Joanne Otto

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Category: Thoughts

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.

An Expanding View of Hospitality

The patriarch Abraham certainly knew how to make someone feel welcome! In taking a closer-than-ever look at Genesis 18 during a recent Bible workshop, I was impressed by his hospitable treatment of the three “men” (really divine beings with a life-changing message) who appeared near his tent in the plains of Mamre.

First, he ran to welcome them, offering them rest, water, comfort, and food. Later he stood by them respectfully and appreciatively while they ate. And then he listened courteously to the seemingly unfulfillable promise they brought: that a son would be born to him and Sarah, his barren wife, when both of them were well advanced in years. Even though Sarah laughed at the very thought of it, Abraham did not.

Abraham’s hospitality included a generous welcome, respectful attention, and open-hearted listening. And this led me to ask myself: Does mine?
• Am I generously seeking to bless others as he did?
• Am I consistently appreciating their true worth?
• Am I open to the ideas they express even when these may be a stretch for me?
And as I considered this excellent model of hospitality, I began to think: Why should this hospitable attitude be limited to those who enter my home?

Just imagine what a blessing it would be if all of us were hospitable, not only to our guests, but to everyone we have contact with, considering how we can be of support to them, valuing what God has created them to be, and honestly listening with open mind and heart to the ideas they have to share. Can anyone think of a better way to promote the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth?

But I soon realized I had to expand this view of hospitality even further. To actually do this kingdom-promoting work, rather than just delight in the thought of it, requires attention, not just to horizontal relationships with others, but also to the all-important vertical relationship with God that is at the very core of this kingdom. So, as I apply this new-found concept of hospitality to the period I reserve each morning for prayer and Bible study, I must ask myself how I’m filling it.
• Am I wasting a lot of this precious time checking my cell phone unnecessarily, making plans, mulling over yesterday’s conversations? Or am I generously welcoming our heavenly Father into my heart and mind and giving Him my undivided attention?
• Am I dutifully plowing through Scriptural passages or perhaps devoting too much of my study time just to the fascinating cultural and historical aspects of the Bible? Or am I truly drinking in His inspired Word, letting it lead me into a deeper appreciation of His goodness, power, and love and of their relevance to human needs?
• Am I focusing only on the passages that are friendly and familiar? Or am I truly willing to listen to what He’s revealing to me even if it demands moving beyond my comfort zone and perhaps even being transformed?

After I began writing this blog, I realized there was still another expansion needed in my concept of hospitality. Why should my God-welcoming consciousness be confined to what I call my “quiet time”? Why shouldn’t He be embraced, appreciated, and heeded 24/7? Wouldn’t that be the best way to leaven each day’s activities with love, joy, and wisdom? It’s certainly not as easy as it sounds. It takes constant vigilance. But especially in the God-centeredness I felt recently as I went beyond my comfort zone for a long-anticipated meeting that never materialized, I’ve seen some evidence of recent progress.

So, I’m grateful for what Abraham has taught me about hospitality. It’s given me plenty to think about! I hope the ideas it’s brought out for me will do more than just that. I hope they’ll help me to express my love for God and for my brothers and sisters in a more intentional and consistent way. And I hope some of them will bless you and others whose lives you touch. Then together we can walk out that prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” I’d love to hear what you’re discovering as you do that.

Valentine’s Day

A celebration of love. Delightful, right? Well, yes. But I’ve been thinking today about those who are at present without a “significant other.” If we confine our concept of love to romantic love only, aren’t a lot of those people likely to feel less like celebrating and more like moping?

But if we expand our sense of love to a more inclusive one, it changes everything. Romantic love is anything but a joy unless it’s returned. We feel a need to get it from a certain person. But what if we decide to celebrate instead the kind of love we can give instead of get–a love that flows out freely to others just because they’re a part of the family of man? We can choose at any time to lavish such love on someone who may be thirsting for it. “If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (I John 4:12) Now that is something worth celebrating!

Neighborhood Bookstores

Bummers! I just learned about All on the Same Page Bookstore this morning only to google it, and find book editor Jane Henderson’s 1/20/14 article about its February demise. I was really excited to learn of a bookstore promoting St. Louis authors because I happen to be one. But staying in business is a challenge for any bookstore now that bibliophiles have the convenience of buying books without even moving away from their desks. This raises another question akin to Jane’s Kindle question: Will Amazon (and the like) make neighborhood bookstores obsolete? I shudder to think of this, too, but…

Life Lesson #1

Some years ago at a family reunion, we were asked to share the most important lesson life had taught us.  Previously I might have needed time to mull this question over, but not this time.  I answered without hesitation: Our happiness depends on how we love, not on how we are loved.  A surprising observation from one who grew up hungering for approval.  The journey to that answer was definitely, as the saying goes, “a God thing.”

A pivotal step on that journey grew out of an unremarkable incident.  I’d been in a phone conversation with an elderly friend who was having difficulty hearing me.  Instead of picking up the receiver, I’d moved closer to the speaker.  When it was later pointed out to me that picking up the receiver would have been a more loving way to help her, I found myself bristling with self-defensiveness.  After all, I was normally a very considerate person, and this seemed to me like nit picking.  Emotionally I was feeling like a clenched fist.  Then suddenly that “still, small voice” said very plainly, “And just who is this ‘me’ you are trying so hard to justify?”  Immediately I knew that it wasn’t what God had created and that it wasn’t who I wanted to be.  Grudging accommodation just wasn’t up to the standard of christly love that was natural to me as God’s child.  So why would anything less be acceptable to me?  In less time than it takes to tell it, that clenched up feeling evaporated.  I was at peace, even joyous.  I had just gained a precious nugget of wisdom:  it didn’t matter what anyone else’s opinion of me might be because all that mattered was that I was learning to love.  What a moment of truth!  It was like being handed the key to my prison door!

That key was also, as I’ve learned, the key to happiness.  Just think of it!  There is something we are free to do any time, any place–something that will bring nothing but blessings.  It takes no special training.  It requires no funding.  It depends on no one else’s permission.  It’s what we were designed and created to do, and there is absolutely nothing that will bring us into a closer relationship with our Creator.  That something, of course, is to love one another. 

There’s no denying it feels good when others express love to us, but we may well be disappointed if we depend on it for our happiness.  The good news is, however, that we can always exercise our God-given ability to love them.  And that feels even better.

I is NOT the word!

One afternoon while serving as a volunteer chaplain at a local jail, I saw the letters “S-I-N” printed on the marker board.  Seeing it capitalized was a startling experience.  There was that big “I” sticking out in the center!  Before this it hadn’t really occurred to me that I couldn’t think of a single sin that didn’t have a skewed sense of “I”—the human ego—at its center.  Neither could any of the inmates who were there that day.  (If you can come up with one, I’d be glad to hear from you!) Continue reading

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