Sunday, December 21, 2008

Wrapped in love

Following my mother's example, I like to give my kids a tangible expression of love. And since she taught me to sew, I like to give quilts. I've made each of my six children one through the years. Some have enjoyed them more than others, but each quilt has served its purpose-- warming the heart and warming the bed.

With my two oldest grandkids halfway across the country, I decided to make them fleece throws for the frigid Minnesota nights. I picture them wrapped in the blankets watching TV or playing a game. But more so, I hope the softness covering them will remind them of hugs from the extended family so far away.

After making these blankets for Kelsey and Seth, I decide to make flannel quilts for the little ones. Princesses in pink and purple for Mattie, pink rainbows surrounded by yellow sunlight for Lana, and a pink-and-white 9-square for Laci Bo. I'm on a roll now. With so many in our family, we draw names among the adults for Christmas gifts. So I get fleece for my pollyanna. Marissa's birthday is two days after Christmas, so I make her one too. My husband? What about when he is cold on the sofa from watching the football game so long? Okay, this is getting out of hand.

At Damien's birthday party last week someone brought up the old quilts I made long ago. Damien said his is pretty much a rag now (he's 32) but he still likes it when he's sick. He said, "It makes me feel better." So I continue to sew and someday when I'm gone I hope the worn scraps of fabric will remind my family of how much each one is loved. As for Damien--it's his name I drew this year. He is getting a new blankie for Christmas!

Special morning

I never spend Christmas with my mother anymore. It's been over thirty years. But every year she faithfully sends huge boxes of gifts for everyone in the family. She is outrageously extravagant. She made Christmas magic for me as a child and she continues to do so. Every December I can always count on a special, personal "mother-type" gift for me. She knows just what I will like. One year it was a soft, powder blue robe, another year a long flannel nightgown. I like to open these gifts alone beside the tree, in the quiet stillness of dawn. That way I can spend private time with thoughts of the mother I love so dearly.

Today Fred left early and the girls were still asleep. I looked through the packages my mother sent. Some had warnings on them for me--"Don't open before Christmas!" My mother is like that. She always tells me to wait. But she doesn't realize how I treasure this one morning. Still, I choose a large box with no warning label on it. And I also find a small, squishy gift. Before the lighted tree I slowly unwrap her presents. I always picture her hands doing the wrapping. It's funny how we remember hands. Maybe because as small children we see our mothers' hands down at our level. The little package, wrapped in a fancy brocade paper with a curled ribbon contains two pairs of Christmas socks, whimsically decorated with reindeer and snowflakes. I smile. She knows I like silly socks. Then the bigger box. I cut the ribbon and inside is something soft wrapped in red tissue paper, carefully taped. My mother doesn't rush wrapping gifts like I do. She never rushed us kids either. She always took time for us. I take the paper off. The gift is a beautiful fleece zip jacket in blue, L.L. Bean. I can hear her say, "That color will look good on you with your eyes." The jacket is warm, earthy, comfortable--like my mom. Tears spring up in my eyes. She is such a good mother. She has so many kids, so many grandkids, yet each gift is thoughtfully chosen so we each feel special, like we are the only one. In the twinkly light of my living room, I whisper, "Thank you, Mother. Merry Christmas."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

O Christmas Tree

Fred and I were talking about how Christmas is a disappointment for some people. Maybe Christmas was magical when they were children but now they can't recapture that feeling again no matter how hard they try. That's not even considering people who have lost loved ones or experienced some trauma this past year. I've had many Christmases when I just wished it would be over quickly. It's hard to pretend to be joyful when you just don't feel the joy. But the Christmas tree has always been enchanting for me.
This year we went to our local tree farm on the coldest day of the season (again). We bundled up in layers from head to toe. Then we climbed onto the hay wagon and sat on the metal seats as the wind whipped about us. The tractor groaned across the ruts on the frozen ground and finally we were dropped off to select our tree. I resisted the temptation to plead with the man to return for us soon. It was way too cold to dilly-dally. This year we are on a budget and we would just quickly find a small tree. But the girls had such fun as they skipped along the rows between trees saying, "This one!" And then a minute later, "No, this one!" In the end, a seven-footer was calling to Fred and he cut it down and dragged it back to wait for the wagon.

With great excitement the girls unpacked all the ornaments to decorate the big tree. I told them again the story of the special ones I got when we were waiting for them to come home from China. The purple crepe-paper Asian angel for Arielle and a glass ball with a delicately painted black-haired flying angel for Liana. We brought out the little walnut shell cradles that I made many years ago as a fundraiser for Half the Sky. Each ornament has a child's name written on the red ribbon, a child who was waiting for a family back then. I find "Our First Christmas Together" for the year Fred and I got married. Then there are all the handcrafted ones--projects made by little hands. Memories are attached to each decoration. I returned the boys' old ornaments to them long ago so they can add them to their own family's tree. But I would like to see them again and remember. And oh, the ornaments from my own childhood! To unwrap them and hold them in my hands again!

Christmas was magic for me as a child. I loved to sit on the floor in front of the tree, silent, with all the lights glowing. It was so peaceful, a time to wonder and anticipate. Even now, I stare at the tree in the silence and peace descends. I'm filled with gratefulness to God for so many Christmases. I've been given one more year, one more tree to gaze upon, another year with family to celebrate our Lord's birth.

