Archive | March 2014

We Laughed and Laughed and Laughed

Mim and Mom chuckling over something

Mim and Mom chuckling again

Some of my fondest memories of my parents are of Mim and me sitting together with them around the dining room table, talking about our everyday lives, and laughing and laughing and laughing.

In the 1970s and 1980s when Mim and I lived in Chicago, we drove to Wisconsin to visit my parents about once every month or two. We usually arrived about noon on Saturday, in time for dinner, and returned to Chicago Sunday afternoon.  My mom would have meat and potatoes and vegetables just about ready to set on the table when we pulled into the driveway. The four of us would catch up on all our news as we ate dinner. But we didn’t stop talking even when we finished the ice cream and homemade cookies we often had for dessert. We kept lingering.

Dad and me laughing over more conversation as we drained the coffee pot

Dad and me laughing over more conversation as we drained the coffee pot

Those were happy times together. Many of the stories we shared with each other ended up with all of us laughing about some aspect of the story, like bemoaning the unintended consequences of a foolish mistake one of us had made. Every one of those dinnertime conversations lasted at least an hour, sometimes two.

I thought about those family dinners last week as I was reading Chasing Joy: Musings on Life in a Bittersweet World by Edward Hays. That’s one of the books I’m  reading to help me in my 2014 focus on the word “joy.”

In one of his musings, Hays described the Apache creation story. As God was creating the very first man, God gave him the abilities to talk, walk and run, think and plan, and look and hear – but something was still missing. So God withheld life until he could do one more thing – laugh. When man finally laughed, God said, “Now at last are you fit to be alive.”

Baby-laughing 2

“I’ve got my soul!”

In a later reflection, Hays described another Native American belief. “Among the Navajo, a newborn baby is carefully observed for his or her soul moment, that mystical moment when the baby first laughs. The Navajo believe that the soul, which in their native language is the same word as wind, as in Hebrew, enters the body sometime soon after birth. When the baby first laughs, it signals that glorious moment when the soul has finally been attached to the infant’s body.”

Patti and Edith laughing 2

Sisters sharing a moment of joy

In my mind, sharing a first good laugh together still marks the beginning of a new life – the life of a new relationship, of a new friendship. The first time a new resident laughs with us around the table at Country Comforts is the moment we become truly a family. When we laugh together, we are enjoying each other’s company, we are all experiencing joy. This shared laughter may not necessarily be a boisterous belly laugh. It may be a slight smile, or an impish grin. Regardless of how loud our laughter, we are sharing joy. And that’s what God wants for us. The Bible instructs us in I Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. [New International Version]

There are lots of interesting musings in Chasing Joy. The book is a fun read. One of my favorite musings is entitled “Invincible Joy.” Hays reminds us of the exploits of the famous Three Musketeers. They never lost a battle because of their total commitment to each other, expressed in their motto, “All for one, and one for all!” Hays draws the comparison with joy, gratitude, and prayer – the three things Paul tells us to do: be joyful, be thankful, and pray.

three musketeers

“All for one, and one for all.”

Joy is likewise invincible whenever it acts “All for one, and one for all,” side by side with “Pray always,” and “Be always grateful…”  Joy will be defeated easily whenever it tries to act like a lone-ranger virtue when outnumbered by a horde of misfortunes and miseries. Those famous Pauline three – joy, gratitude, and prayer – are identical triplets that sustain, protect, and encourage one another when they are lived side by side.

I’m really thankful that my parents taught me to laugh with them around the dinner table, to share the joy in our lives. I need to remember to pray, to thank God for that blessing and for all the joy our Creator placed in the world for us to discover.  Joy, gratitude, and prayer – the invincible triplets.

A joyful breakfast at Country Comforts Assisted Living

A joyful breakfast at Country Comforts Assisted Living

 

The Blessings of Awful Stories in the Bible

Horizontal image of Bible and creation skyThere are some pretty awful stories in the Bible – like the story of Tamar in Genesis. She was a young widow who disguised herself as a temple prostitute in order to entrap her father-in-law into having sex with her so that she would have a son. Have you ever wondered why that story is even in the Bible? The story certainly doesn’t illustrate what we call “Judeo-Christian values.” A few days ago I think I learned why that story is included in the sacred text.

It was Thursday, the day I play the piano for the women’s worship service in the county jail. As usual, the chairs in the chapel were arranged in a circle with a small table in the center serving as the altar. The chaplain asked the women to think about a time when they had to make a decision and they felt that they didn’t have any good options, only bad ones. Then she read the story of Tamar in a contemporary English version of the Bible. The story was vivid.

We were all quiet for a minute when she finished reading the story. Then we went around the circle, sharing our own experiences of having to make tough decisions. One woman talked about needing money to be able to take care of her two young kids. Her best option at the time seemed to be prostitution. She knew it was wrong, but she didn’t know what else she could do to provide for her kids. Another woman talked about having a mom who was so strung out on drugs that the mom had given her the responsibility of taking care of her little sister. She felt she had to steal to be able to get food for herself and her sister.

