When the Door Slams in your Face

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Photo: Martins Zemlickis (www.unsplash.com).

 

You know that feeling.

The sound of the door slamming echoes up and down the hallway, ricocheting off the walls and ceiling.

This is it. The end. Nothing else you can do. Oh, you have tried. Again and again, it seems. You have pushed and pushed on that door. Banged on it. Yelled. Tried every key you can think of, but it’s still locked.

A hopeless, nameless dread overwhelms you as you stand there staring at the door handle. What now?

I think it’s safe to say that every person, at some point in life, has experienced the “slamming door” effect.

Another “No” in your quiet time with God.

Another polite, “Thank you for applying for this position. This letter is to inform you that this position has been filled.”

Another doctor saying, “There’s nothing more I can do.”

Another cold shoulder from that one person you want to reach for Christ.

Another no from your spouse. Your child. Your friend.

When God says no, what do you do?

 

I have been asking myself that question. How well do I respond to the “no” in my life, no matter what that may be?

Lately I have sensed that He is not asking me to give up completely. What He wants me to understand is that when the answer is “No,” when the door is slammed shut, and I stand there wondering why–He is still here.

I am learning that–

  • He may be opening another door. Oh, it may be not be the door I was wanting Him to open right now, but He does not want me to sit and pout.
  •  He wants me to see Him standing there, waiting. This is not really about the door, is it? He wants me to fellowship with Him while waiting.
  • He wants me to go on hoping and wishing and praying. To keep trusting that the right door will open for me at the right time.

What is the “no” in your life? Do not give up. Trust that He will either open the door someday, or lead you to another door, wide-open, waiting just for you.

The 7 Club

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Photo: Breather (unsplash.com).

The name was not very original, but the meetings were memorable.

“The 7 Club” consisted of five sisters (Deborah, Sharon, Joanna, Jessica, and Monica) and two brothers (Jonathan and Matthew), and was a monumental effort to foster unity and peace and goodwill among them.

The club met every few weeks and discussed important matters like cleaning jobs, future activities, family celebrations, and Christmas plays. Sometimes the discussion dissolved into more pressing matters, such as throwing a football around.

I have fond memories of “The 7 Club”. I was elected Secretary (somehow I always end up with this job) and carefully recorded suggestions and topics discussed in the meetings. My older brother Jonathan was elected Treasurer.

The other day I found the minutes from those long-ago meetings. They included, but were not limited to, the following:

Meeting #1: June 22, 1994, Wed. night, Wallingford, CT

Deborah talked about cleaning the bus, dish teams, Hippie (the name of one of our motor homes, a 1972 beast of a vehicle). Jonathan and Deborah goofed around. Laughter and such.

Matthew: suggestion for Cedar Point.

Sharon: exchange letters.

Monica: picnic, raise money for food.

Joanna: P.O. (Post Office. We shipped packages of CDs weekly, so this was a valid point.)

Jonathan objects to the whole club!

Sharon: a paper.

Joanna: singing cheers.

Sharon: prayer meetings (1 hour straight).

Matthew: mow lawns for old ladies.

Deborah: amount of tracts given out each week, etc.

General discussion followed about sign language and Spanish.

Sharon: rules, equal rights. Save money ($1/week per person).

Discussion about Christmas and sign language. (Apparently we were stuck on sign language. We did end up performing a Christmas play and Deb signed during one song.)

Jessica: at each meeting, wear 1 piece of matching clothing.

Think on a name all week. Discussion about next meeting.

Encouragement from Deborah.

Various chores were listed, with our names included.

Meeting adjourned (without prayer).

Clearly, the club was tolerated by my brothers. I find it humorous that each comment reflects something of that sibling’s personality.

Deborah, as the oldest at home at the time, was spiritually minded (at least more than the rest of us) and loved clean motor homes. Sharon was the eternal organizer and was particularly concerned about equal rights and rules. Joanna loved parties (and the Post Office, apparently). Jonathan could care less. I was quiet (typical), and I loved wearing matching clothes. Matt really wanted to go to Cedar Point, or any place other than the meeting–but he seemed to have a deep concern for old ladies who needed their lawns mowed. And Monica was wise beyond her years.

Unfortunately, “The 7 Club” lasted for only three meetings. Although I appreciated Deborah’s ideas to draw us closer, the club failed to meet regularly and eventually fizzled out.

