Joanne Otto

Author

Category: Memorable Experiences (page 1 of 2)

Thank You, Fred Rogers!

Could there be a better time for a movie about Fred Rogers to be released than at what has sadly become the most stressful season of the year? Perhaps no one in modern times has dealt more successfully with what Fred referred to as “the mad that I feel”— an expression he’d once picked up from a child. He simply radiated kindness, patience, and understanding to the children on his television show and to those watching it from home.

As a young mother, I sometimes watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with our two little daughters. It happened only occasionally since their TV time was also my catch-up time. But once in a while I watched the show, too, for the simple reason that I needed to.

Parenting young children can take a lot of patience, and there were times when I found mine becoming frazzled. Nothing was a greater support to me in sending out positive, nurturing vibes to our children than the model Fred Rogers provided. I never had to suppress negative feelings towards the kids after watching his show. They weren’t even on the radar screen for days afterwards. And if they started to reappear, I now had a way to deal with them—thanks to Mr. Rogers. His lessons in getting control of one’s feelings may have been targeted at children, but I found they were a priceless gift to parents as well.

Some years later I had a memorable opportunity to pass this blessing along to someone else. In the supermarket where I was shopping, loud outcries from a small child were resounding through the entire store, as were the sharp, angry words pouring out of his mother. This disturbance continued nonstop. I found myself praying, “Dear Father, if you want me to say or do anything, put them in my path.“

A few minutes later, their shopping cart rounded the corner right in front of me. I had no idea what I was going to say, but there was no ducking out now. What came to me in that moment was a message of love that surprised me as much as it probably did this mother. I found myself addressing the child: “Your mommy loves you very much. She’s just having a bad day. She doesn’t want to be angry at you, but right now she can’t help it. If you can stop crying, you can help her be the mommy she wants to be.” Evidently those were the words they were meant to hear because that dear mother thanked me, the little one quieted down, and peace reigned from that point on.

That feeling of stress, anger, and impatience tends to flare up when we feel under pressure, and at this time of year it’s easy to feel that way. The last thing we want to do is to convey that sense of pressure to young children who are under our care. Bless Fred Rogers for empowering children and parents alike to get control of emotions that are damaging both to our relationships with others and to our own self-esteem. We don’t have to let them spoil our Christmas season or, for that matter, any other time of year. We can let love starve them right out of existence. Thank you, Fred Rogers, for showing us how.

A Delightful Bequest

You probably wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t a bibliophile—a lover of books. That fact inspires me to share with you a practice which, over many decades of family history, has multiplied our enjoyment of books many times over: reading them aloud together.

Most parents read aloud to their children before they learn to read for themselves, but I suspect that relatively few regularly continue to do so thereafter. I’m not sure my parents would have resumed reading aloud with my sister and me had we not found ourselves bereft of television (a blessing in disguise!) at the bungalow we lived in during our summer vacations. Our literary diet wasn’t all great literature. In fact, most of it was murder mysteries by Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. The important thing was that it drew the family together for our mutual enjoyment in a way that television simply couldn’t match.

After I married Steve (a bibliophile to the tenth power!) we soon began reading aloud to each other. It started, as I recall, when I read Paul Gallico’s “The Snow Goose” to him while he drove us upstate from New York City. (To my delight I discovered that, by looking up regularly, I could actually read in a moving vehicle without feeling queasy!) Before long reading aloud became a real treat for the two of us at the end of the day.

Then two sweet little daughters were added to the equation, and eventually reading became a family activity. Even after they were quite capable of reading for themselves, our family’s literary explorations transformed our evening meals into magical adventures as we happily plunged into Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows”, C. S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia”, L.M. Montgomery’s entire Anne of Green Gables series, Lloyd Alexander’s “Chronicles of Prydain” and, of course, anything in print about Tolkien’s wonderful hobbits, to name just a few. I can still hear the girls rhythmically chanting “Read on –yeah! Read on—yeah!” as they pounded on the dinner table when there was an overly long pause from the reading to insert and chew a bite of food.

