House with the Yellow Door

20161117_100215Tom has a tradition of planting trees at our homes (we have lived in six in 21 years.) He also has had a tradition of painting our doors a warm red color. The red was inviting, I think.  At our house in South Carolina, he also painted the shutters to match. The shutters had been a dull gray color, and it was a perfect color change for curb appeal.

At our snug ranch house where we moved last year, Tom is getting around to various projects, including putting up shutters a few weeks ago (a good improvement) and painting the bland, white front door. We were going to use red again, but Tom unexpectedly showed me a yellow color on a paint card. Against the white-ish brick on the front of the house, it looked cheerful and bright. So we now have a yellow door.

Every time I pull up to the house, it makes me smile. Along with the field stone borders he put around the little pines he planted and the same border under the Magnolia tree, it makes for a neat front yard.

We have such nice neighbors here. Emily is dear friends with our nearest neighbors whose little granddaughter comes over to play, in addition to the family on the other block who are friendly and helpful. Then there is the lady across the street who comes over with her little dachshund she adopted. Each day she comes by after school for Emily (as she did in the summer), and they take the little dog for a walk. I think Emily is good company for the lady and the dog, once very shy,  is warming up.

By contrast, the political scene has never been uglier in our country. Social media is filled with the carnage. I read the news and try to digest what is going on and end up depressed and discouraged. Whichever way the election would have gone, this was a guaranteed scenario with great anger on one side or the other. In spite of victory laps from political conservatives, I remain convinced this nation is in terrible peril. There are no political answers in this divided country, ultimately. I believe that more than ever. The answer is spiritual, but nobody is interested in that subject at present.  They await miracles from the new political messiah. We will see.

My news about our cheery yellow door isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but I thought of it as a metaphor in these dark times. As I have said before, life is really lived in the micro sphere of every day things and people. If Hillary Clinton had won and not Donald Trump, we would still get up every morning and do the little things that make up our lives. The little dachshund would still live across the street with her humans, Emily would still be found talking to the neighbors and making new friends all the time, and I would still spend my days making a home for my family as best I can.

I have learned that to be happy, we have to make a choice to be that way. There is a great deal of evil in the world, more now than ever.  We have all had wounds and hurt from that evil in our lives, some more than others. The losses evil people can cause are undeniable. Among so-called Christians, I am sorry to say that indifference, coldness and brutality are no less prevalent. Those perpetrating it and those who watch silently as enablers seem to go from strength to strength while their victims long for things to be made right. But, having said that, happiness and cheerfulness is still a choice. This is the only life we have, the one God gave us. I believe God does see the injustice and the evil, and in His time, He will vindicate, He will deal with those who have so disregarded His commands to love. Meanwhile, we are called to live in the light.

So don’t hesitate to “paint your door yellow.” Or to put it another way, smile just because, be thankful for what you have, and do a little happy dance, if nothing else, in defiance of the joy killers who seem to so populate the earth these days. I do that. I am home alone a great deal. I put on music sometimes when I am down. My kitchen has a big slippery, laminate  floor, and Em and I do our own dances in our socks until we laugh ourselves silly. Last night, we listened to Sleigh Ride and several other Christmas songs (I know, I know, it isn’t Thanksgiving yet.)  Whatever you do, don’t give in to the darkness. God is the author of joy, not despair. God is in His heaven still. By looking up and not around us, we can remember that best.

Keep on the Sunny Side!

After we have prayed and asked for Divine help, after we’ve asked whether there’s anything we can do in a bad situation, we have to walk towards the sun (Son!) and carry on.

I have always loved this little song. Keeping on the “sunny side” doesn’t mean we don’t acknowledge and do what we can when evil is staring us in the face or someone else in the face, but ultimately, we can’t let evil overcome good. With social media putting every societal and personal evil on graphic and horrific display, it’s a choice to not be enthralled by the dark side of life, and to stay firmly on the sunny side instead.

Many of us with children to raise in our dark times are even more acutely aware of this need. Yes, there are many frightening and horrible things on the landscape, but where we can, we are called to create a safe place where our families can still see and feel warmth, love and beauty that God provides each day.

Our little girl, Emmy,  adores this song. I have to repeat it several times when I play it, because she dances around with her dolls when I do.

Assets

“But, she thought, setting her coffee mug carefully on the chipped table top, on her worst day, at the worst moment of her life, she could always comfort herself that she was not like the creatures from Johnson Road. The empty shells who walked around posing as humans, as Christians,  but who were ancient, and anything but human or Christian. The ones who enjoyed the suffering of others and who feasted on innocence, joy and goodness.  No, she was not like them at all. And they hated her for that.

They had tried everything to destroy her for being different. She watched dust motes float slowly from the ceiling with the light from the setting sun through the window highlighting their slow-motion ballet. Her thoughts touched ever so briefly on all they had tried to do.