Something about the tight quarters and the amount of time spent together forced us to find a way to work together, but we were just as normal as the next person.

We had moments when we wanted to punch a sibling rather than see their face one. more. time. Occasionally, a fight would break out: for my brothers, this usually was resolved with a few well-placed blows; for my sisters and me, this necessitated long conversation (especially from me) and many tears.

Looking back, I know that I am thankful for this forced comradeship. Nothing like living in a bus to make all of the bad attitudes and selfishness rise to the top, where you had to deal with them. You cannot be unhappy with the other person for very long–that is, if you want to maintain sanity in that kind of space.

Dad and Mom encouraged us to resolve differences quickly, to not let “the sun go down upon your wrath.” The joke was–as we had no real doors in the bedrooms of the bus–we could not slam a door in anger, even if we wanted to.

Although I am still working on this area, I am grateful for those old days where I first learned that I needed to 1) discuss problems and differences openly and honestly, 2) listen to the other person’s side, 3) do my best to resolve issues, and 4) learn to live at peace with others, or at least as much as humanly possible.

That little notebook reminds me of a simpler time in life.

The notebook also reminds me to keep working on important things, like unity and kindness and consideration of others.

 

Today, it’s a tangible reminder of siblings and rivalry and irritations and annoyance. But it’s also a reminder of love and unity and selflessness and connection. After all, the club was really about the big picture: working together, serving others. Not about family gatherings or chores or activities.

And the big picture for me today should be the same as it was twenty-three years ago.

Learning to Read: A Journey into the Literary Life

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Photo: Annie Spratt, www.unsplash.com.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved words.

I used to sit on the couches in our bus during lunch time, dreaming of words and phrases, rolling them around in my head, “tasting” them. . .just like I tasted Mom’s potato soup.

My guess is that these words and phrases–these bits of dialogue–were hybrid lines and impressions from movies my siblings and I had watched. Or autobiographies and fiction books I had read. They certainly were not original to me. Nevertheless, they persisted in planting themselves in my mind and taking root.

Even now, words captivate me with their strength and beauty. Currently, I am fostering a love of poetry, of creative nonfiction, of self-help books–genres I never considered when I was a girl busily reading Nancy Drew or the Mandie books or Janette Oke (all of the important authors a good Baptist girl reads).

My years at Pensacola Christian College taught me one thing: I was not as well-read as I believed myself to be. For someone who adores words, I had only a basic knowledge of the classics. I found that I was sorely lacking when it came to reading deeper, more challenging books. I had made a habit of looking up any word I encountered that was new to me, yet I had not enriched my reading experiences by delving into more substantive titles.

The faculty at Pensacola Christian College carefully taught me the definitions of good and bad literature and gave me the tools to discern between the two.

 

The literature classes I sat in mesmerized me. Quietly, I listened and pretended to understand as other students discussed various literary themes and ideas in the books we read. They brought up topics that had not entered my tired brain at 10:42 p.m. the night before as I hurriedly scanned the required pages for the next day’s quiz.

“Notice how Hawthorne used the idea of shame in this passage,” our teacher would say.

I flipped to the page he was indicating. Yes. Hawthorne apparently did use ideas of shame, of forgiveness even.

Then the students around me would impart their knowledge.

“When he wrote about the light shining in the window, it was then that I thought of. . .” one student would start. And next would follow a wonderful monologue of context and emphasis and deep thoughts. (Actually, I cannot think of a scene in The Scarlet Letter where light shined in the window, but. . .)

I would stare at them, wondering how on earth they managed to drag that idea out of the passage. I would stare at the page, then blink. What am I missing?

“I wonder if he meant this about the passage in chapter 13, where he states. . .” another would add.

Didn’t catch that, either. How do these people do this? I guess I am just not as intelligent. Yes. That must be it.

I read books with 500-600 pages. Never in my life had I read so many pages in a book. What was Dickens thinking, anyway? I read books that presented new ideas and theories. We traced a line of British writers, of American novelists, and of the ways the literature reflected a subtle downward shift. And all the while, I realized how woefully illiterate I was. Oh, I could read, but had I ever really read?

