Lifesavers

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Photo by Nina Uhlu00edkovu00e1 on Pexels.com

                                                 

My husband and I are spending the winter months in Arizona this year. Our residence is in the midst of several mountain ranges but because we are surrounded by houses on three sides, there is only one range readily visible — the Goldfield Mountains. Every morning since we have arrived, I have jumped out of bed and run to the kitchen to raise the white-painted, wooden slat blinds on the window, and in good weather or bad, with the sun blazing or gray, overcast skies, the magnificent mountains are there and they immediately raise my spirits. Why it is so marvelous to see the mountains each and every morning I cannot say, but it is truly uplifting.

Clouds are often in the panorama of the Goldfield range also. They glide by, hover over, or nestle into the caps and valleys of the mountains and soften the rugged peaks and promontories that are silhouetted on the horizon. From this distance, about ten miles away, the mountains appear calm, imperturbable. They seem to offer pleasant assurances and graceful dependability. But I know from trips up dusty mountain trails that they are truly rugged, steep, irregular, stony, and challenging. Does this make them less majestic? Not at all. But it does make me very aware of the potential hardships they can cause.

We are getting some distance from the year 2020 now, but when I take time to consider it, 2020 was like a trip into the mountains; it was rugged, steep, irregular, stony, and demanding. It seems that giant, boulder-like challenges appeared on our life-paths continually. Many days were filled with difficulty. Some days were devastating. Apostle Paul tells us that when the way gets tough, it helps to turn our thoughts toward good things.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8

Why? Why turn our thoughts toward the good and beautiful and true things around us? Isn’t that simply sticking our head in the sand? No. This practice, through the grace of God, turns chaos into peace. It turns the possibility of enduring endless dark days into the promise of experiencing light and life instead. Written from a jail cell, Paul’s “list of things to think about” is a life-giving exercise for rugged climbs and hard times.

Author and podcaster Anne Bogel has taken Paul’s life-giving list and turned it into a question: *Once a year, Anne asks her listeners and readers, “What is saving your life right now?” What seemingly insignificant activity or item — a fragrant candle, a beautiful tablecloth, reading a favorite nonsense poem –  brings joy to your day, and provides some much-needed distance from the stony landscape of your daily difficulties? (You can read Anne’s 2021 list here: https://modernmrsdarcy.com/domestic-tasks-saving-my-life/).                                                 

   I think this is a powerful question that opens up an escape route out of a rocky situation. A lifesaver does not have to be expensive or complicated, it simply must bring you joy. When was the last time you sang a favorite song at the top of your voice? Or blew bubbles on your front porch?

The activity that is saving my life right now is the daily, morning view of the mountains from our kitchen window in Arizona. If you can think of something that is a lifesaver for you, take a moment to treat yourself to it, then call someone and share it with them. It just might save their life right now, too.

*In her blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy, Anne Bogel credits Barbara Brown Taylor with initiating the lifesaver practice: “The idea comes from Barbara Brown Taylor’s wonderful memoir Leaving Church. In it, Taylor tells the story of when she was invited to speak at a gathering, and her host assigned the topic: “Tell us what is saving your life right now.”

Where did I put that birthday card?

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My sister Pat, who is 86 today, has sent birthday cards to all our family members for decades. She is finally ready to admit that this self-assigned labor of love is getting the best of her. She read me a birthday note written to nephew Yoji Kono, whose birthday is in November:

“Dear Yoji,

HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY!

I know – your birthday wasn’t belated – this card is.

Besides that, this is my second try. I addressed the first version to ‘Dear Joe,’ (my nephew Joe Junttila.)

In my third try I said, ‘I think the world of you, Rob.’ (my nephew, Rob Hyrkas.)

Do you think I am confused?

Anyway, I hope you had a great time with your beloved family. ‘Hi’ to Genny and all.

P.S. I lost the card that goes in this envelope.

Lots of love,

Pat

P.P.S. Do you think that forgetfulness is a symptom of the pandemic?”

Happy Birthday to YOU, dear Pat, and thank you for the many wonderful birthday cards and loving greetings you have sent to all of the family for so many years. You are the best!

The Gift of Purple

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In our fellowship, the kids in Children in Worship learn about the church calendar through the use of a color wheel. Purple is the color of the seasons of Advent and Lent. Both are times of waiting and holy expectancy. The teacher of Children In Worship explained that whenever the kids see the color purple, a good question to ask is, “What is God up to now?”

