Monday, May 31, 2010

Laughing in the Cemetery

There is something so incredibly healing to be able to laugh in the cemetery. Not in an effort to cover up grief, but instead as pain fades to remember the joyful times and laugh. In Kentucky, at the top of a grassy meadowed hill there is a cemetery, fenced off from where a white Brahma bull used to live. There are tombstones from the 1800s through the early 2000s, many of which are decorated for the Memorial Weekend. A large tree spreads out branches in many directions, strong and reaching upward as the high point on that hill. It offers shade and a visual anchor as the grasses blow about. It is in this cemetery that my great-grandfather was buried. I never knew him; he died shortly after my grandmother was born. At the time, many tears were shed. As two more babies were laid to rest in that ground, tears again were shed. Wailing in grief, cries that would send shivers up your spine have been described to me.

Yesterday, the pain of these deaths had faded. We gathered at the cemetery to respect and honor the memories. But, the stories that were shared were the stories of the living; they were the stories of life and laughter, movement and hard work. Injuries and family ties were shared as we laughed and recounted stories. Sitting in the cemetery, taking off my tennis shoes and sparing my feet from a few more minutes of heat, I felt the cool in the grass from the tree’s shade. Cousins shared stories, another came to clean off the tombstone – picking at the engraved area with a knife to remove the growth that had occurred over a year. The Brahma bull was gone, but the memories live on.
It can be so helpful to have a place to grieve, a place to lay flowers and tell stories. It’s not really the place though that is as important as the chance to do so, to tell the stories of the people when they were alive, to tell the stories of these people when they impacted our lives. And eventually it is time to laugh in the cemetery.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Walking up to the top of the Fannin Eldgridge Cemetery, you climb and climb the hill. Walking on a dirt road, there are trees and ferns, wildflowers and moss, on both sides. Thick green growth with butterflies who fly more like dive bombers than the expected flitting creatures are accompanied by a few bees buzzing about. If you come a little late, or are a slower hill walker-upper than others, when you near the top third of the climb, the sounds of the singing occurring at the top seems to just be a sweet breath of air. It washes over you, flowing past and into you as you climb.

Yesterday, I made such a climb. We started out on time. Then, the realization hit that the box of hymnals that had been packed so that everyone could sing along, had been forgotten at the church. A quick trip back to retrieve those left us walking up the hill and listening to that singing. It’s not about how fast you climb the hill; it’s not even about how easy it is to climb the hill. Instead, this hill seems to be a badge of honor. The elderly used to state that if they could climb the hill one more year, then they must be doing all right with their health and would live another year. At the top, there was a small service with a short message and then more singing. Tall pine trees stood like sentinels around us, green and fragrant. Mosses of different kinds created soft and cushy spots on the ground. A rosebush was blooming pink blossoms. The tombstones needed to have the old flowers removed and the new flowers placed.
I enjoy the whole process, except perhaps for knowing that there are snakes in those woods. But, it is the music floating back down the rough dirt road that is something that stands out. Voices blend in different harmonies. Some voices are on key while others are off. Staccato or legato phrasing can be heard, with either sharp and quick words, smooth pronouncements, or something in between occurring. Some voices are very pure, others are nasal. The bass is present, the tenor, the alto, and the soprano. The harmony bends and sways with the music depending on how familiar everyone is with the piece. Sometimes notes are off and do not blend or perhaps are not resolved well. Others can barely be heard as they try to be invisible in their vocal contribution. The words are not always known, or how the parts split out to do their own thing. This can result in a momentary confusion and unsure sense of what to do next.
It wasn’t until later in the day that I really thought about the music and how family is a lot like that. Some come into this world with a beautiful tone, on pitch and pleasant to the ears. They are the encouragers, the ones who can make children laugh, or can speak softly to those who are frightened. Others can squall out a tune which will make the least of the vocally trained dive for cover. Sang with great gusto and absolute disregard for the others around them, the pitch wavers and jumps up to hide the softer. Those who are barely making any sound at all are there, even if they are difficult to hear. They may have the most beautiful harmony of all, but without additional courage no one will ever hear it. Harmonizers can move between parts and add an additional layer to what is there, building the strength of the music.
Family is a lot like this. Perhaps you can realize yourself in the midst of that. I watched children play and they were in a moment of harmony. Their squeals and laughter, mixed with the sound of the creek running around their toes was beautiful. It was a part of the music filled with little bubbles of sweetness and joy. At other times, the music was more somber. A cemetery was looked out over and those who had finished singing their music here and were leaving only their echoing themes were remembered.
There are signs commonly found about not getting to pick your family. Well, that is true. There will be discord from time to time. The very quiet one may grow louder and be tired of the one who always sings loud claiming all of the part. They will have to determine the new blend and start a new theme. Family is messy; there are many discords, many unresolved notes. But it is a symphony of sound, of tightly interlaced chords.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


World War II brought heart ache for many, brought the United States really out of the Great Depression, and brought many from the hills of Appalachia to the cities of Dayton, Detroit, Columbus, Cincinnati, and other large cities where there were jobs and the promise of a future. Leaving the beautiful hills, they also found themselves torn between the chance at financial security and terrible homesickness. The hills of Kentucky are beautiful, lush and green, thick with woods and delicate undergrowth. The twisty turny roads are fun to drive, but make transportation very difficult for industry.

