Two in the Shadows

The summer is waning. The light is different now on sunny days here in Southeastern Wisconsin Wisconsin. It has the feel of September, even if it’s still August.  The air has been cool and crisp. Absolutely lovely.

After dinner,, Tom and I  have gotten in the pattern this summer of taking walks. Our youngest, Emily, rides ahead on her scooter or bike, and we talk a bit while we stroll the neighborhood. The walks aren’t always long.   We have a short route and a longer route we take when so inclined.

I see us in our lengthening shadows, the two of us. I like holding Tom’s hand.  It’s a feeling of being safe and loved.  I tell Tom what’s going on in my world, and he tells me what’s on his mind. I save up small tidbits from the day to tell him about when he gets home. Nothing usually big, but something I know he’ll appreciate.  We don’t usually talk about anything political. Things are so vile in our country that it pollutes our time together to even discuss it.

Our home has a small porch.   We’ve made good use of it since moving here. It’s big enough for a couple of chairs, and we sit and watch the world go by after our walks.  The scene is peaceful. We don’t always need to chat. Companionable silence is a beautiful thing where we can hear the wind chimes in the Magnolia tree and watch the birds.

Soon the leaves will be turning colors, and the air will have a nip in it. I will miss our times on the porch. We recently replaced our love seat at home with a new one. It is exceedingly comfortable. When evenings “draw in” as they used to say, we will sit there for our chats with a log on the fire. The weather changes, but the need to reconnect  at the end of the day does not.

I can’t stand TV or even DVD movies. Tom and I have never been able to connect over that. My hearing troubles long ago shut down that kind of thing, even with good hearing aids.  Articulation gets lost. One thing this does is give us time to just talk and be together without the intrusion of media.  No distraction.

I know that marriage counselors have various strategies for couples  who have relationship troubles.   Many lose that feeling of connectedness with the various pressures exerted on families today, and they don’t even realize it is happening. Tom and I have raised (almost) six children together, and have been through many a difficult season in our lives Some years, it  has felt like it was raining crises. But one thing I highly recommend is just sitting and talking. Listening and being listened to in kindness.  Our loved ones all face battles, external and internal. Every one of us does. A lot of therapists would be put out of business if couples could learn the value of talking and listening, without judgment or impatience. It has a healing effect like  no other.

The country and world increasingly look like a violent insane asylum. Whatever comes, I know that those evening walks with Tom will always be embedded in my heart. Feeling his warm hand holding mine, seeing our shadows together, watching our little girl, her legs growing longer all the time, riding ahead on her scooter.

These times can’t be recovered. We pass this way, we spend each day only once. Every hour is precious.  Every walk.

 

 

 

 

 

Where Love is Found

It’s not in Valentine’s Day bouquets and chocolates that true love can be seen and felt, as nice as those things are.

It’s in the dear voice in the hospital room when a scary diagnosis comes. “It’s OK. We’re in this together.”

Love is in the extended hug at the end of a long day when a tired husband comes in from the cold, having toiled so that wife and child can have what they need.

It’s found in the man who carries the laundry baskets up the stairs for a wife who struggles physically.

It’s in the clean laundry a husband finds in his drawer and the meals prepared, however simple.

Love is there in forgiveness when an apology comes from one or the other.

It is in the warm hand that covers a cold one when life’s tragedies seem overwhelming.

Love is in the eye contact where a smile is never far away.

It is in the ear of the listening spouse who may have heard the same story many times, but doesn’t say so, because he knows something lies underneath the telling of it.

Love lies in deep understanding of where a spouse is coming from, even when they are at their worst.

It is real love that patches up hurt places, that listens, that protects and defends. It’s real love that builds up the other, that looks through kindly eyes, that supports, that is loyal and steadfast.

This is what young adults, especially, need to know in this tragic, broken world of fakery and fraud in counterfeit love and marriage.

When you remove all the contemporary wedding frippery and glitter, all the Instagram filtered glam of the Big Day, you will have either a foretaste of hell or a glimpse of heaven.

It takes two who are committed, by God’s grace and with his help, to walk through life together with the goal of bringing a little heaven down, whether it be in a hospital room, a little cottage or a castle. It can still be done.