Our pastor reminded us not to lose our amazement at the Christmas story as we reflect on the familiar passages. The incredible birth of Jesus--God, coming to earth as a man! At the time, God had not spoken to His people for hundreds of years. They longed for the Messiah, and generation after generation awaited His coming. Immanuel, God with us. Never again would God's people be lost and alone. Knowing this, we rejoice like the shepherds did as they heard the angel proclaim, "Don't be afraid. I bring you news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord."

"For all the people." Jesus did not come only for the people back then. He came for us too and He is here with us. He is the magic of Christmas. He is the peace-bringer, the one whose Spirit comes and calms my soul when I watch the tiny lights on our tall tree. So many memories of Christmases past flood my mind. The love for my mother and all my brothers and sisters. My mother did her best to make the holiday beautiful for us. And my siblings made it fun. With a tear, I think of my little boys, all now grown men. I remember their excitement when Christmas was still magic for them. And my little girls. Oh, what joy fills their hearts this time of year! They love every minute of the preparations, but bringing home the tree and decorating it is at the top of their list. After the frozen fingers and toes and the cold wagon ride and the mess in the living room, we turn on the lights and there it is: O Christmas Tree!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


My friend Joan invited me to a special service at her church. Family and friends gathered to celebrate the lives of loved ones who died the previous year. My friend lost both her parents and I my sister. It was especially meaningful for me because Deanah's husband had no memorial service for her.

It was sad to see so many people there knowing they must have suffered so much pain the previous few months. But the priest encouraged us to remember the happy times and the unique characteristics and personality traits that made the person so special to us. Then the list of names was read and a family member walked to the back of the sanctuary, took a candle, and brought it to the altar. I felt a jolt when I heard my sister's name. Her name--listed among the dead! It still shocks me to think of her like that.

Beautiful music surrounded us, and one piece I recognized as Pachabel's Canon in D. It brought me back to my own wedding. I had asked my two sisters to be my bridesmaids but Deanah declined. My sister Kelly was my only attendant. Fred and I had chosen Pachabel for our prelude, and as the music played, my mother and Fred's mother lit two candles at the altar and then joined the flames to light another candle. This symbolized the beginning of two families united into one. Tonight we grieve for broken families where a beloved one was ripped out and is now gone. With time I suppose the tear will mend. That's what this service was all about. But scars are left on our hearts. We won't ever forget.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Best birthday ever

This earth is still full of beauty and joy even in this broken and dying world. Here is what came before the show:

For my birthday getaway, we began with a long drive through the countryside blazing with the colors of autumn. We never mind this leisurely, traffic-less trip. The girls watch for horse droppings along the road because that means Amish horses and that means we are almost there! Arielle begins to count buggies (every trip she does this) and then finally we pull up to the first stoplight in Intercourse, a small quaint town at the center of a clash of cultures. This day on the right corner a tourist stands in the parking lot pointing her camera across the street to the left corner. We turn to look and see an elderly Amish woman in her black dress and boots vigorously mowing grass around a tree with an old push mower. Fred says I should have pointed my camera at the inconsiderate tourist to see how she likes being viewed as an exotic zoo animal.

After the show (see previous post) we go back to the hotel for swimming before dinner. The girls love this part of a vacation just about more than anything. Only one other person is there--a legless man doing laps in the pool. The girls are quite accepting of this unusual sight and just jump right in. It was amazing to me to witness the tremendous strength of this man who continued to do his laps the entire time we were there. At one point he called the girls' attention to a colorful hot-air balloon sailing by the window and they ran outside in the cold, biting air to see it better.

We went to dinner at Fred's favorite place--Texas Star. We pretended we were down south. (This place always makes me think of Easley, South Carolina and our almost move to that area.) Tonight we had a sumptious meal!

The next day we drove around town visiting a farmer's market, our favorite quilt and fabric store, and a doll shop that delighted the girls. Then we found a little Mennonite family store and bought a half bushel of organic apples. As we stood outdoors choosing apples from the bins, I heard the clickety-clack of hooves and Fred shouted, "Look out!" In the nick of time I dodged a big black horse trotting toward me. As it passed, I looked inside the buggy and saw a man with a long white beard and black hat grinning gleefully as he drove the horse past me.

We walked around Intercourse on our way home looking for a handmade mailbox, as our old one is moldy and falling apart. No luck. No one was selling them. We headed out of town and suddenly passed a little house with several mailboxes stacked along the road. Fred turned around and we pulled into the driveway. Then we saw the buggy parked inside the garage. The house was quite ordinary and otherwise there was nothing to tell us it was an Amish home, except a little chicken pen ran alongside the drive. A girl about 12 years old came out to greet us followed by a large, bounding golden retriever puppy.
Fred asked her about the mailboxes and she led the way up some stairs to a loft above the garage. The girls and I followed as best we could with the friendly dog trying to lick our faces. Inside were dozens of the most interesting wooden mailboxes. Some looked like barns, some like log cabins or covered bridges. Fred was thrilled and immediately chose his favorite. I took a picture from the top of the stairs of the beautiful farmland around us. I wished for a picture of the cute blonde girl, but I know the Amish do not like photographs to be taken of them. Instead, Fred asked, "Could we take a picture of your chickens?" The girl laughed and said yes, revealing fluorescent green braces on her teeth. We took our picture and left, leaving behind one of our favorite towns.

