The old adage “things go full circle” has been used to describe many situations over the years, but most recently, it has taken on meaning of being reunited with the classmates of my youth. Fortunately, many of my former classmates have finally caught on to the modern tech of Facebook and texting; in our cases, it has provided a magical way to reunite in ways that would have not been possible before this generation.
Through the technology of Facebook, plus connections with other classmates, it has been possible to track down school friends in all parts of the area, and in all parts of the world, for that matter. Not only has it been possible to find each other, but it has become possible to keep up with each other and share each other’s daily trials, sorrows, joys and observations.
By Jim Langham
Light Dispels Darkness
There are few things that are more disconcerting than trying to make our way in darkness or when visibility has practically been cut to zero. For some reason, one day as I was driving down the road recently, I was thinking of such situations, moments like trying to wonder through a strange house or motel room in the middle of the night when we are totally unfamiliar with our surroundings, circumstances that can lend themselves to falling over shoes, kicking our foot on a bed post or walking into the bathroom door.
While such situations sometimes end in a bit of humor, the feeling of trying to make our way in the midst of darkness is anything but secure and enjoyable at the time.
Several years ago I had gone to a major hospital to be with a family during a difficult time. The weather forecast that morning had been ominous, with near blizzard situations expected later in the day. Still, with the calm of the morning, I decided to make my way to those who were hurting to spend time with them during a treacherous moment in the health of a loved one.
As I left the hospital, all was still well; there was even a bit of hope that I might make it home before the storm would strike, but that all changed approximately 50 miles from home. Suddenly, there were a few snowflakes, then more and within a few minutes, blankets of snow were blowing across fields as the storm roared with a quick attack in the area I was traveling.
Still, I managed to navigate my way through the drifting and swirling snow until another problem presented itself when I was approximately 10 miles from home. The lights on my car started to dim, first slowly, then rapidly, until suddenly, all light was gone. Cautiously, with feelings of peril, I prayerfully followed the trail toward a farmhouse where I was able to call a close friend who agreed to brave the elements to lead me home.
Upon his arrival, it was decided that, with an apparent electrical problem with my lights, he would lead the way, complete with snow blade and his bright lights to the safety of our driveway. Literally, at that moment, he became “my light.” We made our way through the blizzard conditions as a close-knit team, thanks to his leading, until we crashed the last drift into our drive.
As I thought back about that scary night of darkness in the midst of a storm, I began to think about many comparisons with life itself. For example, there are those times when “light” seems to burn out within us, our energy is exhausted. We might have given all that we could give for a certain situation. It seems like there are no more answers and we collapse at the edge of “wit’s end.”
There are those times when we may need to admit that our strength to recovery is going to be through the light of another, a pastor, counselor, close friend or special confidential person that we can trust. We may need to lean on someone who has experienced what we are going through, but who is just a bit further down the road. In the snow rescue, my friend was just far enough ahead to break the trail and I was trusting the path that he was leading.
Another dimension to all of this is the possibility that it is our time to become a light to another. We may be the one breaking trail for a hurting individual who feels the fears of darkness, a grieving soul or someone who needs to lean on us for strength. We may be the mediator to guide someone to a place of safety and opportunity for wholeness. Our strength may be all that someone has to lead them out of a long, dark night of the soul.
Then there are those times when it seems like there is “no one” around at all, that a literal light cannot be seen. It’s during those times that we are reminded to follow the light of God, even when we can feel or see nothing. For it is for times such as that when we receive the invitation to, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and You shall find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28, 29)
By Jim Langham
'A little dab' of compassion
Many of us elderly people can remember a commercial from years ago that incorporated the line, “a little dab will do ya!” It represented a hair cream from an era when it was cool for men to slick their hair and paste it back to “slick up” for a special occasion. It was part of a song in a commercial where the man greased his hands with the cream and then rubbed it through his hair.
The thought of that “dab” came to my mind a couple of years ago when I was visiting a large university during the spring, when blossoming trees and bright sunshine was beaming forth in much the same manner as we have enjoyed this spring. Students, caught up in the atmosphere of spring, were riding their bikes, laughing, joking and frolicking with happiness in the bright sunshine.
In the midst of all of this, I was taking a low profile as I walked around taking pictures of the sunlight silhouetting the brilliant flowers, happy people pictures and cathedrals lifting their praise to the deep blue sky.
By Jim Langham
Appreciating the age of wisdom and beauty
The warmth of the past couple of weeks reminds me of one of my most cherished moments with my Grandma Cook, a dear old person, my mother’s mother, who lived with us as I was growing up.
That moment occurred in late March when I was in grade school. Grandma decided that it was time that I learn how to plant my first garden, so she took me to a small plot on the country property where we lived, gave me instructions in spading, hoeing and raking the soil to planting stage. Then, her worn hands of lifetime gardening led the way with instruction on how to plant peas, lettuce, onions and various other early spring vegetables that would become my first planted garden.