Yesterday I left suburban Ohio, where the melting pot of commerce has created such diversities as multi-story malls (wondrous things), every kind of restaurant you can imagine and some you can’t, as well as businesses that bring people together from all over the world. I left this and drove to a beautiful part of eastern Kentucky. Yes, the Appalachian mountains. Yes, the foothills, a green swath of pastures and fields, children’s play places, and family cemeteries. Yes, the place where too many are ridiculed by ignorant individuals as being “hillbilly”, “hicks”, “rednecks”, “backwards”, and “stupid”. The people left the mountains, but they didn’t leave their customs behind. They came with them, tucked into the car just as much as the Sunday suit and guitar were. These people have settled all over, for heaven’s sake – I live in Iowa. But, those who lived close enough would travel back as often as they could. They would return to visit family, take care of the younger and older, help in the gardens and around the farm. They would go to hear the sweet familiarity of it all.
When I go back now, I often feel as if I have a stand which is straddling both worlds. One is quite comfortable with working in a corporate office, making small talk, dressing for the job, and networking. The other breathes in the smell of honeysuckle, vetch, and wild spring roses with deep breaths as if I can breathe in enough to last me till my next visit. There have been times that that has been a stance which has felt wobbly, with one side or the other pulling me too far in one certain direction and then the other. But, last night I had a moment when it all came together. I put aside the perception of the outside, aside the perception of pre-conceived notions, and just let the moment occur. It was a family get-together and cook out at a cousin’s house. The food was great, the company was wonderful. To see the children take up with each other, cousins, was beautiful. They were teaching each other songs before the night was out. Then, the cream on the top, the priceless moment occurred, as one, two, and then three guitars came out. Then, a mandolin and then a fiddle. Voices blended in song, praise and lament, remembrance and hope. The ideas were never named so expressly in the music, but this was their purpose. With skill of fingers at making strings on an instrument strike a certain chord, the voices blended on top. “There will be peace, in the valley for me some day. There will be peace in the valley, for me O Lord I pray. There’ll be no sadness, no sorrow, no troubles I see. There will be peace in the valley for me.” That is only one that was played and sung while sitting around in a front yard, under a large walnut tree, swatting gnats, and indeed we were in a valley. The fireflies started coming out and the children were gathered up to take back, clean up, and put to bed. I wondered how many could look past the differences, the differences we allow to separate us, the perceptions we allow to close us off to these beautiful things. I feel as if I am on a migration route as well, like a bird come home to gather nourishment.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Knock, knock, knock; the door being knocked on was my alarm yesterday morning. A small Jack Russell Terrier came up to join me on the bed for a morning snuggle and rub. She is a sweet pup and gave me a good excuse for not jumping right out of bed. I was tired and struggling to get moving.
Finally convincing myself, and the dog, that we really should get up and face the day; I donned my work jeans, an old t-shirt, and pulled my hair back into a somewhat short pony tail. The idea was to get to Grandma and Grandpa’s house before the heat of the day really set in. My grandmother has had so many beautiful plants in her yard over the years that I think her whole hand must be green, forget just the green thumb thing. As a child, I remember leaving the kitchen and walking onto a concrete porch and the snowball bushes greeted me. Big white fragrant blooms and glossy dark green leaves were the gateway to a botanical playground. This was where I was headed, though it is not the yard of my childhood. It has been several years of poor health for my grandparent’s and the yard was showing the loss of energy that occurred as a result. Weeds were poking through, but the flowers were still there and still strong. My mother and I came with coffee cans, the plastic kind, rooting hormone, and trash bags. You see, these plants are in a way part of my inheritance, my legacy from this grandmother. She loved the beauty in the hybrid roses just as she did the wild roses, the weeds others threw away she could still name them and see them as beautiful.
“Now, try to get some with the roots on it,” Grandma said as I would dig. My mind drew a connection as I traced the roots to the dirt and dug deeply around them. Our inheritance, our legacy is something like that. It is a long rooted thing. By the end of a hardworking, very hot, couple of hours, the coffee cans were full of starts. Roses, snowball bushes, lilies, and other plants were tucked in with their native dirt, deposited for the day and night on an aunt’s shady porch and watered. My grandmother sees beauty in things others call weeds, potential in what others call hopeless. It is a beautiful inheritance that she has given and is giving her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
Then, leaving there and after a much needed shower, I headed to a friend’s house. There are some friends if you are fortunate enough to find, you must tend and maintain the friendship because it is truly a priceless and precious part of your life. It was to this friend’s house I went next. Immediately surrounded by a comfortable place, where I feel welcomed so much by the fact that she doesn’t have to rush around like a mad woman trying to pick up. Isn’t that nice, when you are comfortable enough with someone to not have to do that on a very busy day, knowing that they didn’t come to see the house but you? This is a very special family, a husband and wife and son. The little boy is also receiving an inheritance. He can’t trace it back to a rosebush that his grandmother’s grandmother had at this point, but he has an inheritance nonetheless. It is one that his parents and grandparents are building for him, with their love, attention, instruction, teaching, discipline, joy, and care. I love to watch these two in action, because they are intentionally parenting. In other words, they are intentionally and continuously examining their role as parents and seeking to do their absolute best.
Intentionally looking beyond the names others attach to “flowers or weeds”, intentionally parenting and modeling behavior, intentionally seeking out the roots and caring for them and taking the risk of failure for the risk of success. It is a legacy indeed.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Blueberry Garden Dreams

