Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Greatest Christmas Gift

I have not been out of my house for five days.

I had a twinge of guilt that I should go to church this morning. Since I usually work at church every Sunday morning, having an opportunity to worship elsewhere with no responsibilities really is very appealing. But that twinge quickly vanished, mercifully.

The Christmas Blizzard of '09 (I can hear it 100 years ago referred to as "ought nine") postponed our holiday plans with our family for a week. It was disappointing, but what a gift it turned out to be. All of a sudden, five days of unplanned time off stretched before me and it has been wonderful.

The past year has been non-stop. Two part-time jobs, my enrollment this fall in a licensed lay ministry class, staying centered with my kids, and all the other things that happen in life have kept me going at a break-neck speed. I know what time and what day it is by which workplace I am in at the moment. Evenings spent working on religious studies after kids have gone to bed.

I spent the day in sweats yesterday. Between working on my presentation for my class in early January, I played three full football games on the XBox with John. It was my idea that he and I set up a playoff tournament. We're supposed to have played the championship today, but we've only played five games and there are 16 teams. I am pretty proud of myself that I am holding my own three games to two. Considering I frequently have to look down at my controller to know what button to push, I'm doing well. The controller is simply an extension of John's hand and he instinctively knows all the bells and whistles. I'm holding my head high.

Stretching out the holiday into the next week is wonderful. It's the way it is supposed to be. I would imagine that a poll of most Americans would show that they believe the 12 days of Christmas begin on December 12 rather than December 25. From now until the Wise Men come on January 6, it will still be Christmas. I'll probably take down the tree next weekend, but there's still more celebration to come....

And tomorrow, life will return to an abbreviated state of normal. The kids are still off school, so I am the only one I need to get out the door in the morning. I'm using some comp time at church, since the Sunday School is also on break, so that will continue the feeling of vacation. Then on Wednesday after lunch, we'll pack up as we had planned to do last week, and head for Grandpa and Grandma's for Christmas and New Year's. I know I will enjoy it more now that I've had a week of Sabbath time.

Slow down, pay attention, enjoy this changes by the moment.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Time for me

I took an hour this week as the sun began to set and went for a walk. The hour I spent alone just walking felt luxurious...

It was a cloudy afternoon. In fact, there was a bit of fog and as I walked along the edge of town, it was hard to tell where the snow ended and the sky began. The homes began to light up, warm and cozy. There was the scent of wood smoke in the air from a fireplace. Christmas lights outlined the architecture of houses, encircled trees, and twinkled. The Brits call them fairy lights, which I think is perfect.

As much as I love seeing holiday lights in the dark of an evening, I find that I enjoy them even more as the dusk is starting to settle in...that image that Marilynne Robinson writes about in "Gilead." The image of light within light.

Fog muffles sound almost as much as snowfall does. The only sound out there was the crunch of the snow under my boots. A quiet snowy late afternoon in December. Something so simple, but so profound.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I think we survived the Big Snow. There's a ridiculous amount of snow out there, more in one snow event than I have ever seen, something like 14 1/2 inches of snow. Totally ridiculous.

I could not get out of my house yesterday until the neighbor boy came with a shovel to clear the snow drift away from the screen door that sweeps out. Avery is my hero.

Without a snowblower, there was no hope of getting my 4-wheel drive vehicle out of my driveway. I could hardly get to the vehicle itself, let alone drive it out. So, I decided to walk. It's not that far. Like Sarah Palin, "You can see GRMC from my house."

I am embarrassed to admit that I don't walk more often. And I ate my humble pie with a wind chill of -25 at 7:30 this morning.

But it wasn't so bad at noon walking to my other job at the church downtown. In fact it was kind of nice...just made one bad judgment call walking too far down the block to realize that I should have turned around. The last lot on the block had not yet been out to clear their sidewalk. Like a lemming, I followed the tracks of the last ignoramus who also did not turn around, but rather slogged through snow past my knees. I'm sure it was hilarious to watch me make my way to the street.

Walking to the hospital and walking downtown are quick trips. It almost took me more time to get the 16 items of clothing on than it does to actually make the trip. Walking at the end of the day from the church downtown to my house takes closer to 30 minutes. It was colder than it was at lunch and I walked into the wind this time.

But it was a good walk. It gave me time to myself to think. The longer I walked, the longer I realized that there are people who are in this kind of weather everyday. Some by choice, some for work, and some who have no choice. As I walked up my block, there were many blessings to count - my wonderful neighbor was blowing the snow off my driveway, my house would be warm inside, my family ready to share their day with me...and that I won't have to walk tomorrow. Unless, I choose to...

