Category Archives: Joy

Small is Huge

Peace LilyRob and Ruth asked if we’d like houseplants they can’t move to their new home.  “Sure!” I responded.  Ruth, with a green thumb and a love for gardening, has a gazillion plants in her home.

While Rob fixed us Saturday brunch, the rest of us walked from room to room, choosing plant after plant for the brand new homeless shelter my husband manages, Compass at First Presbyterian Church of Seattle*.  We loaded 7-foot palms, Christmas cacti in bloom, weeping begonias and Aspidstra; plus tables and artwork, African masks, Peruvian baskets, and two bags of clothing into our pick-up.  The stark white, newly renovated rooms of the shelter need softening.  These would make a good start.

Of the four of us, only Mark realized how much this would mean to the shelter guests.

When we arrived at the shelter, guests emptied the truck in minutes.  One guest with a horticultural degree called each plant by its botanical name as it came in the door.  Another was reminded of the Christmas cacti that filled the deck of her childhood home in California.  A man whose calligraphy decorates the dining area brainstormed where to hang a large, colorful Picasso.  Yet another removed a safari shirt from a bag and, beaming, told me, “This is my Christmas present.”

As we drove home, we were a stew of conflicting feelings:  joy, humility, and gratitude, horror and rage.  We wiped silent tears and blew our noses.  We were lost for words.  How does one speak of the unabashed joy and gratitude we encountered as we delivered what seemed to us like mere plants?  How does one not feel humbled by the guests’ appreciation for the beauty such seemingly small things bring?  How does one articulate awe at the joy of such folk as they decorate a warm, safe, hope-filled shelter for themselves and future guests?   And how does are society justify throwing away people when they or their circumstances become difficult?

HomelessTents_Seattle_KIRO7_620-620x370The next morning, we brought a second load of plants.  It was like walking straight into a geyser of joy, gratitude, and pride.  Guests showed us plants from the day before which they had trimmed and watered as beautifully as if they were in an expensive nursery and which made the rooms softer and more human.  The shelter was full of hardship, resilience, joy and community.

Mark and I headed upstairs for worship.  The scripture read and discussed was a fitting close to Thanksgiving weekend and the beginning of our preparations for Christmas.  As you proceed through the month of December, I pray it will stay with you as it has with me.  Even the small can be huge in impact.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’  And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’  Matthew 25:31-40

*The newest shelter in Seattle, Compass at First Presbyterian, provides a safe temporary home 24/7 for 80 men and 20 women from homeless encampments in Seattle.  Staff works intensively to locate permanent housing in 60 days, assembling documents such as photo IDs and birth certificates and helping with employment, medical and psychological care as needed.   King County has the third largest concentration homeless in the U.S. behind New York and Los Angeles, 11,643.


Passport to Happiness

A friend found a yellowed paper in his father’s desk after his dad died.  It described his father’s approach to life.  Dad didn’t wait for happiness at a future time, nor did he expect it to be given to him.  He knew that happiness and joy reside within us if we choose them.  He chose happiness and joy.  Here is part of the foundation on which he built his life and the grace with which he faced an incurable cancer.

Passports to Happiness
We permit too many opportunities for happiness to slip by because we labor under two major delusions.  One of these is that we shall be happy when–
When we arrive at a certain destination;
When we can be with a certain person;
When our schooling is finished;
When we get a better job:
When we arrive at a certain income;
When we are married;
When the baby is born;
When we recover from our illness;
When our bills are paid;
When we own a new car;
When we move into a new home;
When some disagreeable task is finished;
When we are free from some encumbrance.

The second delusion is that we can buy a ticket, or pay admission, to happiness.  We seem never to learn that, wherever we go, we take our happiness or unhappiness with us; and that whatever we do; it is how much of ourselves we put into the doing which influences our happiness–far more than what the outside world contributes.

The only way we can insure happiness is to train ourselves to be happy in spite of, not because of, what life does to us.  When we succeed in doing this, we become wise and useful adults.

David Dunn, date unknown
photo by Mark Smutny

Homemade Yogurt or Hang-Gliding, hmmmm…

I was bored.  I thought about hang gliding that day, but the closest place was too far to make it home for dinner.  My criteria for an alternative were that whatever I did had to teach me a new skill, be something I’d never dared before, not cause injury, and get me home by 6:00 p.m.  Instead of taking a road trip, I tried two Do- It-Yourself projects that had intimidated me for months.

My first project was to make Greek style yogurt.  The recipe looked too easy to be true, as in, “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”  It turned out to be both easy and good.  This recipe used four cups of milk, ¼ cup nonfat dry milk, ¼ cup Greek yogurt, and fermented in the oven for seven hours.  Super cheap.  Super easy.  The hardest part was figuring out how to keep the oven at a mere 100° for seven hours.  Goldilocks-like, I discovered using a heating pad and leaving the oven light on were just right.   The next morning, we ate fantastic yogurt with bananas and crunchy granola for breakfast. Find the recipe at

My second project was to make vanilla extract.  This was even easier to make than the yogurt. Last year I met a woman who does this, bought some of her homemade vanilla and have enjoyed it ever since.  All it takes is good quality vanilla beans and some vodka.  My source recommends vanilla beans from Mexico and potato vodka.   My vanilla extract is taking its two month rest in the pantry now.  It will be ready to sample in late March. Find the cookbook that got me going at

I was so pleased with myself after these projects that I finished the day by making granola, filling the bird feeders, cutting roses for the kitchen table, and harvesting limes from the tree in my backyard.  Periodically I stretched out on the sofa and read.  I intentionally did none of my ordinary tasks for an entire day. It was glorious.

My day felt wasn’t as exciting as hang gliding would have been, but it was nevertheless different, new, and productive.  I learned new skills, pushed through the intimidation factor, enjoyed the world’s beauty in roses and good food, and pampered myself by doing only what I wanted to do.

The day was so far outside my usual routine that it had the desired effect: I awoke the next morning refreshed, excited and full of stories to share.

My tip for the day is that the next time you need a bit of newness in your life, a break from routine and stress, or an antidote to boredom, remember what I gained from yogurt and vanilla extract.

  1. Try something new that pushes your boundaries in some way.
  2. Learn a new skill.
  3. Experiment.
  4. Risk making mistakes.

By the time you finish your endeavor, you will have taken a trip to someplace you’d never been, your boredom will be gone, and you’ll have new memories to laugh about and celebrate.