That was March; Grandma used to always tell me that when she was younger, people would plant their gardens in March. So I grew up imagining “old fashioned March” as being warmer, spring-like and a time to plant gardens. This spring has seemed to be like the kind of March Grandma referred to as “old-fashioned.”
Last week one day, I was reading through information from the National Weather Service and came across the fact that the two warmest Marches prior to this year were 1907 and 1910, right when Grandma would have been in her prime. “Hmmm,” I said, as I looked at those figures, “so this is what she was talking about. She did know what she was talking about.”
Imagine what it would be like to be the one to clean up after the day’s activities, to have the dubious honor of emptying waste cans, sweeping the hallways, restoring the bathrooms and cleaning up after uncalled-for messes, a task considered below the dignity of many. Imagine rising 4:30 a.m., unlocking doors and making sure that things are pleasant and presentable, often without praise or appreciation for the non-rewarding behind-the-scenes efforts, often to have hard work shunned and disturbed within minutes.
One of the most enjoyable smells I appreciate these days is walking into the lobby of the local post office and being greeted by the aroma of cleaning fluid and floor wax, symbolic of the dedicated efforts of someone who worked hard to make my 15-second walk to the mail box more pleasant.
I know the lady who makes that effort; I’ve often met her in the lobby and chatted with her. I’ve seen her face break into a shining radiance when I have complimented her tireless efforts to carry out her responsibilities as janitor of the government agency.
I will never forget the appreciation my school teacher friend often expressed concerning the hard work of the school janitors where he taught junior high history for 30 years. As a token of his appreciation, he stayed after school and voluntarily cleaned his own room, spraying Pledge on the desks which he lined up row by row with certain cracks on the old blackboard.
During a visit to his school one time, he introduced me to one of his heroes who remarked, “There’s no greater reward that Mr. Sprunger’s expressed appreciation for our work.”
I will never forget the day when someone asked me the question, “What would you do if you ran out of things to write stories about?” (A really unlikely scenario!) My reply was quick and affirming, “Do you see that fellow over there sweeping off the sidewalk? What a great a story he would make from inside his world, the things that he sees, the people that he greets, the little things that are meaningful to his heart, and how worthy would he be of such coverage?”
Behind-the-scenes heroes, the real special people of our lives, there is no end to those who fit such an honored list – janitors, street cleaners, garbage collectors, stage hands, Sunday School teachers, cooks, classroom assistants, waiters and waitresses, waiver case managers, caretakers, unheralded laborers, countless volunteers and unseen friends who speak just the right word, say just the right prayer at the right time.
Everyone lives in a world, their world, and while society today is full of plenty of “me-ism,” there are still the selfless heroes who hover in the background, work hard and find deep satisfaction in making lives better for others without praise or accolade.
Our Lord set the picture quite clearly when he referred to those who boast of themselves from the street corners and those who who pray quietly and carry their tasks out behind the scenes in closets and in the background.
Emphatically, He referred to the “closet people” and said, “And THESE are the ones that gain the approval of the Heavenly Father,” not these, as He refers to the reward-seeking boastful.
“Walk a mile in my moccasins” is the old Native American phrase referring to living in the world of another and feeling what their circumstances are. “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” was a song that expressed that same experience when I was younger.
And just perhaps, “rest awhile in their hearts,” and then knock on the closet door and say, “thank you,” with appreciate to all of those responsible for the pleasant moments in our world, and just maybe, without expectation, doing something to contribute to the pleasantness of the world of someone around us.
By Jim Langham
Putting puzzle pieces together in caretaking
I was 14 years old when we discovered that my Grandma Langham had cancer. The fact that the discovery was made at one of the happiest times of her life made the circumstances seem even more sad than the uncovering of the illness itself.
My grandpa (Jim Langham, also) had passed away 10 years earlier, when I was 4. For most of my childhood, she had lived with the grief of his loss, until one day when she met a nice gentleman, a farmer from the Woodburn area where she lived. Amazing to me, they courted, fell in love and they announced a marriage.
During their time of courtship, Grandma started to limp with a pain in her hip, one that she assumed to be arthritis and treated as such. She limped down the aisle in a beautiful wedding dress on that beautiful spring day in 1962. Little did she and her new husband realize that their time together would be so short.
By Jim Langham
Bouquets and other gifts from the heart
Our hearts are all broken with the agony of pain, not only physical, but emotional, as we reflect on the lives of fellow humans 200 miles south of us whose homes and belongings were shredded inside of 30 seconds during the devastating March 2 tornado outbreak.
As I view the agonizing cries of those searching through belongings that were completely intact when they left for work on Friday, I keep asking myself, “What would I search for first if our home was suddenly swept into a pile of rubbish such as we’ve viewed on the news?”
It’s not hard to compile a list of things I would care about the least – the television, computer, golf clubs, libraries of CD games and popular music, CD player, car and things that might lean towards a bit of prestige.
But what would bring me to tears as I clasped a “found item” that was fully connected to my heart?
Pictures would be near the top of the list, especially those of the children, special family outings, childhood trips and pictures of family members who are no longer with us.