Friday, October 24, 2008

What we lost

Fred took me to Lancaster for my birthday. We saw In the Beginning at the Sight and Sound Theatre. ( Our family loves these musical productions! This one was about Creation and the first few books of Genesis. On the incredible set we saw a glimpse of what the Garden of Eden might have been like: the richness of the colors, the diverse plants and animals, the only time there has truly been peace on earth. We were drawn into the beautiful scenery and the unity and love between husband and wife. Most incredible was the first humans' interactions with God and their intimate connection to him. At the end of Act I came the deceit of the serpent and man and woman's disobedience. The joyous Garden was replaced by a gray landscape, howling wind, and prowling animals. Adam and Eve argued with each other and had to scavenge for food, clothing, and shelter. The entrance to the Garden was guarded by angels with flaming swords. Then, intermission. Thankfully, that isn't the end of the story! But at that point in time, people headed to the restrooms with heavy hearts at the impact of what was lost when sin entered the world.

We returned to our seats and saw that the angels were still on stage with their flaming swords. Photographs are not allowed in the theatre, but I guess because it was intermission, they made an exception. Fred took the camera to the front and one of the ushers took his picture with the angels. Seeing my silly husband up there sure broke the sad spell cast by Act 1!

Of course we find out in Act 2 that we will not be forever banned from the Garden because Jesus came to lift the curse and give us eternal life. Yes, we will die once in this life on earth, but we are not without hope. All of creation, the way God meant it to be, will be restored.

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth...the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. One each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of the lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. The angel said to me, 'These words are trustworthy and true'..." (Revelation 21:1, 22:1-6.)

Every now and then we need a reminder of the future! In the meantime, God does not leave us alone to fend for ourselves. "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. So we say with confidence, the Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid." (Hebrews 13:5,6.) God will carry us through our sojourn in this world.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Light the Night

My dear friend June out in Kansas is my guest writer today. She participated in a very special event last month. I am grateful to her for honoring my sister who died in April.

Light the Night sounds like the subject line of an undesirable email, but it isn’t. Light the Night is a national fund-raising event for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. In its ninth year, the evening walk event raises money for patient care and research for all blood cancers. Participants raise funds and carry lighted balloons through a 2 or 3 mile walk – red for supporters, white for survivors, and gold for memories of those lost.

I remember first hearing about the walks last fall and decided to do the walk in 08. How could this worthy cause have escaped me all those years before? I’m sure it had news coverage. The answer -it wasn’t personal. That changed two years ago when I lost a dear friend, Pat, to complications of treatment for leukemia.

So, when I heard about the walk this year I signed up, struggled with a fund raising letter and tried to brace myself for an emotional walk. And then I learned my long-time friend, Debbie, had lost her much loved sister, Deanah, also to leukemia. I remember Deanah as a sweet, shy young girl.

The walk here in Kansas City was scheduled to be held on 9/12, but it was not to be. Tornado warnings cancelled the walks that night. Two weeks later on 9/27 my husband and I drove to nearby Lawrence, KS (home of the KU Jayhawks!) to join their walk. I took pictures of Pat and Deanah and a red rose for each of them to leave in the memory garden.

Streets of this small college town were blocked off and we boldly walked the downtown area carrying our lighted balloons. It was a small walk by some standards, only about 700 walkers. There were walkers of all ages, though most were much younger than I. Well, it is a college town after all! People who were on the sidewalks stopped whatever they were doing to watch us march by. Kent and I were toward the front of the walk. I turned around to see what bystanders must be looking at. It was awe inspiring to see all those lighted balloons.

I think I was expecting something different than what I found at the walk. I was expecting an air of grief and sadness, but what I found was hope and inspiration. Hope that a cure will be found soon and the inspiration to continue to be involved in the walks until there is a cure. With that in mind, next year I will be doing two things. First I’ll be putting together a team of walkers here in Kansas City to walk in Pat’s memory. And second, if I’m able I’m going to be flying to Philadelphia to walk Light the Night with my friend Debbie in memory of her sister Deanah.

I know we’ve all hit hard times with the economy the way it is, but I want to challenge everyone to save your pennies to make donations to The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society next fall. See you then.

Love to you.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

New pastor

We have a new pastor coming to our church next month. I can't wait. We have been without a pastor for two years. He is from the Midwest and spoke just once at our church. It was enough for me to vote yes for his appointment. I later found out he had a "controversial" blog. I guess it is controversial if you don't agree with him. And many will not. I find the blog fascinating. This man is intelligent, well-read, and dynamic. Check him out. For lack of a better space, I copied some of his quotes that I found interesting. Each on an entirely different topic.

"God will take you where you do not want to go, in order to produce in you what you could not achieve on your own." Paul Tripp.

B.B Warfield the great 19th century theologian and champion of inerrancy captured the right approach to the spirituality of the Bible when he wrote:
“You must taste of its preciousness for yourselves, before you can apply it to others’ needs. You must assimilate the Bible and make it your own, in that intimate sense which will fix its words fast in your hearts, if you would have those words rise spontaneously to your lips in your times of need, or in times of the needs of others. Read, study, meditate…until the Bible is in you. Then the Bible will well up in you and come out from you in every season of need.”

There is a clip on the blog of U.S. Congressman Cohen comparing Obama to Jesus. Todd writes about politicians who use Jesus, "Nothing against them but Jesus was NOT a community organizer (whatever that is). He is Messiah, King, Lord, Servant, Sacrifice, and Savior. He did not come to make bad men good or good men better. He came to make dead men live.I wish that politicians would stop dragging the name of Jesus through the political sewer. It is fine for a politician to profess faith in Christ (if it's genuine) but beyond that they should give expression to their faith by how they lead and serve. Their dalliances into theology are embarrassing at best, blasphemous at worst.I am convinced that if Jesus walked the earth today He would refuse to associate himself with any political party. He would not campaign for Democrats or Republicans. It's quite possible that Jesus would prepare a whip just in case any of these yo yo's came into a church spouting their sentimental and self-aggrandizing platitudes."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Family work day

Some days are just perfect. Family relationships shift with the slightest shuffle. Like a kaleidoscope, the colors re-arrange and fall into place beautifully.