The decisions these women made were ultimately responsible for them being in jail. There were serious consequences for whichever option they chose. One woman said she was glad that her choice resulted in her going to jail, where she would have a chance to learn about other options in her life. She encouraged the woman who had been caring for her little sister to pray and read her Bible every day and to trust that God was watching out for her and her sister.

After this time of sharing we went around the circle praying for the person seated on our right. We ended the worship service by singing a song of praise to God, “This is the Day” and we read a final blessing together.

A prison cell doorAs we waited for a deputy to come and unlock the chapel door and to escort the women back to their cell block, I played some lively music on the piano, starting with “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” The women knew the words to the spiritual and they sang along. After several verses, I switched to “Standing in the Need of Prayer.” They sang along with that, too. I asked them for suggestions of other songs to sing while we waited. We sang “This is the Day” again and the other song we had sung earlier in the service, “Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God.” Then the woman who had been caring for her younger sister requested “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee,” followed by “Joy to the World,” and “Soon and Very Soon.”

This spontaneous hymn sing while we waited for the deputy was the special JOY of my day. The awful story of Tamar had prompted the sharing of tough decisions these women had made. Sharing stories, praying for each other, and singing together. God was with us again. I’m learning that this is what “church” is all about.

hands-on-the-piano

I had a dream

The coat in my dream was a beige tweed spring coat, much like the one in this picture. I had worn the coat through my college years. Then I got tired of it, and my mom rescued it from my closet. She wore it for the next 20 years.

The coat in my dream was a beige tweed spring coat, much like the one in this picture. I had worn the coat through my college years. Then I got tired of it, and my mom rescued it from my closet. She wore it for the next 20 years.

One night last week I dreamed I was hurrying as fast as I could. I was at an airport, Philadelphia, I think. I was alone, running to find my gate to catch my flight.  I made a quick stop in one of the restrooms on my way. Then I continued running toward my gate, carrying my bags. A few minutes later I realized I’d left my coat in the restroom. Despite my hurry, I turned around to go back for my coat. It was still there. I grabbed it and continued running toward my gate. I finally got to the gate, ten minutes after my plane was supposed to have departed. Fortunately, the flight was running late, just like me, and I was able to get on the plane.

Then my clock radio came on. I remember thinking – I’m so glad I can wake up and stop this mad race through the airport. I am home. I don’t have to rush to get here. I can relax. I don’t have to hurry.

I stayed in bed for a few minutes thinking about this dream. Then I got up to begin my day, intentionally not hurrying.

Why did I have this dream last week?

Thirty years ago when I lived in Chicago and worked for Northwest Industries I frequently traveled to Reading, Pennsylvania to work on IT projects for General Battery Corporation, one of the companies owned by Northwest Industries. I had many flights in and out of the Philadelphia airport, but I rarely was in a big hurry. One of my colleagues, Jan Persson, had taught me that I didn’t have to schedule my time so that I would always be in a hurry. There was another way. He taught me to allow two hours to get from my office in the Sears Tower in downtown Chicago to O’Hare Airport. Usually, the cab could get me there in 30 minutes, but if I allowed two hours, I never had to worry about missing a flight. If I ended up having an hour to waste at the airport, I didn’t have to waste it – I could find a lounge area, have a snack, open up my briefcase and actually do some work. Or, better yet, take some time to read. This could be good, productive time. Since cell phones hadn’t been invented yet, I wouldn’t have any interruptions at the airport.

Thinking back 30 years to those frequent trips to Philadelphia, both with Jan and sometimes traveling alone, brought my mind back to learning not to hurry. That’s a hard lesson to remember in our culture. Our society seems to equate being busy and having to hurry with being important and worthwhile. If we don’t have to hurry, that must mean we don’t have anything important to do.

An Unhurried LifeHmmm. Maybe I should re-think my commitment to giving up hurry for Lent… Remember, that’s what I wrote about in my blog last week. Does my fast from hurrying imply that I’m giving up doing things that are important and worthwhile during Lent? I don’t think so. I’ve started reading Alan Fadling’s book, An Unhurried Life, that I mentioned in last week’s blog. Stephen A. Macchia, founder and president of Leadership Transformation, is quoted on the back cover of the book:

An Unhurried Life unearths our idol of efficiency and the incessant struggle to catch up, keep up and stay up with the velocity of our high-energy world. Fadling invites us into a countercultural way of being present to God and to one another.

I’m taking my time through this book. I’m not far enough in my reading to have reached any conclusions of my own yet, but if learning to live an unhurried life means I will be more “present to God and to one another,” I think I’m moving in the right direction.

In the first chapter of the book, Fadling makes the point that Jesus lived his life on earth at a relaxed pace. He spent the first 40 days of his ministry in the wilderness. He frequently went off by himself to spend time in prayer. He took his time getting to see his friend Lazarus – taking so much time that Lazarus died before he got there. According to Fadling, perhaps the best word to describe Jesus’ approach to life is relaxed.