But she had two traits they couldn’t wipe out, and it infuriated them. One was her joy that had a way of bubbling up, even while they stalked around her windows at night, scheming, plotting, wishing the worst upon her. And they were outside, never inside, no matter how hard they tried to get in to divide and conquer. They couldn’t be allowed in. They had to be kept away for her own protection.

The other trait the creatures hated in her was an iron-clad sense of humor. She smiled at the incongruity of  the words.  And the truth was,  angry, miserable people were funny if you could get past the superficial pain they inflicted. They could be counted on to show up on cue, like dark knights, Job’s comforters—their faces set in granite-hard  lines , eyes cold with anger, their bodies wearing their umbrage like black death shrouds.  You could almost hear the music of Jaws or the fight scene from the Montagues and the Capulets when they approached.  Yes, they were funny, in a sad sort of way.

What made it most ridiculous was that these people said they were Christians, Christ being the first part of that word. She thought of every scene in the New Testament where Jesus Christ appeared. Not one glimpse of him stalking around pridefully, spreading malicious gossip, sneering and holding himself better than others, giving out pompous advice while living otherwise, throwing the first stone at an adulterous woman or scorning the Samaritan woman at the well.  Instead, He knelt down, touched the untouchable, responded to the calls of the disabled. He spoke only truth, even hard truth, because he valued the souls of people.

The creatures used the name of Jesus. Did they really believe themselves to be Christians, pure delusion, or did they know all along what they were doing and who they were? It was impossible to say, she mused. Those they spent so much time trying to destroy knew very well that they had nothing to do with the kindly Jesus, the one who sacrificed his own life for others.

She noticed suddenly the aroma of apples and cinnamon that had filled the small, shabby kitchen.  The goodness in the oven was radiating happy deliciousness. The dog who dozed on the floor was warm on her feet. Through the window, she saw her husband come through the gate and down the walk to the door. The sight of his face made her heart sing a jazzy little tune.

That was something else they hated. She was loved. In all of her imperfections, contradictions, impulsiveness and other sundry flaws, there was someone who, unbelievably, saw her as being worthy of his love. It was because of him that she could believe that God, in his mercy , loved her also, and had taken care of her through it all.

The simplest things of life could make her smile, dust motes, warm dogs, pies, freshly-brewed coffee, because on her worst day, at the worst moment of her life, she was not like the hard-faced, cold-hearted creatures from Johnson Road. Other people and their happiness mattered to her. She had a conscience. There was the love of her family. She laughed out loud. Riches.”

~  Ingrid Schlueter

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Next Thursday We Will Sing

Our Thanksgiving plans are set, and Lord willing, we will have a houseful as we gather in gratitude for all the things the Lord has done. We are not only grateful, we are grateful to the Giver of all of it.

These are dark and dangerous times. Not only is the world as a whole in great turmoil, but so many that we know are going through deep trials of various kinds. Those of us in our family have also faced great difficulty in various ways in the last year. That changes nothing as we gather to say thank you to the One who sustains us all.

I told my sister that when she and her husband, Russ and their four children come, they should bring their musical instruments. Russ and Lisa’s children sing as well as play instruments, and I am printing off song sheets for us all. Even the grandsons, Peter and Max, can play the rhythm instruments and make music.

The first song we will sing is a song written several centuries ago in the middle of a horrific time in history. The simple hymn, Now Thank We All Our God, was not written in an American suburb in a centrally heated home with food in the cupboards and a fully plumbed bath and warm beds. It was written in a time of war, with death and want all around.

Here’s a little glimpse of the environment in which a humble pastor, Martin Rinckart lived:

The plague of 1637 visited Eilenburg with extraordinary severity; the town was overcrowded with fugitives from the country districts where the Swedes had been spreading devastation, and in this one year 8,000 persons died in it. The whole of the town council except three persons, a terrible number of school children, and the clergymen of the neighbouring parish, were all carried off; and Rinckart had to do the work of three men, and did it manfully at the beds of the sick and dying. He buried more than 4,000 persons, but through all his labours he himself remained perfectly well. The pestilence was followed by a famine so extreme that thirty or forty persons might be seen fighting in the streets for a dead cat or crow. Rinckart, with the burgomaster and one other citizen, did what could be done to organize assistance, and gave away everything but the barest rations for his own family, so that his door was surrounded by a crowd of poor starving wretches, who found it their only refuge.

That was the state of things. Here’s more:

After all this suffering came the Swedes once more, and imposed upon the unhappy town a tribute of 30,000 dollars. Rinckart ventured to the camp to entreat the general for mercy, and when it was refused, turned to the citizens who followed him, saying, “Come, my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men, let us take refuge with God.” He fell on his knees, and prayed with such touching earnestness that the Swedish general relented, and lowered his demand at last to 2,000 florins. (Source: Martin Rinckart)

In this environment of suffering and want, the pastor wrote a brief hymn of thanks to His heavenly Father. Here are the words.

