Christianity, Family Life, Kids, teachers

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 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

Christianity, Church life, Family Life, Reviews

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.

 

Family Life, Good times

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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Family Life, Good times

The Wedding Guest – Part 2

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Once they knew Mara had permission to come to their wedding, Thad and Bailey also understood that Mara would need a dress to wear, so they made a date with her to go dress shopping.

When the day came to pick up Mara for the shopping trip, Thad and Bailey drove to her house only to learn that she and her family had been evicted. Bailey and Thad asked neighbors if they knew where the family had gone. One neighbor had heard the family had taken up residence in a tent on a farm, and gave them directions to the location. When they arrived at the farm, Mara and her family were no longer there.  They were told by the farmer that the children, Mara and her two younger siblings, had gone to the home of a shirt-tail relative and her boyfriend, who, seeing that the children were hungry, dirty and suffering,  kindly allowed the kids to stay with them in a duplex home on the edge of town. The farmer gave them general directions to the home of the couple.  This is where Thad and Bailey found Mara and her brother and sister. The parents had left the children there, and gone on their way. Mara, after all the  difficulties of moving from place to place,  was very happy and relieved  to see Bailey and Thad, and  glad they had been able to find her so they could go on the much anticipated clothes shopping date.

The shopping date fell on a hot, sunny day, and as they left the duplex Mara asked where they were going to go look for a dress.  “Houghton,” Bailey replied. Houghton is approximately 13 miles from Calumet. It has a small mall with a couple of department stores that would allow for some selection for Mara’s clothes.

“Houghton!” Mara said, “Oh no! We have to walk so far and it’s so hot!”

Taken aback by her dismay, Thad quickly explained, “We don’t have to walk, Mara. We have a car, and the car has air conditioning.”

“You have a car?  And air conditioning?” As soon Mara understood that this trip was going to be comfortable, a look of relief filled her eyes. “OK! Let’s go!”

As they climbed into the car Bailey asked Mara if she was hungry. “Starving,” she answered. So the first stop was lunch at  McDonald’s.

After lunch came the trip to  JC Penney. Mara had never been to a retail clothing store before. Almost all of her clothes were from the Community Free Store in Calumet, so this was an exciting time, and Mara was in awe of everything she saw at Penneys.  The three eventually made their way to the dress department, which had a broad selection of clothing in Mara’s size. As Mara picked out dresses to try on,  Bailey became   puzzled over  Mara’s choices. None of the dresses she tried on were really suitable for a wedding.  Eventually Bailey  guessed that the reason Mara was so smitten with those particular dresses was that each one had an inexpensive decorative necklace attached to the collar – and jewelry was something that the little girl loved but didn’t own. Bailey confirmed with Mara that it was the necklace that she liked best about the dresses, then said, “Let’s find a different dress that will be nice  to wear to the wedding, and you can find a necklace to go with it, OK?” Mara agreed. They found a dress and necklace that pleased Bailey, Mara and Thad, too,  whose approval was sought by Mara when she came twirling out of the changing room as she tried on each dress.  A pair of new shoes completed the ensemble. The threesome then went to the check-out center to pay for the purchases.  When Mara saw the total cost of the items flash up on the cash register,  she was distraught.

“No you can’t do that,” she cried. “It’s too expensive!  I will put the necklace back!”

Thad and Bailey took Mara aside and quietly assured her that everything was fine, that they were very happy to purchase the items she had picked out and not to worry about the cost, which was not very much at all. It took some time to convince her, but eventually Mara was able to receive and enjoy the clothing that she would soon wear to the wedding.

As the wedding date came closer, Mara asked about the cake topper, and was curious to see a picture of it on the wedding cake. Bailey explained that there wasn’t anything to see yet because the cake was almost the last thing to be done for the wedding since it needed to be freshly baked and decorated for the big day. This answer seemed to satisfy Mara, but privately, Bailey wondered what solution Sheila had found for Mara’s gift of the 1970’s cake topper. Time was passing quickly. Mara had endured a lot of disappointments in her young life, and Bailey hoped the gift of the cake topper would not be another one.

Family Life, Good times

The Wedding Guest – Part 1

Pastel colored jelly beans

Several years ago Bailey Takala, an  almost 20-something, met Mara Jarl , a friendly, tow-headed, blue-eyed first grader.  Bailey was attending university then,  but made it a priority to volunteer at a local Calumet, Michigan elementary school in an  afterhours program called Great Explorations. Bailey had been a volunteer for the program since her high school years. Mara was one of the students enrolled in Great Explorations, and after their initial meeting at GE, Mara and Bailey became fast friends.   When Mara learned that Bailey lived  close to her house, she rode her bike over to visit Bailey almost every afternoon.  On one of her visits to Bailey’s, Mara spotted a candy dispensing machine that had M&Ms in it. She was fascinated by the device – a type of gumball machine – and loved to turn the handle, watch the candy tumble down and eat a few M&Ms while she was visiting. “How did they get those M&Ms in there?” was a frequent question and a great mystery to the 6 year old. Initially Bailey strictly limited the number of M&M’s  Mara ate so that the candy would not ruin her appetite for supper, but it wasn’t long before Bailey and Jan, Bailey ‘s mother,  realized that whatever Mara ate at their house might be the only food she would get for the rest of the day. Over time Takala ‘s began to realize how destitute Mara’s family was, and they started to offer Mara nourishing food in generous amounts, which Mara never turned down. But seeing that the candy was a special treat, Takala ‘s made sure that the candy machine was always full of M&Ms for Mara.

