Remembering

Tom and his organist friend play this wonderful song, Jesus Paid it All. As we approach this time when Christians remember afresh what Jesus did for us, I hope  this is a blessing to you. Our son, Will, reminded me of these words taken from the text. The spirit of the music drives the meaning of the words home.

When from my dying bed
My ransomed soul shall rise,
“Jesus died my soul to save,”
Shall rend the vaulted skies.

And when before the throne
I stand in Him complete,
I’ll lay my trophies down,
All down at Jesus’ feet.

Pause for a Smile Daily

Tom and I were watching a funny video last night about the part of Milwaukee we both know well. We got to laughing about it and related Milwaukee stereotypes and for several minutes, with Tom’s dry humor making things even funnier, Emmy just watched us in bewilderment, trying to figure out what was so funny.

It was invigorating physically and mentally to get a hearty laugh and for good reason. Laughing has health benefits. (Here’s a link about it.) In the tsunami of bad news we read and listen to, laughing is not always something we can do easily these days. I sometimes feel guilty when I do laugh. The world is in chaos, tragedies everywhere, outrages of every kind, psychos on the march with knives and bombs. The world is going to hell. How dare I sit here laughing? At least that’s the mentality I once had. Pedal to the metal, people. If you laugh, you must be a compromised Christian without a sense of the dire needs of the world. Hogwash.

I write this from a Christian perspective, and I mean this sincerely. If we honestly believe what we claim – that God is sovereign over all things, that we don’t need to live in fear, that we have a home in heaven and that we have a  friend in Christ who is always with us no matter how dark the night, we ought to have good reason for smiles and laughter.

If, however, Christians believe that we are  the ones responsible to wrestle others  away from the brink, that it’s up to us and our feverish efforts, that we must live unbalanced lives of service so that we and our families collapse from neglect and exhaustion, than don’t laugh. Don’t smile. Forward every horrible news story from Worldnetdaily and Drudge to as many friends and family as you can so that they can be urged to buy canned peas and water purification tablets. (I’m not against water purification tablets and canned peas, please, I’m making a larger point here.) Play the Grim Reaper. Go ahead. Your “faith” will be most attractive to others.

I am happy today. Not because the sun is out, it isn’t. Not because caffeine has kicked in, it hasn’t yet. But I do believe God is  ultimately in control of this planet, and that whatever time we have here is best spent modeling balanced lives for our kids and once in a while enjoying a really good laugh.  The head down on the desk, tears streaming kind of laughter. Try it.  It’s catching.

Things I laughed about yesterday.

Emmy was playing dentist and placed a doll blanket around my neck.  After examining my teeth with her flashlight, she told me to watch out for eating “raw ice cubes”, because they could make my teeth rot. She also recommended new “taco flavored” or “banana flavored” toothpastes. I’m going with the taco kind.

The Starbucks Race Together campaign’s massive backfiring has engendered a number of hilarious videos in response. One of them in particular was worth watching. You just have to see the humorous side of political correctness in this nutty culture to save your sanity.

My friends on Facebook make me smile multiple times a day. The different kinds of people on my list is a little mind-boggling at times, but make for a lot of fun each day. Who says social media friends aren’t real? They make for some real laughs, that’s for sure.

Have a wonderful day, and don’t forget to smile at least once. (I came across this old pic of Emmy in her femme du monde mode. 😉 )  Em’s a constant source of smiles. At her suggestion, we got into a bit of New Year’s Eve photo fun waiting for Tom to come home. Yes, her hat really lights up.

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Somebody With a Soul

In this cold world where there is so much loneliness,
so much apathy and so little kindness,
we can be different.

Many years ago in high school on Valentine’s Day, I turned from my locker and a boy was standing there. He was one of those kids who was treated badly all the time. He had a way of dressing and speaking that made him a target. I watched him get smashed between a wall and a mean kid’s desk one time, and he was really hurt. Nobody liked him. At all. There was no cause for this abuse other than the stupid, mindless, bestial cruelty that so often springs from adolescent hearts.

Standing there by my locker he held out a small wooden plaque with a valentine shellacked on it.”I made this for you in my basement,” he said simply.