“And standing there…Jane knew that she had found the best. Marriage was not a thing of luxury and soft living, of flaming moments of wild emotion. It was a thing of hardness shared, of spirit meeting spirit of dream matching dream.” ~ The Dim Lantern by Temple Bailey

“…Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” ~ Corinthians 13:!3

Caring Hand on Senior Hand

He Gathered the Pieces

Twenty-one years ago, I was getting ready to marry Tom (on the 30th!) . Our lives have taken many twists and turns with six children, many joys and some big losses. The simplest way to express what my husband has meant to me is found in these words below. For some reason I will never understand, Tom valued my “scattered pieces”, and he picked them up, more than once, and glued them back together. I owe the man my life.  I carry a photo of Tom in my wallet and every time I buy groceries or need ID, I see his face, and I am thankful for him. Every day that goes by, I see God’s kindness to me in providing this man, who loved me when other people in my life that I loved  just walked away. Thank you, Tom, for loving the broken pieces like Jesus.

faithfulfriend

Only One Face

I first posted this in April of 2011, and with Valentine’s Day around the corner, it says what I would like to say about love.

I was leaving a concert last Friday night when I was stuck in a big crush of people trying to leave the building. Hundreds of people surrounded me coming down the stairs and pouring out of the doors onto the avenue in downtown Milwaukee.

All of them were strangers I was unlikely to see again. It was a sea of faces, and I did not recognize any. It’s a melancholy feeling being surrounded by people, all of whom have someone with them and you don’t.

As I descended the stairs I kept looking around me for one familiar face, but there wasn’t one. I was pressed forward into the crowd towards the street, carried away by the strangers around me.

Just as I reached the doors, a man grabbed me on the shoulder, and I turned around, startled. He was wearing a tux, and his eyes were smiling. In his left hand was a trumpet case. My Tom.

I grabbed his arm, and we made our way down the busy downtown street to the parking garage. On the way home, I thought about all the millions who have ever lived and all the billions alive today, and how among all those people, there is only one man’s face I look for. That’s the thing about love. Nobody else will do. No other face can light up your heart but one.

In that brief moment, I was reminded again of what a miracle real love is in this world that has so much hatred and so much pain in it. It isn’t something to take for granted, and if you have it in your life, do all you can to nurture and protect it. Thank God for that one and only person who loves you–the one and only face you look for in a crowd.

A Fan Note

This is my husband, Tom, last night leaving to play  the opening night of Tosca. He perpetually amazes me (20 years and counting) with all that he is and all that he does. Proud to know you, Tom Schlueter, and glad that you love me and our children. We love you right back. As Snow White once said about Prince Charming, there isn’t anybody like him, anywhere at all. ❤

tosca

When the Past Meets the Present

I have a diverse and wonderful group of friends on Facebook, and one of them is Anne Schaller Koch from my home state of Wisconsin. She recently posted some interesting photographs about her life on her page, and I asked her if she would mind writing out more detail for my Hope Blog. I love hearing about life as it was years ago. There is much to admire and to learn from in reading and hearing these stories. Thank you so much, Anne, for sharing these memories of your life that is rich in love and faith.

Baking and cooking from scratch appears to be enjoying a revival these days, at least in our family. Our daughter-in-law is working on creating a cookbook for her grown children containing the recipes she used when they were growing up. Here is a mother who grows her own herbs, makes her own pure vanilla from vanilla beans, rolls out the dough to make noodles, and more recently made all the candied citron for her Christmas baking—so it should not be any surprise to find most of her recipes are “from scratch.” Anne2Our daughter also follows this pattern, including making her own yogurt on a regular basis. It started me thinking that this is where I came in, the difference being that when I was growing up, cooking from scratch was the only option!

My early years were spent during the Great Depression in our country, and like the free range chickens we favor so much in our day, everyone was scratching for ways to put food on the table. Stores were small and sold only the staples needed to bake bread, create simple meals, and get along with the bare essentials. Even at that, few people had the “scratch” to buy even the basics. We lived in western South Dakota where the drought, dust storms, and armies of grasshoppers kept many a family from harvesting crops for animals or family. Yet the generosity of people was a blessing to experience, and the members of our congregation kept us (the pastor’s family) supplied with milk, eggs, garden vegetables, and whatever meat they could spare.

Anne4One of my earliest memories is of my mother making cottage cheese. When someone gave us more milk than we could drink in a day (no refrigeration), mother would put the naturally curdling milk or cream in cheesecloth bags and tie them with string to a stick supported between two chairs. As curds formed, the whey dripped into a pan below. No doubt we were sternly instructed not to mess with this set-up, and the memory stuck in my mind.