Dominic came on this late summer weekend. Right on schedule the nights have a chill but the days warm up. We had three cords of wood dumped on our driveway on Saturday and Fred wasn't home to receive it. Poor Dominic! This is usually a job for the girls and me, but of course, he helped us get it ready for winter. It's a difficult chore we do every year, but like Liana reminded us, we need to think of the cozy fire in our little school room when the cold wind whips around outdoors.

By coincidence, Damien was planning to trim the hedges that same day, as he does twice a year. So we were all out in the yard working hard. Arielle and Liana loaded the logs into the wheelbarrow, Dominic pushed it to the garden, and I arranged it on the racks. When Damien finished his job, he joined in to help us. Then a friend of his stopped over and he helped us finish up. In a final whirlwind of motion, we actually completed stacking all the wood! It's back-breaking, but exhilarating work, and we were all quite pleased with ourselves. Fred came home from his class and was shocked to see it done.

It was only appropriate to celebrate that night by going to our favorite Chinese restaurant. Marissa and her boyfriend joined us, along with Damien's girlfriend. We all joked and laughed and carried on in the restaurant--the way close families do. There were no harsh words, and no hurt feelings this night--just pure fun.

Dominic needed a haircut so Marissa came back to the house with her scissors. Dominic requested something to keep the hair off his neck, so when I gave him a trash bag, he fashioned it into a cape. Fred came into the kitchen to show off his new bifocal safety glasses and I snapped a picture of these two goofy guys.

To top off the day, we had a rousing game of Blokus Trigon. Dominic had earlier bought this game for the girls. Just as when he was younger, he is tagged as "the one to beat." Everyone tries to beat him (usually unsuccessfully) at whatever the sport or game. In a battle of wits, I think his true rival will be Arielle in a few years. She is very competitive and can almost top him now.

Families! The joy, the grief. We have so many kids, there are plenty of both. That's just life. But it's a good life.

This morning I read Psalm 66 and as I reflected on the weekend (and my life) I realized these verses sum it up. "We went through fire and through water, yet God brought us out into a place of abundance...Come and hear, all who fear God, and I will tell of what he has done for my soul. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer, nor his lovingkindness from me."

Monday, September 15, 2008


The professor ran out of funding. Just like that, I'm out of a job. Every day for almost a year I have immersed myself in reading Congressional hearings, studying the words and attitudes of our members of Congress. Politics became my passion and the pay from this job kept us afloat some months. Now gone. On top of that, Fred had yet another real estate betrayal. Just when a sale was ready to happen, the buyer gives the business to another realtor. These are not only strangers who do this but friends, family, church members. I remind Fred (and myself) that it is God we trust to provide for us, not people.

So what do I do over the weekend without my Congressmen? I need a new routine. I feel lost. So Arielle and I cleaned out cupboards. We dusted furniture and vacuumed. Liana and I made a chamois-covered field book like Lewis and Clark used on their journey, and we will use when we take our nature walks. I even got out some fabric I bought in Lancaster last year and cut squares to finish my quilt.

I call my quilt "October." It has all the colors of autumn--rusty browns and muted greens, along with rich reds and splashes of bright oranges and yellows. I lay out my new squares next to the 9-patch blocks I created a year ago. The new hand-dyed cloth I just cut looks like dappled sunlight peeking through the trees. As I admire the colors, joy peeks into my heart. Just a little. A reminder that God is present, no need to worry.

Later on that night I am washing dishes and hear a song coming from the TV show Fred is watching. I remember this music! It is Celtic Thunder! Fred in his channel surfing found a PBS fundraiser. We watched this several months ago and we both were mesmerized by the group. So now we drop everything and cuddle up on the sofa to again see this concert. Celtic Thunder is four Irishmen and a 14-year old Irish boy named Damian with the most incredible voices. As we listen, the joy that seeped into my heart earlier spreads out and leaves me renewed. Life is full once again.

These gifts from God abound--free for the taking. Oh, give me better vision to see them and ears to recognize them! And a grateful heart to remember to thank God for them.

Sunday, September 07, 2008


My two older grandchildren are moving to Minnesota. Today I met my son and his children at a local park to enjoy one last day with them. Arielle and Liana adore Kelsey and Seth and they all had fun playing, but it was a sad day overall. The impending move comes as a shock. What will this mean to our family? These kids have been part of everything we do together. To not have them around is unthinkable. Two boys not talking and now my grandkids gone. I'd like to skip holidays this year.

We so often take for granted what we think will continue on forever. Kelsey and Seth bounce into our house at every visit and run off to play with my girls. Kelsey is three years older than Arielle and the two of them have long, serious conversations. Seth, our little whirlwind, is three years older than Liana and from the time Liana was little, the two of them were drawn together. Seth has always been her playmate and protector. A little boy who was rough and wild with others was tender towards my baby.

I wanted to give Kelsey and Seth something to take with them and couldn't come up with a good idea. Then last night I decided to make pillows to take on their long car ride. I found some colorful fabric--one, given to us by Great-Grandma, is a riot of colorful cats and the other is orange and white koi swimming in a black sea. The cats for Kelsey and the fish for Seth. The kids seemed pleased with the pillows. Seth hugged his to his chest and said, "This is like a Christmas present." I said no, it wasn't his Christmas present, it was a "going to Minnesota present." He said, "Well, it could be my birthday present." In April? No, I assured him it was not a birthday present. I said, "It's because I love you." He then gave me on of his famous hugs. I always tell him he gives the best hugs. They are actually more like a Heimlich maneuver!

