Life Preserver

I have some friends going through some challenging situations. I feel helpless.

And this came out —

The Life Preserver

IMG_7289I wish
I could throw you
A life preserver

I’m trained, you know,
In doing such things

Standing on the rope,
With my foot beside the knot,
Holding the coil of yellow polyethylene
In my left hand
While in my right
I hold the ring buoy


I know this isn’t a carnival game
“Ring the Drowning Person”

If I aim for your head
I may hit you

I throw past
And pull to

I call encouraging words:

“Grab on!”
“Hold tight!”
“I’ve got you!”

I know this works in water —
In pools
And ponds
And lakes.

I’ve practiced.

And been certified.

But the sea of life

I don’t know

What floats on heartache

My white
Bible verse
Isn’t meant
For throwing

It may smack you
In the head

It may hurt
Instead of help

While waves of hopelessness
And bitterness
And swell
Crashing into you

Filling your mouth
Your throat
Your lungs
With salty sadness
And surrender

So tired
Of fighting the fight

I have nothing to throw past
Nothing to pull to
Nothing to use for encouragement

Just trite words:
“Grab on!”
“Hold tight!”

I wish I had a ring buoy
For hard life events

All I can do
Is stand in my safety
And reach out
In prayer


On the first day of camp Opal [not her real name] walked in, looked around, and announced that she knew she should have brought her Kindle.

“That’s not really necessary,” I told her. “I have a lot of books here you can read, plus there are art supplies, journalling supplies, domino blocks, games, and puzzles.” She rolled her eyes.

At the end of the day she asked me if I did any other camps. “Yes,” I told her. “I run a camp called Red Sails to Capri.”

Red Sails to Capri sounded so boring,” she said rolling her eyes. “I mean, all you do is read one book for the whole week.”

For the record, in Red Sails to Capri we read through the book by Ann Weil in one week and did activities based on what we were reading. We built model sailboats and raced them in rain gutters, mined for Herkimer diamonds, journeyed into Secret Caverns, and visited the Fenimore Art Museum. The camp has filled up quickly both years that I ran it.  I didn’t argue with Opal though. She had already made up her mind about it and besides, it was a moot point. Red Sails was past.

Her mother was 20 minutes late picking her up. “Traffic was awful,” she said as she rushed in.

The second morning, Opal walked in holding Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke. “This book is 544 pages long,” she told me. “When I finish it, it will be the longest book I have ever read.” Having said that, she flopped on the couch and stretched herself lengthwise on the cushions.

“You need to do a journal page first,” I said, pointing out the photographs I had printed from our outing the previous day. “Choose a photograph to put in your journal and write a few sentences about what we did.”

“Do I have to?” she asked, rolling her eyes.

“Yes,” I said.

Picking blueberries

Picking blueberries

She sidled up to me later when we were picking blueberries. “Do you know why I’m reading that book I showed you?”

I confessed that I didn’t.

“Joe Brill [not his real name] – he’s this kid in my class — he’s never read a book that long,” she confided. “When I finish it, I’ll have beaten him.”

I understood Opal better and pitied her. She wasn’t reading to be transported. She was reading to fill a hole.

Her mother was 20 minutes late again. As Opal frumped around our room, waiting, I suggested that she write about our day.

“I hate writing,” she announced. “Just because I like to read doesn’t mean I like to write.”

“Often people who love reading are good writers,” I told her.

“Not me,” she said.

“C’mon, get your stuff,” her mother said without even glancing at me. No hello. No good-bye. No sorry-I’m-late.

On Wednesday, Opal flopped on the couch with her book again. I prodded her to create a journal page.

“I started an even longer book,” she said. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It’s 896 pages long.”

“Do you like the Harry Potter books?” I asked.

“I’ve only seen the movies,” she replied and she pressed her lips together as if she were trying to stop talking so much.

“I’ve only read the books,” I told her. “They’re wonderful.”

“I already know what happens so I don’t need to read them,” she said. “This one is the longest one. 896 pages.”

Mother — 25 minutes late. “I can’t believe she doesn’t apologize,” Helen said after they left.

On Thursday, I asked Opal how Harry Potter was going.

“I only got to page 2. It was boring.”

“I don’t like picture books,” she told me every day as I pulled out the Caldecott award-winners I had chosen to read aloud. “There aren’t enough words.”

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” I told her, “and these have beautiful pictures in them.”

“I like real words,” she said.

Opal is just a little girl, 10 years old, but she is as abrasive and rude as a person who unapologetically keeps people waiting. Every day.

She loves to tattle. She loves to complain. The world is boring.

This morning I read a prayer by Charles Foucald —

O Lord, grant us faith
the faith that removes the mask from the world
and manifests God in all things;
the faith that enables everything to be seen in another light;
that shows us the greatness of God
and lets us see our own littleness;
that shows us Christ where our eyes see
only a poor person….

I stopped and reread those last words. Lord, I prayed, could You show me Christ where I see only an impoverished child?

Because Opal is as impoverished a child as I have ever met.