Monday, November 30, 2009

Where have the grown ups gone?

I don't normally get into politics in this blog...but E.J. Dionne's opinion piece today highlights the wonderful former U.S. Rep. Jim Leach (R-IA) and his call for political civility. Jim Leach is a moderate, and for most things, so am I. He's a Republican like they used to be when they actually were a Grand Old Party...

The shrill of the harpies on either extreme of the political spectrum would do well to take a lesson in civility from Rep. Leach... in my humble opinion....

(Okay, I admit. I am a politics wonk. In fact, I spent four years of blood, sweat, and tears, at the University of Iowa studying political science and psychology as my major... It's taken Jim Leach for me to write about politics in this blog.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Wow! What a Library!

If you are lucky enough to be in Grinnell, Iowa right now, stop what you are doing IMMEDIATELY and go directly to the new Drake Community Library. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

My kids and I walked in late Friday morning last week when the kiddos were off school for conferences.

Honestly, I nearly cried when I walked in. And I wasn't alone. I visited with a gentleman, a beloved retired Grinnell College faculty member, whose voice was trembling like mine. Space! Room! Sunlight! The children's department is probably three times the size of my house.

Everywhere you looked, there were people looking at books, children, TEENS, and adults. There are places to sit and read. I envisioned many winter Sunday afternoons spent there. Each member of my family doing their own thing.

In an era when we wonder if the electronic word is replacing the printed word, the Drake Community Library shows how wonderfully these two can co-exist.

"Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest." ~ Lady Bird Johnson.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"And When October Goes...."

I'm resurrecting an entry originally posted October 28, 2009. The sentiment is just as true today. October continues to be a time of transition for me. As of today, I am legally divorced and single. October focuses me on family, home, and life's journey. Good thing I love this month...

Johnny Mercer said it well, "I should be over it now, I know. It doesn't matter much how old I grow. I hate to see October go."

I think the colors this year have been more vivid than I have remembered in many years. Maybe I always think that, but there are just some unusually spectacular looking trees out there. And they've just started to go past their peak. It's such a short time to really enjoy them.

To indulge my melancholy a little more before I shut it off, it isn't lost on me that the year is quickly coming to an end. Once Halloween is through, it is a sprint to New Year's Day, or so it seems.

It's been an interesting week. I witnessed a wedding of two lovers in middle age. A love that has not aged in 20 years, but rather has deepened and strengthened. Wonderful, affirming, and worshipful.

I also learned that a good friend has cancer. Again.

Two very different events in the space of a few days.

It fits with my melancholy mood, my realization that the Octobers are coming a little faster each year. I am reminded this week that life is precious and precarious. What dreams do I need to let go? What dreams do I need to pursue? What new twists does life have in store? What do I need to do to continue to live my life intentionally and with purpose? What do I need to do for my children as they grow before my eyes?

What do I need to do before it's too late?

Okay, enough melancholy.

What I need to do is enjoy life, with all its twists and surprises, joys and sorrows, and all the wonderful, amazing people I know and love. And to let them know how much they mean to me.

What we really need to do before it's too late, is to fully live our lives.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Isn't this gorgeous?

No, it's not New England. It's Grinnell.

Those of us raised in the Congregational side of the UCC family are familiar with the quirky way our forebears commemorated our pilgrim ancestors. We grow up going to church camp at Pilgrim Heights. We sing from the Pilgrim Hymnal. We attend churches with "Plymouth" in the name. And, when we grow up, we retire to Mayflower Community.

This photo was taken today in the courtyard in the midst of Buckley, Beebe, Pearson, and Altemeier Halls. Stunning, isn't it?

And, as a 45 year old person, I find the Mayflower Community pretty darned neat. I'm not ready to go today, but someday, it may be home. Mayflower started in the 1950's as a ministry of the Iowa Conference of the United Church of Christ. The mission was to provide a home for retired clergy who spent their entire ministries in church-sponsored housing, (call it the Manse or the Parsonage) and upon retirement, had no equity in a home.

Today it is a community with a wide variety of housing options, from homes, to duplexes, patio homes, apartments, assisted living, memory support, and skilled care. It is a beautiful place.

The people are great -and do not let the grass grow beneath their feet. They are auditing classes at Grinnell College, or they are conducting a "bucket class" on astronomy and cosmology at Iowa Valley Community College. (these folks are re-inventing "adult education.") They are crafters, writers, poets, artists, gardeners, travelers, sages, and saints. They even have one of the nicest English-style pubs in the county.

I love the tag line in their radio ad. "Think you know about Mayflower? Think again."