About 4 years after Mara and Bailey struck up their friendship,  Bailey became engaged to her high school sweetheart, Thad Johnson, whom Mara had come to know through his many visits to Takala’s.   Bailey spoke often of her upcoming wedding, and  Mara was always excited to hear about the plans for Bailey and Thad’s big day, which was going to be at the height of summer –  a very beautiful time of year in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Because Mara was so interested in all the wedding discussion, Bailey invited Mara to the wedding, and to her bridal shower, also. Mara was extremely happy to be included in the momentous occasions, and looked forward to them both as only a child can.

On the day of the bridal shower Bailey and Mara had time to talk about what a shower was, who would be attending and what kinds of things happen at a shower. During the festivities Mara enjoyed meeting Bailey ‘s  extended family and friends, and eating the wonderful food that was prepared for the guests. Mara also watched with great interest as Bailey opened her shower gifts, but the highlight of the afternoon for Mara was the cup of M&M’s that she got to eat all by herself.

Two weeks before the wedding, Mara came over to Bailey ‘s with a  plastic bag that was rather balloon-shaped and presented it to Bailey as a gift for her and Thad.  Bailey was very touched at Mara’s generosity.  She said, “Thank you Mara! But you didn’t have to get us anything for our wedding.”   Mara ignored Bailey ‘s concerns and insisted that she put the gift down carefully on the table and open it, which Bailey did. What Bailey  found inside was a wedding cake topper circa 1970, complete with a large domed circular base sporting a plastic bride and groom standing in front of a big, lacey plastic heart.  It also appeared that the topper still had remnants of frosting from the cake it had adorned so many years ago. As Mara  and Bailey gazed at the plastic decoration, Mara offered a brief explanation for her choice of a wedding gift: “Just in case you get to have a cake at your wedding.” Bailey again  tried to gently tell Mara that she shouldn’t have used the little money  she had to buy a wedding gift, but Mara said, “No problem, Bailey! It’s from the Community Free Store!”

Mara went happily home, confident that she had chosen just the right gift for Bailey and Thad’s wedding. Bailey, on the other hand, had a dilemma: how could she honor the gift from her little friend but not actually use it on the cake since she had already chosen and paid for a cake topper herself? Bailey  called  Sheila Thompson, the woman who was making her wedding cake. Sheila worked at the school, knew many of the kids in the GE program, and understood how important it would be for Mara to have her cake topper used at the wedding reception.

“Don’t worry, Bailey,” Sheila said, “I will think of something. It will work out just fine.” Sheila was both compassionate and capable, and Bailey trusted her with finding the best answer to the cake topper challenge.

Am I smarter now?, Family Life, Uncategorized

Music, minor miracles, and more

My cousin Randy Plut (pronounced “ploot”) came for a three day visit last weekend – it has been twelve years since his last trip to Minnesota. Randy has always been an amazing guy. He is the oldest of my close-in-age cousins. His brother Rick and sister MaryAnn made up the trio of cousins with whom my sister Margie and I spent most of our time. Randy, Rick and MaryAnn had myriad talents, not the least of which was a great sense of humor – among the cousins, it was always thus. Their dry wit, an eye for weird comic situations, and impeccable timing made being with them a whole lot of fun. It was at my cousins’ home that Margie and I met many of Randy’s high school pals, one of whom was John Swartzwelder, who would become the legendary writer of the animated sitcom, The Simpsons. I think an off-kilter sense of the comical is part of what drew Randy and his friends together in high school. I recall great conversations and laughing many an evening away with my cousins and their friends in Aunt Lillian and Uncle Bob’s living room.

Greater than Randy’s talent in humor is his talent in music. Before he was ever a witty teenager, Randy was a serious and accomplished musician. His instrument is the piano, which he plays like a wizard, shape-shifting without a pause, by memory alone, from classical pieces to country western to ragtime to the Beatles, the tip of his tongue poking out between his lips from time to time, the only evidence of the intense level of his concentration. It has always been thus for Randy, with family members and friends watching and listening in wonder over the years.

Randy is also amazing for having recently survived a cardiac arrest that was as near fatal as it could be. He survived it because, by the grace of God, just as Randy collapsed, his sister MaryAnn came to his house, understood the situation and called 911 for help. Randy spent quite a while in the hospital and has no recollection at all of the entire month of January 2013, the month his heart attack occurred. In fact, it was a great surprise to him to learn, as he improved during his hospital stay, that he had a new job! He had applied for, and won, a new position just prior to his heart event. Randy now has a pacemaker, an incredible invention in its own right, and one that should help Randy avoid another cardiac collapse, may it ever be thus.