My 20+ hours with Opal this week will be only a drop in the ocean of her life. She won’t remember them. They won’t change her.

But they can change me. Inside, where I bristle at the rudeness and fail to see it in any other light.

Lord, help me to see Christ in Opal.

Taking a Stand

A few months ago I read Elie Wiesel’s book, The Town Beyond the Wall. In it, a young Holocaust survivor named Michael goes back to his home to confront “the face in the window,” a man who stood by while the Jews were rounded up, sent to concentration camps, and murdered.

I’ve often wondered what I would do in that circumstance. Would I have the courage to speak out and take a stand, to risk myself to save just one innocent?

This past week I’ve been nauseated by the now-familiar video of the physician describing, between sips of wine and bites of salad, how she places the forceps with the help of ultrasound so that she crushes the skull and not chest of the fetus so as to harvest the heart.

I don’t care if the procedure is legal.

I don’t care if the recording was obtained illegally.

I don’t care if the money exchanged does not constitute a profit for anyone.

I don’t care if the mother signed a consent for this harvesting of body parts.

I don’t care if use of fetal tissue has “produced some groundbreaking scientific discoveries” or that it dates back to 1930. (The Tuskegee Syphilis  Experiment began in 1932 and we learned a lot from that, right?)

I don’t even care if you are pro-choice or pro-life.

We are a hair’s breadth away from Josef Mengele, from Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal, or from Soylent Green. In fact, I wonder if Dr. Nucatola is as delighted as Mengele was to discover twins. Twice the hearts, you know.

“Surely, some might say, Mengele, for all of this, must have realized he was committing awful crimes. But the capacity of humans to self-justify, to self-deceive is enormous.”

Gerald Astor, The Last Nazi: The Life and Times of Dr. Joseph Mengele

What Planned Parenthood is doing may be legal, but in a country that just legalized gay marriage because no one should be marginalized, and where we fight for civil rights and speak out against injustices done to people of color, how can we sit by and allow unborn babies to be dismembered in utero like the butchery of a hog or a lamb after slaughter? How can we have no-kill animal shelters and organizations like Planned Parenthood supported by the same people?

We have moved far from “safe, legal, and rare,” and “cases of rape, incest, and medical necessity.” We are talking about healthy human hearts that are beating one minute and being harvested the next.

Thirty-five years ago Phil Keaggy sang, “Who will speak up for the little ones?”

I refuse to be a face in the window.

I’m standing up and saying this is morally wrong.

Three Questions — #3: Age 23

Anna Brown asked me three questions. This is the third.

#3 When you were 23, what was your biggest dream?

Me at 23

Me at 23

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but age 23 was my dark night of the soul.

I wore the mask well, hiding from everyone, even my husband, the deep struggles happening inside me.

My biggest dream at 23? I didn’t have one.

One day my husband came home from school and placed a folder of hope on the kitchen table. He was completing his last semester before becoming a radiation therapy technologist, now called a radiation therapist. His career was in high demand and the folder was full of fliers from hospitals seeking RTTs.

Bud had already placed at the top the announcements from hospitals in upstate New York. We had both grown up in upstate New York. Our families were in upstate New York. It made sense that we should settle there.

But I dug through that folder looking for far-away places. Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wyoming. I pulled out the farthest I could find.

“Let’s go here,” I said, pushing the Wyoming flyer across the table to him.

He glanced at it, and then did a double-take. He looked at me questioningly from across the table.

“It’ll be fun,” I said, my smiling mask at its finest. “Nobody will know us. When we meet people we won’t be Bud. And. Sally.  We’ll be BudandSally.”

He smiled. I married a great guy.

We applied to five far-away places — some in those “I” states, and the one in Wyoming. He took the job in Wyoming.

One day at the end of May, we loaded up a Ryder rental truck with all our earthly belongings and started out west.

The trip itself is fodder for a book.

We got separated in Chicago — I was driving our VW bug and he was driving the truck. One of us missed the exit. Miraculously we found each other on the other side of Chicago.

We sold our Volkswagen in one of those “I” states for $200. I thought of the pioneers who left behind beloved items on the Oregon Trail, lightening the load for their westward journey in covered wagons. Our car had engine trouble, major engine trouble. I cried when we left it sitting forlornly in the mechanic’s parking lot.

A tumbleweed blew across the road as we entered Wyoming, and I cried again. The world should have been green and lush, but Wyoming was brown, brown, brown — just like my withered heart.

Our Honda Civic wagon

Our Honda Civic wagon

I cried when Bud started work, and I was left alone to unpack boxes and try to make a home in an apartment on the edge of the prairie.

We replaced our VW Bug with a Honda Civic wagon.

We found a church.

We found friends.

He passed his registry exam and became the second registered radiation therapy technologist in the whole state of Wyoming.

Wyoming sunset

Wyoming sunset

Every night, we took pictures of the sunset over the prairie, because each one was prettier than the one before.

I found a beauty in the barrenness of the brown Wyoming prairies, strewn with rocks, stretching farther than my eye could see.