I'd like to think this move might be good for the kids--growing up in the Midwest, a better school for Seth, wide open spaces. But oh, we are going to miss them so much. What joy these kids have brought me! What regrets I have. I haven't been a good grandmother. I was closer to them when they were younger. But then I got busy with my own two daughters. Later on, Kelsey and Seth's parents separated and the kids moved to the city and I didn't see them often. Lost years.

Their loss is greater than mine. They are moving without their father or baby sister. I could hardly bear to take this picture of Kelsey saying good-bye to Laci.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Family trouble

There isn't much that grieves a mother's heart more than to have her children make poor choices or that her children are fighting with each other. I had both this week and the two are related. One of my sons is living a lifestyle unacceptable to another one of my sons, and this son confronted him on it. Now they want nothing to do with each other. Then the worst of it--I am pressured to take sides. I cannot, of course.

A friend of mine told me this happened in her own family among her siblings. A battle raged for years and years with two sisters who would not speak to each other. This caused her parents deep sadness and affected the whole family. Imagine family holidays--the walking on eggshells, the carefully chosen words each member must use. What if the family can no longer even get together as a whole? It isn't fair to the rest of us who just want peace and harmony. I dread the next few months--birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas.

I used to tell people that my four brothers and my younger sister and I always got along so well. Is it because we live in different states? Is that what it takes for families to be at peace? No one teaches you how to parent grown children. What do you do when one child calls you with bitter complaints about another? Little children argue, my girls often do, but those quarrels soon sputter out. I can see this fight with my boys simmering just below the surface, ready to bubble up and boil over at any moment. Unless someone can say, "I'm sorry," and someone can say, "I forgive you," (and mean it). We'll see. It's not something I can do for them.

Monday, August 18, 2008


We begin school in 3 days. How did summer fly by so quickly? Arielle reminded me we never even had ice cream on the deck this year! (A special summer treat.) When I realized this, we hurried to do so that night after dinner. Liana was immediately attacked by mosquitoes, so we came back in the house.

We've had a lot of rain this summer, plus Fred put down some kind of black sheeting in the garden that kept the moisture in. The result has been beautiful, lush, green plant growth and an abundant harvest of vegetables. Fred was successful in keeping out the deer by adding height to the fence, but the squirrels found the corn. All year Fred feeds them dry corn at a feeder on a tree in the backyard. But the greedy little creatures decided they would steal fresh corn instead. We had to pick it all before the whole crop was ruined.

Gathering the corn every year means Tommy's Soup! My mom passed down the recipe from one of her Cherokee friends and it has become a favorite. The primary ingredients are fresh tomatoes and just-picked sweet corn--lots of each. Every year I make at least one batch to put away in the freezer. It is heated up on a cold winter night and we dream of our summer garden.

So I started peeling the tomatoes and chopping them up in a big pot. I scraped the corn and tossed it in too with lots of onions and peppers. Oops, forgot the carrots. I turned the soup to low and darted out to the garden to dig some up. The sky had suddenly turned black and flashes of lightening zigzagged in the west. Fred yelled at me not to go out but then he helped me free the bright orange carrots from the rich earth. We ran inside as the storm grew closer.

The windows were all open in the kitchen and as the wind picked up, the chimes on the deck sounded their alarm. The electric scent of rain mingled with the rich boiling fragrance of the soup. My girls watched the lightening from the window in mock fear, squealing with each clap of thunder. All the heaviness in my heart from the past few months was pushed out by the crisp breeze blowing through the kitchen and the pounding rain on the deck. The storm ravaged the yard, tearing branches from the trees, but we were safe in our cozy house, protected and feeling abundantly blessed.

God gives a promise in Revelation 21:4 of a coming time. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." It's not a promise for now, we know that. There is plenty of suffering in this world. But a day like today in my kitchen is an exception to the norm. It is a foreshadow of things to come, a glimpse of the new earth where peace and contentment will reign and no one is sad. Today is a gift and a peek into a future time.

"Yet God has not left himself without testimony: he has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." Acts 14:17. The storms will come, but one day it will all pass away. Never forget the promise.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Thoughts of China

The morning news announced the date--it's August 4th! I met my precious daughter Arielle ten years ago today. How can I show her how thankful we are that she is part of our family? Here she is with my new granddaughter, Laci Bo. Arielle just adores her, and it appears Laci feels the same.

My dad was an amateur rock collector and jeweler. On my tenth birthday he made me a necklace with my birthstone--an opal. It was an extraordinary, beautiful blue opal. I was thinking of that when I decided to give Arielle the topaz necklace that Fred gave me several years ago. Topaz is her birthstone. I told her this was a very special anniversary for her--ten years in America and ten years my daughter.

We decided to surprise Arielle with lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. Our favorite place was closed, so we went to one not so familiar to us. The owner, after watching her go back and forth to the buffet several times, asked if she was Chinese. Then he asked if she spoke Mandarin, but unfortunately, no. He seemed to understand, motioning that she must have come here as a little girl. Then he smiled and told Arielle she was beautiful. We sat back down and in a few minutes he came to our table with gifts for the girls--little red Chinese ornaments. Arielle and Liana were delighted.

