Thursday, December 31, 2009

Here Ends 2009

Great things happened in 2009 to be sure. 

My sister and niece came home and live close enough to visit as often as schedules allow. 

Adam had an outstanding year playing soccer and has been accepted to the college of his choice.

Jakob grew into a giant who really enjoys high school and girls. 

We shared four months with our beautiful "daughter" and will hold her in our hearts forever. 

Joe created a beautiful Christmas - one of the best I can remember - for me, our children, and our friends.

And yet.

2009 was not my favorite year.

My mother is a stranger to me.  Some small voice whispers that it's time to create a new relationship with her.  Yet every time I stand on the verge of connecting, she does something completely heinous and I remember why we are strangers.

My brother is using again, and he's a fugitive.  He's not being a good husband or father.  And yet I am haunted by the thought of him, alone and with no safe place to rest his head, a head once as dear to me as my own children's heads.

My son is marking a year of "lasts" with us.  It's perhaps the last year he will sleep at home more than he doesn't.  Excited as we are for him and his future plans, each "last" is a little bittersweet.  Not heartbreaking.  Bittersweet.

I'm ready for a new year with all the hope and promise it brings.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Julie & Julia... In My Top Ten

Today I finally watched Julie & Julia.  Fantastic movie!!  I fell asleep watching it twice - couldn't be helped.  I sit, I sleep.  But today?  Beginning to end.

The movie made me laugh OUT LOUD while wearing headphones in the back of the van on the journey to Rochester during a snowstorm (note:  it's not often I have that many clauses/phrases in one sentence - enjoy it while you can).  It made me sad.  It made me want to cook.  It made me want to buy the books.  It made me read the blog. It made me long for a challenge of my own.

The blog is fantastic.  Julie uses the F-word regularly, along with several other blasphemous phrases.  She never fails to be brutally honest about who she is and what's happened in her life.  She hates her job, loves her husband, and adores Julia Child. 

I'm definitely buying the books. 

Watch the movie and then read the blog.  You won't be sorry.  :0)

Tomorrow, the last day of the year, I'm sending our annual letter.  I guess I should write it!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine

I prefer to be a support person, a servant.  I like my role at my job and in my home and with my volunteer activities to support the roles others play. 

Yet I also realize that I depend heavily on my own network of support people.

St. Joseph has to be one of the best "support staffers" in salvation history.  Obedient servant of the Lord, loving and support husband to Mary, and gentle father to Jesus, he offers us more than the few verses in which he appears indicate.

Consider the young Joseph.  He's a son about to create his own family with the lovely young Mary.  Then he discovers she carries a child.  An angel of God appears to him and convinces him it is right and honorable and pleasing to the Lord to marry Mary.  So.  He does.

What must Joseph's mother have been thinking? 

Joseph returns home after delivering a chair down the lane. His mother waits for him outside their home. She looks troubled, and is worried about the rumors she’s heard about her son’s betrothed bride. As Joseph approaches, she rises to meet him.

"Joseph!" greets his mother.  "Come. Walk with me. We must talk."

Joseph approaches his mother with outstretched arms. He senses the time has come to share his thoughts about his betrothed, Mary, with his mother.  The two share a gentle and awkward Mother-son embrace and begin to walk along the edge of town.

"What is it, Mother?"

"Joseph, your father and I have heard rumors. Now that Mary has returned from her visit to Elizabeth, we see evidence that the rumors are true! Is Mary...  Well, is she with child?"

"You know, Mother," offers Joseph.  "I loved Mary first for her beauty. During our betrothal, I’ve come to love her gentle spirit and faithful ways.  She is so kind.  Always so kind."

His mother smiles at him.  "I've witnessed your growing love for her, but this rumor… Please, Joseph. Is the child yours?"

Joseph pats his mother’s arm as they continue to walk.