I learned that even dry hard times have their own beauty.

The big sky of the west reminded me daily to look up.

My biggest dream at 23? You ask a hard question that I don’t think I can answer.

But I can tell you this: my greatest gift at 23 was Wyoming.

Three Questions — #2 Favourite Hymn

Anna Brown asked me three questions. This is the second.

#2 What is your favourite hymn, with specific favourite lines?

(Good golly, girl. Way too many “u”s.)

Two hymns immediately came to my mind when I read this.

First, “When Morning Gilds the Skies.”

I am, through and through, a sunrise person. I LOVE watching the sun make its entrance every day and rarely miss it.

sunrise 1-15-14

Beautiful sunrise

Epic sunrise

Epic sunrise

Backyard sunrise

Backyard sunrise

Sunrise on the way to a swim meet

Sunrise on the way to a swim meet


Texas sunrise

First verse:

When morning gilds the skies my heart awaking cries:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Alike at work and prayer, to Jesus I repair:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

Favorite verse:

Does sadness fill my mind? A solace here I find,
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Or fades my earthly bliss? My comfort still is this,
May Jesus Christ be praised

Other favorite verse:

Be this, while life is mine, my canticle divine:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Sing this eternal song through all the ages long:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

“When Morning Gilds the Skies” is just a good way to start each day, and I think of it when watching the sun rise.

My other favorite hymn is “Come Thou Fount.”

Verse 2 references an Ebenezer, which means “stone of help.” In 1 Samuel 7, Samuel set up a stone to commemorate a divine victory. An Ebenezer is, therefore, a reminder of a time when God helped through an impossible situation.

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
hither by thy help I’m come;

I don’t have a pile of stones anywhere — unless you count my Herkimer diamond rocks which I like because they sparkle — but I have markers in my mind of those times when God clearly intervened on my behalf. I return to them in times of trouble. I think it is important that we have Ebenezers.

I also love verse 3. All of it.

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

What’s your favorite hymn?


Several weeks ago I made a crazy trip to Boston.

Crazy because the original purpose of my trip evaporated, with a canceled and then rerouted flight home for Helen. Crazy because I got lost at least sixteen times. Crazy because I really don’t “do” cities, especially not alone.

But there I was, getting lost in and around Boston.

The things we do for love.

IMG_6823When I found out that Helen was flying into Boston at the same time some dear friends would be at Boston Children’s Hospital, I was actually excited about driving into the city. I had wanted to meet to Joy for longer than she had been alive, praying for her parents, Tom and Deb, through the ups and downs of the adoption process.

Joy was only a few weeks old when the doctors discovered that she had a serious heart problem.

She is now over 9 months old and has had her second heart surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Gungor recently released a new album called One Wild Life: Soul. The music haunts me.  One song, Light, tells the story of their daughter, born with Down Syndrome and some congenital heart problems associated with it.

…Your heart was broken
The words were spoken.
The tears came tumbling down.*

Her name, Lucy, means light and they have found her to be a precious gift. She has helped them to see.

And the blind gain sight
As we met our light
All the joy and fight —
The gift of light*

Michael and Lisa intertwine their voices singing

I can’t take my eyes off of you all my life
I can’t take my eyes off of you*

And I honestly don’t know if they are talking about taking their eyes off God — because He sustains them, or off Lucy — because she is cherished beyond words.

I only know that I couldn’t take my eyes off the little fighter, so aptly named Joy, that I got to visit at Boston Children’s Hospital, who also had a broken heart.

* from “Light” by Gungor on One Wild Life: Soul

Favorite Child

This post is in response to Jacob’s question, “Which child is your favorite?”

IMG_0113One day, five sons came to Jesus and told him this story:

A woman married a man she loved. In due time, she gave birth to a child, a son, and loved him dearly.

Then, in the course of time, she gave birth to a second son, and loved him dearly, too.

She gave birth to a third son and likewise loved him.

This process was repeated until she had five sons. Each time she gave birth, her heart overflowed with love for the child in her arms.

When she died and stood before God, He asked, “Which child was your favorite?”

The sons asked Jesus, “How will this woman answer?”

Jesus answered, “You understand neither a mother’s love nor God’s love. A mother’s love is not a pie cut into pieces where one person may receive a larger piece. Neither is it a ladder on which the rungs are labeled in order of how highly they are held in esteem. A mother’s love is, instead, a waterfall, pouring over all her children. In fact, a mother’s love is so overflowingly abundant that she can invite others to stand in its cascade and enjoy its refreshment.”

The sons listened in silence.

“And I tell you this,” Jesus continued, “that just as the mightiest river can be dried to a trickle in times of great drought, so a mother’s love is not infinite. Only God’s love is everlasting and unending. To understand that, you must not consider the waterfall, but rather the ocean. It stretches farther than the eye can see and plumbs deeper than any rope can measure. It is both powerful and peaceful. It gives life and it takes life away. In fact, it cannot be comprehended. We can only stand in awe of it.”

The sons left pondering Jesus’ words.  A great cloud of dust followed them.