I don’t think I can picture Jesus rushing through the Philadelphia airport, but I’m pretty sure he would have taken the time to go back to get the coat he forgot in the restroom, especially if the coat would keep his mother warm for another twenty years.

I guess God is going to use a variety of media to help me learn more about “not hurrying” throughout Lent this year.

Mom and Dad resting on a stump, watching their grandsons compete in a cross country meet. Mom is wearing my coat - the one in my dream.

Mom and Dad resting on a stump, watching grandsons compete in a high school cross country meet. Mom is wearing my coat – the one in my dream. (Terry Kornelsen, one of my nephews, took the picture.)

Hurry Up!

Abbey Profile 2

Yesterday morning, after breakfast, Abbey and I went outside for our usual morning walk. The sun was shining in a clear blue sky, but the temperature was 8 below zero. I put on my winter boots, bundled up with my down-filled jacket and pulled the hood over my head. Abbey waited patiently while I slipped on her harness and clipped on the leash. We stepped out the door to begin what I saw as a quick 5-minute walk down our driveway and around the circular drive among the condos, giving Abbey a chance to “do her business.” Abbey saw it differently – another 15-minute adventure outside.

“Come on, Abbey. It’s cold outside. Let’s get this walk over with.” Abbey didn’t hear me. She walked about 10 steps, nose to the ground, and stopped to sniff one particular spot in the snow extra carefully. I continued down the driveway until I got to the end of the 25-foot extend-a-leash. I turned around. Abbey was still sniffing that spot. “Come on, Abbey,” I called. She still ignored me. I gave a slight tug on the leash. She looked up, and then pranced in my direction. She came about 20 feet, and then stopped to “do her business.”

2014 Abbey in Snow 3“Good girl, Abbey. Let’s keep going. Let’s walk around the whole circle. Then we can go back inside where it’s warm.” Abbey looked at me like I was crazy, took a few steps, and buried her nose in the snow.   Then she looked up at me and called out, “Just a minute, Mom. Someone’s been here. I haven’t figured out who it was yet.”  So I waited while she sniffed some more. Finally she took a couple steps, and stopped to eat some snow. “This is good, Mom. You should try it.”

“No, thanks, Abbey. Come on. Aren’t you cold?”

“Just a minute, Mom. This snow tastes so good.” I stopped when I reached the end of the 25-foot leash again. I looked back to see what Abbey was doing now. She was standing up tall, listening in the direction of Kitty and Mickey’s condo. Sometimes they come outside when she walks by and they always bring a handful of MilkBones.

2014 Abbey in snow 2“Oh, Abbey. They’re not coming out today. It’s too cold.” Reluctantly Abbey walked my direction. Then she picked up another scent to follow. After about 15 minutes of this pattern Abbey and I returned to our condo. I was freezing. She was invigorated. “Abbey, I think it’s time we need to talk about our walks.”

“I agree, Mom. You seem really frustrated. What’s wrong?”

“Yes, I am frustrated, Abbey. It’s cold outside, and you don’t seem to have a clue what the word ‘hurry’ means.”

“Oh, Mom, you’re always in such a hurry. You’re so busy you don’t take time to do anything fun – or to take time to enjoy anything you’re doing. I thought joy was supposed to be your ‘perfect word’ for this year. You’re in too much of a hurry to find joy.”

Abbey’s rather harsh observation startled me. Am I really that busy? Every morning this year, I start my devotional time by reading a reflection by Sarah Young from her book, Jesus Calling. In this reflection, Jesus says, “Sit quietly in my presence while I bless you. Make your mind like a still pool of water, ready to receive whatever thoughts I drop into it.” A few sentences later, Jesus says, “Keep looking to Me and communicating with Me as we walk through this day together. Take time to rest by the wayside, for I am not in a hurry. A leisurely pace accomplishes more than hurried striving.” I have read these words 62 times so far this year. Apparently, I’m not heeding what Jesus says about not hurrying. I guess Abbey’s right.

An Unhurried LifeI’m going to try something new for Lent this year. I’m going to try to fast from hurry. It’s not an original idea. A few days ago I read about someone else who’s planning to do this. Linda Swanson has a blog called “Journey in Process.”  In her blog, she mentioned a book she’s reading, An Unhurried Life by Alan Fadling.

I looked up the book on Amazon.com and was tempted to download a Kindle version to quickly skim the book for key ideas to help me before Lent starts tomorrow.  Then I realized, hurrying to get ready for Lent so that I can give up hurrying for Lent, doesn’t make too much sense. I think I’ll still buy the book, but I’ll order it as a paperback that Mim can read, too. (She’s technology resistant.) Then, maybe during Lent I can spend time studying the book at a more leisurely pace, and Mim and I can talk about it as we try to break the habit of hurrying.