We spent the last night of Randy’s visit to Minnesota at the home of one of my nieces, Michelle Rogers. Michelle and her husband Bill  graciously invited my husband, John, Randy and me for dinner.On entering Bill and Michelle’s home that evening, Randy noticed the piano in the living room, so after we enjoyed a delicious meal together, he offered to play the piano for us. We were all delighted to be a part of the audience, and Randy did not disappoint – he was phenomenal! It is a very rare thing to witness the level of skill and creativity of an artist like Randy, say, at a concert hall or on TV or the internet, but to experience performance mastery of Randy’s kind in the intimacy of a family home is mind-boggling. Bill and Michelle made sure their three children were part of the experience, and the kids enjoyed Randy’s playing along with us. Randy asked them if they had any songs they would like to hear, which he then played for them without hesitation, sheet music or batting an eyelash. We adults were astonished at Randy’s skill, whereas the kids took things in stride. What? Wait a minute – wasn’t this a minor miracle occurring before our eyes? But kids are kids. How could they gauge how remarkable Randy’s performance was? I know I was pretty oblivious to Randy’s immense talent when I was a youngster. I took his proficiency at the piano for granted and had no way of knowing the rarity of Randy’s gifts. Understanding of this kind only comes with maturity. It has always been thus, I believe.

There was another member of the audience who did seem to understand the unique quality of the evening, though. Max, the family dog, knew something special was happening. He sat by the piano, listening attentively while Randy played, and a after the recital was over, he left one of his favorite toys at Randy’s feet as a token of his appreciation. Is this a typical occurrence? Has this always been so, that dogs are aware of and admire the finer things of life?

On the ride home from Bill and Michelle’s, after saying our farewells to Randy and wishing him the blessings of health and happiness for the future, I thought about the wonderful evening we had shared, about the passage of time, and the sparing of Randy’s life in 2013. Life is an extraordinary gift, and the gifts God gives to us as individuals are also extraordinary. This is something that I want to grasp more completely. But perhaps one has to pray for the ability to comprehend this, … perhaps it has always been thus.

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” Psalm 139:6

Family Life, Thinking back

How to be a Superhero

Vintage floral bath towels
Vintage floral bath towels (Photo credit: Idlepines)

I have six sisters, most of whom have been written about in King-family stories that have found their way into digital print on my blog in the last few years. This story is about one of my younger sisters, Claudia.

Claudia is beautiful, gentle, quiet, and has a very contagious laugh. She thoroughly enjoys antiques and gardens. She also loves children. She and her husband Dan have seven kids. The first four, Jake, Anna, Nick and Joe, came pretty quickly. Then there was a space of six years before Tyler, Abbey and Jesse were born.

One summer day when Tyler, Abbey and Jesse were 6, 4 and 3 years old, Claudia and the kids were playing make believe. Each of them, Claudia included, pretended to be a superhero. To add to the fun, Claudia had devised homemade capes by safety-pinning old bath towels to the back of their shirts. You can imagine the exploits and adventures that took place in the kitchen, living room and out into the front yard, with great leaps from the stairs and fast treks around the house causing capes to flare and flap.

Eventually the demands of family life, and the need for naps, broke into play time. After the kids were asleep,  Claudia asked to Nick stay with the younger kids as she ran errands in and around town, one of which was going to the local public golf course to pick up Jake.

When Claudia got to the golf course Jake wasn’t there, so she went into the clubhouse and spoke to the golf pro who was at the desk. She asked him to tell Jake that she couldn’t wait for him since she had another child to pick, but that she would be back to get him in about twenty minutes.

When Jake got to the clubhouse he checked at the desk to see if his mom had come. The golf pro asked, “What does your Mom look like?” Jake told him. The pro said, ”Well, a lady who fits that description came to the desk asking for you. But you know it was kind of odd; she had a towel pinned to the back of her shirt.” Jake said, “Yep, that’s her.” The golf pro stared at Jake for a few seconds, then said, “She’ll be back for you in twenty minutes.”

Here’s what I love about this story – not just that Claudia knows how to have fun and do imaginative play with her kids, although that would be enough to make me cherish this story forever. There are a couple deeper take-aways, too:

1. Some people recognize superheroes when they see them, and some people don’t. Jake knew immediately that the be-toweled woman who came to pick him up was his Mom, The Superhero. The golf pro didn’t have a clue.

2. It’s easy to think that playing with children is beneath us as adults – that it’s a waste of time, or is kind of embarrassing and un-dignified. But it’s not. It’s simply what a superhero does. Ask any kid – they know what  superheroes act like. And they can always spot a superhero when they see one, too, whether you‘re wearing your cape or not.