Yesterday it was the first day of visiting family, a whirlwind set of visits really. First it was a visit on a front porch with great coffee, after having a delightfully long sleeping-in morning time. Then a quick (perhaps the driver, who was not me, was speeding a bit) drive to a neighboring town for a lunch visit. After that, a stop to visit one set of grandparents, led to a visit with an aunt, uncle, and cousin. This was followed by a visit with the other set of grandparents, aunt, and cousin, and then dinner at a cemetery. I craved a nap around three which never occurred and enjoyed the day thoroughly.

I have to laugh at the themes that seem to have run commonly throughout the day, blueberries being one of them. At each stop blueberries seemed to come up as a topic of “brain food”. Apparently there has been some sort of recent scientific breakthrough on the importance of blueberries, which I have completely missed. Each group seemed to be laughing and discussing how they needed to remember to eat blueberries, kind of like people have joked about the need to remember to take ginko-biloba for memory. The thing I found funny is that it seemed to fit in every single conversation today at least once. How? I don’t know. I wonder if we are really running in these parallel and interlacing topic conversations all the time and just don’t stop talking long enough to listen and realize it, and enjoy it. The world got a little smaller.

The majority of the day was spent with one set of grandparents in particular. As a variety of health issues have kept them unable to visit us eight hours away, these are precious and a little bit sad times. They are precious because they run deep with memories and emotions, sad because every time I come the aging process can strike me when I least expect it. I walked my grandma’s beautiful yard today. She has so many flowers, snowball bushes that make the whole yard filled with a delicate fragrance and the most beautiful rusty red roses you have ever seen. I noticed how large the pine trees were, pine trees that I remember having branches cut off at Christmas when I was a little girl. Grandma would turn me loose with a pine branch, somewhat precariously arranged, in the living room to decorate. She would pull out all the old ornaments she could find and let me decorate it as I wished. There was no hint at going back and rearranging to suit a sense of balance on her part, but it was always something I felt she thought was beautiful just as it was. I have memories of family gatherings in the yard; summers spent smelling the snowball bush every time I walked out of the kitchen door. The memories were as fragrant as that bush and hit me with such a whoosh that I was grateful for the sunglasses hiding the rim of wetness in my eyes.

Finally it was a dinner at the cemetery. On the drive there, grandma shared a dream of all the flat roofed buildings being made into garden areas. She has such a green thumb and love of plants, that I can see how that would have been her dream long before green spaces became the popular thing to do. Sitting in the backseat, the conversation sound moved in and out, and I let myself drift away from that and think of the beauty of flattop roof gardens. Not just produce for restaurants that may be below, but think of how nice it would be step into a garden on a work break, or at a retirement center. Then, we passed the hospital, which is very large and very flat roofed, what a beautiful place that could be for patients and staff to rest and recuperate, either from a medical procedure or just from stress.

But, I mentioned dinner at the cemetery. That may sound strange to you, even a bit morbid. I can offer assurances that it is anything but that. We all showed up with lawn chairs, or a blanket, something to eat, and sat around and talked. There was some memory times being shared, photos, and even a poem and a song. There was laughter and there were tears wiped away. That’s okay; it’s a safe place to wipe those tears. Fears were shared of future ailments and difficulties being walked through in quieter tones as some moved short distances away to talk in the private. A little boy found an excellent climbing tree and took great delight in watching the branches sway above our heads. I sat at one point and listened to four different conversations going on around me, one about genealogy, another about pets, telling stories on children and family gatherings past, and another telling stories on siblings sitting right there. I laughed when I heard blueberries. I have lived away from my “home” long enough that I know that this will seem a strange thing, disrespectful in some circles and perhaps bordering on outrageous in others. It is healing though. I don’t grieve for the great grandmother, great uncle, or cousin buried there. I grieve for us who are left, the son without his mother, the three sisters who miss their mommy, the father and mother missing their daughter. It is okay to grieve them, it is okay to hurt. It is also okay to share our grief in a different way, celebrating not only their lives, but their legacy.