Being only five when we moved to our next home, I was not fully aware of the struggles or ingenuity my mother put into keeping us well-fed, but saved family letters tell the story in detail. I do remember that just before we moved, the church ladies came to help mother prepare the chickens to be canned so we could take the meat with us to our next home. I do not know how chickens came to be raised on the church property but am guessing it was another of mother’s attempts to make ends meet.

AnneOur next home was in eastern South Dakota, finally near relatives. My mother’s sister and family lived in a small town within visiting distance, and now there were cousins to play with from time to time. Here we are making mud pies (really scratching it) and washing up the dishes outside our playhouse. Note the broom to sweep the dirt floor. Our circumstances were now better since we had a garden and there were lakes where my Dad could fish. I can still remember my mother preparing frog legs for dinner, and being alarmed to see how they jumped in the frying pan. Mother needed to assure me that they were not alive and did not feel any pain. Mother was a stay-at-home Mom, and I was a very curious child, so as she cooked and baked, she explained “why” she was doing what she did. At Christmas time she was very particular about her Christmas Stollen and Lebkuchen. Ground cardamom from the store would not do; it must be whole cardamom seed that we would bring home and turn into powder by mother’s own method. I helped take the soft shells off the seeds, and then Mother would put about a tablespoon of seed into the corner of a dishtowel, and with a hammer she would pound those seeds until they were reduced to a fine powder. The aroma was pungent, and she had her freshly ground cardamom! I followed her directions for a few years after I was married but kept ruining my dishtowels, so I just decided I did not need to be so particular.

Food was as special as it gets at Christmas time. My grandmother from Minnesota would put a packet of dressed duck or goose on the train in the morning, and after its long trip, we would receive it in time to bake the bird for supper. With an orange in my Christmas stocking and an apple in each of my three Christmas Eve sacks (my father was pastor of three congregations), we enjoyed the only fresh fruit I recall eating during the winter months. The only convenience food I remember having in my childhood home was Jello, sometimes with bananas, and it was a real treat.

Our next move was to Minnesota, and compared to South DakotaAnne3 it was like the promised land of Canaan. We had fruit trees, gardens of both flowers and vegetables galore. We moved once again after two years, still in Minnesota but closer to New Ulm, where I would be attending high school and college. In this home I grew to adulthood, learning to cook, bake a pie, can vegetables and fruit, make jelly, pickles, and help with most all the household duties. By this time Mother had a large class of piano pupils coming to our home, and though I was away at boarding school a good share of the time, I came home weekends and summers to help at home. After three years of teaching school (and boarding at the homes of others), I was eager to be the homemaker I always wanted to become.

When I married Paul, we also moved to the Dakotas (this time not far from the Montana border), and armed with recipes dating back to Grandmother’s kitchen, I was all set. Some recipes required math to figure out measurements. One particular favorite had all ingredients listed in pounds (whether liquid or dry) and the shortening was specified as so many “egg lumps” of lard. One ingredient was “a glass of wine” and I never did figure out whether that meant four ounces, eight ounces, or more. Seems it didn’t matter, since the additional flour called for was equally unknown, written simply as “add needed flour to form dough into a roll.” I have made these cookies for sixty-two years now, and they always taste just fine!

In our retirement years we continue to cook from scratch whenever possible, though convenience foods are good to keep on hand. I say “we” because Paul has gradually taken over the cooking, as I gradually rely more on my walker to get around. I serve as arm-chair consultant now and help as I am able. Paul still has a generous garden, so we eat well, freezing our vegetables for the winter months. Paul is a good cook, and I like his fried chicken the best, made from those free-range chickens! We can’t compete with the young cooks in the family but we still bake our own bread and eat simple but healthy meals. We give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good!

~ Anne Schaller Koch

An Anniversary Photo

We’re in the throes of moving, with one house on the market while another is being readied for move-in. It’s that stage when chaos reigns! Lord willing, we will be past this stage soon. In the midst of the move, Tom and I took an evening off on the 30th to celebrate our 20th anniversary. We tried out a restaurant we hadn’t been to before, and we enjoyed it greatly.