I was only 16 at the time, but his work on that piece of wood for me touched my heart. I accepted his plaque and thanked him for it. Several kids saw what he had given me and tried to get me to laugh about it behind his back. It wasn’t funny, and I didn’t laugh.

Every one of us can probably recall a time in our lives when we felt alone, felt like we were on the outside looking in while longing to be valued in some friendly context. Maybe there are readers who feel this way now. Rejection is some of the worst pain you can experience.

Many times the isolating work I did in the past and my unique circumstances in life growing up in an evangelical para-church ministry caused that sense of loneliness and the longing to fit in somewhere. Let me tell you, I understand.

All I can say is this: Whenever an opportunity comes along that you can salute a fellow human soul on this journey of life, don’t pass it up. People don’t need pity or fake concern, they need to be treated like human beings with feelings and with souls. It isn’t complicated. Someday you may find yourself needing that salute from a fellow human. Remember that.

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Throwback Thursday

It has already been five years since Emily was born. I’ve been a mother for 28 years in April and a grandmother for almost three. Babies have been a part of my life since I began babysitting at 13 years of age when I had to learn how to fold a cloth diaper (no prefolds for that baby) and use diaper pins (run your hand between the baby and the pin so you don’t poke her!) Since then, it has been babies aplenty. Below my photo is my daughter-in-law with Peter and Max, the two most recent additions!

While I never achieved a lot of the hopes and goals I set for myself outside of motherhood, I have loved every moment of the calling I have had in being a mother and now, a grandmother. I don’t have a professional photo anymore, but this photo pretty much sums up my life’s work. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity and pray for my children and grandchildren daily.

 

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A Woman of Influence

She was a powerful woman, that poorly paid caretaker of children in a small village in Bulgaria. She didn’t know it, but she was. Day in and day out she turned up for work in the poorly-heated, ramshackle building built by the communist government to house orphans. So many children, so many needs.

A 3-year-old boy came to stay at the orphanage, and he was very frail. He had brittle bones and suffered fractures constantly. He had to stay in bed when he would fracture, sometimes for weeks and weeks.

This woman would tie the tiny boy to her back with a shawl and carry him on her sturdy back while she made the rounds. He looked so alone just lying there, and he was so happy when she’d let him hitch a ride with her.

Her name was Maria, and I said she was powerful, because she was. She changed a human life. Over time, nine years in all, that kindness she showed enabled the little boy to trust, to feel affection, and to feel that he was a worthy of love.  She didn’t realize that she was giving that child something utterly essential – an emotional foundation for the rest of his life.

That young boy is now a man who works in a hospital here in America, putting medication in IV bags and preparing chemo treatments for patients who are counting on him to do the job right. He is meticulous in his work, conscious of the responsibility he has. He has finished all the certifications he can for his job and is preparing to move on with his training in pharmacy. Despite physical challenges and setbacks, he enjoys helping others and has set goals for himself that with God’s help, he will meet. That’s just who Jonathan is.

Most importantly, he is deeply loved as our son. He is able to give and receive love as a direct result of the compassionate woman in the photograph who loved him before we ever got to meet him at age 12. We are indebted to this very influential woman named Maria whose loving arms changed our son’s life.

It must have seemed like a small thing to show extra love to the little boy, all in a day’s work. But it really wasn’t a small thing at all in the end. Nothing ever is when done in love.

(Tom snapped this photo of Maria and Jon together at the orphanage.)

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A Friend in Deed

A well-meaning person insisted I read a book about the end times and the rise of the anti-Christ. With the terrible headlines all over the place, they couldn’t understand my reluctance to fill my mind with the author’s blood-soaked schematic for the end of all things.

It doesn’t take much to understand that we’re entering an era of humanity fraught with more potential for terror, bloodshed and horror than ever before in history. Be that as it may. There are other things pressing on my mind, however. For our family, the daily challenge is raising a young child, educating her, feeding her, clothing her, getting her healthcare, and teaching her values and faith in a hostile world. In other words, it is supremely difficult to deal with the job at hand while watching videos of Christians in mass beheadings and prophecy buffs sharing their particular vision for biblical apocalypse.

