Frio River

F is for Frio — as in the Frio River.

Every time I think about Laity Lodge and the Frio River, these words scroll across my mind – A river runs through it.

Because a river runs through the canyon and is such an integral part of the Laity experience.

We drive through the river to get to the lodge.

Driving in the Frio River. (photograph by Kristen Kopp)

Driving in the Frio River. (photograph by Kristen Kopp)

We can sit on the balcony to look at the river and listen to river.

Frio River from the balcony

Frio River from the balcony

Our view from the bluff looked down on the river and we could see how it wound its way through.

A river runs through it.

Years ago, I happened to catch the movie, A River Runs Through It, when it was shown on television. It is rare when I sit down to watch a whole movie unplanned, but something about it drew me. Something about it lingers, still today, in my heart.

Perhaps it was the mention of grace.

Perhaps it was the art, the stunning beauty of Montana.

Perhaps it was the human drama of a family and brothers and self-destructive behaviors and grace again.

Rivers run through our lives. They draw us together. We can stand in their waters side-by-side.  We can feel their coolness and refreshment. We are washed clean in them.

Yes, it’s all grace.

Shall we gather at the river?



“Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.”

A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

Empire Swimming (and Easter)


Empire Swimming at LaGuardia

E is for Empire Swimming and Easter.

As a swim coach, I thought it funny that I ended up on my first flight to Laity Lodge with a swim team. I didn’t mind.  Swimmers are some of my favorite people in the whole world.

Especially when I get to overhear conversations like this —

Swimmer A: This is my first time flying. I hope I get a window seat.

Swimmer B:  You know you can’t open the window, right?

I laughed, wondering if Swimmer A thought he could open the window and stick his hand out to zoom through the oncoming air.

When the plane took off, I thought of him again, especially when I got that giddy feeling that makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time as the wheels leave the ground.

Flying is such a miracle.

Over a hundred people crammed into a metal tube, with their suitcases and laptops and books — but somehow that heavy thing climbs into the sky.

I really do grin like a 10-year-old and get the watery eyes of a senior citizen at the moment of transformation from earthbound to air-born.

It happened to me again yesterday.  Not the flying part, but the laughing/crying part.

Easter Sunday is, in my opinion, the most important Christian holiday. The crux of our faith lies in the truth that Jesus bore the penalty for our sins on the cross and then conquered death in His resurrection.

Churches around the world have traditions associated with Easter.  Over the years we’ve attended churches with sunrise services, cardboard testimonies, hymn sings, dramas, and traditional liturgies. Each new way of celebrating offers a fresh look at an old but oh-so-beautiful story.

The church we currently attend closes with Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and a joyful procession of the children.

Curmudgeonly me, I said to Bud yesterday morning before church, “I’m ready to move on to something besides caterpillars and butterflies.”

I’ll blame it on the persistent headache I’ve had for the past week, but, more likely, I’m just a grump.

Caterpillar down the center aisle

Caterpillar down the center aisle

When the procession started, though, and the caterpillar came waddling up the center aisle, I felt that wheels-leaving-the-runway giddiness.

And when the children threw off the caterpillar shroud to reveal the butterflies, I confess, my eyes got a little watery.

As the procession continued with waving flags and ever larger butterflies, I was thankful for the joy that filled our sanctuary.

Because, if there was one thing I needed to be reminded of yesterday, it was joy.

Confetti-filled, silly-stringed, laugh-out-loud joy.

The kind where it doesn’t matter whether or not the window opens, because you can still feel the wheels leave the tarmac, and know that it’s a miracle, and that you’re being carried somewhere beyond, somewhere amazing.

Easter is that kind of amazing, pressed down, shaken over, overflowing.

The biggest miracle of them all.

For me.


D is for Dawn.

This post is about four Dawns — no, make that five. But where to begin?

Dawn #1 — For years, I have prayed for a friend named Dawn.  I’ll call her Dawn-with-the-many-boys because this Dawn has four sons.  Raising sons is the most fun job in the whole world. Boys possess a certain crazy energy that plays out in ways that most mothers never dream of — swords fights and jousting, damming creeks, and putting batteries down the drain. I speak from experience. Mothers of boys need prayer. So I pray for Dawn. Every day.