The legacy they leave us, of lessons taught, stories told, songs favored, favorites and dislikes are a powerful thing. Standing in the hallway of my grandparents’ home, I was reminded of one of the legacies they are leaving us – learning, family, memory making, and of course enjoying the beauty of life, be it snowball bush, child, or blueberry. It makes me think a little deeper, plan a little harder and a little more purposefully on what type of legacy I am leaving those around me.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kitchen Sink, Rain-X, Closed Exits, and Arrival

Yesterday was the day we traveled to Ohio. This has become a sort of girl’s ritual for my mom and me, traveling from Iowa to Ohio, Ohio to Kentucky, and then back on to Iowa. I worked half the day, came home and traded my skirt, blouse, and heels for a tank top, shorts, and a pony-tail. It was such a hot day that I found myself slipping to the bathroom, where the door had been shut, for a few moments here and there. It would act like a quick reverse sauna, cooling rather than heating, when I was feeling like it was cooking outside, like I was cooking outside. I came home from work around twelve, and found the van pretty much packed and meatloaf on the counter for a quick sandwich… way to go mom! Grabbing the bread and meatloaf, the messy though tasty concoction was wrapped in a paper towel and the last minute to do’s were worked down. After about an hour of grabbing a bit of sandwich here and there, warning one of the dogs away from snitching it, and finishing packing; it was declared, “We can leave now, and I think I packed the kitchen sink.” I’m not sure why the kitchen sink is always the home tool that is used, but in this case it seemed appropriate.

With the van packed, CD’s appropriately playing, and sunglasses donned, we headed out of the driveway and Eastward. It wasn’t too far out until we started talking. One of the beauties of this arrangement is that it gives us time to talk and catch up. Starting off with how the day was, I heard about the rain-x that had gone onto the car in-case of rain. I didn’t give it much thought until the lightning caught my eye to the left of me, way out in the distance, and then to the right. Pretty soon great big drops started falling. I will gladly admit that the rain-x did its job beautifully. The rain was whisked away. I wondered about that rain, those great big drops fell fast and hard for a while, with wind blowing and making the trees on the sides of the roads sway. The rain, the wind, the lightning, they can all feel pretty much like a great big metaphor for life sometimes. Things will, people will batter and bruise us, sometimes with actions, but even more with attitudes, words, and omissions of the kind word. Wouldn’t it be great if we had some sort of a Rain-X Human that we could use? The ad could read, “One spritz and your troubles will roll right off.” I know it doesn’t work that way, but what about the protection that we can receive under God, “refuge in the shadow of your wings,” (Psalms 36:7b). A refuge is given because God knows that at times we are pelted by rain and wind, maybe even struck with lightning, deafened by thunder, or bruised by hale. We need a refuge where we are safe, one that is even better than a Rain-X for Homo sapiens.

Driving out of the rain, we continued on, changing drivers every now and then. Of course the shoes were off and the van dual climate controls were in full use. I was being frozen alive and would have arrived either in all of my clothing at one time, or a solid Popsicle. But we had fun, and then pulling out the map (thanks for the binder Dad!); to go around Indianapolis, we discovered that our exit was closed. Well, we decided to just keep going and make the other loop. Thankfully traffic wasn’t heavy and it was still a way around town that worked just fine. The thing about closed exits is that they are generally closed for a reason. I wondered what kind of work was being done on this one. Road repair? Bridge repair? The signs over the highways were encouraging carpooling and I had an image pop in my head of how many well dressed executives could you stuff into the mini cooper in the other lane. It was definitely time to get out and stretch.

We finally arrived, not in record time, but safe and sound. Welcomed graciously into my aunt and uncle’s home, with accompanying tail wagging by the dogs and sidelong mildly curious glances by the cat, we collapsed and slept. It’s good to be here, even though I am sure that the kitchen sink is still somewhere jammed under a seat in the van.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Can’t I Pack the Kitchen Sink Too?

Yesterdat was the day to finish all the preparation for the trip before the trip actually begins. That wouldn’t be too bad if coming home from work, I had actually the bags upstairs and had things in them. I did however, have a list of what needs packed. I love lists, actually I love crossing things off lists. As the to do’s get shifted into the all done it is a happy thing.

      But, I digress…
I am leaving for the better part of a week, heading home to Ohio and Kentucky. Ohio is where I was born and where the majority of my family lives. Kentucky is the family home. I know I have never lived in that part of Kentucky, but somehow that mineral rich soil has soaked into our blood stream and made it home. There are reunions planned, visits with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Cleaning off the head stones from last year and putting on new flowers for this year, the children will be brought into the process as this helps them learn to remember their ancestors and history. So, what do I take on such a trip jumping from suburbia to the beautiful foot hills? Well clothes, toothpaste, shampoo, and socks of course. And lotion, my camera, bug spray, and make up as well. But, there are other things that get packed – a shovel and trash bags to sit plants in and bring home. Music for the van is an absolute necessity, but it requires forethought. Not only does something for the road demand energy, but when we pull around the bend and watch the foothills appear – that is when the correct music must be available, something delicate and yet strong.
There are some other things that get packed, stories of the past, memories, hopes for renewal during family times, and time to just stroll around grandma’s yard breathing deeply of the pines and snowball bushes. So much is going to be stuffed into that van, surely the kitchen sink will be in there somewhere as well.

Monday, May 24, 2010


I can be a bit geeky at times. No really, I mean it! But, trip planning for me is normally the time to kind of let my inner geek have a field day. I blame it on all of those years of travel with my mother who diligently read the guide book to me, instructing me and insisting I had the history of each town we came to. But, for trips normally I have a three ring binder with all of the maps, confirmation numbers, contact information, location information, and budget information all neatly three hole punched and put together. A pocket that is also three hole appropriate normally resides in the back – or rather two. One for pens, pencils, sharpees and any other miscellaneous small item and another for receipts and perhaps the unwitting seed I might find and want to save.