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

Our daughter Emily, age 6, has learned this hymn at school. She will lead us off by singing the first stanza on Thanksgiving Day, and we will all join in the rest, with Tom on trumpet, Will at the piano, and Rachel on Viola and the grandbabes on the rhythm instruments.

In light of the manifold blessings we enjoy every single day, how can we do any less but thank God? If Rev. Rinckart could pen this hymn in the midst of such suffering, what is our excuse for not recognizing God’s blessings?

I hope all of you have a joyful Thanksgiving time, wherever you may be, in whatever you are facing. God has not forgotten you.

thanksgiving-songs

The Greatest Fear

“The greatest fear in the world is the opinion of others, and the moment you are unafraid of the crowd, you are no longer a sheep. You become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart. The roar of freedom.”

A friend who is older than I am told me a few months ago that one of the advantages of growing older as a woman was a loss of the crippling fear of the opinion of others. “I don’t know exactly why it is,” she said, “But I used to walk into a room of people and worry about whether they liked me. Now, I ask myself if I like them, and why I am in the room in the first place!”

It’s true. Fundamentalist Christian culture, in a very special way, is infected with the disease of image consciousness. There is no gossip heaven like the “born-agains” (mocking the frauds here, not the real deal.)  A few hairs out of place, baby, and you’ve just earned a place on a black list somewhere! Some even read this blog out of some ungodly need to stalk me and find something that can be used as dirt. I am laughing as I type. (Onward, Christian soldiers, Marching as to war. With our latest targets, bleeding on the floor!)

I saw this meme today, and it nails the problem down.

opinion-meme

Those who form negative opinions about our lives, lives that don’t have anything to do with theirs in any way whatsoever, are sad people without adequate productive work to busy themselves. As someone who once was terrorized at the thought of people having false impressions or forming bad opinions of me based on lies, it now has the whiff of comedy about it. Dark comedy, but worthy of a laugh track. Who are these people who have never had the slightest love or concern for me or my family or ever had a personal interaction with us? Who cares what they think?! They are less than nobody to me and my dear loved ones.

What a freeing thing it is when you get out of a closed environment and breathe clean air, and with the clean air, find a surge of strength to speak the truth on your heart. What a freeing thing it is to shut the door on those who taught you how to judge others ruthlessly, to see things with narrow, loveless little eyes. It is true freedom to walk away from those who devalued and discarded you when you were no longer useful to their cause. It is a good thing to see this clearly and understand the cold, hard truth, and then proceed all the wiser.

Some Good News

Everybody has seen the horror on TV of wildfires that clear out entire forests, destroying everything in their path. After the fires are put out, there is a short period of time where all looks wiped out. Completely burned over and dead. But beneath the ruined forest there is life. It takes time, but slowly and surely, nature replaces the dead and the burned over with new life, ironically, fostered in the rich soil created by the fire. This article puts it this way:

But ecologically, fire has its place, and it’s not one of complete destruction. In fact, in ecosystems, fires initiate a process of growth. They destroy and they leave a space, a space that is soon filled with new growth. After the fires, the forest reawakens.

In Colorado Springs, there’s an ecological flip side to the fire. The forests were full of White and Douglas Fir, Ponderosa Pine, and Aspen trees.  This ecology is adapted to the changes that fire brings. It knows what to do.

After a fire, aspen trees grow. Even if the tree itself has been decimated by fire, this fast-growing tree can easily sprout from the roots that have been left behind. The sunny spaces left behind by the fire give life to the new aspen trees. In turn, the trees’ roots hold the soil in place, and their leaves slow down the rainfall, reducing the danger of flash floods.

With the return of the aspen, comes the revival of the slower-growing Ponderosa Pine. This tree loves the sunshine. Its thick bark can protect the tree from small fires, allowing it to thrive in the more open ecology after a fire moves through. If the tree did not survive, new trees will grow in amongst the baby aspens, rebuilding the local ecology from the ground up. (Read more here.)

What is true of forest fires can also be true for people. The consuming fires in our lives seem to destroy everything worthwhile. But God, in his mercy, often allows the fires to remove what needs removing from our lives that something new and healthy can grow. It’s not all destruction. What’s been consumed is what needed consuming. A lot of what we considered good, is sometimes very bad for us, including some people who have harmed us terribly. The beautiful regrowth of things begins, and you realize that much dead wood, much that was unhealthy is now gone. That’s a beautiful thing for those who can see it.

If you’re seeing the flames at the moment, hang on. If you’re patient and don’t give up, God will show you new growth soon, and it will be something new and healthy and vibrant. Don’t give up!

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Music Break!

A little music burst for your day from J.S. Bach. The joy on the face of the conductor says it all! Here are the words in English:

Ring forth o songs, resound, you strings!
O most blessed time!
God Himself shall prepare our souls for His
temple.

From Bach Cantata 172

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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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!