A youngster from that class helped his dad take their garbage cans out to the road for the next day’s garbage pick-up. It was sunset. The youngster noticed the color of the sky and said, “Dad! Look! The sky is purple. I wonder what God is up to now?” *

What a great application of the color wheel lesson from Children in Worship. I hope I can incorporate that same exercise into my own life, and remember the meaning of the gift of purple.

*The story of the little boy who saw the purple sky was related by a Children in Worship leader at a training session in Princeton, MN, at Bethel Christian Reformed Church in 2014/2015.

Eavesdropping…

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I eavesdropped on this conversation between two little girls who were in the lobby of the local movie theatre today:

Little Girl #1: “Tolkien is the guy who wrote Lord of the Rings.”

Little Girl #2: “I’m NEVER going to see that movie. It has spiders in it and I’m PETRIFIED of spiders.”

Little Girl #1: (With great assurance) “You don’t have to be afraid. When we go to my Grandma’s house we see the same spider every year. He comes out from underneath her porch.”

LG#2: (Incredulously) “The same spider comes out from underneath her porch?!”

LG#1: (Calmly) “Yes. Every year. He’s really nice.”

LG#2: (Disbelieving) “Every year?”

LG#1: (Confidently) “Yes. We call him Fluffy. He’s really nice.”

LG#2: (Astonished) “You named the spider?!!”

LG#1: (Compassionately) “Yep — Fluffy. He might not be there this year. Someone might have sprayed the porch with spider spray. But he was really nice.”

Does it sound to you like Little Girl#1 just read Charlotte’s Web and is working on a sequel called Fluffy the Friendly Spider?

Stay tuned for next week’s episode of the continuing saga of Fluffy’s Porch starring Fluffy the Friendly Spider. (From the look on her face, I don’t think Little Girl#2 was convinced that spiders are really nice.)

Road Trip Roundup

Went on a lovely drive yesterday. It was a beautiful day — sunny, high clouds, perfect for a road trip to Tallahassee, FL.

One of the things on our “to do” list was to visit Bradley’s Country Store. Just a bit outside of Tallahassee proper, we arrived there by means of a country lane, County Road 27. Portions of this narrow but scenic roadway are crowned with a canopy of tree branches that reach over to each other from both sides of the road and sometimes meet in the middle overhead. The canopy drive is a beautiful thing to behold and delight to experience.

We arrived at Bradley’s early in the afternoon on a Thursday. As you can see from the picture above, the store is small and the parking lot in front of the store is small, also. Even though we visited on a slow business day, there were plenty of cars and customers coming and going at Bradley’s during our short visit.

Established in 1927, Bradley’s is known for stone ground corn grits and homemade sausage, which is what attracted us to their place of business. On entering the wood A-frame structure, we caught the delicious fragrance of sausage being cooked — a fragrance that draws you to the back of the old wood building, back behind the jar filled and product-laden shelves to the meat market where customers line up for a sausage link on a bun. Irresistible! It was obvious by the earnest faces of those in line that purchasing this item was the reason for their visit to the Bradley’s. There was plenty of foot traffic moving from the front to the back of the store, and we filed right in with the throngs of lunch-seeking pilgrims. That sausage dog was quite a treat!

The store’s board walls are lined with old painted-metal trade signs and advertising images. One large section of wall is covered from floor to ceiling with plaques, most of which are printed with black lettering on distressed wood panels. These are obviously new but fit the old-timey atmosphere of Bradley’s Country Store. A small square plaque on the wall said, “CALL YOUR MOMMA.” That item almost came home with me.

You can see in the picture that Bradley’s has a nice front porch with wooden rockers available for use. Inside, this inviting old building has well used, uneven floorboards,(watch your step), numerous shelves of home canned pickles, peppers, salsa, and sauces, and plenty of other nostalgia-inducing (and I didn’t even grow up in the South!) goodies. There are several Southern cuisine cookbooks to browse, homemade lavender soaps to admire, and of course, Bradley’s homemade sausage and stone ground grits. The staff was cordial, helpful, and knowledgeable.

We happily purchased some of Bradley’s Country Store’s most famous foodstuffs that day (you can order online as well) which we plan to share with family and friends soon. Cheese grits, anyone?

http://www.bradleyscountrystore.com/index.php?route=common/home

Equine Royalty

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It was on an August evening in the 1990’s that our family was leaving the grounds of the Minnesota State Fair after a full, EPIC day there. We had participated in all the events that were of interest to us, eaten Fair food until we could eat no more, and admired scores of award-winning projects, plants, animals, and performances. Our exit route from the Fair would take us past the Lea and Rose Warner Coliseum, a 5,000 seat edifice where farm animal exhibitions and competitions took place.