I studied Creative Writing and Advanced Creative Writing. I had always loved poetry and had even tried my hand at free verse and blank verse. But I had not learned to read poetry and to appreciate it, nor had I studied its many styles and nuances. I took to poetry as if I had found the correct way to breathe.

Creative Nonfiction opened up another world to me. I was unaware that such a genre even existed. I devoured writing by Annie Dillard (possibly my favorite). I followed my reading assignments carefully, discovered the pull of memoir, and added selections to my personal library.

Even as I started down new literary paths, I became increasingly aware that reading, once a favored hobby for most adults, is losing popularity. The Pew Research Center’s 2015 survey reveals that 72% of adults read only one book a year in any format. According to the Statistic Brain website, 50% of adults read at levels lower than the 8th grade. And 57% of books are never completed.

Our pastor consistently encourages our church to stop, to think, to turn off the TV and grab a book instead. Although statistics in church culture may reflect a better reading trend, I know that all too often, I find myself opting for a movie instead of a book. Reading makes me think, and sometimes I do not want to think anymore.

But reading also enlarges my world. Reading delights and envelopes me. When I have found a good book, I feel like I have made a new friend. And when I finish a good book, I struggle saying goodbye.

Despite statistics and trends, I have decided to continue cultivating a literary life.

 

Reading may not be as popular as it once was. Reading may require me to stretch myself. But the benefits are enormous–and I cannot resist the magic of fine writing.

This is my journey. This is my literary life of words.

When Life Gets Too Sticky

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Photo: Joel Peel, www.unsplash.com.

The back of the bus was dark.

In the Southern heat, my skin prickled with sweat. The strong smell of honey permeated the small space as I strained to see.

We were somewhere in Georgia or North Carolina or Alabama. Only hours before, the bus had taken a sharp turn and honey spilled over what seemed the entire floor in the minuscule kitchen. At another turn, a chocolate cake sitting on a makeshift counter in front of the emergency exit toppled into the laundry basket.

Siblings warned me before I made my trek to the back of the bus. Having been in another vehicle of our family’s caravan when the catastrophes happened, I heard only muted comments and ominous statements.

“Honey spilled all over the back of the bus,” said one sibling.

“Mom’s not too happy,” another added, awed.

As a kid, I remember that Mom occasionally had a few moments of near hysteria. They were few and far between, but sometimes she reached a point where she needed some time away from the hustle and bustle of raising ten kids on a bus.

Tonight was one of those nights. We had been driving for hours and hours, it seemed, and the honey and chocolate cake episodes only added to the heat and fatigue. Only my need for the tiny bathroom made me dare approach the scene of her frustration.

Although I am sure this was not a pleasant experience for my mom, I do not remember many instances where she lost her cool. Our schedule was always changing, but Mom remained flexible.

School was conducted on the couches in the front of the bus or in a variety of Sunday school classrooms from Maine to California. She kept us tied to a strict schedule. When our home schooling was interrupted by a random school chapel service (at which we sang and gave testimonies or acted in skits), she would remind us that once the chapel service was over, we must return to our schoolwork. Going to the laundry mat and cleaning the tiny rooms on the bus were regular routines, and everyone knew their job. Practicing instruments each week day was never questioned.

I am not sure that I could have remained as calm as she appeared with the way our schedules flipped and flopped. That was life on the road–always different from week to week. But Dad and Mom still believed in having a schedule. Eventually, my older sisters took over many of the duties of leading and instructing us younger siblings.

The night-time incident involving honey and chocolate cake came to mind the other day. This little slice of traveling life reminded me that life can often be tumultuous. And sometimes–before I know it–I find myself in the dark, the stickiness of the situation looming before me, the little catastrophes piling up until I am completely frustrated.

Those moments hit without warning, and if I am not careful, I find myself obsessing over the smallest inconveniences. Typically, they arrive in twos and threes. Taken into account one by one, they are small, insignificant.

Honey spilling on the floor.
Chocolate cake falling into dirty clothes.
Sweat and heat and fatigue.

But together? They can annoy and overwhelm and make me lose my focus.

When that happens, I need to take a deep breath, step away from the chaos, and remind myself of Who is in control of the journey. Even five minutes away from the chaos can calm my spirit and renew my mind.

Follow Mom’s lead, I tell myself. Just follow her lead.

Three Steps for Guidance

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Photo: Jens Lelie (www.unsplash.com).