Wanting his mother to understand his own thoughts, Joseph doesn't answer her question.  He sighs.  "The trouble started after we were betrothed and signed the marriage agreement. Mary had gone to visit her old cousin Elizabeth in Judea, discovering the miracle of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. She was gone three months, and when she returned the rumors began."

His mother gasps slightly.  "So the child is not yours? Have you confronted her? Will you… divorce her?" She tries to smother a sob.

Joseph continues.  "Itt was a cloudy day when I finally confronted her. ‘Mary,’ I asked, ‘are you going to have a baby?’"

Joseph and his mother stop walking. His mother turns to look at Joseph.

"Mother, she smiled at me. It was a gentle smile. Her eyes filled with tears and she nodded." Joseph turns from his mother. His mother watches him.

"I didn’t know what to say. ‘Who?’ I finally asked. I was very near tears myself."

Joseph turns suddenly to his mother and takes her hands.

"Mother, trust me!  Mary and I never acted improperly – not even after we were betrothed. I honored her and her family at all times."

Heart breaking for her son, his mother asks Joseph, "What did she say? How could she hurt you so?"

"She said there was no way she could explain – no way she could make me understand. She said she’d never cared for anyone but me, and kissed my hands. She looked at my hands as if - it's so difficult to describe!  She held my hands as if I held her very life in them.
She kissed my hands as though I would never see her again, and she whispered 'I've never cared for anyone bus you.' She must have been dying inside. I know I was."  Joseph turns and walks away from his mother.

"I finished my day – completing chores, eating dinner, washing. It’s a wonder I didn’t hurt myself in the woodshop. At first, I was angry. I pounded out my frustrations on the door frame I was making. My thoughts whirled so fast I could barely think about my work."

His mother sobs softly.  "Son…"

Joseph looks at his mother and smile gently.

"Don’t worry, Mother. This isn't the end of the story."

His mother looks at him questioningly.

"I decided the only thing I could do was to quietly divorce Mary. I couldn’t bear the thought of her facing a public trial and possible death by stoning."

Joseph looks at his mother.

"I really didn't think I could talk to you or anyone.  I'm about to be a husband!  I believed I needed to trust my judgement and make the right decision for Mary and I.  Still, that night as I went to sleep, her words kept replaying in my mind; ‘I’ve never cared for anyone but you… I’ve never cared for anyone but you…’ Though I wished to, I couldn’t believe her."

"Did you have difficulty sleeping?

Joseph grunts a laugh.  "That’s an understatement! But when I did fall asleep, God sent a message. An angel of the Lord came to me. His words thundered through my body so boldy, I could feel them as well as hear them."

"'Joseph, son of David! Do not fear to take Mary home as your wife. What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.'"

Joseph looks at his mother.  She sees the joy and love of the Lord on his face.  "I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. But the angel had more to say.

'She will give birth to a Son, and you are to call Him Jesus. He will save His people from their sins.'

"That angel, Mother, smiled with the joy of the news. I couldn’t sleep anymore that night. I knew the angel’s joy. I would take Mary and care for her and the Child.

"But Joseph… Are you sure you're not being deceived by the longing of your heart?

Joseph laughs.  "Oh no, Mother! That was the voice of God. When I considered what the angel said and what I know of Mary, I knew the truth. I knew I would marry Mary."

His mother embraces Joseph with the age-old mixture of pride, love, and fear only a mother can feel for her son.
I have a Joseph in my life.  I remember him as a young man intent on spending his life with me.  When I imagine St. Joseph, I see my Joseph's characteristics as husband and father, and I hope Mary knew how blessed she was. 

Joseph dearest, Joseph mine!  You've been such a gift to me this Advent season.  You take so much joy in finding ways to make others happy.  You planned and purchased, wrapped and labelled.  And you did it all with a happy little grin on your face.  God bless you for all the blessings you've heaped on our twenty-four years of shared advents and for all the small ways you show me that you'd willingly sacrifice yourself for my safety and happiness.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

For Whom the Bell Tolls... Post #2

I do not deny that the world needs priests to remind us that we shall all one day die; but I insist that the world also needs another kind of priest, the poet, to remind us that we are not dead yet.