Dusk was falling as we turned the corner toward the Coliseum — and it was there our exit was totally blocked by a procession of eight stunningly beautiful pure white horses. Our family came to a halt, and we stared in amazement as the superb horses and their liveried riders strode before us. The impressive cavalcade was quietly and steadily moving in a perfect single file arrangement from the horse barn to the Coliseum, about five-hundred feet away. Every step of the horses, every nod of their proud heads, was perfectly synchronized without any apparent instruction from their riders. It was obvious that the riders and horses were cooperating fully with each other. We watched in wonder as the column moved gracefully into the huge, brightly lit riding arena of the Coliseum and we continued to gaze after the horses until the last one disappeared from view. “Mom! What kind of horses were those?” the kids asked. “Lipizzaner,” I said, not really believing what we had just seen. “Lipizzaner from Austria.”

Instead of continuing on our way to the Fair’s exit, we raced around to the front gate of the Coliseum to get tickets for the Royal Lipizzaner performance. Unfortunately, the tickets were sold out for that night, and for the duration of the Austrian riding troupe’s stay in Minnesota. Lesson learned. If you want to see the Royal Lipizzaner up close and personal in the performance ring rather than by happenstance on the Fair backstreets, get your tickets early.

With this memory making a racket in my brain, I picked up the book, The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts.

Letts has a double mission in her book, The Perfect Horse: The Daring Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazi’s (Ballantine Books, 2016). The first is to inform the reader about the history and special qualities of the breed of horses known as the royal Lipizzaner; the second is to relate the harrowing events of the U.S. military’s involvement in efforts to rescue and protect the Lipizzaner from the Nazi’s toward the end of WWII. Letts has achieved both of these goals, producing a book that is not only well researched, winning the PEN USA Literary Award 2017 for Research Non-Fiction, but also presenting a rich story of the relationships that can develop between humans and animals and how each can offer the other trust, companionship, and love under the harshest of conditions.

 

 

Reading is more than what you think…

I am astonished by the number of people who are suspicious of and even offended by books containing imaginative fables, fantasies, and allegories. My curiosity being what it is, I have asked some of the “no fantasy for me” proponents what books kept them company as kids. Some can’t remember what they read, but a few said that they were drawn to books about animals, family sagas, science, and history. All good choices but I don’t think I could have made it through childhood without the help of Narnia, Half Magic and The Hobbit.

Active imaginations and creative pursuits were an ever-present commodity in my home as I was growing up. My brothers and sisters and I almost always had a book or a pen and paper on our person. Music of some sort ran on a continuous soundtrack through the house – always in the background, but often the main event, too. We children admired and emulated the quick-witted and clever people around us, both those on the radio and TV and the gifted members of our family and community. For instance, Mom quoted long rhymes at the drop of a hat, and recited poems & silly songs to us during our bath times or in other mundane, potentially boring situations. Because Mom insisted, we listened to the opera every Saturday (“Texaco Presents… the Metropolitan Opera!”) as we youngsters cleaned our large, old, kid-filled home. During those live radio performances, we experienced great dramas and fantasies put to music.

And then there was the Mass — especially Sunday High Mass — a holy, ritual-filled hour that taught us the transcendence of God, the reality of miracles, and the glory of heaven. Truth, beauty, goodness, all around. Those wonder-filled hours of chanted prayer and fragrant incense stood in sharp contrast to the times in our home that featured alcohol abuse and tense, fearful situations Thankfully, the reading of an entertaining book or a trip to a movie theater could serve as a way to cope with the pain and confusion those events brought on. Good stories and music had the power to calm one’s fears and presented the possibility of a future happy ending. “Bookish tendencies” were good skills to have when it came to dealing with the harsh realities of life.

I think my childhood reading of myths and fables also helped to teach me to read between the lines in the real world, which is a great survival skill. I am thankful for the books of C.S. Lewis, Edward Eager, and J.R.R. Tolkien for the comfort their works provided and the resourcefulness their stories brought with them. My youthful reading experiences taught me that wonderful books of fantasy help to exercise one’s mind not to simply escape trying situations, but also to train one to learn to deal with unsolvable difficulties. It was in those early reading years that I learned to trust my imagination to lead me to a deeper, more inventive understanding of the world around me. And don’t despair! It’s never too late to read books of fantasy and fairytales and receive all the good they have to offer. Pick one up today. Your imagination will thank you.

