Koos Stenger is a freelance writer in the Netherlands.
I was amazed when I saw the colorful, intricate constructions on a YouTube video. Tiny houses, barely bigger than a doghouse, with doors, round little windows, and slanted roofs, so the rainwater would flow off. And all of them on wheels, so they could be moved. They actually looked cozy.
I have always been a dog person. I grew up with dogs, and even later in life when my wife and I served as missionaries, we felt a dog was a necessary addition to our household. So we got ourselves a puppy and a collar.
Not just any collar, but the best one we could find. In fact, when I would take him on walks in the morning or explore the fields together at dusk, with his stainless steel collar complete with a gold-colored name tag, he often seemed better dressed than I was.
I dreamed that I was invited to a luxurious banquet. Everything around me shone with glory and splendor. Crystal goblets were filled with the best wines and all my favorite dishes were present. Then there was the command, “Eat and be happy.”
So I ate and was happy. By the time the desserts were served, I could hardly take another bite, and then …
My worst fears came upon me the day I landed in the hospital. I dreaded entering the huge, ominous health factory, where impersonal doctors would study my symptoms with a distant professional look, and nurses would appear at my bedside at the strangest hours to stick me with a thermometer, an injection, or a cup of weak coffee.
God, get me out of here!
While surfing the internet, I stumbled upon a Positive Outlook test. I consider myself a fairly positive person, with some room for improvement, but I was curious to see if I was right. Since the test would only take a few minutes, I filled in the answers.
When the results appeared, I wasn’t too surprised. There was a sentence noting my tendency to worry too much, and another on my bad habit of giving too much time and thought to the worst possible outcomes. But the conclusion was encouraging: “Overall, you rarely view the world as a place of bad experiences and events. You tend to invest trust and faith in the belief that things will turn out well in the end.”
“God is your father,” the young man said. “He came down at Christmas in human form. Through Jesus, you can know what God is like.” He looked at me with hopeful eyes, but I wasn’t convinced. “A father cares,” he continued. “A father watches over you and is always there.”
“The conclusion”—the speaker said in a booming voice—“is simple. Thank God for the small things in life. Don’t look for the millions, but be thankful for the cents.” Everybody applauded.
The seminar was over. With my notebook full of hastily scribbled notes and two new self-help books on how to enjoy life, I left the meeting hall somewhat bewildered.
When I was born, only a few years after WW2, Holland was still getting back on its feet, and the aftermath of the war and occupation was still visible. I grew up hearing many stories about the things people had endured, and it filled me with deep respect for the sacrifices that had been made, including by those who chose to stay true to their convictions, even to their own harm.
I had sung Frank E. Graeff’s hymn, “Does Jesus Care?” many times before and always felt comforted by its grace and beauty. But the words really came to life after our one-year-old son Martin passed away. Martin had always been frail, from the day he was born, half an hour after his twin brother. They were born in Brazil two months early and had to be on life support. His brother quickly overcame that difficult start in life, but not Martin. He had a heart defect and underwent surgery at six weeks, which he struggled to recover from.
When I open the front door, I am overwhelmed by the silence outside. How absolutely quiet the world has become! Usually there is at least some noise and movement at this hour. But not today. Today everything is still.
A few snowflakes fall out of a gray, overcast sky, adding to the sense of mystery. I zip up my coat and step into this gentle world of silence.