As we ate lunch I thought of another restaurant so long ago. On August 4, 1998 I was dining with my mother and several other American families at a hotel in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province. It was our first day in China. We were excited and chatted nervously, wondering when we might meet our babies. Then we heard someone say, "The babies are here!" We were told to go to our rooms and we immediately left the tables and ran for the elevators. One woman cried in the elevator at the thought she would soon become a mother for the first time. Too full of emotion to wait quietly in our hotel rooms, we congregated in the hall of the 17th floor and soon a parade of women came, each carrying a baby. A boy of about 10 or 11 was hoisting my Arielle on his hip. Our facilitator called our names and then my baby was in my arms. Joy unspeakable! I get teary-eyed every time I re-play that wonderful moment in my mind.
A little bit of China came to us last weekend. The director of the orphanage from Yangchun, Guangdong Province arrived in the U.S. for a visit. Yangchun families were invited to come to a picnic to meet her before she and her boss headed on to Oregon for a huge reunion. Liana is a Yangchun girl, so we decided this was a once in a lifetime chance for her to meet one of the caregivers who knew her so long ago.

We arrived in the middle of a nasty thunderstorm and Mrs. Yu and several other families were crowded under a covered porch watching the rain. Someone motioned for me to take Liana to meet her, even though I considered waiting until we went inside. It was so dark and dreary. I brought a picture of Liana, one Mrs. Yu herself had taken at the orphanage and given to me many years ago. I had taped the characters of Liana's Chinese name on the back to jog Mrs. Yu's memory. After all, she has seen many, many babies since then. We walked over and I set Liana before her. I handed Mrs. Yu the picture and she did not turn it over to read the name, but instantly exclaimed, "Yang Chun Cun!" How did she know? Then she embraced Liana and kissed her face. Just to know Liana was recognized meant a lot to me. She was a real person to Mrs. Yu, not just another little face in a sea of children. Hopefully Liana will realize this too someday when she is searching to answer the hard questions.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


It's been a month of sadness, overwhelming grief, injustice, and fear--not just for my family, but for dear friends and for people we hear of in the news. The weather matched the misery of the world by the continual cold rain here every day. Tears from heaven, I'd like to think.

Then Memorial Day weekend arrived and with it warmth and sunshine. Who could not have a glimpse of hope? Could renewal and peace descend once more? Our flooded, barren garden sprang to life, new shoots pushing through the mud. Fred and I stood on the deck and surveyed the lush, new-spring green of the lawn and towering trees. Soon the drought and sweltering heat of summer will wither and wilt, but for now it is a glorious display of new life. The girls forgot their quarrels of a month of being indoors and reveled in their release from the confines of the house. The had a picnic on the grass, careened down the slope of our yard on their bikes and gathered treasures winter left behind and spring brought-- bits of shells, wildflowers, interesting rocks and seed pods. New birds called in unusual tones and Liana ran to answer them with her bamboo flute. Arielle delighted in the colorful cardinals and blue jays that cavorted just out of reach of her outstretched arms. Baby rabbits froze in place, thinking we couldn't see them Then peace settled gently on my soul. The cloud of despair lifted. Shalom--the peace that only God can give.

Jesus said, "These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world." John 16:33.

Let's love people today, while we have them. "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his face upon you and give you SHALOM." Numbers 6:24-26. Jesus is our Shalom, the Prince of Peace.

Monday, April 28, 2008


We arrived at our local hospital at dawn. Fred was to get injections in his neck again. As we waited for him to go in for his procedure, I looked out the window across a courtyard to a row of windows on the other side. I thought of my sister and her last days in a hospital. Through each of those windows is a life, a person with family, a person fearful and in pain. What untold suffering is contained in this building where I stand? Lord, have mercy on your people.

I hate hospitals. I feel contaminated by illness just being here. The air is polluted with disease and despair. I tell the girls not to touch anything and I want to take their young healthy bodies and run out the door far from the decay I feel here. My sister, with her job in the lab, spent her whole adult life working in a hospital. Then she died in the same place. She didn't want that and had asked her husband not to take her to the hospital when the end was near, but in his fear he did what he thought best.

I worked in a hospital for several years in my former life as a nurse. I know the suffering and pain, the dying and death. As a young woman, it terrified me and I never got used to it. Big events happen in hospitals--people are made unconscious and their bodies cut and probed. Invisible rays are blasted into brains and lungs and bones. Babies enter the world, but not always into ideal circumstances. Fearful mothers, fathers, husbands and wives surround bedsides of those they love to comfort and to wait--for life or for healing or for death.

The girls and I are in Paneras again having breakfast while we wait for Fred. The early morning sun bursts boldly across our table. People with fresh faces order coffee and bagels and laugh and talk about their upcoming day. Death looms only a couple of blocks away. We all ignore it. We know our ultimate fate but turn our eyes away and live our lives--for me, with gratitude for each day we have the people we love with us, for each day we have good health. We can't dwell on death, but the black cloud hanging at the horizon reminds us to embrace the life God's given us, for each of the unknown number of days we have.

"If a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, but let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many. " Ecclesiastes 11:8.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Baby sister

I called my sister Easter Sunday, with hesitation but resolve. She has been tolerant of me these past few weeks, but I always feel she doesn't really want to talk and that I'm bothering her. Still, I persist. She is my sister and I promised her I would be here for her. A couple of weeks ago she expressed a great deal of anger about our past. She's suffered so much. I can't just give up on her, so I called once again. Maybe her husband would answer the phone and I would find out how she was doing that way. Maybe I could convince him to let me come down and take care of her. Instead, she answered.