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Picking up where we left off... more than 20 years ago

By a random assignment, four young women were brought together in a dormitory at the University of Iowa. Betsy and Kathy were two doors down, and Barbara and I were in 1214. Throughout the next four years, at least two of us lived together.

Life gets busy when we all go our separate ways at graduation. Barbara to California. Kathy to the Chicago area and I went to Omaha. Making our way into our adult lives takes a lot of time and energy. Despite best intentions, we drifted apart.

All of us are now married and well established in our careers and families. And through Facebook, of all things, we reconnected and planned a reunion for Homecoming Weekend. With Betsy settling in Iowa City to raise a family, it was perfect. I, for one, am secretly jealous of her still living in Iowa City.

How easy it was to be together! Twenty years just fell away and we simply picked up where we left off. I feel like I have three new best friends. We're not waiting another 20 years and in fact, we've already got next year's reunion set for October 1, UI Homecoming 2010.

Is there someone in your past who should be in your present? Find a way to reconnect. Life is short. Find a way to make it happen.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Another view on mind, body, spirit knitting

Jenn has a new blog to share, "Namaste & Knitting", bringing together her yoga practice with fiber art. Check her out!
Congrats, Jenn!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Still tied up

Just finished my first paper for my Center/Learn "History of Christianity" class. Feeling a little smug about it, as a matter of fact...
Early reviews are pretty strong.

"I think it is BEAUTIFUL!"
"Your style and insight are refreshing!"
"Brilliant...academic without being pretentious...deeply thinking, yet accessible."

A little feedback is good...
Okay,full disclosure... the reviews are from three very close friends. I'd like to believe they would not give it to me with both barrels if it was not good. I know they are wonderfully supportive of me and a little biased in my favor, no doubt. But I'll take it.

My paper is on Julian of Norwich and her frequent references to knitting as illustrations of concepts such as the Trinity, being knit together as a faith community, or in relationship with God. (see previous post.)

Knitting has been used in church art for centuries. A Google search of "knitting Madonnas" comes up with a variety of beautiful examples. Our friends at Lion Brand Yarn have a wide selection of e-cards with lovely art that feature knitting, often a child or woman knitting. They also have a knitting madonna, credited there as the oldest image of knitting we know of. Very cool.

Art, knitting, faith...

Even though I've finished with my paper on Julian of Norwich, I'm not finished with Julian. I've just started enjoying getting to know her, and many other Christian women considered mystics. Birgitta of Sweden, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila...

Wonder if those other women knit?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Julie & Julia" and "Laura & Julian"

I have been up to my elbows in yarn, using all free moments to knit scarves for the upcoming Mayflower Community Holiday Gift Boutique. Skeins of yarn from stashes all over Mayflower have made their way to my home. I've only made six. The Boutique is Saturday, October 3, in the Friendship Hall at the UCC.

For the same weekend I need to have finished "Christianity" by Roland Bainton, covering the period of church history from The Reformation to today... and my biography on Julian of Norwich, 14th Century English mystic who is largely credited as the first woman to write a book in the English language. Julian was an anchorite, which is sort of like a hermit, only she is "anchored" in the world, rather than separated from it.

Appropriate that I have chosen to study Julian. I've been to Norwich, England a couple of times and the next time I go, I have a new place to visit and enjoy. Also, Julian frequently used knitting as an illustration for intertwining souls, the Trinity, being knit together with God... no wonder I'm so intrigued by her.

What's the best use of my study break time? Try to do two things at once. I seriously thought about taking my knitting to the movies to see "Julie & Julia" with a group of women last week...but decided against it. I can knit at the movies. (I actually have needles with a tiny light in the tip, given to me by a friend. My kids use them mostly for wizard wands...)

Feeling motivated, in a small way, by "Julie & Julia," to start dreaming up my writing assignment about Julian... (Lots of Julia, Julian, Julie derivatives here...)

Julie Powell decides to write a blog and thinks that it would be interesting to make all 500+ recipes in Julia Child's, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in one year, and to share her journey in the blogosphere. The film goes back and forth between Julie and Julia at the time Julia is learning to cook and writing her first cookbook. Definitely worth seeing. A great love story, too.

I'm not suggesting that I start following Julian's anchorite lifestyle. I won't lock myself into a cell and spend my days praying, meditating, and writing an incredible book of Revelations. A book that outlines the 16 or so visions that Julian had at a time when she was deathly ill. She survived this incredible illness, even after being given the Last Rites, and at that time decided to become an anchorite.

Even Julie Powell found that something as wonderful as cooking amazing French food 365 days started to test her mettle. And, that sounds much more appealing than solitary confinement.