As I prepare for a trip home, the preparation this time has been a bit different. Business of life has led me to gratefully rely on my mother, for this girl’s trip, to take care of all the minutia of planning. I know she has done a fabulous job and it has been an enormous stress relief for me. All I have to do is get some clothes, the camera of course, and various plant gathering tools thrown into the van between now and our departure. The preparation for a trip is part of the fun of a trip, as you build anticipation of what you will see and who you will get to catch up with.
My three ring binder will be staying at home this time...       maybe.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


When I know why a change is or is not occurring I can normally accept it. I may not like it, approve of it, or even want it – but I can accept it. There are sometimes though I just rail against the change, the transitions in life that leave me feeling as if I am in transit, stuck in the back of some cab that is heading east while I’m wanting to go south. Where is the control? Can I have a steering wheel here in the back seat? And a brake pedal too?
It’s been a week of changes; many transitions have hit me this week. With nearly one per day of major transitions, I was left feeling my eyes grow teary at the last one. No more! I know life is not static. I know that change will and must occur, but not in such close succession.
And at the same time I am trying to keep it all together, in that moment when I had no words and a completely stunned look on my face, I know there are other transitions I would love to make but have not had the opportunity. What a dichotomy, what strange mishmash of perceived wants with transitions avoided and transitions sought in nearly the same breath. No wonder women are confusing to men. It’s not so much that we change our minds as we haven’t really explained that there are no hard fast rules only lots of little minute ones, with great subtlety and sub text. A list grows in my mind even now of transitions I would willingly and gladly make in my life, but they do not occur. Others which I find unpleasant or completely surprising, they come with frequency.
This makes me think; perhaps I have the whole transition thing backwards. Maybe I should want the ones which are occurring and not want the ones which aren’t occurring. Or, if not want – maybe I should be quicker to accept them.
It must seem as if I am talking in code. Let me back up and start again. A friend is moving, transitioning, to a new and wonderful stage of her life – motherhood. I am saying good-bye to my friend as a co-worker, as a co-worker who lives multiple states away. Will we lose touch? Will we just drift apart without topics of workplace function and process to keep us talking? At the same time, she is taking on a wonderful and noble transition which I would love to do. My heart, while being so incredibly pleased for her, aches for me. And yet, the ache is tempered by a desire for God’s will, a trust in God’s plan. It changes the hurt from a raw wound, to one that is being treated and bandaged properly. Unfortunately, this hurt is not one cured by a shot or sitting just so. I have to turn this over to God and let him heal it for me.

Perhaps I do have the whole transition thing backwards. Maybe the wanted transitions are just God’s way of wanting our attention.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


I just finished a great book called Tea with Hezbollah. The premise of the book is that two men went to several locations in the Middle East, going to the decision makers and leaders asking questions with a focus on loving your neighbors.
Jesus has a conversation, recorded in Luke 10, where he states the importance of “Loving the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and Love your neighbor as yourself.” (v. 27). Focusing on the second half, these took the verse and the story which follows back to the people living where the parable would have lived.
“In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'” (Luke 10: 30-35).
The question then, and now, boils down to who is my neighbor? I highly recommend the book and hearing the different answers. But, in my own thoughts while reading it, I was thinking about the “enemies” of my own community. Gangs are one that spring to mind. But, what about poverty, fear, families that are falling apart – what are the enemies there? How do we love our enemy? Is it possible? Or is it so difficult, so terribly difficult that we have convinced ourselves that not only is it impossible but it is an unassailable wall. What if it is not impossible? Yes, terribly difficult – but what if the true enemy is the belief that it is impossible?

Friday, May 21, 2010


Recently I had the privilege of attending a high school choir concert, and though I enjoyed it very much I found my mind wandering past the music and into my memories. I was remembering my own high school performances, with band- not choir. I was remembering the friends and laughter, inside jokes and camaraderie. Trips and competitions, stories and band parents, rehearsals before and after school…. As the seniors lined the stage in their choir robes and fabulous high heels (sorry guys, your shoes aren’t as catchy), I hoped that they took a moment to really take in the moment and form the memory. I have similar moments, standing looking at a crowd after a performance, looking over the band from the sidelines as we in the pit watched them practice the same moves over and over and over and over. Giggly moments where we tried so hard to remain straight faced and other times when our directors made us so mad, they were all part of the memory.

The choir did a great job, and I thank them for the music and the accompaniment as I journey down the lane.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Joyful Noise

Make a joyful noise! I love to sing and may be found humming around just about anywhere. I have heard many people state that that just can’t sing. But, if you check out the psalm, when there is discussion of praise – it is not to make a beautiful noise, but to make a joyful noise. So, you can’t sing? Don’t like to sing? Okay – what kind of joyful noise can you make? A baby’s first cry to a new parent is a joyful noise. A honking horn to a kid who just got sight of their first car is a joyful noise. Pots and pans banging along with some internal tune is a joyful noise to the toddler. The joyful noise may sound different to different people. Words of affirmation, encouragement, coaching, teaching – joyful noises!