Have you ever halted before two paths and pondered which one to take?

The steady, defined road you have been traversing suddenly diverges into two separate paths.

You hesitate, your sweaty hand gripping the map. The directions blur into nothing but slashes and faded pencil marks. You strain your eyes to read the faint hieroglyphics that are obviously written for aliens. Fear squeezes your heart. You shiver as tree branches creak and groan and unidentifiable sounds (is that a bear?) fill the air.

All of the advice you have heard about paths and trails and roads surfaces. The famous lines by Robert Frost echo in your head . . .

 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–

 

Too trite. Too stale. You search for something else.

 

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. –Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Apparently, you are to simply make up a path and follow where it leads. Although this might work at some point, today it is not helpful. You have only two options at this point.

 

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. –Lewis Carroll

 

A plan is good. You need a plan. But this time you do not know what the plan should be. Did anybody anticipate your coming this way? Perhaps you can figure this out if you try hard enough.

 

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path. –Gautama Buddha

 

Good old Buddha. Too bad he did not know that Someone is ready to save us. And he did not answer the question: which path must you take? Pithy sayings, but no weight behind them.

As a child, I remember my mom quoting a verse from Proverbs. She told my siblings and me that this was a passage her father had shared with her years before. The verses were Proverbs 3:5-6.

 

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.

 

Over the years, I have watched my mom face challenges when a road before her turned into two paths. The decisions of life came often, and again and again she had to turn back to this passage.

Recently, I have been feeling somewhat like you may feel, with choices laid before me. By nature, I hate choices and decisions. Just tell me what to do and I will forever follow you.

But God is not letting me off easy. He never has. He stands before me, and His voice rises above other thoughts and impressions.

  1. Trust Me. Trust means an assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something. I find it easy to trust that God created the world in 7 days. That He holds every part of it in His mighty hand. But to trust Him for this path, this decision, this life? Can He really know me, love me that much? His voice calls to me and I must acquiesce. His strength, character, and ability are more than enough for me. I fearfully take one step toward His voice.
  2. Lean on Me. Understanding means a mental grasp or the power of comprehending. My understanding is finite. Although I can grasp the pros and cons of certain decisions, only He knows the ultimate result of making those decisions. I am not to lean on my own mental grasp of the situation before me. I am to lean on His all-powerful knowledge and wisdom of my past, present, and future. Leaning on Him means I can rest. I take one more step.
  3. Acknowledge Me. Acknowledge means to recognize the rights, authority, or status of. When I acknowledge His authority and rights over me, I outwardly show the inward honor I have for Him. The esteem for His position over my life. If I fail to acknowledge Him and make plans on my own, I am missing the third key to finding direction. The other steps are important but not complete without this final step. I breathe deeply and move once more.

And then I see that the promise follows.

 

He shall direct thy paths.

 

Direct means to show or point out the way for someone else. The word can also mean to prescribe or determine a course or procedure. I take my first steps down the path. My Guide is leading, and I walk with confidence behind Him.

 

Still round the corner there may wait

A new road or a secret gate. –J. R. R. Tolkien

 

More intersections and crossings and roads will appear on the journey ahead. But if I trust, lean on, and acknowledge Him, He will guide me on every path.

How to Teach Your Child to Love Music (Tip #10)

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Photo: Ekaturina Kartushina, unsplash.com.

One of the biggest lessons I learned about singing on stage as a child was contained in one word.

Smile.

 

My parents encouraged us not to stand like statues or mannequins or even like the presidential carvings at Mount Rushmore. Rather, they wanted us to be happy on the stage, or at least appear to be happy that we were singing–although I am sure at times that may not have always been the case. Especially when 1) we noticed that people’s eyes glazed over, possibly due to the volume of kids and instruments 2) or when we had a touch of the flu.

As a kid, I remember watching other families sing, families who traveled like we did. Or the occasional special by a church family. Somehow smiling did not always seem to be a part of the special. Of course, some songs contain a serious message and leave no room for grinning. But far more often than not, the smiles were absent.

Some children do not enjoy being on the stage in general, and it is harder for them to express happiness on their faces. But they should still learn to have a pleasant expression. Nobody will be encouraged by a solemn face or a grimace or a frown . . . but they will naturally respond to a happy person singing with joy.