Pious platitudes aside, there are real needs pressing on Christian families at a time when evangelicalism and much of Christian fundamentalism is either corrupt beyond redemption and/or obsessed with escaping the whole mess they helped to create.

A few weeks ago, we had visitors at our home. They were Christians who at one time were listeners to the radio program I co-hosted. They had heard I had been sick, and they stopped by with a basket containing dinner and several other encouraging things. The little girls had a wonderful time with Emily, and the two women and I talked and talked. Their presence was such a blessing in our home.

This is a recurring theme at the Hope Blog – the need for friendship, the genuine kind. People can flip out trite phrases and verses and hashtags on social media, but their presence is what makes the most difference. This article, How to be a Friend in Deed from the NY Times, is very practical. Having been at both ends of need through the years, I agree whole-heartedly with what this article says.

if you have some thrills and chills end times books, please enjoy them. For many of us, we have to focus on what is at hand, the pressing needs that won’t wait. The end may be near, but until it comes, there are burdens we can help lift and hearts we can encourage.

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For Your Day

For 20 years, since I discovered its riches, the oratorio, Elijah, by Mendelssohn, has been a source of comfort and hope. From the opening chorus of, “Help, Lord!” through all of it’s Scripture-laden content, it is the story of a people in need of God’s help and deliverance. And it’s the story of how God did deliver. This aria, sung by a young boy in this rendition, is one of my favorites. Direct instruction. “Rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him, and He will give you your heart’s desire.”

 

Little People, Big Faith

Children often express their faith best. No show, no pompous posturing, no hidden agenda. I found these little notes of love for God and family from my firstborn, Charlie, while looking for something in the “archives”, as Tom calls it. The last one is from Sammy, found in  a notebook where he wrote down little prayers.

When the profound spiritual darkness of this world presses in and questions swirl, we can do no better than to go back to the basics, shelve our doubt and fears, and return to the simplicity and humility of a little child. This goes against every prideful instinct of humanity. But it’s the way to true peace.

“Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.” ~ Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew 3, verse 18

(Translation below: “I am Jesus’ Little Lamb”)

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Translation below: “Lord, I love you. You are treasured in my heart. I am blessed by you and you are wonderful.”
 
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The Touch of God (Through Human Hands)

kindnessLying in pain from head to toe, pain that is hardly touched by medication, you feel completely helpless. Fibromyalgia flares are as debilitating as any other rheumatic illness. Good days, bad days, many days of just getting by. I’ve lived with it for 20 years, but recently had the worst flare I have had yet. Muscles from head to toe get so tight you can hardly move. Your face and head hurt so that lying on a pillow is torture.

Tom had to be gone to take Emmy to a school function, and there was nobody else around. All I needed was a large black cup of coffee. Caffeine is sometimes the only thing that gets the head pain to recede for a time. But I couldn’t get downstairs in that condition to make any, and I was afraid of falling.

In desperation, I asked the Lord to help. “I just need a cup of coffee, I need a touch of your hand, Heavenly Father.” I called my 26-year-old son, Sam, hating to bother him and his little family for something so trivial. They recently moved nearer us, but it was still a 10 minute drive.

It is funny how something so small isn’t small at all when you are in severe pain. Sam cheerfully agreed to help and drove over in 20 minutes with a large coffee for me. I gratefully took it down. He stayed and talked for a while. Conversation with my serious son is always a pleasure. Within 30 minutes, I went from being prostrate in misery, to getting up and getting around.

Does this sound like something so small that it doesn’t merit a blog post? Maybe to you it is small. If you have never been weak to the point where you cannot help yourself, if you’ve ever known terrible pain that no pill can seem to fix, you know the sense of helplessness you have.

My prayer for a touch from God’s hand was answered by a human hand in the form of my son. My son’s kindness in what he considered a small thing was a true gift from the Lord. It was God’s touch through a human hand. How many times do we look for some grand thing from God, some earth shaking miracle that will change this or that? I’m guilty of that all the time. Sometimes, the quiet act of human kindness is what God sends to remind us we are not alone. He sends such kindness through many diverse sources, all through small acts of mercy and love.

