V is for Vulture.

We’re getting to the end of this alphabet challenge and I’m starting to feel punchy. I thought about posting my picture taken at Laity Lodge of a turkey vulture and then accompanying it with vulture jokes.

But when I started looking up vulture jokes, they all sounded so familiar. It’s not that we sit around telling vulture jokes here, so I wondered if I had already written about them. Sure enough, yes, I had, in “Vultures (and a box full of Buechner).” If you’re interested in vulture jokes, you’ll have to go there.

I had forgotten that post because, at the time I wrote it, I was in a fog of grief regarding my brother’s death. There are a lot of things I don’t remember from that period.

But Frederick Buechner now occupies a significant chunk of shelf space and I like that.

The other day Andrew Peterson, my original inspiration for a vulture post this go-round, posted a picture of a t-shirt that said “Beek-ner“. The photo was captioned, “A gift from the Buechner Institute at King University. Educating non-Buechner fans one t-shirt at a time.”

Although, really, vultures have nothing to do with Andrew Peterson or Frederick Buechner.

I’m sure you’re scratching your head over this nonsense.

Welcome to my world — a jumble of thoughts and weird associations that I am forever picking through to try to make sense of things.

So back to vultures. And Laity Lodge.

I went on a hike there. We looked over a bluff. The view was spectacular.

IMG_6129And a turkey vulture seemed suspended over the canyon.

Like on a wild stringless mobile hanging over the world, moving on unseen currents, without ever seeming to have to use its broad extended wings.

Andrew Peterson’s song “Nothing to Say” is about a time when he is struck speechless by the beauty of Arizona.  He sings,

I see the eagles swim the canyon sea
Creation yawns in front of me
Oh, Lord, I never felt so small

Maybe he was watching turkey vultures.  They really are quite spectacular.

I see the vultures swim the canyon sea…

They just don’t sound as spectacular. In a song.

But they can be beautiful.


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.



The Batwhacker of Ban Rona

Well, Andrew Peterson has done it again.

I haven’t even finished the book, The Warden and the Wolf King, and I know I’ve gotten a treasure from it.

This long-awaited conclusion to the Wingfeather Saga showed up at our house last week. Mary had first dibs on it. She was nice enough to let me open the box, but the book quickly disappeared, as did my teenage bookworm.

She reappeared long enough for meals, bathroom breaks, and to snag the map of Aerwiar.IMG_3867[1]

Good thing she’s a fast reader. I started it on Saturday.

On Sunday, I set it down with a sigh. Not finished, just needing time to mull. And be thankful.

The Wingfeather Saga is a now-complete set of four books: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, North! Or Be Eaten, The Monster in the Hollows, and The Warden and the Wolf King. I’ve written about them before — An Open Letter to Andrew Peterson, Odds and Ends, The Liberty Press, and Birth Order are a few of the posts where I reference this book series. The books tell the adventures of the Igiby/Wingfeather children in the land of Aerwiar where they battle the evil Gnag the Nameless and the Fangs of Dang.

SCN_0017Tiny spoiler alert here: In book 4, Bat Fangs attack from the sky.  Fortunately, Leeli, the youngest Igiby, figures out that her whistleharp acts as a weapon against them, so she begins to play.

And play.

And play.

Leeli played for hours. She played in the center of that bladed, bellowing ring of Hollish protection and played every song she knew. Nia knelt beside her, one arm around her waist, speaking words of encouragement all the while. Leeli’s lips and fingers grew numb, and when her legs gave out after an hour, Nia eased her to the ground and yelled for water…

In Exodus 17, there is a story about the Israelites fighting Amalek. Moses watched from a hill.

Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side.

That’s the story that came to mind as I read about Leeli.

Whenever I’ve considered the Bible story, though, I’ve put myself in Moses’ position and wondered who will hold up my arms when I’m weary. Now I realize that I’m probably an Aaron or a Hur or a Nia.

A mother’s role is to hold up her children, their arms, their hands, their whole body. It is to whisper words of encouragement all the while. And sometimes, her job may be to ease them to the ground.

You see why I’m still mulling this.

Andrew Peterson, you’ve undone me again, with a reminder and a challenge.

And I haven’t even finished the book.

Ash Wednesday

It was an ominous way to begin Lent.

An early morning phone call let me know that my oldest brother, Stewart, had passed away from a heart attack.

And I stood in the kitchen, and I stared at the wall
And I prayed for some wisdom, so I could make a little sense of it all.
And I thought about the seasons, and how quickly they pass
Now there’s little to do but hope that the good ones will last…

Andrew Peterson, “Three Days Before Autumn”

I stood in the kitchen this morning, but I didn’t stare at the wall. I left the lights off and stood at the window, waiting for the sunrise.

Some sunrises are so spectacular with bursts of color lighting my horizon. I could have written, then, about how God spoke to me in the richness of the dawn, in the vast of array of pinks and golds and purples and oranges.

But He gave me an unassuming dawn, black to deep blue to gray. Gray. Non-descript.

I felt dull, like the sunrise.