GK Chesterton

I wrote my greatest contribution to the world of poetry in the early 90s. 

Joe and I had recently become parents, and the world was a fatigued fog.

I wrote my poem about secrets.

The first line read:  "I keep my underwear in that top drawer..."

The first line was bad, and the poem only got worse after that.  I could tell how bad it was by the horrified silence in the room when I finished sharing it with the other English majors. 

I've never found it overly distressing to be bad at something.  Nor have I ever longed to possess someone else's talent.  I think it harkens to the year we learned the Ten Commandments in faith formation classes.  If there were two commandments about coveting, I thought, coveting must be pretty bad stuff.

I am an excellent reader of other people's creative work.  Just recently I finished reading "For Whom the Bell Tolls" by Ernest Hemingway.  I find myself wishing I were still in college writing critical papers about great fiction.  I could write a dissertation on "For Whom the Bell Tolls."  And you'd think, having assigned not only the book but also the critical paper, the professor would be interested enough to read said dissertation.

Intrigued enough to read what critics thought about the book, I turned to the internet.  My thoughts about what others wrote about the book could fill a second dissertation. 

What caught my attention though, was John Donne's "For Whom the Bell Tolls."

No man is an island, entire of itself
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
If a clod be washed away by the see, Europe is less...
Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Obviously Donne inspired Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls.  His main character, Robert Jordan is sent to destroy a bridge behind enemy lines during the Spanish Civil War.  Jordan knows he cannot survive the mission.  He's not the only character to contemplate his own death and the impact his life and dying will have on those he loves.

It dawned on me that these men write about living as the body of Christ.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Greatest Gift

My band, SALT, discovered a great song by Brian Flynn.  Brian Flynn lives in Wisconsin.  He's a church musician there, and he writes the most beautiful music.  There's never any sheet music for it; he self-accompanies, playing what he hears in his heart. 

Great music has always changed people's lives - which is why I cannot fathom a music-free life!  Flynn's music is no different; his song The Greatest Gift changed the way I think about marriage.

I am the product of an incredibly disfunctional marriage that finally ended after thirty-nine years.  When  my mother was angry - and she was angry most of the time - she let dad have it.  Not long after the explosion of rage, all would be well.  I grew up believing she was a normal wife and mother.  I also believed dad's response was normal.  He never fought with her.  He let her spend her rage, retreating to some inner sanctum.  And he always did nice things for her. 

Growing up and spending time with other people's families didn't change my opinion.  Our family was "good" when others were present or in public.  We were taught to be kind to strangers, speak politely, and reserve anger or displeasure in the safety of our home with the people who loved us best.  I would have said, at the time, that every family lived the same lie ours did.

Then I met Joe's family and witnessed first-hand a marriage between two inordinately kind people who each genuinely wanted the best for the other.  They failed, I'm sure.  They live with their own personal disappointments.  They might sometimes long to be selfish. 

I saw a marriage very nearly described by the New Testament.  A husband who would gladly sacrifice his own life for his wife.  A wife who offers her husband her wisdom and trusts him to always act in her own best interests.  A couple who understands their unique "us-ness" and has left behind their "me-ness". 

I witnessed a love set forth by Corinthians -- patient, kind, and unfailing. 

My inlaws will each admit to their own failures.  But what I saw, with the glow of my own early love for their son, was bright and shiny.  I wanted it for myself.  And I wanted it for Joe.  Years later I found myself wanting it for my boys. 

I depend on each member of my family to give me the best of himself every day.  When he fails, his own kindness should prompt him to seek forgiveness.  In exhange, I want them to have the best of me rather than what's left over at the end of the day. 

Here's how Flynn says it:
For all my life, I’ve longed to receive
A priceless treasure I could hold in my heart.
And although I am not worthy,
For some reason I’ve been given
The greatest gift I’ve ever known.