The best age to be…

 

 

three year old

If you ever get the opportunity to speak to a three-year-old, ask them this question: “How old are you?” Chances are they will look you in the eye, hold up three fingers and say, “Free.” Ginny Junttila, my sister Claudia’s mother-in-law, who was a kindergarten teacher for decades, told me she had asked this question of many three-year-old children over the years and almost all of them had responded the same way. And then Ginny added, “Isn’t that lovely? Everyone should have a year to be “free,” don’t you think?”

Yes, I do think everyone should have a year, or more, to be free. And a place to be free, also. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christian churches were thought of as places where one is free? places where one is free to ask questions about Jesus and other important subjects?  places where one is free to discover what it means to be truly human?

Perhaps we need to change our adult thinking and regain the unselfconscious mind of a three-year-old in order to grasp what it means to be free, to live in freedom in Christ.

 “He called a little child to him and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’ ” (Matthew 18:2-4) NIV

Mother Tongue by Leonard Sweet – a book review

Mother Tongue Book Cover

Author Leonard Sweet’s mother, Mabel Boggs Sweet, shines like the finest gold in Sweet’s most recent book and semi-memoir, “Mother Tongue: How Our Heritage Shapes Our Story” (NavPress, 2017).Written using the metaphor of a memory box, Sweet presents his family’s story by employing chapters titled with memory box “artefacts,” for example, “Ma’s Wedding Ring, Dad’s Hellevision,” “Polio Braces,” “Lye Soap,” and twenty-two others. Sweet composes the chapters as spectacular dioramas or stage settings so that the reader can step directly into the home and lives of the remarkable family of Leonard L. and the Reverend Mabel Boggs Sweet and their sons, Leonard I., Philip, and John.

Although Mother Tongue is the tale of the Leonard L. Sweet family, Mable Boggs Sweet was the powerful hub of that tribe and home – and what a home it was. Set on “Hungry Hill” in the town of Gloversville, N.Y., Mabel Boggs Sweet, “an early woman preacher, a church planter, and lay theologian,” (xxiii) took a low profile in public ministry after her marriage and the birth of her three sons. She shifted her outreach from the tent meetings of her time to her boys, whom she saw as her new mission field, and she made their home a “religious community.”(51) Had Rod Dreher been writing “The Benedict Option” (PenguinRandomHouse, 2017) then, he might have used the Sweet household as his model for Christian family life.

Mabel Boggs Sweet, a dynamic Pilgrim Holiness preacher, instituted a family pattern of prayer, Bible study, evangelism, and excellence in academics and musical skills for her sons. Sweet, in his evocative and image-rich way, makes clear that these activities were done to form Christ in the Sweet boys, and with a heart for reaching the lost. Not one to keep the good news of Jesus Christ to herself, the boys struggled with their Mother’s outgoing style of evangelism. Even so, writes Sweet, “In spite of all the embarrassment as kids growing up, we got the sense that to be a follower of Jesus is to be heir to an extraordinary heritage, host to the very Son of God, and harbinger of a promised future….”

In the chapter that features the artefact of an “Upright Piano and Soundtrack for the Soul,” Leonard Sweet describes the way in which Mabel Boggs Sweet put her boys to bed: “But mostly Mother would tuck us in musically. We would call down hymns we wanted her to play, and she would either play them by memory or look them up in one of the many hymnbooks scattered on the piano or stored inside the bench. If a radio pulls sound out of the air, prayer pulls sounds out of the heart. The assumption was that our musical requests would reflect the need of our hearts at that moment. There was hardly a problem that didn’t have disharmony as its cause, and there was hardly a problem that a song couldn’t cure.”

It is clear in Mother Tongue that Jesus was first and foremost in Mabel Boggs Sweet’s mind and heart, and she imparted the Jesus-way of life to her boys. This could lead one to believe that peace and perfection were everywhere in their home, but not so. The Sweet clan was a fully human family in our get-real modern world. Together they experienced rejection and shunning from church leaders and fellow church members, suffered the physical results of professional medical negligence, endured the brutal effects of polio, and lived through the destructive, rebellious years of teenage children. Despite these devastations, Mabel Boggs Sweet persevered as she followed her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and clung to the Truth in her role as a mother and a preacher.