What I will do is to continue to read about Julian and tackle the Revelations, written in Middle English. Fortunately, I have a friend who can help me decipher the language if I get stuck!

I find that Julian's words are just as relevant today as they were nearly 700 years ago. She lived through the time when the plague ravished England. Life was beyond difficult. And still she believed these words, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing, shall be well." May it be so.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

And on the seventh day...

Our neighbors are really lovely people. They are retired and enjoy our children coming to visit, to play games, and a good reason to stock plenty of ice cream treats in the freezer. They are more conservative in their views. One Sunday, I mowed the backyard. Looked great and it was a great workout! The next week, my neighbor used his riding mower to cut the back yard on Saturday for me. My guess is that he did it on Saturday, so I wouldn't have to do it on Sunday. He gave me a greater gift than just getting the yard cut. He gave me my Sabbath back. A practice of mine that had fallen by the wayside a few years ago, but my neighbor reminded me through his act of kindness how wonderfully restorative keeping the Sabbath really is.

I realize it is a luxury for many. But for me now, Sunday mornings are workdays at church, and the rest of the day is spent taking a good nap, spending time with my family, reading, knitting, doing anything but work. I've been doing this for several weeks now and it is a great way of keeping a sense of balance in my life. I'm finding it to be just what my soul needs. Imagine that.

This afternoon, Emily and spent a couple of hours curled up sleeping together in the sun. How many more times will I get to do that with my child?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Long Day's Journey

Last week, I spent several days with my sister, her husband, and my niece in Minnesota. We do not see each other often, as they live in southeast England and we live in east central Iowa.

My 11-year-old niece has traveled back and forth from England to America numerous times in her life so far.

I wonder what our great-grandparents would think of the ease of international travel these days. In their time, crossing the Atlantic was often a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Thinking of our immigrant family members who said final goodbyes to their families in Sweden because the cost of the passage was so great.

Today, it is a long day's flight, depending on which direction we are traveling. The greatest inconvenience is going through security or customs. It is not the difficult trip by air as it was by ship back in the day. The world is much smaller than it was just 100 years ago and the ease of international travel allows for cousins to spend precious time together growing up.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Forty years

My dad tells me that he got me out of bed on July 20, 1969, to watch the live shot from the moon. I was just ten days from turning five. Today, 40 years later, it occurs to me that I'm one of those who witnessed it. However, I don't remember it.

I do remember seeing news coverage of Robert Kennedy's assassination the summer before. I do remember the nightly news starting with the words, "Today in Saigon..." I do remember seeing The Beatles sing "Hey, Jude" on The Ed Sullivan Show. Those are some of my earliest memories. Those, and Pastor Greunke's white rabbit fur tie he wore on special occasions, like my sister's baptism.

The photos of Apollo 11 still amaze me and when we know now that my son's hand-held video game had more oomph than the entire lunar module, it really is an unbelievable accomplishment that they made it there, and back, and lived to tell about it.

What's the next amazing thing we will accomplish?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Knit one, purl two, and breathe...

Breathe... there's a lot of power in this word and the reminder brought to us recently from Leo Babauta on his blog, Zen Habits, is one that I could benefit from reading daily.

My trusted advisor, Liturgy Geek, reminds me of the benefits of knitting during times that require our focused attention. I sat through a particularly interesting General Synod committee meeting last month with two other women, as we knit in the back of the room.

"I usually tell the speaker that I really am listening so they don't think I am ignoring them," said one of the Iowa women sitting with me.

"It allows my mind to focus on the subject if I can keep my hands busy," said the other knitter.

I developed an interest in knitting after spending Iowa Conference board meetings with a knitter-extraordinaire...she used skewers that looked a little larger than toothpicks to knit the cuff of a sleeve. Wow. Could I ever be that good?

After the knitter extraordinaire left the board, I picked up the knitter's place at the table. We were facing difficult times and meetings were very stressful. During a break at one of the board meetings, a older member of the board told me how it helped calm him during meetings. "My mother used to knit and it is very relaxing to me to watch you work the yarn and to listen to the click of the needles."

At General Synod, I think I ripped out the double-eyelet scarf pattern about nine times at until I realized that a more simple double moss stitch would actually work better than a more involved pattern... A more simple pattern allowed a rhythm to develop that was more satisfying and allowed me to breathe better. I'm a new follower to a blog, Holy Knit! who relates a similar story about knitting at General Synod meetings.

Knitting is often yoga for my hands...helping me to breathe into new places in many new ways.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

My Country Tis of Thee

Watching the PBS, "A Capitol Fourth" tonight, the Divine Miss Em quietly began singing, "My Country, Tis of Thee" along with the band on the television.