And I’ll cherish and protect it. I don’t ever want to lose it,
For I never could replace it no matter how hard I try.
For this treasure is more precious than gold or even diamonds.
This treasure is you, so this day I promise you that…

     I’ll be patient with you and whatever you do
     I will walk beside you; where you go I will go.
     And I’ll be faithful to you, I’ll be strong and true.
     When you need a hand, when you need a friend,
     I’ll be there; I love you!

From this day we’ll walk together, whether sick, well, rich, or poor;
From this day we will be one no longer two.
There may be times down in the valleys,
Other times up on the mountains
But no matter where He leads us, I promise to you that…

When the times are hard, we’ll know that our Lord
Will give us strength to carry through.
And when you’re alone or scared,
Just call, and I will come to protect and stand by you!

When at times you fall, my arms will be open wide
To support and comfort you.
When at times I fall, I’ll turn to our Lord:
“Teach me better to love you!” And…
Those lyrics are a heart-felt prayer I pray regularly while thanking God for the gift of my spouse, the strength of our commitment to each other, and the blessing of our family.

And when we celebrate our nineteenth anniversary on January 5, 2010, it'll be with faith that we're about to begin the next leg of our journey together.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Ya Ain't Outta the Woods

In the middle of the journey of our life
I came to myself within a dark wood
Where the straight way was lost.

         (Dante's Inferno as translated by John D. Sinclair)
Is there really much more to say about Tiger Woods and his wife? 

In the stack of mail from my two-day absence, there are five publications we receive regularly.  Of the five, three covers have a picture of Tiger Woods with or without his wife.

I haven't read any of the articles and I haven't watched any of the newscasts.  I imagine most of the news "reports" are heavily censorious and dramatic, especially the ones concerning the women who engaged in relationships with Mr. Woods.  In the few clips I have inadvertently viewed, the reporters are almost gleeful as they make their report.  This is news?  This is what the Woods children will find when they google their dad's name?

I believe something really sad happened in that family.  They can choose to work through their tragedy or they can call it quits. 

Regardless of what choice they make, their story belongs to them.  Why do we believe their story is ours?  When did we get the "right" to intrude in this - or any other - story?  Should a man lose his right to privacy because he repeatedly gets a low golf score and earns millions of dollars?  Should a woman lose hers because her husband fails? Should anyone benefit or suffer financially thanks to their sexual habits? 

Our culture - the culture of "Just Do It" - is not friendly to marriage. In fact, we often hear that fifty percent of marriages fail. 

There are valid reasons a marriage fails - abuse, addiction, and adultery top the list.  But I think a vast number of marriages fail because people are selfish.  Couples quit marriage when it no longer feels good to be married or when a person is asked to give up too much or when being with someone is too much work or when one or the other falls out of love.

Shouldn't the very promise of marriage - the covenant - safeguard us against those things? 

In the mid-80s, long before my own wedding day, I read a quote from Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth.  George (Adam of Old Testament fame) is packing his bag, planning to leave his wife (Eve).  She says to him:
I didn't marry you because you were perfect. I didn't even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn't a house that protected them; and it wasn't our love that protected them - it was that promise.
Marriage is not easy - not in the best of circumstances.  The covenant binds two people, creating a new entity, an "us".  The new us is a blend of the original me-s.  The act of marrying births a paradigm shift; life will never be the same again.  As a spouse, I no longer indulge in my own wants and desires; I want what's best for us.  When I am selfish, I fail.  Sometimes my husband fails.  Yet failure isn't the end of a good story; it's the beginning of a new chapter.

Within successful marriages, I believe spouses quickly recognize their own failures and try to mend disharmony.  When a couple no longer has the energy or desire to mend the disharmony, one or the other becomes resentful, angry, and bitter.  Those negative emotions lead to attempts to get even or escape the marriage.