Dawn #2 — Several months ago, when I was praying for Dawn-with-the-many-boys, I felt this nudge to pray for another Dawn. I’ll call her Dawn-of-the-mutual-friends.

I felt a nudge – Pray for Dawn-of-the-mutual-friends.

“But I don’t even know her,” I countered.

Pray for her.

So I did.

Then she climbed into my car at the San Antonio airport. Unplanned. Yet, I wonder if it was. As her story unfolded to me, I realized how much she did need prayer. I felt both privileged and thankful that I could pray for her, and now in a more meaningful way.

Dawn #3 — For Lenten reading, I had chosen Elie Wiesel’s trilogy, Night, Dawn, and Day. High-schoolers across the country read Night, the story of Wiesel’s time in German concentration camps. Buchenwald, and Wiesel, are liberated at the end of Night.

But the story wasn’t over.

Dawn tells the story of a concentration camp survivor recruited by a Zionist group to fight in Palestine. Elisha, the main character, is called on to kill a man — an act that will forever change him.

“Elisha–” said the hostage.

I fired. When he pronounced my name he was already dead; the bullet had gone through his heart. A dead man, whose lips were still warm, had pronounced my name: Elisha.

I kept putting that scene next to this, from Night:

…The officer wielded his club and dealt him a violent blow to the head.

I didn’t move. I was afraid, my body was afraid of another blow, this time to my head.

My father groaned once more, I heard:


… His last word had been my name.  He had called out to me and I had not answered.

And next to this, where a life is laid down, not taken:

“Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)

I read Dawn a second time during my flights. I’m still wrestling with it.

Dawn #4 — I watched the sun rise every morning from a lonely place near Laity Lodge. In the daytime, I had bemoaned the telephone poles and wires stretching across this view. When I came home and looked at my photographs, though, I saw a cross, an empty cross, on a hill.

Laity Lodge dawn

Laity Lodge dawn

Dawn #5

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb… (Luke 24:1)

An empty tomb, an empty cross, a hard story that isn’t over yet, women who are dear to me.

Dawn, Dawn, and Dawn at dawn.





Before the concert

Before the concert

C is for concert.

Music weaves its way through the fabric of the days at Laity Lodge.

The sessions begin and end with song, usually old hymns for which the hymnbook may only be half-necessary.

Like the time we sang, “Shall We Gather at the River.”  I don’t really know all the verses to that one — just the chorus — so  I used the hymnal.  I got really confused, however, when the melody we sang didn’t match the music in front of me. It’s the plight of a music-reader to notice such things.

My favorite part of a concert is when the performer forgets their lyrics.  At that moment, something shifts from a performance to a sharing of imperfections, from an act on a stage to a friend who is willing to open up and reveal some deeper truth about themselves.

At the concert on the last night at Laity Lodge, the musicians sang their songs, forgot a few lyrics, and then gave us the privilege of hearing some new material.

“You mind if I share a new song?”

No, no, we didn’t mind at all when both Andrew Peterson and Andy Gullahorn asked that question. It was a pleasure to be their guinea pigs.

AP singing a new song

AP singing a new song

At times, the vulnerability made me want to look away.

How hard it must be to expose fears and struggles — from a stage. A few lines from one new AP song —

I tried to be brave and I hid in the dark.
I sat in that cave and I prayed for a spark
To burn up all the pain that remained in my heart,
But the rain kept falling down.

AP also sang a song dedicated to his wife asking if they would survive and I ached inside for them. At that moment, I wished my husband were beside me so I could slide my hand into his warmer, larger hand, and feel the squeeze of reassurance.

Beauty lives in the hard places — and we need to be reminded of that.

We do survive.

And even those who don’t can experience new life in other ways.

Easter is especially a time to be mindful of that.

Out of our greatest grief comes our greatest joy.

Thanks for the concert and the reminders.



On Ignoring Your Writing Instructor, or, Back to Family Council

Sure, I read the article (Frame of Reference by John McPhee) that my instructor, Jonathan Rogers, had shared.

Well, I kind of skimmed it, enough to get the gist, which was — don’t shortcut description by using a shared reference.

I even thought about that advice as I wrote my post, Family Council.

But everyone knows who Tevye is, I thought. Surely Fiddler on the Roof is iconic enough to reference.