In her pink pjs, with a fudgesicle in hand, and said fudge around her mouth, the sweetest voice sang along. I guess I didn't realize she knew the song and it was lovely to hear.

Here she is at Yankee Doodle Pops on Thursday night in Des Moines. "Grandpa Scott" Stouffer sitting in front of her...

We're a bi-coastal family tonight. On this Independence Day, John, Dad, my mother and stepfather, are in England with Catherine and to celebrate Julie and Jim's wedding today. July 4 isn't the same in the UK as it is in the US, of course. It will be interesting to hear what John thought about a different kind of celebration today. No burgers, potato salad, watermelon, or sparklers.

But I'm sure there are fireworks of some kind - congratulations to Julia and Jim Elgar.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

30 Years On...

I'm noting an interesting anniversary this week.

June 1979 - I was 14 years old and found myself on a trip to General Synod of the United Church of Christ in Indianapolis. 1979 was the summer I "grew up." Just a few weeks before I left for Indianapolis for the General Synod, my parents announced their divorce and I was wondering how our family would move forward from that point. That trip was the first time I was any distance from my family for a week and that's a good and necessary experience for teenagers to have.

What I didn't realize is how much that trip would impact my life.

Growing up in rural Iowa in the late 70's, there were few, if any, persons of color in my hometown. I know there were gays and lesbians, but they certainly weren't out. At 14, I was introduced to the "heady and exasperating mix" known as the United Church of Christ at the national level. Even though the titles came later, we strive to be a multi-racial, multi-cultural, open and affirming, just-peace church. We believe that God is still speaking and that another world is possible. It was a wonderful way for this small-town girl to be introduced to the wider world beyond media stereotypes.

And now, 30 years later, I'm enjoying my eighth General Synod. This time as an associate delegate because of my role as the chair of the board of directors for the Iowa Conference. This church is a very large part of my life. So many of my most foundational relationships have come from my belonging to this church. these relationships qualify as "chosen" family.

God is good, all the time.....all the time, God is good.

Wow, You are my age.

I met Rev. Geoffrey Black tonight, the candidate for the President and General Minister of the United Church of Christ tonight. Maybe it's because I'm older. My boss is my age. My physician is younger than me. The First Lady, Michelle Obama, is my age. President Obama is only a few years older than me. And now, the next President and General Minister of the UCC, my church, is a contemporary.

I can relate to that. Very cool.

Friday, June 12, 2009

And the hate goes on...

About ten years ago, I had a pastor who shared the theory that humans were at the end of their "teenage" years. Makes sense when you think about the vast history of human evolution. The teen years are visceral, passionate, filled with hormonal emotion. Teens tend to be impulsive, to believe they are immortal and indestructable. They act first and then think. They say incredible things without any filter.

For thousands of years, the human race has been solving conflicts through war, hate-filled words, segregation (the cool kids sit at their own table at lunch) and the condemnation of anyone who doesn't fit in.

As adults we cringe when we hear how mean teenagers can be to each other. But, the examples we are setting are more serious and harmful. Here's a situation my close friend Arlene is dealing with. Anti-gay messages full of hate, targeted at others. The assassination of Dr. George Tiller. The 88 year old neo-Nazi who walked into the National Holocaust Museum and killed a guard at point-blank range. There is nothing noble in this. There is nothing that advances the human race through these hate-filled actions.

My hope is that this is the end. That enough people have evolved into young adulthood who begin to hold the rebellious, hell-raising teens accountable for their hate. My fear is that they will not "go quietly into that good night." The teens realize they are quickly being outnumbered and they are very, very afraid. My fear is that things are going to get much worse before they get better. It's up to us to hold the line and not let these domestic terrorists continue to push their hate-filled agenda and actions on anyone else.

It's up to us to bring our children into a new world, populated with young adults who are more idealistic in our world view. As the saying goes, "another world is possible."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

This Facebook Thing

I am rather in awe of this thing called Facebook. When I first started this journey last summer, I was amazed by people who had more than 100 friends. I don't know that many people, or so I thought...

From the first person who "friended" me, I was hooked. I found an old friend from church camp and then U of Iowa days whom I had not been in contact with in a million years. And, it snowballed from there. It's hard to explain to someone who hasn't jumped on the Facebook wagon, but I think it is unbelievable.

Last night, I found a college roommate whom I haven't been in touch with for more than 15 years. We're planning on getting together in Iowa City for homecoming this year and it is our motivation to get other college friends together.

I shrieked the night that a childhood friend who moved from Red Oak to Colorado when we were in junior high appeared as a friend. Nearly 30 years and wondered what had ever happened to her and her family.