No matter what kind of “instrument” you use, make a joyful noise today.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Ever been for a long walk and it starts to rain? The rain gets harder and heavier, you are soon to be drenched. Wet, cold, and growing discouraged as you are growing wetter and walking quicker. Walking faster, growing wetter, you keep walking in hopes that your destination will somehow be approaching you at a faster rate and you can meet somewhere in the middle. Discouragement and frustration grows until you are starting to produce wetness of your own, tears and sweat to add to the rain.

Now, change the picture slightly. Instead of you walking alone, you are now walking with someone else. Your destination is not any closer, it is still raining. However, your friend comes along side with an umbrella, raincoat, and galoshes. Stopping to put on the raincoat and galoshes, opening up the umbrella, your friend slips her arm around you and starts walking with you.
Walking with you, it is so much easier to face the rain. We have a friend available to us who will do just this. He will come along side, provide a wonderful protection against the rain, and journey with you. He is faithful.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Row of Flowers

Sitting in church Sunday, in the pew row directly to my front and right there were several little girls sitting together. Made up of sisters and friends with the age range spreading throughout elementary school, the pew was soon covered with a variety of toys, coloring, and other little girl things. They were such fun to watch. During the worship, they were combinations of movement as they sang and danced, colored and wrote. My mother referred to them as a row of flowers. In many ways, they were just that.

A row of little lives, small but important, precious and unique moments caught and made up in their movements and actions. Planted in the love their parents have for each of them, watered as people pour themselves into them, fed with care and hope – such a beautiful little row of flowers indeed. Perhaps a hyacinth, a lupine, a daisy, a lavender, and a peony all in a row. Each has its own color, fragrance, structure, and distinctiveness. But, they are each beautiful flowers in the garden.
Looking at these little flowers in the row, I found myself wondering who else would water them, prune, weed around, and feed them. Who else will recognize their beauty and potential and pour themselves in, in an investment of future of growth? They are special flowers, will you help them to grow?

Monday, May 17, 2010


Wood, given time and heat, creates ash. There is a large wood burning stove in the family room. The first time I saw it, I fell in love with it, the way it was shaped and had such presence in the room. At the bottom of the stove, there is a handle and a door. It opens up to a tray where the ashes are collected. They fall as the wood burns and collect in the tray. Then, as they tray becomes full the ash tray is removed and dumped outside. Ashes have been placed in the outside fire ring, the garden, and gravel driveway. The ash provides a good base for the fire ring. It can give and restore nutrients into the soil. As for the driveway, I was surprised at how well it held the gravel in during the spring melt. Even prepared ash can become something which is used to make art.

Sometimes life can feel the same way, as if everything is burning away and leaving only a messy pile of grey and black bits behind. The heat, while great during cold Iowa winters, is not so pleasant when we are walking through the fire. So, what can we learn from that? Ashes have purpose. When we are left with ashes, we now have new materials to make art with, to build up our loose gravel, and re-nourish the soil.
If you are left with a pile of ash, let’s prepare it and make art.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Don’t Wait

We wait until some momentous occasion to say, to tell the impact that someone else has had on us. We wait until a funeral, a wedding toast, until they are in the hospital or moving away. Why? I don’t know exactly. Maybe because it’s we crave security and this sort of puts us out on a limb of risk. Maybe because society tells us to put up a screen of separation between ourselves and others, to avoid being interdependent with another, being vulnerable.

Speak up today – tell someone who is special that they are special, tell someone you care about that you care and why. Don’t wait, you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Only in the Storms

We ask why do we have bad storms, cyclones and hurricanes? Asking God, “don’t you realize that you have people here that get hurt with this?” I saw a television show the other day about manna rays. These amazing sea creatures were spiraling in a giant cloud of the agricultural bits that they enjoy. They said that only in cyclones do these animals gather like this, in giant spirals, in a condition created by the cyclone.

It served as a reminder to me that during the storms, the difficult times, when we are wondering where God is and why this is occurring, that there may be some other purpose, literally under the surfaced that we do not see or understand. With that knowledge, it can bring both a hope and understanding to the difficult times.

Friday, May 14, 2010

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, and It’s not superman?

Remember the old Superman movies, the Batman television show with the giant cartoon words scrawled across the screen, and the other myriad of comic book characters? Each of the characters, even with their moments of declaring that they just want to be normal, would not give up their very unique ability. And that is the key isn’t it? Unique! We all want to be something different, something super or unique, something that no one else is.