Years ago in my childhood, my parents embraced a family who had lost everything in an Easter Sunday fire, including the only picture that existed of a child that had a passed in infancy. Somehow, my mother was able to search and find the negative in a photo warehouse in Chicago, and the picture was recaptured, no easy task in 1964 when camera equipment was much more primitive.
While there are countless items that connect with family members, the children and loved ones, there is no question in my mind that certain items stand out in a heart-tugging serendipity of their own.
One would be a special paperweight that sits on my dresser. It says, “To Dad from Sandi,” and has some hand sketching that immediately became some of the most beautiful artwork ever created when my daughter handed it to me as a special handmade gift when she was in elementary school.
Another is a plaque with a picture of a hand and a simple but profound poem printed beside it. It was the size of Jason’s hand when he was 5 years old. I had done the same thing in the old Geneva Grade School in art class when I was about his age. Both still exist, my hand as had been preserved by Mother and his hand as a family heirloom hanging over the landing of our stairway.
A third item is an adult gift, woven in picture/plaque form by daughter, Julie. It hangs on the wall by my desk in the church study. It reads, “The Prayer of Jabez, Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request. I Chronicles 4:10.”
It has often been the source of silent meditation when I’ve needed some away time to sit in the quietness of my study and fixate on its message.
Of course, there are all of the cards that Joyce and I have given each other over the years; even the letters we wrote to each other in college are still in existence. Now I understand why my mother sent encouragement cards several times a week to those who melted her heart for one reason or another. I understand why my father built a sofa for us as a wedding gift and why my grandmother was always crocheting around handkerchiefs to be given on special occasions.
And I remember my own reaches, the simple tools I bought my dad, the times that I gathered fragrant bouquets from the lilac tree behind our house, placed it in a Ball jar, watered it and placed in on the table to be enjoyed during the evening meal. I meant it with all of my heart when I wove together two paper plates with yarn and called it a letter holder which I presented to retired missionaries I had great admiration for.
I wasn’t surprised when I searched through items in the old home place that I found post cards I had written to my parents from church camp and to my grandmother during family vacations with my parents.
This train of thought was triggered when I read a Facebook entry from a dear friend. It stated, “Every spring when I see the first dandelion sprout, it always takes me back to my childhood when I’d very strategically go to the park across from my Gram’s house and pick her (what I viewed) as the most beautiful bouquet of flowers. It wasn’t until my adult years that Gram told me that those flowers made her sneeze and itch to high heaven ... but that she loved my gesture and never had the heart to toss them. I so miss being able to pick you those flowers, Gram, and every spring reminds me how blessed I was to have Grandma, who loved the ‘weeds’ I picked for her.”
For me, too, it brought back memories of the times when, as a child, I would visit the local jewelry store and spend money I had worked for to purchase broaches and jewelry for my mom and grandma, and a sleeve of golf balls for my dad.
I suppose some would look at this column like a dandelion, but to others, who understand the heart with which it was written, just maybe it would be retrieved and kept as it was intended ... a bouquet of flowers to all of those who take the time to understand my heart.
By: Jim Langham
The year I grew succotash
Although I usually think of succotash as some type of blend of corn and lima beans, I will never forget about the spring when I grew a varied form of the delightful dish in our Michigan garden.
It was 1983, a year in which winter had been quite sparse, similar to what we’ve had this year. At the time, I was a “young man” of 35 and filled with energy in anticipation of planting garden. When the mild weather continued into early March, I exercised my zeal by planting several rows of potatoes in the first week of March.
Many around me were skeptical of that early planting; in fact, that skepticism was fed well two weeks later when we had the biggest snowstorm of the entire winter and temperatures dropped back to zero for several mornings. Then followed a cold and wet spring and the potatoes were nowhere to be found.
By Jim Langham
An eye-catcher for heartfelt treasures
What do you think of when you think of something that catches your eye – certain colors, a special type of flower, your favorite kind of food, certain items related to a hobby or the discovery of something you’ve lost and have found again?
The Bible talks about a poor woman who lost a coin. For hours, she swept the floor, looked under things, sorted through her closets and hunted feverishly for the coin. For one who was poor and had no money, one single coin was a treasure of great value, said Jesus, and when she found it, her rejoicing was as though she uncovered an item that seemed many times its worth.
The coin finally caught her eye and it became the apple of her eye.
By Jim Langham
A close friend of ours was relating the bright details she always enjoyed in the conversations with a 96-year-old lady that she cared for. She was bright, alert and always looking for the little things to cheer her nearly century-year-old perspective on life.
“Things that many of us tend to glance over so easily are the joy of the hour when one took a ride with her,” said our friend, Barb, who spent her life teaching high school art. “She would say, ‘My, look how blue the sky is today,’ ’Look how bright the flowers look,’ or ’Look how rich the colors are across the countryside.’
“In fact,” said Barb, “she was always the kind of person that just knew how to bring the cheery colors out in life.”