INSPIRING PEOPLE: Claire Snyder

It takes a while to realize how impressive Claire Snyder is because she does not draw attention to herself. This is so rare that I find it as inspiring as all the other cool things she does.

These include working as a dialysis img_20200128_175202nurse, mentoring and tutoring kids in a struggling school, running marathons, and going on medical mission trips. Every strength she has is poured out for other people.

The tenacity she gained from running is imparted to women recovering from addictions as she coaches them to run their first race. She is as happy with their victories as she is with her own.

 

img_20200508_111834She shares her lovely house and good cooking freely – taking meals to people who are sick, taking in an exchange student, hosting countless holidays and celebrations with a quiet, under-the-radar efficiency.

I am blessed to be her friend and the regular beneficiary of her noticing kindness. A few weeks ago when she was handing out food at our local school, she heard me telling someone I couldn’t find a mask, and my bandana kept slipping. The next time I saw her, she presented me with a beautiful mask she had sewn, in my favorite colors, reinforced with a little strip of metal that keeps it in place!img_20200421_093514

 

Claire is not adventurous for adventure’s sake. She has to overcome her own fears and self-doubts to do the brave things she does. But that is what is so inspiring – she pushes through those feelings, prays for power and follows Jesus into suffering and need. She brings wisdom, compassion, humor and healing, day after day.

I cannot tell you everything she does because no one knows! I usually find out from other people. Suffice to say that Claire embodies the care of God, with a constant stream of empathic, humble, focused service. Claire is the hidden treasure of her church and her community.

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Claire with her beautiful daughters, Elizabeth and Rebecca. Claire and her husband, Dave, lived in China for a year when the girls were little so they would understand the culture of the country where their daughters were born.

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Joe Brooks

Joe Brooks inspires me because he reminds me of Jesus. Not just because he has a beard. Not even because he was always the guy leading the resistant donkey down the ceter aisle of church on Palm Sunday.

Joe reminds me of Jesus because he has been following Jesus for a long time, and we begin to resemble those we love and imitate.

One of the main reasons Joe started coming to our church, College Hill Presbyterian, was that he and his wife Helen had a sense of call to racial reconciliation. When they first came, our church was almost entirely white.

Soon after Joe began attending many years ago, he had some tough experiences – like the time he put his hand out to the greeter at the door, and the guy would not shake hands with him. He turned away. That would have been the end of it for me, but Joe stayed because he knew God wanted him to stay. That’s another thing that makes Joe like Jesus; he forgives people when they’re mean and racist.

He has given so much to our church community – teaching, tutoring, leading men’s groups, helping with kids’ worship dance, serving twice as a deacon and as an elder, not to mention unofficial security guard whenever the situation calls for it! I’m so grateful for all he has been for us, and all he has done for us.

The family and friends of Joe and Helen Brooks have added considerably to the size of our church. I cannot imagine the place without them. They have eighteen grandchildren!

The other reason Joe reminds me of Jesus is how much he loves God. The love and truth of God is on his mind and on his heart, and he always eager to talk about God in a way that makes sense to his listener. If you ever get a chance to talk with him (when he doesn’t have a group of kids flocking around him) ask him what God is doing in his life, then get ready to hear something good!

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Janet Baltzersen

When Janet walks into a room, it changes. This is true on several levels. First, it becomes a more fun place because her presence brings joy and beauty and laughter. It also often literally changes because she does interior decoration and redesign as a business.

Years ago, she asked, “Is there something wrong with me if I’m waiting in a doctor’s office and I end up rearranging all the magazines on the racks?” Obviously not, since that impulse to improve spaces has led to a successful business that she enjoys immensely.

People rave at the transformation Janet brings to their rooms, sometimes only with a few hundred dollars and the clever rearrangement of their existing furniture and accessories. Some of the more fun comments I’ve heard include:

“I finally feel like a grownup.”

“I never used to have people over and now I do it all the time.”

“I gasped when I walked in the door…”

“When I opened the door to my newly designed room, a huge weight lifted off my shoulders…”

I’m always fascinated with how people’s strengths come out in the work they do. Janet really cares about people; she wants to improve the quality of their lives. The improvement of their physical surroundings is just the beginning.