Today, I list 173 "friends" from every world of my life. It is bizarre when a kindergarten classmate and my yoga teacher comment on the same status update..."when worlds collide" takes on an entirely differnt meaning.

I think I've got the hang of Facebook now. Time to figure out Twitter...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Rethinking Stereotypes

LiturgyGeek's post from prom 2009 is a "Spot of Good News."

Here's what I find interesting...and maybe there's a sociologist that can study this one and get back to me. My good friend LiturgyGeek grew up in California. I grew up in rural southwest Iowa. She's ten years younger than I am. She grew up with two moms. I didn't even know what being gay meant until I was 15 years old because our town was pretty insulated and it just wasn't obvious to me.

My stereotype of LiturgyGeek - California, New York, Berkeley... and what I know about her life experiences so far gives me a picture of a progressive, liberal woman who actively works for civil rights and social justice.

A stereotype of me is pretty much stalwart Midwesterner...Iowa, University of Iowa, Omaha, back to Iowa... never lived anywhere else, never really wanted to. But, I also see myself as a progressive, liberal woman doing what I can to support civil rights and social justice.

The difference is that we expect it from someone who has lived life on the coasts in urban areas...we don't expect it from someone who has lived squarely in the middle of corn, soybeans, and pigs.

Isn't it interesting that today in Iowa, same-sex couples can legally get married and in California, that window was open ever so briefly last year and is now (hopefully temporarily) closed.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Faithful Pilgrim Continues to Lead by Example

A small group of our middle schoolers met at our church this week with their moms. We had two fifth grade boys and one seventh grade boy take part in a Faith Stepping Stone for this age group on the Passover, Communion, and living a forgiven and forgiving lifestyle. It was a great class and a meaningful experience.

On Tuesday night, we closed the evening with prayer. We shared our concerns and in particular, we lifted up our 97-year-old member, Homer. He is near the end of his life, with family surrounding him, singing hymns to this wonderful retired pastor, veteran, and a servant of God. "A pilgrim leading the rest of us on the journey..." as one friend describes him. The pastor says she's just waiting for the phone to ring.

We all prayed for Homer, these three boys from age 9 to 13, and their moms. Within moments of closing the prayer, the phone rang. The air left the room. The pastor excused herself and the rest of us talked somewhat nervously among ourselves. When the pastor returned to the group, one of the boys said, "I know this is really not my business, but, was that about Homer?" No, another member of our church had surgery that afternoon and they were just reporting that things went well.

We then ended the evening with a celebration of Communion. The elements placed on a small table, we stood in a circle and the boys gave the Words of Institution as they remembered, with the adults filling in as needed.

It struck me how Homer would be so pleased to witness this Sacrament. These wonderful boys in that in-between place from boys to teenagers who were praying for him, concerned about him. These boys had never had such an intimate experience of Communion and I felt privileged to be a part of it.

I shared this story the next day with my friend Bob at lunch. Bob happens to be the administrator at Mayflower Community, where Homer lives. Bob is one of those people who tell me who I am in a way that I cannot walk away from. Bob told me that I needed to go and tell Homer the story. Yes, he's nonresponsive, but he just may hear you, and his family will want to know this story. "And Laura, this is not about you." He's right.

I felt led to Homer's room, to visit with his daughter in the hallway to ask if it was okay for me to visit with Homer. I shared the story with her and we both were overcome with tears. I wondered if I would be able to actually get the words out of my mouth when I was with him.

However, as I sat down by his bed, I felt a sense of calm and peace. I laid my hand on his arm and told him the story as if he were smiling that signature smile we will not forget. This man, this servant of God, continued to bless us all by his presence. I prayed with him, for him, and for the boys who lifted him up in prayer and concern.

When I had finished, the daughters were smiling through their tears and said that he was most interested in his ministry living on after him. I don't think that will be a problem.

One of the daughters remarked that I got through the story without choking up. I said, "I don't think it was me doing the talking."

Earlier that morning, I was feeling sorry for myself. I was frustrated and tired. There is so much heartache surrounding my close friends and families these days. But, that afternoon, I was blessed by a dying man, simply by his presence.

Rev. Homer Perry died later that night, March 26, 2009, at the age of 97. My son John offered this prayer when he learned the news, "God please welcome Homer and I hope he travels safely." Homer is home, just where he's been waiting to be.

Friday, March 20, 2009


"It's an outrage!"

Yeah, it is an outrage that companies who took bailout money from the Government gave a good chunk of it to the geniuses that ran the company into the ground. Where's their sense of morals and decency?!? The unmitigated gall!