At the same time, and you have to love humanity for its dichotomy with this one, at the same time we crave and strive to be unique we also seek normalcy and blending in. We want to look like, sound like, and fit in (or at least feel like it). I just love how strange we are, such a jumble and wonderful puzzle.
Do I want to be unique? Sure I do. I loved the Bewitched show growing up, just wanting to wiggle my nose and have things clean up or move or be able to travel with a wave and a twitch. But it’s really much deeper than that, I want to be me, the me I was meant to be. I think that God must have realized that we would seek our unique and normal turns. That must be why we find people who we can relate to, to be friends with. That must be why we seek out people we can understand and understand us, or at least want to. On the other hand, it’s important to acknowledge that God did make us distinctive. Note that the life I have, the plans that God has for me are not the plans and life God has for you. He wants you to have something wonderful and specific for you!
We don’t really need to be Superman or Wonder Woman. Thank goodness! All those crazy schedules would kill my sleep patterns. But, to God I hope you find that you are already that unique and wonderful.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My High Places

I recently heard a sermon on Psalm 121 and was amazed at the verse which I have ready many many times over the years, taken on new life and meaning for me.
Psalms 121 starts with a walk along the road to Jerusalem; the walker lifts their eyes from the view of the road and looks up. Looking up they see the hills surrounding Jerusalem. Hills at one time held the high places, the shrines of many different gods. The people would select the shrine which they felt would best suit their need and then go there to make a petition. Eventually, God pointed out – rather strongly – that the high places were where the view of the people was taken off of Him and onto something else.
I love hills, the softness of them from a distance, the way they shelter and embrace you from close up. And at the top, you can see so far. Sometimes though, the hills seem really far and really high – very high and very hard to climb. The roads are rutted, difficult to walk up. Each step becomes one of concentration and effort. Each time a foot is placed, it is checked for solidness before fully trusting. Looking up, I see the top of the hill and declare my effort and exertion worth it.
Looking up on the way to Jerusalem, the walkers would have been greeted with the sight of the high places. Could those really help them? No, of course not. Even the next verse goes on to say, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” There are high places in my life though, and if you are honest I would imagine that there are some in yours as well. What kind of high places? Well, security for one. I want to feel secure, and sometimes that means that I don’t really want to lean on God, because maybe it doesn’t feel secure. Another one might be trust as I have moved from place to place, why am I here God? Why not over there? Why move again? Time, priorities, matters of value, matters of conscience and integrity, decisions in a fast paced life.
When my eyes gather the view above, on the hills, I need to refocus. The refocus on God lets me cut past the places I put in place of God and realize where my help really comes from. “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sleeping In

This morning, I woke up with my alarm and then turned it off. Like normal, I slumped back onto the bed and under the covers. Oh pillow, I don’t want to leave you! Waking up nearly 45 minutes later, I realized that I hadn’t left my pillow, I had fallen back asleep. Scrambling to get dressed, do my hair and make-up, I grabbed a banana and stuffed it in my purse.

Life falls into routines, times to get up and times to go to sleep. My body gets used to a certain cycle of time for rest, activity, work, family and when these are mixed up it can be rather disconcerting for the rest of the day.
There are cycles in life as well, and as we move from one to another they can be disconcerting for us then as well. The words of Ecclesiastes 1 are familiar to many, especially from the song Turn Turn Turn by the Byrds.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain,
A time to search and a time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace.”

I would imagine that you, like me, can think of times that have been for each one of these. I think of birth and dying moments, being uprooted during moves, and planted into new homes. I think of times when I have needed to tear down walls and other times when I needed to have the protection of a high hedge. Weeping and mourning, laughter and dancing, those have also been experienced. Sometimes though, it has been laughing with weeping and mourning with dancing. Stones of judgment have needed scattered, stones of remembrance have needed gathered. Embracing new adventures, new tasks and challenges can be wonderful but at other times I have needed to pull back and regroup. Throwing away is a good thing in spring cleaning, rather for the house or for my life. But, the empty areas are refilled with God’s presence. To tear, to mend, to be silent and to speak, I think in my case though it might also be to sing. Though, there was a time last year that I was yelling at the trees in the backyard, well not so much at them as in there general direction. A time to be silent, to listen and a time to speak, to pray and petition, to confess and praise. A time to love and a time to hate, hating sin, hating what God hates. A time for war and a time for peace, to wage against our inadequacies and our ignorance, our prejudices and judgments.

Yes, those transitions can be quite disconcerting, like waking up late or being jolted suddenly in life.

Monday, May 10, 2010


God amazes me, because he reveals things to me from time to time. It’s not that I always want to hear it, but the timing is so perfect.

My car has been having some problems, apparently the solenoid cylinder has a problem and needs replaced. Not being mechanically minded, please don’t ask what this very mechanical sounding thing. I just know that the car doesn’t run correctly if it isn’t fixed. They very graciously loaned me a loner car. Sitting down in the car, I had a twinge of a groan. Okay, a full blown groan.
The loner, tattered and smelling kind of stale, ran. Yes, a spot of grumbling was shown up in me.
The next day, after febreezing the car thoroughly, the pup and I headed to her check-up at the vet. Driving back, it was a great time spent in prayer.
God, I’m sorry about the groaning. You have provided for me, and even though it wasn’t what I was looking for, you provided. Here I am groaning and you provided!
I continue to try and change out my grumbling for gratitude, recognizing God’s provision. Though it’s not always easy, it is a conscious effort and means that I am open to what God reveals to me.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother’s Love and Spit

A week ago I was watching a small herd of bison (buffalo) in Illinois. Two young calves had been born only days before and were out walking with the herd. One of them, took an opportunity to give her new baby a bath.