My eyes filled with tears and I can’t even tell you why.

Stewart called me for my birthday, but I wasn’t home. He said he would call back, but he never did.

I had thought about it. I should call him, I thought, but I never picked up the phone.

And it’s easy enough to say, “He’s better off,
Chalk it up to the luck of the draw,
Life is tough, it was his time to go,
That’s all.”
Well, I don’t know about that…

Andrew Peterson, “Three Days Before Autumn”

Life is so short.  Just yesterday, I had been looking at Isaiah 40 —

The grass withers,
the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows on it.
Surely the people are grass.

I had thought about the Tenebrae services a woman at Laity Lodge had described to me, with candles being extinguished one by one until the church was in total darkness. I had been thinking about the breath of the Lord, withering the grass, blowing out the candles, one by one.

Our world is dark and sad.

I suppose that’s an appropriate place to start Lent, in the darkness and sadness of a broken world. Surely the people are grass. Surely Stewart is grass. Surely I am grass.

The grass withers,
the flower fades,
but the word of our Lord will stand forever.

I suppose that’s an appropriate place to start Lent, too.

Beyond this grassy withered world, there is eternity. And it is filled with hope.


Birth Order

Many sites delve into the dynamics of birth order.  My favorite treatise on it, however, is not a website based on studies and research, but a fictional book series by Andrew Peterson, collectively known as The Wingfeather Saga.

The Igiby/Wingfeather family has three children: Janner, Tink, and Leeli.  Janner, as the oldest, is naturally protective of his two younger siblings.  Tink, the middle child and the second son, is adventurous and impetuous.  Leeli, the youngest, a little girl who needs a crutch to walk, provides balance to her two older brothers.

Spoiler alert:  the children discover that they are, in fact, a royal family.  Unlike the traditional royal family, however, the crown does not go to the oldest son, but to the second.  The firstborn’s job is to protect the younger, a nearly impossible task when the youngest has a strong mind of his own.

I have the feeling that Andrew drew on his own relationship with his brother as wrote the stories.  Peet the Sockman, in later books, bears a strong resemblance to Pete the Peterson.  Andrew does a wonderful job developing the resentment each can feel toward the other at times, and yet always there is an undercurrent of love. I’m afraid to give too much away because I think everyone should read this series.

Start with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, a Christy Award nominee, which introduces the reader to the family and begins the adventure.

Then read North or Be Eaten!  This won the Christy Award in 2009.  The adventure continues.  The plot thickens.

The Monster in the Hollows, my favorite so far, takes place in the Green Hollows.  If I were given the choice of visiting the Green Hollows, Narnia, or Bilbo’s Shire, it might be a tough decision.

The fourth book, The Warden and the Wolf King, has finally been written, and now we await its magical appearance on our bookshelves.  Even now, rabbits are scurrying around the Rabbit Room to make that happen.  Soon.

My favorite scene from On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is when Janner begins to understand his role.

“So, if my father’s dead, then that means… I’m… king?” Janner stammered.

Nia looked at him carefully.  “No, son.  No, you’re not.”

Janner’s cheeks flushed.

“It’s all right, dear,” she said, placing a hand on his arm.  “You see, in Annieria, the kingship is passed over the eldest son.  For as long as there have been rulers in Anniera, the position of highest distinction is that of protector.  Too many kingdoms have fallen because of envy, greed and lust for power.  So the second-born wears the crown.”  She looked at Tink.  “Your brother is the rightful heir to the throne.”

While I was looking through pictures recently, I found this:

Philip and owen

I love that God places within each child a unique set of gifts and talents, and a natural tendency towards certain behaviors — protection being one of them.

To the oldest goes a strong sense of responsibility and protectiveness for his younger sibling.

To the second, a kingship of his own, with great things ahead.

Within a family, our lives are inextricably intertwined.  I’m so thankful for the part we can play with each other.

Little Boy Heart Alive

102A lime green gun lay in the grass by my front steps when I walked out the door this morning.  I smiled when I saw it.

My children are too old to play space pirates anymore, but I had watched our new neighbor’s little boys chasing each other up and down the street with their weapons yesterday.  My husband and I had found a plastic silver light-up sword on our front lawn when we got home from church.  Someone had been disarmed right in front of our house while we were at worship.  Bud picked up the sword and carried to the house where the boys were now playing.

Later in the afternoon, the small passel of boys was in the backyard next door, swinging, climbing on a platform for battle, and jumping in the leaves.  Only one of the children belonged to the house where they were playing, the rest just came because that was where the skirmish-of-the-moment was. They were laughing and jousting and doing all the things little boys are supposed to do. I could watch it all from my kitchen window and it warmed my heart.

I drove my youngest son, now 16, to school this morning.  His days of playing with plastic pistols have been eclipsed by soccer and homecoming dances and a certain young lady. I knew the firearm on the grass wasn’t his.

When I returned from dropping Karl at school, I passed a older man trying to walk his grandson to the bus stop.  The little boy, one of yesterday’s combatants, was tugging in the opposite direction and wailing.  Oh, such a wail! I could hear it in my car even with all the windows rolled up. “Noooooooo….. Noooooo….” It broke my heart.