Consider Willy Loman, Arthur Miller's main character in Death of a Salesman

Loman is a traveling salesman.  Initially all he wants is to give his wife the best of everything and he amasses debt beyone his ability to pay.  Thanks largely to the stress of his financial situation and the belief that she caused it, Loman starts to resent his wife.  Seeking escape from the tragedy of his life, he commits adultery with "The Woman" in Boston.  Loman's son Biff discovers the affair. 

Biff's heart breaks and he confronts his father:  why would his father buy The Woman stockings, he asks, when his father should be buying stockings for his mother.  Biff allows himself to become a victim of his father's adultery; he's so distraught he fails math, a precursor for future failure in other areas of his life.  The message?  Adultery is ugly and can ruin a family.  Loman's own certainty that his family would be better off were he dead results in his suicide.

I don't know what happened between the Mr. and Mrs. in the Woods story, and they're far from out of this dark wood they've entered.  Regaining what they've lost will consume their energy for months, if not longer. 

Theirs is not my story.  I won't listen to the details.  I won't participate in their humiliation.  I certainly will not remember the name of any woman who gained fame sharing her body with a married man. 

Instead, in the still corners of my heart, I pray for them.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Sounds ominous.  Bells tolling.  Using the scary "whom" in a blogpost title.  Somehow it just seems appropriate.

I was thinking today about obligation.  To whom do I owe... anything?

See I was absent from work Thursday afternoon and Friday with a Massively Terrible Headache.

I opened my email and found 142 messages (not junk mail) to answer.  Then I listened to my 18 voice mails.

I have asked people to stop forwarding email.  It's really nice and heartwarming to read about some Christian revelation or some political joke, but I don't really have time.  I've asked people not to forward and discovered that most people find the request offensive (really? I asked nicely.).  So I've stopped asking.  Still, I don't respond to forwards.  Unless they're from my mother-in-law.  Or Joe.  Or my boss.  Or really funny.

I also unsubscribe from every email that I don't wish to continue receiving updates from.  (Whoa.  Dangler.)  Some acquiesce.  Others not so much. 

There were four messages from a salesperson at Office Max (note to self and others: if they're that desperate for new business, they're struggling).  Her messages said, "If you're interested in meeting blah blah blah."  I'm not.  If I want cheaper office supplies, I'll conduct a search.  I think we're doing well.  Subsequently, I didn't return the call and don't plan to return the call.  I wonder how many more times she'll call.

My biggest headache comes from the people I am obligated to call.  Some of those people sent multiple emails about the same issue.  Others left multiple voice mails about the same issue.  And I'm not talking about customers, either.  I'm talking about sales people and insurance agents and vendors.  Multiple messages.


So if you leave multiple emails I'll answer faster?  I'll get to an issue quicker?  Same with voice mails.  It's not like anyone tried an alternate email address or a different phone number. 

I'll admit, it annoys the living crap out of me when people do that, especially thanks to my OCD, which requires that I answer all messages chronologically.

I know I'm partially at fault; after all, I could have made an autoresponder email and changed my voice mail message.  It's so rare that I miss work, the thought didn't even occur to me.

To whom am I obligated to respond?

Thus far, I've attempted to respond to everything.  I'm no longer convinced that's the best policy. 

Do I need to lunge every time the bell rings, notifying me there's an email or a voice mail or a phone call or a text message?

I'm pondering.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Throw the Stone...

On Wednesday, I met with my ninth grade Confirmation class. 

The class is a challenge!  There are 28 15-year olds on my list.  By the time they arrive at class, they're 12-14 hours into their days.  The subject matter is not at the top of everyone's list.  This night is one of the only times they're with certain friends, and there's often a bit of "catching up" to do. 


It's a nightmare.

I believe my most important role is to scatter seeds with the conviction that some of those seeds will fall in the perfect ground and grow throughout their lives.