“Mother Tongue: How Our Heritage Shapes Our Story” is a frankly intimate and revealing book. Pain is present in these pages, but humor, beauty, love and wisdom are paramount. There is no doubt about who the central character of the narrative is, or what heritage has been passed from Mother to sons in this story: it is Jesus Christ – King, Shepherd, Lord, and Lover of Mabel Boggs Sweet’s soul.

Mabel Boggs Sweet’s life was lived in the Refiners fire, a complex process that produces the finest gold. Her life of burnished gold is truly the most precious artefact in “Mother Tongue” and is what shines so luminously in Leonard Sweet’s outstanding book.

 

Toast

Summer 2016
Dear Jack and Mikala ~Best Wishes and God’s richest blessings on your marriage!
As author and theologian, Leonard Sweet would say, “Every item you value in your home should have a story that you can tell about it.” John and I hope this gift will be of value to you, Jack and Mikala, and here is a tale you can share about it.
Not long ago, Jack, you mother told me
that while shopping in Maple Grove, MN, she came upon a reminder that a family member, your great-great uncle on your Grandfather Gilmore’s side, Charles P. Strite, had invented the pop-up toaster. The reminder came in the form of a colorful kitchen towel that caught her eye. When she picked up the towel to look at it, she saw the words Fun Facts About Minnesota printed across the top, and MINNESOTA Birthplace of the Modern Toaster stamped in the bottom right corner. It was, she told me, a delight to her to think that this rather obscure fact regarding her great uncle would be made public in such a clever way. I found your mother’s story fascinating for my own reasons, and when I came upon the very same kitchen towel in a shop in Park Rapids, MN, I couldn’t resist purchasing it for the two of you for your wedding.
Your mother told me, Jack, that your great-great Uncle Charlie lived with your Grandpa Gilmore’s family for a time when they lived at 5124-11th Ave So., in South Minneapolis, that he worked as an engineer and had access to a workshop where he developed his idea for the pop-up toaster. The history of your Uncle Charlie’s wonderful invention is available on the internet under the title “Fascinating facts about the invention of the toaster by Charles Strite in 1919.” A copy of the information is included with your gift, as are a few different printed images of toasters that were in use prior to 1919, the year your talented ancestor invented the pop-up toaster and changed breakfast forever.
I don’t know what my growing-up years would have been like without the toaster! My mom was always making toast. If it wasn’t used during a meal, toast was used as the cure-all for just about everything that needed a healing touch in our home; from a youngster’s shock over a broken toy to a high schooler’s sorrow of a broken heart. It was the perfect treatment for illness, stress over a homework assignment or the pain of not making the team. Bread at our home was never anything fancy. In a family of 10 children, one is just happy to have bread — whatever was on sale at the local grocery store was what we ate at home, and we were thankful for it. But when Mom put the bread in your Uncle Charlie’s invention, it became something special – it became toast.
Where Mom found the time to care for us in this tender way, I don’t know, but she would wait patiently for the toast to pop up, and while it was still hot she put butter and jam on it and then carried it to us on a tray. The fragrance of the toasted bread, like incense, preceded Mom’s entrance into the room. After she set it down before us, grace was said: “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.” I must admit, life did seem much better after prayer, eating the toast and basking in some special attention from Mom.Many years after I left home I came across a little article about toast in some magazine or other. It made me laugh, and I knew Mom would get a kick out of it, so I sent her a copy. Here is a reprint for you of the “toast” article:

TOAST

From “Kitchen Essays” by

Agnes Jekyll, ca 1922

“Toast, to be good, demands a glowing grate, a handy toasting-fork, and a patient watcher…”

An anxious bride, humiliated by the sort of toast only a starving sparrow would relish, wrote to one learned in such matters, asking for a trustworthy recipe.

“Cut a slice of bread, hold it before the fire and say incantations,” was the unhelpful but only advice vouchsafed.

Mikala, I had the honor of being at the bridal shower held for you at your home and saw that you and Jack received a toaster as a shower gift, so Plan B for your wedding present became necessary. The idea occurred to me that “a toasting fork,” as mentioned in the article above, might be used for other things besides bread — such as marshmallows. None of your relatives has invented a pop-up marshmallow toaster yet, have they? Until then, please enjoy the toasting forks, tray, a Minnesota Fun Facts towel, and ingredients used in the preparation of S’mores. May you experience many years of joy together, Jack and Mikala, as you sit by a glowing fire patiently watching the marshmallows toast. No incantations necessary.

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