She manages the Children’s Center at the University of Mount St Joseph with such love, professionalism and creativity that it was awarded five starts, and she was given the Elizabeth Seaton Mission Award in 2018.

She is a devoted mother of three and has blessed her kids, grandson and extended family with a beautiful home and garden and a special touch to every family celebration. Her personality has that rare combination of true kindness and a wickedly funny sense of humor that makes her the person you want to sit next to at the party.

Janet is one of those people given to us to bring joy, hope and renewal. Anyone who has know or worked with her is richer for it.

Find her work at rustyfigredesign.com, and on instagram.

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Jocelyn Sluka

Jocelyn Sluka is a fabulous actress and a wonderful friend. For years we have travelled together with Friends of the Groom Theater Company, and there is not a gig we’ve done (out of hundreds) when she has not been kind and professional off stage, and nailed her characters perfectly onstage.

She doesn’t just act; like Meryl Streep on screen, she channels characters on stage. In one show alone (The Case of the Missiong Bodies) she plays a luscious femme fatale, a scrappy street kid, and a godfather knockoff. I never get tired of it; after all these years I still peek around the curtain in rehearsal to watch her transform.

It’s not just talent that lets someone play an adoring mother, a bag lady or a burnt-out heroin user with five husbands, all with equal conviction. It’s empathy. Jocey feels for people; she gets them from their own perspective.

I don’t know anyone who has forgiven more. I don’t know anyone who has stayed more faithful to God, in joy and in suffering. I don’t know anyone who’s more fun to travel with, which is a good thing because we have sstayed together in homes and hotel rooms all over the country and overseas for three decades.

When she was a young actress she heard a clear call from God to leave Hollywood and devote herself to theater that embodied the love of God. How superbly she has done this, how faithfully and cheerfully. I think when she gets to heaven, there will be a long standing ovation.

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Carolyn Ison

Many people are beautiful to look at, but some also create beauty wherever they go. That is what Carolyn Ison does. People have always been drawn to her lovely, calm demeanour, her snow-white looks and captivating eyes, her kindness and grace.

Her work has always involved an extension of that beauty. She is a painter, and her pictures have the same magnetic, soothing quality that she does. All the homes and gardens she has ever lived in are little oases.

I have beneffitted greatly from these qualities, because I am her daughter. There is not a domestic image in my memory that is not picturesque. There was never a holiday that did not have a delightfully set table. My home is filled with paintings that give me joy.

Love can only be given away after it has been breathed into us. I am so grateful to have been loved by this beautiful woman. Her care for people and cultivation of beauty was a gift she passed on to her daughters, and we are so much richer for it.

INSPIRING PEOPLE – Bill Scheid

Living through a pandemic that has killed 25,000 so far with no end in sight makes you appreciate people. So for such a time as this, a series on people who inspire me seems like a good idea. I’ll start with someone close to home. At home, actually:
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It’s hard to find someone who just keeps getting up and doing the right thing every day. That’s what inspires me about Bill Scheid.

For thirty-two years he has put in tenacious workdays as an IT manager for Procter and Gamble problem solving how humans and technology best interact to keep his corner of a global business thriving.

For twenty-seven years he has stayed married to the same person (me, actually) with unwavering loyalty and devotion. Whatever it takeswhatever our differences, he is all in.fb_img_1524665630011

For twenty three years he has poured his energy into the well being of his three sons, taking them on wonderful vacations, coaching teams, helping with homework, teaching them skill after skill and always coming up with the next fun thing to do.

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So many people benefit from knowing Bill. He lets his faith in Jesus influence every area of his life. At our church,College Hill Presbyterian, he teaches Sunday School, runs a men’s group, takes kids to camp.

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His friendships have endured through decades. He faithfully visits his family and his in-laws. (Only Bill could have persuaded my mother to join him in dressing as a hockey player for her nursing home’s Halloween party!)

Bill is one of those people who walks into a room and can see right away what practical thing needs to be done to help. He’s the guy who puts the last chair away. He’s the guy talking to the quiet person at the party. He’s the guy bringing in donuts on Friday morning to cheer everyone up. Bill exemplifies a long, steady journey in the right direction, and does it with a good humor that inspires the same.

