneath a photo of a tiny bedroom at the top of the house with twin beds in it, a very simple place. “For some reason, they only want to sleep up here in this small room,” said the star. “They like it here.”

No amount of money can buy the sense of cozy, of having someone nearby at night. I can’t provide a little sister for Emmy, but she seems comforted to know that occasionally, her mother is there in the dark, rocking quietly, watching over her.

“Remember, Mama,” she often says to me. “If you can’t sleep, you can always rock in my chair…”

With Mother’s Day approaching, I think that’s what I want all six of my children to remember most: That I am there for them always, even if I’m out of sight, that I am loving them, concerned for them, always wanting the best for them. Nothing matters to me more than that as a mom. Whatever else I do in life, it’s nothing if my children don’t know they have my forever love. It’s unconditional. I have had children  hurt me,  make decisions that I don’t agree with.  It doesn’t matter. They are not clones of me. All but one is a legal adult now.  One thing will not change: As long as I live, I will be there in that metaphorical rocker in the dark, loving them.

I saw an old poem recently. This is the last stanza in honor of Mother’s Day.

…Mother, dear mother, the years have been long
Since I last listened your lullaby song:
Sing, then, and unto my soul it shall seem
Womanhood’s years have been only a dream.
Clasped to your heart in a loving embrace,
With your light lashes just sweeping my face,
Never hereafter to wake or to weep;—      
Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!

~ Elizabeth Akers Allen

A Simple, Golden Act

It’s a comforting thing to have a strong hand take your weak one, to feel patience coming from your helper instead of irritation. It’s wonderful to not be afraid, and to have a heavy burden lifted and carried for you by strong arms. To the frail elderly in this world gone mad, someone to look out for you on the street and even take the time to chat a bit must be a blessing.

This story attached here went viral this week. The fact that it was so unusual that it made news shows how far down we have come as a society. But when goodness does make news, it’s worth sharing. Too often headlines about the elderly are bad news stories where they are preyed upon, abused, neglected and abandoned. But not this time.  A simple act, based on the Golden Rule of treating others as we want to be treated, made a headline. Blessings on this young man who did what was honorable.

“…there’s nothing so kingly as kindnesss…”

from Nobility, by Alice Cary

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Happy Birthday, Russ!

A big Happy Birthday to our dear brother-in-law, Russ Turner! His daughter, Rachel, summed it up this way in a post.

Dad – You are my rock and the man I look up to. You hold a very special place in my heart – one which nobody else could ever fill. The amount of pride I feel when I tell people about my papa is simply inexpressible. You are an earthly representation of how the Lord loves and cares for His children. Thank you for your seemingly endless love. Happy birthday, pops. XO

We all love and admire you, Russ Turner. God bless you and your family always.

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Sunday Music Break!

Of all the singing voices in the world, this is the one I love the most. His voice was always filled with so much love and kindness. He has some great advice in this song.

 

Cosmo is a Porno Rag We Can’t Avoid

cosmoI snapped this photo of Emmy a while back while we were waiting in line to buy groceries at Pick ‘n Save, our local food store. After reading this piece from Newsbusters today, I was reminded of what we have slowly grown accustomed to, and it is sad. Playboy isn’t at most checkouts where children stand with their parents.  Cosmo’s endless flaunting of tawdry sex is literally placed at eye level for a child.  Our daughter can now read whatever they want to put in her face. No amount of protesting can outdo the profits from selling this swill. It’s the sum and substance of American popular culture, and it makes me sick.

Comments under the article on social media were typical. Howls about censorship. “Don’t like it? Don’t buy it.”  These low-brow commenters are unable to think past their own genitalia. I have news for them. No, I don’t like it, I don’t buy it, but you have no right to force feed sex to my little daughter. It’s a form of sexual assault.  So get out of her face with it, store managers. Get it out of the faces of all the children out there who didn’t ask to look at this and who don’t need lewdness shoved down their throats.

When parents keep ant poison out of reach of children, we censor our household products for safety. That’s what parents do–protect our children. America would be filled with screams of horror if toxic waste would pour from our faucets. A just cause indeed! Storm city hall. Do whatever is necessary to stop the poison in our kitchens. But Americans do nothing anymore  when the innocence and morals of children are poisoned by porno rags like Cosmo at the grocery store.  Moral toxic waste matters not at all. Don’t like it? Don’t buy it. Who cares what children have to see. It’s too much to ask that adults get Cosmo over in the magazine section on a top rack. It’s all about meeeeeee…

That was my rant for the day, not usually put on the Hope Blog, but some things are worth saying. Loudly. Even if nobody is listening. I object. It’s wrong. It’s shameful, and the shame of Cosmopolitan magazine and store customers who think it’s fine is well-earned.