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 Nancy Whitaker
LET’S ALL GO TO THE LOBBY
Drive-in movies used to be the place to go. On warm summer nights, there was nothing quite as much fun as going to a drive-in movie.
In previous decades drive-ins were thought of as teen hangouts, as it was one of the few places teens could be alone in those days.
Guys used to take their gals to the drive-in movies on dates and lots of times would want to park their vehicles in the back row of the outdoor parking lot, hoping to steal a kiss.
Back in the day, a carload of people used to be able to get into the drive-in for $5. I remember as a teenager, we would pile as many people as we could in a car and would often have two more hide in the trunk. Those were the days.
The drive-in always seemed to have a special smell. Sure, there was the popcorn and the hot dogs and the mustard, but indoor movie theaters had those things, too, and never smelled anywhere near as good as the drive-in.
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 Nancy Whitaker
ONLY THE NOSE KNOWS
Have you ever stopped and thought just how important your nose is? We may say we hate the way our noses look or we don’t like the size or the shape. Some people have turned up noses, others have huge noses and some have crooked noses.
The size and shape of the nose is really irrelevant, as it is the nose’s job that makes it one of the most important parts of our body. Have you ever stopped and thought what it would be like if you couldn’t smell anything or if we didn’t have a nose?
Of course not every scent is good and not every scent is bad. However, some things smell different to different folks. Smells should indeed be our friends; open your arms and welcome them in.
Some of my favorite memories reflect the different aromas which I smelled as a child. Now, it has been reported that some smells, although they might be stinky ones, can bring back good memories. It is almost like physiological smelling.
By: Nancy Whitaker
MARRIED OR DATING?
Did you know that you can tell a lot of things about a person by their body language? Body language and facial expressions can help give us an indication as to how people are feeling and what they are thinking.
By watching people from a distance, you can usually determine how they feel about each other, whether they are friends, family, or just plain strangers. Body language is something we see everyday that helps us communicate without words.
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 Nancy Whitaker
Economic times are hard right now. Some forecasters say the economy is looking up, but we are still seeing high unemployment rates, many hungry people and full homeless shelters and soup kitchens.
The US has had its share of difficult times. We have survived depression, dust storms, tornados, tsunamis and we have always managed to lift ourselves up through God and some good leaders and remain a powerful nation.
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.”