…thought the mother who didn’t allow her children to watch that movie.

Yes, I was that mother.

Fiddler on the Roof was one of the first VHS movies we purchased. We popped the first cassette into the player and settled as a family to watch it. But when Tevye told his dream and the ghosts came flying out of the grave, Philip — he was maybe 6 or 7 at the time — was terrified and we turned it off.

Of course, I stayed up to put in the second cassette and watch the rest.  I cried when the Russians performed their “demonstration” after the wedding, and again when Chava chose to marry outside the faith and Tevye couldn’t reconcile that choice.  Watching Tevye’s fingers being pried from this tenuous thing we call “tradition” still gives me knots in my stomach.

Okay, so I didn’t watch all of Fiddler on the Roof with any of my children because I didn’t want to teach them words like “pogrom” when they were little and I never got back to it when they were teens.

So, the Tevye reference in Family Council was lost on Philip.

Today, let me be clearer. I was picturing the new owner of the nursing home to be a roundish, graying,  crusty-but-still-lovable, Tevye-ish person. Not dressed in the rough clothing of a milkman in a Russian village, but in business attire. I would have liked him to misquote the Good Book a few times, like Tevye.

Instead the new owner was a very young walking statistics book.  He knew industry standards, not Yiddish folktales. The fact that he wore a yarmulke, and thus wore his faith for all to see, gave me hope.

I had mis-anticipated him, but I hope that I haven’t misjudged him.

The bottom line for Tevye involved finding a balance between holding onto the traditions of his faith in a changing world and loving his family.

The new owner will also have to find a balance — between managing the statistics and industry standards in his head and caring for the people, real flesh-and-blood people, in the facility he has purchased.

At one point, Tevye says, “Love, it’s a new style.”

I’m hoping love and compassion are still in vogue.

Quick – 20 Things You Love

A friend posted this challenge: “Quick. Twenty things you love. (Not family, friends, or Jesus. We know that.)”
1. Going for a walk
2. My mother’s smile
3. Biscotti

4. A Military Tattoo — the kind with bagpipes, not ink on skin
5. Old stained glass windows
6. The smell of chlorine from a swimming pool
7. Days when I have nowhere to go
8. Bare trees of winter
9. Bare trees of winter with cardinals adding color
10. A good poem
11. A handmade quilt
12. Sunrise
13. Losing weight
14. A full tank of gas
15. Sleeping in my own bed when I’ve been away
16. Lilacs
17. Getting real mail
18. Warm feet
19. A free hour to spend in a used bookstore
20. A new song that catches my heart so I listen to it six times in a row.

Feeding the Dog

009Maggie, our happy black mutt, speaks up when her meal time arrives.

In fact, she can be downright annoying when it’s mealtime.

For that reason, I don’t generally feed her.  So she doesn’t annoy me. Usually.

I’m the first one down every morning and she barely acknowledges me because she knows I won’t feed her then. Her acknowledgment of my presence is that fact that she sneaks off the couch and onto her blanket as I come down the stairs — like I won’t notice that the couch is warm where a furry body has been sleeping.  The kids let her on the couch; I regularly kick her off. She knows.

When Bud arrives, however, it’s breakfast time for her.

She leaves her blanket when she hears him get up upstairs.

When he comes down, he gives me a morning hug and kiss.

Maggie woofs.

Sometimes, if we hug too long, she’ll start barking. How dare we delay her breakfast!

If Bud pours himself a bowl of cereal and sits down to eat it without feeding her, she starts nosing his arm, pushing him, reminding him. If he ignores her, she starts on me.

Nudge, nudge.  Push, push.  Feed me, feed me.

Aviary Photo_130706362186928766And, thus, Maggie always gets fed.

I once heard this tale about two dogs:

A Native American elder described his inner struggles in this manner: “Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog, all of the time.” When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied “The one I feed the most.”

(From “Experiencing the Soul: Before Birth, During Life, After Death,” by Eliot Rosen and Ellen Burstyn (1997))

Don’t we all have that mean dog inside us, woofing, nudging our elbow, demanding to be fed?

Every morning, I make a conscious decision not to feed that inner mean dog.

Some days he gets a bunch of food anyway. Rotten dog.

I just need to make sure I give my good dog more. Lots more.

The battle never ends.