Christmas Short Story

This is the second installment of one of twelve short stories from “Christmas on Pleasant Hill”, available from Amazon.  Half of all the profits from this book are donated to 3Cs Nursery School. To read the story from the beginning, click here, then come back to this post to continue….

The last time Charise had seen her cousin, Tanya had been running barefoot through Grandma’s garden into the night, none too steady on her feet. Charise had been in college, Tanya was a junior in high school and Charise had taken her to a party in Clifton.

Charise, in a calculation she would never have made sober, had decided to bring Tanya back to Grandma’s, where she had been living since her parents kicked her out. She wanted to introduce Tanya to cocaine in a safe place, and had figured that Grandma and Grandpa would be asleep on the second floor, too far away to hear anything. They had tiptoed giggling through the house, more loudly than they realized, and gone through the French doors in the dining room onto the back patio. On a glass table under the porch light, Charise made two wobbly lines of powder.

They were poised over it with straws in hand when a shadow fell across them. Grandma stood there in the doorway in a white robe and turban, silent and flint-eyed as the angel of death.

Finally, with no visible movement, she hissed at Charise. “How dare you bring that filth into my house! How dare you drag this girl into the same evil you’ve fallen into!” Her voice rose to a shriek and her trembling became visible – “How dare you!”

Tanya leapt out of her chair, grabbed her stiletto heels and took off barefoot through the yard, apparently preferring to risk the wrath at home rather than stay for Grandma’s. Grandma, still screaming, “How dare you!” swiped the table with her arm and the cocaine disappeared into terrycloth and thin air. She finished the swipe with a shove that nearly knocked Charise over. She was too stunned to react. Grandma had never even given her a mild spanking.

While Charise was still in shock, Grandma grabbed her purse and took off through the dining room. Charise sprang after her like a tiger – there was $200 and more cocaine in the purse.

“No more!” Grandma was crying, as she wove around the dining room table – “No more. This ends tonight.”

She picked up a phone and dialed three numbers. Charise grabbed at the purse. Grandma dropped the phone to hang onto the purse, and the two of them struggled there by the kitchen door. The women picking cotton smiled down on them, until Charise, wrenching the bag away from her grandmother, scraped the purse’s buckle right into the picture, dragging it across the face of one woman and the upper body of another, piercing through a smile and a heart and a bag of fluffy cotton. Grandma sank to the ground, sobbing. Charise ran up to her room, grabbed her stash of weed, a bigger bag, threw in some clothes and shoes and ran out of the house, beating Grandpa, who was now running toward her from the dining room, to the front door. She ran south all the way downtown to the bus station, and took a bus to Nashville just after dawn.

The whole scene played again, as she stared at Tanya’s note, and the guilt washed over her in waves that made her clench her teeth. She had never seen Grandpa again – he had died two months later. She had been so wasted at the funeral she could barely remember it. Damon had driven her up, steered her through it and driven her back to Nashville all in the same day.

How had she let another year go by with no contact with her Grandma? Grandma had written and invited her to Easter and to Thanksgiving and to Christmas, but she had been too ashamed and afraid to go home. Now it was too late.

She wanted a drink. Screw recovery. She looked in every cabinet but there was nothing on the property. She grabbed her keys and headed north toward the Kroger. On her way, just before the intersection where Grandma’s church was, she saw a lit-up old house at the front of a hospital property. She could see people through the window. She remembered hearing it was used for twelve step meetings.

She passed it, but when she got to Grandma’s church she pulled into the parking lot. She sat in the empty lot, breathing heavily. Then she looked at the church entrance and saw Grandma, in a ray of light, walking through one of the doors, wearing a hat, like she used to at Easter. Grandma looked over her shoulder at Charise and lifted her eyebrows. “OK,” said Charise, to no one but the dark night. “I’ll go back to the meeting.”

***

The meeting had, as they say, restored her to sanity. The next day was Sunday. She went to church. It was the closest she could come to being with her grandma. She was not, however, ready to face up to Grandma’s friends, so she sat in the back row and planned to slip out during the final song.

She was surprised when an older man who had been sitting near her came out after her, and called to her. “Excuse me, I’m sorry to bother you but I thought I might have recognized you from a picture and I wondered if you might be a relative of Olivia Anderson.”