The word joy is mentioned 165 times in the Bible. Praise is mentioned 248 times. Apparently, God thinks it is important that we worship Him with joy.

My older brother Jonathan firmly believed in being real on the stage. As a kid, he yawned or frowned or . . . whatever, depending on his mood. But he did not like fake smiles or pretending.

I am not advocating that you teach your child to be a fake or pretend to be happy. But at some point their face has to show that they agree with what they are singing.

Here are a few steps you can take:

  1. Choose an easy song. If your child has never sung in church before, make sure you pick a simple song with an easy-to-understand message. Do not choose a deep theological song for your four-year-old. She will not be able to pronounce the words, let alone sing them.
  2. Read through the lyrics. Absorb the meaning first. If you cannot understand the words yourself, six-year-old Tyler probably will not understand them.
  3. Explain the lyrics. Explain the meaning of the song to your child. Perhaps you could even research the writer together and learn why the song writer wrote the song. What was the song writer facing at that moment in his life? What was he teaching through the song?
  4. Practice the song.  Teach your child when and where it is appropriate to smile within the song. You do not want them to grin throughout the entire song; you want to teach them how to accent the song in the right places.

Over time, your child will develop a natural ability to feel comfortable in front of the members of your church. Adults love watching children sing, so your child will have an advantage that you may not have. Seriously, all your child has to do is walk up on the stage and instantly everyone will smile. Trust me.

To which I say, take advantage. Use this opportunity to its fullest.

Inscriptions

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Photo: Joao Silas, unsplash.com.

I have been sorting through some books lately. With the intent, of course, of paring down my pile.

I had purchased some books at a library book sale last year and decided that now I needed to look at each one again with a critical eye. I tried to be very stern with myself, which is extremely hard for me to do when faced with a stack of books.

  • Would I seriously ever read this one? The title caught my attention at the time, but do I care to engross myself in the topic now?
  • Should I let that one go or keep it–and hope some day to find a few spare minutes to read it? (You know, for those rainy days . . . except here in Oklahoma that doesn’t happen very often, so . . .)
  • How many pages are in this book? Can I logically see myself reading a 600-page book by the end of the year?

And the deliberation continued, bitter and cruel . . .

As I flipped through pages of the used books I had purchased, I noticed several notes inscribed on the front pages of a few titles.

One inscription read:

Dearest Mother,

This is the companion book that goes with your “Streams in the Desert”. May you receive the blessings from this as you have from that book.

I love you so much –

Ruth

For your birthday –

October 2, 1961.

I am always curious about the backstory in a real-life story. Who is (or was) Ruth? Did her mother read the book and “receive the blessings” Ruth hoped she would?

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Springs in the Valley by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman.

 

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, I found this note:

To the best teacher I know – I hop it proves to be of some use. I love you,

-Patrick

November, 2004

Unfortunately, this is a book on grammar. I wondered if his teacher ever read the inscription, and if he or she taught Patrick how to spell “hope.”

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Eats, Shoots, & Leaves by Lynne Truss.

I started scanning a few of my old familiar books for any inscriptions. I found this short one in Just Jane by Nancy Moser:

2009

To: Jess

From: Liz

Merry Christmas to a fellow Jane Austen fan!

And in The Measure of a Heart by Janet Oke–given to me on my birthday:

To my sweet sister, Jessica, on her 15th birthday. I love you honey. You will always be “my little girl.”

Julia

I was drawn to these inscriptions. Each one was written with love and thoughtfulness, making the gift more special. I wondered if I (or the other recipients) cherished the book more, knowing the giver had written a note especially for me (or them).

I wondered what kind of inscription I would write in a book given as a gift. Would my words be read and remembered? Would the book I gave to a friend influence their life for the better? And if, someday, some other reader found that book at a book sale, would my words inspire them as much as the content of the book?

Obviously, by now you know that I am a bookworm . . . yet I am still learning that the power of a book can never be underestimated. (Think Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, or Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Think The Complete Works of William Shakespeare or Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriett Beecher Stowe or The Diary of Anne Frank. Not to mention The Bible.)

The inscriptions within the front pages of the books I own added a unique touch to that power–the power of the written word. I was challenged to focus on my own inscriptions the next time I bought a book for a friend.

Perhaps my inscriptions will speak to that friend . . . and someone else someday.