Here's what I'm outraged about...there are thousands of people who have to choose daily between buying their medications or buying food. There are elderly couples who will cut their pills in half or share the medications to avoid the extra cost - doing neither of them any good. Might as well not spend the money on the prescription at all.

I'm outraged that we have some of the best healthcare in the world, and if you don't have health insurance, you can't get it. The need for safety net programs is rapidly rising at a time when community clinics are losing revenue. That's outrageous.

There are people in New Orleans, the Mississippi coast, Texas, who all these years later are still relying on church youth groups to rebuild after hurricanes. There are people in Iowa who are still dealing with the damage from last year's catastrophic flooding - homes, business, libraries, schools, universities.

Our government tortured people in our name, knowingly lead us into a war sending our loved ones into harm's way to settle a score, spied on innocent Americans, all in the name of patriotism. And we are silent. That's outrageous.

I suggest that if We, The People, had the same level of outrage for abuses of basic human rights as we seem to have over this bonus situation, we could really make a change in the world for the better. Yes, the bonuses are outrageous, but more outrageous than children and families in your Anytown, USA going to bed hungry every night?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The World's Wilderness Journey

Lent is such a struggle for me.

I'm so much more of an Advent person. I find such transformative power during Advent with its themes of joy, hope, peace, and love. The mystery, the light shining in the darkness, the music...

I was pregnant with our children during Advent and identify so strongly with Mary's journey because of it. Birthing hope, I get that. It is deeply affirming for me.

But Lent.... seems to be about my totally imperfect self, sin, and introspection, and giving things up, and guilt, and fasting, and discipline, and...ugh. I recognize that we have to slog through Lent, to experience the range of emotions that is Holy Week, in order to truly live out the glory of Easter.

No matter where you go these days, it is difficult to find a corner of one's life free from stress. Sure, a reasonable amount of stress is alright, but the constant barrage of gloom and doom on the news, at work, even in our houses of worship where budgets are having to be cut to size is more than a little depressing. It's like the entire world is wandering in the wilderness being taunted by the Devil. And perhaps, that's not a bad analogy of the past few years. The Mardi Gras-style spending and consumerism with hurricanes, parades, and beads, gave way almost overnight to fasting, introspection, and serving ramen noodles at dinner parties.

We know how Lent ends. We know that things got worse for Jesus before they got better. We know the Resurrection promise that transformed the world on Easter morning is coming. Maybe this year I'm finding more relevance in my Lenten experience because it is echoing what is happening in my life. I'm finding more comfort in my meditation and prayer because I know this time will pass, that things will get better, that we will find our way out of the wilderness and be better for it. The promise of Easter and all that it holds, gives me the hope to look forward to what God has in store.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Don't wait. The time will never be just right.

This quote from Napoleon Hill, sent to me by HeartMath, was a shocking wake up call to me this morning.

Ever have one of those days when someone says something to you that answers a question, calls you to action, or makes you rethink a decision you thought you had made?

This was one of those moments because it went along with a question I read earlier in the week:
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 - 10 years? Who are you with? Where do you live? What do you do?

I've seen this before many times, but not recently. Not when I stop to think about where I was in my life 10 years ago. I have another child now. I live in a completely different community. I have worked in five different job arrangements since then. I have met scores of new friends. I have reconnected with some dear old friends. I have had financial and relationship difficulties.

As I am ten days from our ten-year-old son turning 11, I am thunder-struck by the notion that in 10 years, our son will be an adult, 21, and likely in his third year of college. Our daughter will turn eight the week after her brother, and she will be an 18-year-old high school senior. Not that I didn't know this wasn't coming, but it feels like I'm the winning coach of the Big Game and my players have just dumped the cooler of Gatorade on my head!

The previous post talked about taking a risk and really focusing on what is important in your life. I have seven to ten years left of my children in my house. There's so much left to do. So, I'm not going to wait when it comes to them. I don't want to have another wake up call like this ten years from now and have regrets.

What are you waiting for? Are you waiting for the right person to come along? Are you waiting for the right job? Waiting to lose weight? Will you be happy when this happens? Why wait for happiness, satisfaction, or feeling like life is not passing you by? Remember, the time will never be just right. Start now.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Taking a Risk

In yesterday's post from "zen habits," guest blogger Jonathan Mead challenges us to have the courage to stop caring so much about things that really don't matter. He suggests that it's these little things that soak up our energy and obscures our path to living our dreams. Letting go of those things that really don't matter is worth the fear of uncertainty. Mead refers to it as taking a step without knowing what, if anything will be under our feet.