Although only one word was coming from his mouth, I knew all the things it meant.  Please, please, don’t make me go to school today.  I want swing on the swing and jump in the leaves. I need to duel with villains. Someone needs to chase lions and dragons off our street.  Please don’t make me sit at a desk, not on a day like today, when the sun is shining and the sky is blue.  Let me stay home and do what I was meant to do.

I walked past the abandoned gun on my way into the house. Inside, I grieved for a little boy, whose name I don’t even know, but whose heart I understand.

Andrew Peterson wrote a song about it: Little Boy Heart Alive

Open the door and run outside
Your little boy heart alive
Into the morning light
Into the deep and wide

Dinosaur bones in the flowerbed
Rockets in the clouds
In a fight with a spider’s web
Tunnels in the ground

Winding to China
To the mist of the distant shore
Better be home by suppertime
Back through the planet core

Feel the beat of a distant thunder
It’s the sound of an ancient song
This is the Kingdom calling
Come now and tread the dawn

Come to the father
Come to the deeper well
Drink of the water
And come to live a tale to tell

Pages are turning now
This is abundant life
The joy in the journey
Is enough to make a grown man cry
With a little boy heart alive

Kings and castles in the neighborhood
Swords on the forest floor
Dragons in the magic wood
Better saddle your battle horse

Fighting Goliath
Better choose your weapons right
Five little stones and a faith on fire
In a little boy heart alive


Met a kid at the railroad track
He had a stick and a nylon sack
I ran to the house to pack
I wanted to follow

Take a ride on the mighty lion
Take a hold of the golden mane
This is the love of Jesus
So good but it is not tame


Ever the road goes on and on
Ever the road goes on and on and on

The Liberty Press

While some hid in their cars on the first day of Hutchmoot, I knew where I was going.  I headed straight to the living room where I could nestle into a comfy chair.  It’s the advantage of having been there before.

The first year I sat on a bench in the main foyer.  I had watched the returnees greeting each other with hugs and joyful words. I remember wondering why I had ever thought it was a good idea to come to this.  The intimacy of such a small group both attracted and repelled me.  It’s harder to hide when the numbers are small.

This year I sat in the living room with a handful of people. Pete Peterson walked in, and, good Lord, he remembered my name.  That is a gift of hospitality.  He made me feel like maybe I do belong here.

Jennifer, his wife, sat across from me, legs curled, in an armchair. She smiled and said something sweet about my girls.  They are blessed to have her as a teacher.

But then Andrew Peterson walked in.  I tried to shrink back in my chair just a little.  Singer, songwriter, author, artist — how many talents can one man have? I confess that I am in awe.

The first year that I attended, Mary had sent me with a handwritten list of characters she wanted him to include in his final book of the Wingfeather Saga. (We’ll do a tally when the book comes out later this year.) I hesitated to give it to him because it meant that I would  have to say something, so I tried to give it to his wife.

“No, no,” she said. “He loves stuff like this.  You should give it to him.” So I did, mumbling something about my daughter being a fan. He was so gracious.

This year he walked in the living room where I was hiding, and sat right down beside me. “Have we met before?” he asked.

“Umm, well, kind of, not really. I’ve been to Hutchmoot before,” I babbled.

I started fumbling around in my bag.  I had, again, brought something from Mary for Andrew.

Over the summer Mary had worked as a Young Interpreter at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown.  She was assigned to the Print Shop where she learned to operate their 1828 Liberty Press.

On our rides there, she had peppered me with questions, which initially I thought were just small talk. “What’s your favorite Jason Gray song?” she asked. “What’s your favorite Andrew Peterson song?”

These are the kinds of questions for which I have no answer.  I would list off three or four songs each time.

Then, she started talking about the Wingfeather books.  “Where’s The Dark Sea of Darkness?” she asked one day.

It was then that she told me about her Young Interpreter project, how she had to typeset and print something by herself.  She chose a poem from The Dark Sea of Darkness and printed multiple copies on different types of paper.

These were what I fumbled out of my bag to give Andrew Peterson.

He looked at it for a minute, then said, “How did she make these?”

I explained that she used an antique printing press, that she placed each letter individually into the tray, that she placed the spacers and chose the border.

“Wow,” he said. It was quiet for a minute, and I felt awkward. “How did she do it again?” he asked.

I was in the middle of explaining when Pete came through.  Andrew jumped up with that boyish energy that he has. “Look at this!” he said excitedly. “Her daughter made it.” He gestured to me, and added, “How did she do it again?”

I felt like I had hit a home-run. He signed two, one for Mary and one for the museum. I gave the rest to him.

Giving back — it’s something I wish I could do more of at Hutchmoot.  I receive so much from these beautiful people that I wish I had an adequate way to say thank you. A poem printed on an antique press will have to suffice for one.

The Carriage Comes

summer 2013 099

The Liberty Press

Operating the press

Operating the press