She was making jello for Easter dinner. Sitting down on the couch. She can't get around much anymore. Amazingly, she was cheerful and glad I called. This time we didn't talk of serious issues, just our families, our plans for the day. Her husband and son were out buying a new toilet seat. We laughed about that. We laughed about many things that afternoon. My sister has a great sense of humor and even in her illness her laugh was honest and uninhibited. We talked about an hour and my guests started arriving for dinner. I left them to Fred, not wanting to hang up. She didn't want to stop talking either but finally I realized I'd forgotten to put my ham in the oven and said I had to go. I told her I loved her and hoped she had a nice dinner with her family. It was our last conversation. I thank God for giving me that gift.

My dear, precious baby sister left this earth last night. Even though I haven't seen her for years, I have a gaping hole in my heart. I found her again at Christmas, only to lose her forever. She was the keeper of our memories. She told me she remembers everything and we talked of so many things these last couple of months. But she'll never again remind me of hilarious stories of our childhood. I'll never hear her laugh again.

My sister's isolated little family of three has become only two. Her 22-year-old son could hardly speak in his grief. Her husband I hardly know graciously let me into their private world. Between sobs of despair he gave me a detailed account of her last days and then shared funny anecdotes from their long marriage. Precious stories of the adult sister I never really understood until now.

I can't imagine how my mother can bear to lose her child. I wish we were together so I could hold her and cry with her. I need my siblings now to process these emotions. But there will be no funeral. My sister requested that. It was her wish to keep us all at bay and not let us share in her pain. We did as she asked.

After the news of my sister's death, I went to check on my daughters before I went to bed. I kissed my little Liana and then knelt by her bed weeping. Baby sister. Liana is the baby sister of this big clan. She is so loved, cherished, doted upon. My own baby sister didn't have that kind of love. How might her life have been different? Instead she bore the brunt of an alcoholic father's rage. Through our past few conversations I realized how this overshadowed her entire life and stole her joy. She was surprised one time when I told her how much Fred adores his girls. She never knew a father's love. Neither did I, but I see it in my own husband and I see how my daughters bloom and flourish in it.

I hope that my sister now knows an even greater love and that she is in the arms of Jesus.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Killer owl

I woke the other night to an eerie sound that seemed to be right outside our bedroom window. It was the unmistakable hooting of an owl. No wonder there are so many myths and superstitions surrrounding owls. Their sounds are haunting.

We have a bamboo grove in our back yard and we have been plagued with thousands (no exaggeration) of birds that roost there every night. Our cars are splattered every evening as the birds fly back from wherever they go every morning. Fred has tried throwing rocks at them to discourage them from thinking our bamboo is a good nesting place. If that seems cruel, I have to clarify that the bird droppings are not just a nuisance but a health hazard. Our bamboo leaves are white, not green, anymore. Our windows and our deck are covered in filth. It has been a very bad situation.

Lately we've noticed huge piles of feathers near the bamboo. If our cat was still outdoors, we would think for sure that it was him hunting these birds. But he is crippled now and lives inside so the feathers have been a mystery. Until now.

I searched the internet first of all to try to figure out what kind of owl we have been hearing. One site has owl-calls and I confirmed we have a great horned owl. Then I read about their diet--they eat the usual--mice--but also rabbits and other small mammals, lizards, snakes, and even other birds! Chickens, ducks, and your common ordinary birds, like the ones that roost in bamboo. I think those bamboo birds are a little unhappy with the owl. We haven't seen them in a week or so.

Arielle heard all this and once when we got home after dark she refused to get out of the car. She was afraid the owl could swoop down and get her. We had to unlock the house and have the door open before she would run quickly inside. Our poor old cat would surely be prey, so it's good he isn't available as a food source anymore.

We went to the Audubon Bird Sanctuary at Mill Grove recently for their annual sugar mapling. Trees are tapped and sap is boiled in big black cauldrons. Fred has actually tapped our trees this year and he was giving some advice to one of the volunteers. It was freezing outside so we went into the museum to warm up. A display had been set up for the kids--a model of a red-tailed hawk and a great horned owl along with paper and colored pencils so they kids could try their hand at drawing like John James Audubon. Liana took the challenge and spent a good amount of time drawing "our" owl. Arielle looked at it reluctantly. "I don't like it," she said finally. Why not, I asked, it's just a beautiful creature God made. "I don't like the claws," she responded. (See picture above.) It is a source of nightmares for her.

Last night my granddaughter Lana spent the night. With the time change, she had a terrible time getting to sleep. Finally she drifted off. A few minutes later she woke up and I heard her calling to me. "Grandma, what's that hoo-hoo-hoo sound?" I assured her it was our friendly, nice, pretty owl coming to visit. "I don't like owls," she said. I elaborated on what a special privilege it was for her to hear our sweet, peace-loving owl. At midnight a four-year old doesn't need the whole truth about owls.

Flags of the nations

For one week every year our church has a missons week where we focus on the world outside our own community. Missionaries come back to visit and speak to different groups within the church. There is a three-night event for the kids with crafts and games and immersion into another culture. This year the girls learned about the food, language and customs of Brazil and even came home speaking some Portugese. Every year there is also a fundraiser for one of our missionary families. This time our church donated a total of $50,000 to supply a medical clinic in the Congo where we have two doctors working with a very few supplies and medicine.