In my family, this kind of unhelpful caring about little unnecessary things is what we call worrying about potential problems, and we have made an art form out of it. "Well, what if this happens? Then what will we do?" That'll keep you stuck in the rut of fear. I know first-hand by personal experience and then watching others do exactly the same. Habits, even bad ones, are hard to break even if we know they are bad for us. The behavior is familiar, we know what happens, we are comfortable in the pattern. That's why change is so hard. When we make changes, we don't know what's going to happen next, and that level of uncertainty is scary enough to make us stay right where we are, thank you very much... for better or worse.

But before I begin to consider stepping out of my comfort zone, I have to answer the question, what are my dreams? What is my passion? What dreams am I risking my happiness for? Because that's exactly what's at risk. We think we are happy now, but if we were really living our dreams, wouldn't we be happier than we are right now?

A quote from author Leo Buscaglia encourages me to be a little risky, because I am risk-avoidant thinking that being the one everyone can always count on is my God-given role. Leo says, "If I kept both feet firmly planted on the ground at all times, I'd never get my pants on." Okay, I get it.

What is your passion? What are your dreams? What were you meant to do with your life?
What joy are you risking by living by your fears rather than your dreams?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Surprises of Life

"Into all our lives, in many simple, familiar ways, God infuses an element of joy from the surprises of life, which unexpectedly brighten our days." Samuel Longfellow

A week ago, our son John had appendicitis. It was an "atypical" presentation.

He had pain once.

Because the biggest thing that helps physicians diagnose appendicitis is pain, we went for a week believing he had a bout of stomach flu. In fact, it is usually unnecessary for patients to have a CT scan and blood work to diagnose appendicitis. With John, it was the only way to find out. He actually walked from the doctor's office to the hospital to the lab, up to radiology, and into the surgery department. Most people would be doubled over in pain and would be wheeled into surgery.

"John, on a scale of zero to ten, where zero is totally without pain and ten is the absolute worst pain you have ever had, where would you say your pain is right now?" the nurse asked him as he sat in pre-op.

"Oh, probably a two," replied John.

"Are you sure?"

"Okay, maybe two and a half."

What started out as a regular follow up visit to the doctor turned into a tour of hospital departments and a weekend at the hospital. A surprise of life.

And the joy that came from this surprise came in many ways. From my co-workers who heard the news spreading through the hospital that Friday afternoon. A bouquet of sunshine-colored flowers in his room when he arrived. Those who came and sat with us during his surgery or stopped in to give a hug. My great PR teammates who got a gift certificate from the hospital deli so I didn't have to think about an evening meal. To church members who cared for Emily, the PEO's who brought in meals, and John's friends who stopped by to bring a gift and a smile.

There were many elements of joy in a stressful time. A time that reminds you of the wide-reaching network of support that is there when needed. That's a time when you feel humbled, blessed, and grateful for the people in your life, and I certainly am.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A National Holiday?

Shouldn't Inauguration Day be a national holiday? Maybe it is and I just didn't get it in my work schedule. MSNBC asks me, "Where will you be when Barack Obama is sworn in as the nation's 44th President?" And I have to reply, "At work...with the rest of us who are still hanging on to our jobs."

I've never heard of house parties, open houses, and inauguration day brunches like I have this year. And I am going to miss all the fun! I'm still going to wear my spiffy Obama campaign button earrings that my pal gave me. Although, I don't think they will fly at my morning job. They will work for my afternoon job when I'm on God's payroll. (thanks Liturgy Geek for that reference!)

At Sunday School this week, we'll be celebrating the United Church of Christ's long heritage of social justice. Honoring the 80th anniversary of Rev. Dr. ML King and the historic inauguration of one of our own, Barack Obama. (We know that you had no other choice, Barack and Michelle. You are still UCC as far we're concerned.)

What are you doing to mark this amazing alignment of the stars? I feel like wearing red, white, and blue again, but will choose rainbow colors because it's got to be about more than just US right now. We have to finally take our place as citizens of the world.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Zen Habits and the Power of Less

A few months ago, I stumbled upon a blog, Zen Habits, written by Leo Babauta. Check it out if you have any interest in living better with less...less stuff, less stress, less anxiety about what lies ahead.

I like the way Leo writes and I like his philosophy on life. You might too.

The Frozen View

Wow. It is really cold. Well, for Iowa anyway. It's been a while since I've posted and I've just not been inspired to write a post. Maybe my inspiration is frozen or it has left me for a long overdue winter vacation to Fiji or Florida. I should be so lucky.

So far, my New Year's "intentions" are going well. I sacrificed a fitness class tonight for a haircut. I do have my priorities.

How are your New Year's resolutions/new habits/intentions coming along? Still on track?