Later we began on some of the classics such as “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Jane Eyre.” If the story was fast approaching its climax when we finished dinner, sometimes we’d follow our daughters upstairs and read on while they got ready for bed. We just couldn’t wait to see how things would finally turn out.

Years later, when we were blessed with two grandsons who lived close enough to join us for dinner at least once a week, we had the joy of reading with them many of the books we had read with their mom as well as a host of new ones. We were just getting into “Great Expectations” when the frequent visits ended, but somehow the book has remained in our kitchen drawer even though any great expectations of resuming its reading have long since evaporated. Happily, the closeness forged with our daughters and grandsons over that dinner table has not!

When we look back over our parenting and grandparenting years, there are things we’ll admit we could probably have done better, but the choice to read aloud to the following generations is one we’ll never regret. To this day, reading together again as a twosome remains a highlight of our day. History, biography, fiction, occasionally a taste of poetry—we’re pretty omnivorous when it comes to books as long as they’re well written and help us to expand our horizons. Of course, both of us read individually as well, but the books we read together have played an indispensable role in the joy and liveliness of our 50+-year marriage.

So, dear fellow bibliophiles, I wish for you not only books you enjoy reading but also someone you can enjoy reading them with. Reading is not necessarily a solitary activity. Inhaling the same ideas in the same setting brings folks together in a very special way. If you’re already on board with it, be sure to spread the word. And treat yourself to “The Reading Promise” by Alice Ozma, an enchanting memoir about a father who read to his daughter every night for almost nine years until she left for college. It will touch your heart and—sometimes—make you laugh.
Now that’s what I’d call a good read!

Out of Control?

How reassuring it feels to think we have things under control! The trouble with that feeling is, however, that we never really do. And if feeling in control seems too important to us, the times when we don’t have it can be extremely stressful, to put it mildly. That’s why I feel beyond grateful for a quiet certainty that One who is both almighty and good IS in control, and always will be.

The first time I realized how deeply rooted that certainty had become was on a winter morning when I’d decided to do a few errands before the kids got home from school. We had one of those tall, narrow VW mini-buses at the time—a bright red one. My husband, Steve, had dubbed it Quad-R for “Rolling Red Rumpus Room.” So that morning I climbed aboard Quad-R and headed toward the nearest shopping mall, which was some distance away. It had snowed, but the roads had been plowed, so I wasn’t expecting any problems. But all of a sudden, a few miles out, I felt Quad-R sliding sideways off the crest of the road! What surprised me was that, even though I had absolutely no control over the car, I didn’t feel a smidgeon of fear. In fact, my first thought was that it was going to be wonderful to see how He would work this thing out. The car did, in fact, end up sliding right off the road, but it came gently to a stop against perhaps the one object on that road that would neither harm the car nor be harmed by it: a mailbox that the owner had decorated by wrapping corn husks around it. It was as if the padding had been applied for this very purpose! I was able to pull back onto the road and head gratefully home.

Another memorable instance of experiencing the reliability of this divine control occurred some years later. My husband was working in Annapolis at the time, and I was flying out there for a weekend visit. I packed a tote bag with reading material to enjoy on the flight. I also tucked into it some pieces of non-costume jewelry that were fairly valuable—at least to me—in order to keep them with me. After deplaning in Annapolis, I found a seat where I could wait for my luggage and tucked the tote under the seat. I must have been happily diverted by Steve’s arrival because, some miles from the airport, I realized I had left the tote underneath that seat. We went back to the airport immediately and searched not only under the seat but also in all the places where lost objects could be turned in—all to no avail. That bag with its valued contents was now totally out of my control. The first thing that came to mind was that even if it was out my control, it was not out of God’s control. The second was that its contents, which included some inspirational reading material, could bless someone, and that my name and address was on some of it. And I determined then and there that I did not have to allow this incident to cast a shadow over a lovely weekend with Steve. And it didn’t. Fast forward several weeks to a day when a package arrived in the mail with a return address I didn’t recognize. Inside was the tote with every bit of its contents intact. To this day I don’t know how the decision to return the bag came about. I only know for certain that it was “a God thing.”