Some may say that the universal language is math, but in the case of moms, I think it’s a mother’s love and spit. Yes – spit. Didn’t your mom ever stick her thumb in her mouth, and then proceed to clean your face? Here it is, translated to a giant and beautiful animal, stopping to clean her child.

Yes, we can make faces as mom wipes away something after sticking their thumb in their mouth, but remember – it’s just mom saying that they love you.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Last weekend, while visiting a park, I stopped to watch the sheep as they were eating from their pan. The sheep were still covered with their thick winter wool. Covering them from wooly head to tail, the wool that had provided the thick covering of warmth through the winter, will not suit them over the summer.

I was reminded how the wool served as a protection for them as they most needed it, and then they need care for the spring and summer. There are times when I have needed an extra layer of wool. As there are difficulties or when life feels cold, that warmth is just what is needed. The wool of the sheep conforms to them perfectly, fitting their needs in a way that is designed specifically for them.
At other times, there are warmths and things to celebrate. The race that is being ran would be much to sweltering in a wooly blanket. At that time, the shepherd is needed to come and care for the sheep, removing the wool.
As God provides me a wooly blanket and also sheers it off – his timing and provision is always perfect.

Friday, May 7, 2010

One Thing to Say on the Stage

The concert is going on, and the lead singer comes out father on the stage…. “I’ve just got one thing to say.” And generally there is some inane statement that comes out after that. What if you had a moment on stage, something to announce to thousands of people at one time, what would you say?
Standing on the stage, what would you talk about, share? If you could leave one thought or impression with these people, what would it be? With some people, you may only have a moment of interaction, one moment on the stage in life. What will you say, will you impact that life?

Thank you
                                                                             God loves you
                               Good morning
                                                                                                                                      How are you
                                                                                                              Can I help
                Will you help
                                                                    This is beautiful
                                                                                                                    You are amazing
Can I pray for you
                                                                   Will you pray for me

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Flower Beds

It’s that time of year when the flower beds should be cleaned out and prepared for the new spring. Yesterday, we spent time in the yard and for me it was time to weed. There were also new flowers to plant.

While weeding is not my favorite thing to do, I enjoy the clean flower beds and the new plants which come up. Yesterday, I was enjoying the sun and the results of the weeding. In that time, on my knees, dirt under my fingernails, I was thinking of how God clears weeds out of my life. What really was impressed on me was that for God to weed and plant in my life, this means that he is right beside me, kneeled down and working in the soil of my life. What a wonder that the God who created the universe is willing to kneel down next to me, in the dirt and make the flower beds of my life beautiful.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Dirty Knees

Silence may be good for the soul, but so is some sunshine on my back and dirt under my fingernails. My back was just on fire today, sitting at work I would squirm from one side to another. Finally I gave up and dispersed with the chair choosing work by standing instead. Coming home, I was looking forward to getting into the yard and weeding.

Weeding as a help for a sore back? Yes, in this case – I knew that what I really needed was the movement of my back stretching as I bent for weeds, reaching for roots deeply rooted. Dandelions, sticky weeds, clovers, grasses – they all came out of the ground and were tossed behind me. My knees grew red as I kneeled on the grass and dirt. Breathing deeply, I smelled dirt, sweat, and grasses.
Dirty knees are good for me, and not just to stretch out my back. Dirty knees mean that I am recognizing and working on removing weeds. Sometimes, I can’t pull them out with my hands. Their roots go deep and I may need a shovel. There are times in life when I need to pull out roots of weeds. By myself, sometimes I can break them off and at least make it a bit prettier. But, the weeds just grow back. I need a shovel, I need the Master Gardening skills of Jesus to come and get rid of my weeds. Digging carefully around the plants he has planted, he removes the weeds and burrs. It is much easier to recognize and get rid of weeds when I’m down and getting my knees dirty.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I have never been someone who craves quiet. In fact, I really do not study well at libraries, the quiet just leads me to get distracted and then there are the books – way too much distraction! About 6 months ago, I attended my Great Banquet, Peoria Women’s Great Banquet #14. It was a wonderful experience and one that I continue to cherish and learn from.

One of the most profound things for me was that I finally learned to seek out and enjoy the quiet and solitude of moments, moments that are all too rare. It was in this experience of listening to God, learning to be quiet, that I found how much I enjoyed the time to slow down.
So, this weekend while my mother was at her Great Banquet, I was at a nearby state park. With no obligations, waiting chores, to do’s, or places to be, I found myself sitting on a tree bent over a pond and listening to the buffalo. I love how they sound, their snorting and grunts, their breathing and sighing. I must have sat at that spot for twenty minutes, taking a few occasional pictures, but mainly just listening and watching.

There is so much to do in this life, so many wonderful things to see. With so much to say, partake in, and get done, it can be very easy to put off the quiet times. Oh, I’ll get to that later and one thought pushing another out of my brain and poof – it’s gone.

I wonder how much I really miss of what God is trying to tell me just because of my inability to be quiet, to sometimes just slow down and be. I know I need sleep for energy, need food for fuel, need exercise for strength, but my time with God – that is my solace and energy, fuel, and strength! I will seek out other times in the future when I can just go and be quiet, listening to the same creator who made those beautiful buffalo.