That got her attention. She watched him approach, hoping he wasn’t a pastor. He might be. He was an older white man, kind and well spoken, with friendly blue eyes and a smile.

“I’m sorry. My name is Bill Grant, and I’m a friend of Olivia’s.” He offered his hand. “I’m Charise Anderson, her granddaughter.” “Ah! I’m so glad to meet you. I was out of town the day of the funeral so I haven’t had a chance to meet her family. I’m so sorry for your loss. She was such a good person. I would even say a great person.”

“Yes.” She wondered how well he knew Grandma. Well enough to know what a screw up her grandaughter was?

“I don’t want to intrude,” he said, more tentative in her silence. “But here’s the thing – I knew your grandma from the Historical Society as well as church here, and I helped her find out as much as possible about her house. I thought that whoever lived here next – maybe they would like to hear what I know, and I could show you some files I gave her…”

“That’s very kind of you,” she mustered, relaxing a little. “I would like that.”

He smiled. “That house is a treasure. It was built in the 1850s by a Quaker named Zachary Strang. He was an abolitionist. But I’m sure you know the house was a stop on the Underground Railroad?”

Her eyes widened. “I had no idea.”

“Oh yes. I thought your Grandma would have told you. It has quite a heritage. Strang used to pick up runaway slaves in a wagon that had a false bottom. He’d hide them in the wagon and put crops on top and bring them up the road to the house. Then after they’d eaten and rested, he’d smuggle them up to the next safe house. You may be wondering why they were still running in a free state, but the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it legal for owners to pursue people into free states and recapture them, so they couldn’t really be free till they got to Canada…”

He talked on, swept up in his own narrative. Charise already knew about the Fugitive Slave Act. She’d written a paper on it before she’d dropped out of college. But she had no idea the house had been an actual hiding place. Grandma must have only found out recently…

“ …I guess you don’t know about the little room they found, then?”

“What?”

“Yes – a few months ago. We’re pretty sure it was one of the places people hid when strangers were seen coming up Hamilton Pike. You see, there was a warning system. Homeowners further down the road, and students from the Ladies’ College and the Farmers’ College, would keep a lookout and send messages to the safe houses. Then they’d hide slaves in basements or attics or sheds when the owners came looking. Your Granma was sorting things in the attic and she uncovered a false wall that could be slid sideways in the attic, and there was a little room back there with blankets and books…it was so exciting!” His enthusiasm was hard to resist. Charise asked, “You wouldn’t have time to show me now, would you?
***

Mr Grant shifted the wall panel, enough for them to squeeze into the dormer space. There was an ancient curtain on the window, its small flowers almost faded out. Covered in plastic, there were old brown wool blankets, a Bible, a book of fairy tales and two history volumes. Grandma, always orderly, had laminated a page of writing and placed it on top of the blankets.

It read, “These things were discovered in September of 2014 by Olivia Anderson, along with Mr Bill Grant, a fellow member of the Pleasant Hill Historical Society. He has heard a second hand account of a letter written during the Civil War. The writer said that Pleasant Hill had become too well known to be a safe stop for runaways, so the little room in the Strang attic had been retired. We have not been able to find the letter. But we have found these blankets, this Bible dated 1846, and these other old books. It is my prayer that this house will always be a refuge for those in need of safety, comfort and beauty.”

Charise read the note over and over, unmoving. Mr. Grant shifted awkwardly.

Finally he said, “She asked me, the last time I saw her, to make sure her grandchildren kept all our files, everything we gathered about the house. Can I ask you on her behalf to keep these things, and all the papers downstairs? They were very important to her.”

“I can promise that much.”
***

After he left, she sat on the small back stairs of the house, the ones servants used to use. It was where she went to be alone as a child. Now, her mind was pierced with images of those runaways, hurriedly being smuggled up these stairs – ragged, wide-eyed people smelling of sweat and fear. She followed the images up the stairs, back to the little room. She sat on the floor facing the dormer window, which looked down on the garden. She re-read Grandma’s note.

“A refuge,” she whispered. Then louder, to the empty space, to the whole precious house and garden and all the people who had sheltered there, she admitted, “I need a refuge. I’ve been a slave and I need a refuge.”
***

This story will be continued in the next post…