When Sam left, leaving cheer and comfort behind him, I thought of how somebody out there might need a touch of God’s hand today. I can be that touch for somebody, even though it may be only within the confines of my home. Wait. Did I just say “only” within the confines of my home? That’s where it matters most! If we teach our children to be merciful and to be kind, we have had an impact far behind our own family. Someday, we will all be weak and will need that touch of God through a human hand. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”

P.S. Our little daughter, Emily, was in need of a friend. She has never had a little girl her age to play with. No matter how much I have tried, she has not had a neighbor, cousin or church friend that was her age and gender. Through an act of kindness, a friend of mine introduced me to someone who had just such a little girl Emmy’s age. Yesterday, Emmy had about as wonderful a day as a little girl could have with a new friend. Seeing what it meant to our daughter, I was reminded once again of how one act of kindness can have an impact on somebody’s life. Thank you, Donna. And thank you, Lord.

 

Little Things

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder”. ~ G. K. Chesterton

It’s the little things, done consistently in love, that make life sweet. That’s what I’m thankful for most this year. Life has its Big Moments. The life-changing, earth shaking events, positive or negative, that shape us, and when we rise to the occasion and help others through those times, it is never forgotten.

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Will and his baby sister back in 2011. Will calls her from college just to talk.

Most of life, however, is made up of small things and small moments. The daily grind, we sometimes call it. It can seem monotonous, day after day, doing the same things for our family, going through the seasons with the same tasks in front of us. But the days we have with our family can be sweet or not, depending on what is done in those small moments. It’s a consistent theme in my writing lately, because it is frequently on my mind.

Sam and Laura came over with the babies the other night and set up our Christmas tree. They knew Tom has been working until late at night playing a long-running show and the tree simply wouldn’t have gotten brought down from the rafters and set up without help.

They had the job done quickly between them, and we were grateful for their help. It was a “little thing”, but it meant a lot. The next morning I woke up to find that Tom had shoveled the drive and sidewalks, put all the bins back in the attic, vacuumed up the living room after the tree decorating, and had hung up the mistletoe for good measure, all while getting ready for work. All those “little things” added up to a big blessing, as I am limited in my physical strength right now.

When I make Emmy’s lunch, I put little notes in to surprise her. It’s a little touch and a little thing, but it brings a smile to her face. Some day she’ll remember that. I message Tom and my kids with a reminder of my love during the day. Just a little warm thing in a cold world. A little decoration on the dinner table, a little laugh with a child. Life sweeteners.

Thank you, dear friends and family for the things you do in love. Some of us don’t feel we have much to give, but the “little things” are so very important. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for all the little things you allow us to enjoy through the hands and hearts of those around us.

My son, Sam, wrote this about his wife, Laura, and I wanted to share it.

LauraWhat makes a good husband or wife? If you ask most people, it is the intense excitement of being in love. And yet, as any couple who has had a successful marriage will tell you, emotional fireworks have almost nothing to do with true, enduring love. True love, in its essence, is found in the many small sacrifices spouses make for one another. Sometimes these are acts of self-denial, other times they are positive acts of kindness. But they are all characterized by generous self-giving, which is the heart of love.

Far too many couples catalog faults and slights and wrongs. Bitterness and resentment set in, and all too soon, the smallest slight has erupted into an angry shouting match. How different our marriages would be if we instead noticed and cataloged these small acts of sacrifice! Gratitude for and appreciation of our spouses would increase, and we would find our hearts overflowing with a new affection.

I give thanks for my wife. In countless ways little ways that are, in fact, heroic, she is a blessing to me and our children. From making breakfast early in the morning to patiently instructing a screaming toddler to surprising me with coffee on a cold day, her life is almost a constant act of self-giving. To my dear wife, I say thank you. You show me the meaning of true love. I hope I too can be as generous as you.

“Like the sun rising in the Lord’s heavens, the beauty of a virtuous wife is the radiance of her home.”

~ Samuel Guzman

(Emmy, giving my friend, Esther, a hug when we visited her a few months before she passed away. It was a little thing Emmy could do and willingly did, but it meant much to Esther who did not often get hugs.)

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