The kick-off for this special week is on Sunday morning when we have a "parade of nations." Dozens of adults and children march into the sanctuary carrying huge flags accompanied by the song "Lift High the Cross." Arielle especially has always enjoyed this and from the time she was little she wanted to carry the China flag. This year, to her joy, she was selected to be a flag-bearer.

Arielle did not want to wear her beautiful red Chinese dress (although others often wear native costumes). She tried on several outfits before choosing one that was acceptable. She was very excited Sunday morning. When we arrived at church the flag-bearers gathered in back ready to make their grand entrance. That's where I snapped a picture. The music began and each carried his or her flag to the front and turned to face the congregation. By strategic planning we were nearly directly in front of Arielle. The red flag of China held proudly, she smiled that beautiful smile and her eyes glowed. Her dream has been fulfilled! Maybe someday she will lift high the cross and carry the gospel to her ancestors on the other side of the world.

Monday, February 18, 2008


I haven't been writing. I am uninspired and far from creative. I've reached the point of being totally overwhelmed, physically and emotionally. Besides homeschool taking almost as much time as a full time job, I am spending every "free" moment on my part-time job. Arielle started back to 4-H and while she is sewing for 3 hours on Saturday, I have been taking work to do. I'm glad to have that quiet time and I am not complaining! Thank God for this job! Thank God for my girls who keep me so busy! I'm just explaining my lack of attention to this blog, since some of you mentioned it.

My sister is not doing well. We had another nice, long conversation during the ice storm here last week. But her voice was so soft and fading. When I asked her about it, she reminded me, "I'm not ever getting better, you know." I've found my beloved sister again, only to possibly lose her for good. Why did I wait so long? I know why--I was waiting for a sign from her that she wanted a relationship. Sometimes we need to just take the plunge and be persistent in healing the past, even if we meet a little resistance. She is not resisting now. She is being open and honest with me. I realized she is the one person in this world who REALLY knows me. So there has to be total honesty on my part too. She knows me to the core of my being. She is very intuitive when it comes to the past and has helped me to understand and face up to some painful truths.

On a lighter note, I wanted to fill you in on the Russian kids. The 16 year old is returning home tomorrow with her family! My friend Connie is picking them all up from JFK. Another family from church left last week to bring home their son. He is in Diana's orphanage. I went back and forth over whether to try to make some contact with Diana--like send a letter, photos, gifts. Would it be more hurtful to her to be reminded of a family who couldn't take her? She didn't understand why Arielle and Liana got to stay here. Would she be confused and think maybe I was coming for her when she saw the other family taking their son? The family left for Russia without us sending anything with them.

Just this morning Liana said to me that she dreamed that Diana had sent her a letter. Liana said it was the first time she ever cried in a dream. I said, "Why were you crying?" She said, "From joy, of course." Then I knew I should have sent a letter.

I took to heart a lesson from our pastor yesterday. He reminded us we often put aside what is really important when we multi-task and try to do too much. Like our relationships with our family and with our God.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


God gave us a special gift this year--a glimpse of Mars--readily visible to the naked eye on Christmas Eve. All the kids were here and we took a break from our feasting and board games to go outside and look for it. It wasn't hard to find! It was big, red and amazing, especially with the full moon following it across the wintry sky all evening. The heavens truly declare the glory of God! No, that's not it in the picture, just the moon. But Mars was there alongside it.

Arielle wrote a paragraph for school on "The Best Part of Christmas." She said the most fun activity was rolling out, cutting, and decorating our sugar cookies. But she said the very best thing was having all her brothers and sisters together. She didn't even mention gifts.

We had plenty of joy this year, but also sorrow. I called my sister Christmas night and found out out she is very ill and possibly won't be on this earth very long. She was my very best friend when I was a child and often my only friend because we moved so often. I can't imagine my childhood without her. I would have been desperately lonely. She endured my bossing her around and she is one of the gentlest, kindest people I have ever known. My sister and I created our own world of fantasy to escape the real world and we played endlessly, caught up in the stories we invented for our dolls and toy animals. She told me the other night that one of her best memories was washing all our doll clothes outside in the yard and hanging them up on string with tiny, plastic clothespins. I remember that same yard and her climbing to the top of the eucalyptus tree. We talked about our summers at Grandma's house in California and the joy and peace we found there.
When I think back, I have strange, disjointed images, like waking her up in the middle of the night to tell her I saw a werewolf standing under the red hall light or that I was sure rattlesnakes were under our beds. I must have scared her half to death. We took swimming lessons together and walked to church together in the quiet little mining town in Arizona. I think of hours and hours of Monopoly with her and my brothers as they got old enough to play. I remember standing with her at our remote bus stop in knee-deep snow after we moved to Missouri. Despite the bitter cold, the school forbid the wearing of pants and we were required to wear dresses. My rebellious mother had us put pants on under our dresses.
To my great regret my sister and I parted ways as we grew to be teenagers and then adults. We lived in different states and now we can't make up those lost years. For her own reasons, she has withdrawn from the family and the rest of us have let her go. It's too late now and she doesn't want to see any of the family again.

Christmas night, before I called my sister, two of my boys had exchanged harsh words with each other. I hung up the phone and my first thought was to shake them up and tell them time is too short! We cannot fight and drive wedges between each other and go our separate ways. Only God knows the number of our days.

The Sunday after Christmas our music director's words hit me directly. He said, "Unilaterally, Christ initiated reconciliation with us." Unilaterally. Jesus didn't wait for us to make the first move. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8. "We implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God." II Corinthians 5:20. Having done that, Jesus commands us, "...go and be reconciled to your brother." Matthew 5:24.
Don't let another day go by.