As we pack up our home of nine years, so many memories come to mind. This is where children left home, with the last son off to college again in the fall. This is where we brought our delightful surprise baby, Emmy, home almost six years ago. Birthday parties, anniversary parties and so many celebrations took place here. This is where Will got his start practicing the organ in the basement and he and his dad have filled the walls with music. Much joy, some sadness, but lots of love.

It isn’t the walls that make a home. It’s the people who make it a joyful or tragic place. Tom has given all of us a beautiful life, and together, Tom and I are a team . we give full credit to God’s grace for carrying us through.

Every home is temporary on this planet, including the home we have in our bodies. Our souls are forever. Packing up things for Goodwill or give-away, I was thinking again of how yesterday’s happy purchase is today’s discard as we outgrow and no longer need things. Our heavenly home is forever, where nothing will fade, and nobody will age, and where all sadness will be wiped away forever. Thanks be to God for his gift of Jesus Christ through whom we have forgiveness of sins and life eternal.

Now, back to packing!

TomIngAnniversary

Twenty Years

TomWEDDINGPICThere are lists all over the place online such as, 10 Things to Always Do in Your Marriage, Five Things Never to Say To Your Spouse, 20 Ways to Affair Proof Your Marriage, and so forth. Good articles and lists can be good thought provokers . That isn’t what this post is.

It will be 20 years on June 30 since I married Tom. I’m writing this early, as I am in the middle of a move (our next big adventure), and I won’t be able to six days from now. Looking backward, I don’t have great prose, lofty advice or a smug account of how we’ve made it this far. God’s love and grace is the only explanation.

I knew the first time I laid eyes on Tom that he was a fine man. It’s one of those instinctive things I can’t explain. I’ve heard people describe love at first sight. Yes, there is such a thing. On this 20th anniversary, the only thing that has changed is that I love him more. It’s because of him that I know God’s love is a real thing. I see it in him every day in how he loves me and our children.  Constant, faithful, kind and decent to the core. That’s who Tom is.

Coming back from a walk the other night, we admired the birch tree he planted a few years ago in the front of our home. It’s thriving.  In each home we have lived at through the years, Tom has left something living behind. At one house, it was shrubbery. At three others, he has planted birch trees. He grows things and fixes things.  One of the first things he ever did for me as a single parent before we were married was to repair a broken leg on a chair. What’s broken he restores with careful hands.

We’ve gone through a lot in 20 years, weathered a lot of storms. Sometimes he leans on me, sometimes, (most of the time), I lean on him. Sometimes we lean into each other to keep from falling over.  That’s what  a life’s partner is all about. Just two people, walking through everything together, and looking up to realize a lifetime has gone by.

(The photo on this post is one I kept on my dresser through the months before we were engaged and then married. My favorite snapshot of the man who changed my life.)

No, the Kids Aren’t Alright – Summing it Up

Image100One of the best articles I have come across recently on the subject of the tragic fallout of our hook-up culture is an article called, “The Kids Aren’t Alright” (unlike the song which claims The Kids ARE Alright.)

Jeff Mallinson, professor at Concordia University Irvine, writes a deeply thought-provoking piece on where things stand now among young people who are left with the terrible consequences of our throw away, disposable sexual culture.

He writes:
 ” This ghost of desire, this ghost of eros, is all around us, and it serves only to mock us. There may have been a time when we could hope for love. Now we only have a shadow of love. This erotic problem, at its root, is a byproduct of our failure to understand and promote agape, unconditional love. Agape gives a couple confidences that they can authentically be unveiled to each other. It says, “I’d cross the desert for you,” and “I’d endure a thousand trials for our love,” but also, “I’ll be by your side when you suffer with clinical depression,” and “I love you so much, I’ll cuddle you when we are old and you have to wear adult diapers.” Incidentally, the loss of agape is largely to blame for the widespread phenomenon of middle-age divorce. Without the astonishing commitment of agape, the flame of eros dies out. But our bodies still desire physical gratification. The cheap answer? Fake it. Modern technology makes it possible. After a while, though, the imitation stuff seems as unfulfilling as anything. “

This empty shadow of sexuality as God designed it leaves nothing but brokenness in its wake. We see that everywhere in popular culture and news headlines. Thankfully, the real thing is still alive. Agape love, firmly at the root of marriage relationships, leads to the ultimate fulfillment of human beings. Our culture denies it to its own destruction.

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.

EmandWilliam2011

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.)

Esther