I’m sure that you have probably experienced similar occasions when something that seemed to be out of control ended up providing a proof of who really IS in control. I hope I can encourage you to share one (or more) of them here or with someone who needs to hear about them.

What I’ve Learned from My “Ruined” Tray

The day I made this tray was a sad one. I wanted it to look like my mom’s lovely butler’s serving tray with its gracefully curved edges. In fact, I was quite pleased with the curve I’d managed to saw on the right side in my 5th grade shop class. But then the one on the left came out bumpy and too flat, and my beautiful tray was ruined. What a disappointment!

Over six decades later, as a grandmother, I can’t help smiling as I see that sturdy, useful little tray still gracing my kitchen. Even its imperfections have a certain charm to them. They didn’t ruin it after all. They only serve as gentle reminders not to let perfectionism extinguish the joy of the moment. And I can still use those reminders. Oh, yes, even now.

Not long ago I made an obvious mistake near the end of the piano accompaniment of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise,” which our grandson was performing on his violin for his mom’s birthday party. And to make matters worse, it was being recorded! I was in anguish over it because the rest of it had gone so well. But strangely enough, no one else seemed the least bit disturbed by my mistake.

Experts, of course, don’t make such mistakes. And I suppose I could talk myself out of doing a lot of things I enjoy simply because I don’t do them expertly. Or perhaps I could devote myself to many more hours of practice in order to develop expertise. But in most cases expertise, as I’ve learned, isn’t what it takes to spark joy in those around me. Love is. With love it’s almost impossible to “ruin” anything, and without it nothing ever quite satisfies. So perhaps, when all is said and done, the only talent worth perfecting is love.

Hearing Those Life-Changing Messages

On any given day, a simple, quiet message from God can make all the difference…but only if we hear it. So, the question is: How do we do it?

Psalm 85 declares confidently: “I will hear what God the Lord will speak.” Wanting to know more about this kind of hearing, I hunted down the original Hebrew word on my Touch Bible app to get its full meaning. I discovered that shama’ means hearing intelligently, hearing spiritually, giving undivided attention, and that it can also include agreeing with what is said and obeying it.

Now that, I thought, is an excellent description of how I’d like to receive what my daughter Meghan Williams calls those “downloads from heaven.” But in the clamor of this busy, media-saturated world, giving undivided attention to the “still small voice” that resonates at our heart’s core can be difficult. When we’re plugging through life on autopilot, it just doesn’t happen. But what if, instead of reacting with annoyance when our agenda is interrupted or thwarted, we turn aside for a moment to “hear what God the Lord will speak”? On some occasions, I’ve seen that kind of hearing change the picture dramatically.

For instance, one cloudy spring afternoon, I had just stretched out for a much-needed nap only to be accosted by the roar of one jumbo jet after another passing seemingly inches above our roof. Being a light sleeper, I was more than slightly bothered by it—bothered, that is, until I heard that inner voice gently addressing me. “Would you be feeling this way if you were hearing birds twittering or a breeze blowing?” I had to admit that I wouldn’t. Birds and breezes seemed to me beautiful glimpses of God’s creation, so how could they annoy me? But those jets were just noisy man-made machines. That was an altogether different matter.

What I heard next, however, turned me around a full 180 degrees: “Where do you think the designers of these amazing high-speed aircraft got their intelligence? Who gave those flight attendants their compassion, patience, and consideration? Who gave those travelers the wise, or loving, or productive purpose of their journey?” Suddenly I found myself in awe of what, moments before, had seemed just an annoyance. I literally began to love and appreciate those planes and to embrace them in my concept of God’s creation. Not surprisingly, I was soon peacefully resting.

I’ve had many opportunities since then to apply the message I heard that day to other, more challenging situations. It taught me how to view the very circumstance I was resenting from a more inclusive, even appreciative, God-perspective. And I know such messages are always here to be heard if only I’m willing to give them my loving. undivided attention.

I love hearing about the messages people hear from Him and the difference they make. I hope you’ll post one of your own in the comments below.

Another Opportunity to Share!

Once again I’m getting to read “Daughter of Jerusalem” to an enthusiastic group of listeners–this time to an interfaith group at a nearby assisted-living complex. I can’t think of a happier way to spend three Monday mornings. I love seeing their faces as they respond to a first hearing of this story that is now so familiar to me. It makes it new again.

I’ve been told authors generally want little or nothing to do with their books once they’ve been published. But somehow I don’t share that feeling. Perhaps it’s because my books have always felt more like a gift that came to me rather than a creative act of my own. I see the Father’s hand on every page. And that never gets old.

History’s Tracks

9/11–a date that those of us who lived through it will never forget. We recall not only the havoc wreaked by those errant planes, but also precisely what we were doing on that day and how the crisis impacted it.
History has left a number of such tracks on the path of my life. I was a student in Germany at the time the Berlin wall was built. It faced me with the need to decide whether to return home early, as Mom had suggested via long distance telephone, in case we were on the brink of a war. Acute fear was finally faced down through prayer, and I will always be glad that I stayed through that summer.
At the time of the Cuban missile crisis, my beloved Steve was a West Point cadet, and again a war with the Soviet Union seemed a sobering possibility. In fact, there had been talk of graduating his class early so they would be prepared to fight in it. The removal of those missiles was good news to all Americans, but to me it was cause for hallelujahs.
The following year, the principal of the high school where I was teaching announced the somber news of Pres. Kennedy’s assassination. Some of my students were in tears. All I could think of to say to them was how blessed we were to live in a country where this tragedy would be followed by an orderly transfer of power.
On 9/11 I was also in a school, an elementary school this time. As my pupil and I emerged into the library after our lesson, we saw teachers viewing a huge cloud of smoke on the television screen. “It’s the Pentagon,” one of them told me. It took only a moment for the full implication of that to dawn on me. The tennis game scheduled for later that morning ended before it began. All we wanted to do was go home and pray.
When history steps in and leaves these tracks on our lives, it’s still the best response I can think of.

An Opportunity to Share

Last month I was invited to read Daughter of Jerusalem aloud to patients and assisted-living residents at Peace Haven. What a joy to see them experience Mara’s story for the very first time! This child of my imagination has become such an old friend to me that it was refreshing and renewing to catch a glimpse of her through the eyes of others.

The experience also gave me further confirmation that the book’s brevity can actually be an asset rather than a liability. Had it been a full-length novel, it would never have been feasible to present it in the allotted four one-hour evening segments, which included question-and-answer time.

The Great Outdoors

During the summer months, St. Louisans do not normally choose to spend much time outdoors–at least not during the day. Heat and humidity add up to a big “No thanks!” But so far this summer has been the exception. Many nights have brought the temperatures down below 60 degrees, and the mornings that follow those nights are to me sheer heaven.

Not only has this enhanced my early morning walks. It’s also lured me out onto the deck for my quiet time. What makes it worth lugging a table out there? What is it about the great outdoors that brings such inspiration? Towering trees, the caress of a cool breeze, cloud puffs floating across a blue sky–somehow these lead us into the presence of One who is both infinitely powerful and boundlessly good. The great outdoors becomes a gentle reminder that we are dearly loved.

Children at Play

Is there anything more joy-inspiring than being with children at play? We’re talking about children in a state of sheer, uninhibited delight in the hi-jinks of the present moment. Well, after a fairly long hiatus, I got to experience it yesterday.

A dear cousin now living abroad arrived at our door with the young family he’d attained since our last visit. Other family members gathered, and our playroom soon came alive! Our grandson, home from college, allowed his inner child free rein, and the next thing we knew the two munchkins were climbing onto his back, performing somersaults with him, and retreating in squealing mock terror from the monster his dramatic talents brought to life.

Did this disrupt our visit with their parents? Far from it. It brought the whole purpose of the visit into lively focus, and when the visit ended (sooner than we’d have liked it to) it left me feeling buoyantly aglow.

Older posts

© 2022 Joanne Otto

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