This week their input led us into a discussion about Mary.  We talked about this young human girl who accepted God's plan for her even though, in her time, an unwed mother would be stoned to death.

I had a guest teacher for a few minutes that night.  Jakob Kounkel came forward to tell us what Jesus had to say about throwing stones.

"So.  Jesus.  Stones."

Aside to me:  "Wow there's a LOT of people in this class!"

"So.  Jesus was there when the people were going to stone a woman for being bad.  So.  Jesus said, 'Whoever hasn't sinned can throw the first stone.  No one threw a stone.  So.  That's it."

He bowed.

A second aside to me:  "I think I'm sweating."

He went back to his seat while I made a mental note to get him a few more public speaking opps.  We have to do away with the "so" thing.

I think this story is one of Jakob's favorites.  We don't have to be perfect for Jesus to stand beside us and defend us from the stone throwers. 

My friend Willson wrote a song about throwing stones.  It's one of our favorite songs. 

He said, "This line I must draw,
These words I will write:
'Let he who cast the first stone
Be the one without sin.' 
For all you have sinned
But your sin I will forgive!
Follow my example: 
Throw the stone away and live. 
Throw that stone away and live.

Throw the stone away and follow me. 
I will wash away your sin. 
Hear my words deep within you.
Throw your stone away and follow.

He said the love I have for you
Is stronger than your sin.
Trust me and you'll not be afraid;
Forgive them and they'll do the same.

Go in peace to sin no more.
My love to you I give.
Follow my example:
Throw the stone away and live.
Throw that stone away and live.


I'll not be found throwing stones at others.  My time and energy is better spent concentrating on my own journey.

I will, however, continue to be discerning.  After all, Jesus said, "Follow me."  Not everyone could.

Friday, December 11, 2009

One Little Good Thing

Whew! I always have a little fatigue after our Christmas concert. Thank goodness this year's concert happened so early in December! I "checked out" for a few days and... well, recovered.

During our Christmas concert, I spoke with friends who have been reading this blog. They said they read the
100 Things I Love About You on Your 41st Birthday blog and it prompted them to write their own lists.  To date, their family has traded their own love lists.  I'm honored that they started something so unique and special after reading something here.

To anyone else, I offer this challenge.  If you have not made a list for your own love, do it.  I started my list when I was a little ticked at Joe.  I ended it remembering why I love him and for how long I've loved him and where our future lies.  It's a good thing.  A very good thing.

Friday, December 4, 2009

And when the truth... bends...

Know what I was thinking about?


I've rarely told lies in my life.  For the most part, I didn't have to lie.  Most often when I wanted to keep something secret, no one asked the right questions. 

When I did lie... hmmm.  It wasn't good.  Eventually, all the lies were revealed and I was forced to live with whatever shameful thing made me lie in the first place AND the repercussions for the people I hurt.

Liars.  Hmmm...

I've learned to:

1.  Find someone in life to be completely, brutally, histronically honest with.  That is the one person who will keep me safe.

2. Accept liars -- unless the lie hurts you.  Liars give me something they think I want.  If I'm patient, I'll meet the real person eventually and it will be worth the effort.

3.  Ignore people who pass judgement on others.  They have not yet learned the message Jesus brings us.

4.  Tell the truth others need to hear.

5.  Examine motives every day:  was I as authentic as I could be?  If I was, let today be today.  If I wasn't, let today be today.  Tomorrow I'll try something better.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

MOST exciting EVENT of THE year... WOOOOOOOhooooo

Tonight after practice, I finished all the "to-do" things for our concert.

This will be a GREAT one and I am SO thankful that I belong to this group.

SALT (Singing and Living True..... or trying to!) presents the fifth annual conncert event.  COME!  It's FREE!! 

Check for more information at our blog tomorrow! (blog)!

See you at the concert!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Mad Dash to Christmas

The mad dash to Christmas is ON.  Full throttle.

And I'm not dashing.  I might not even send a Christmas letter this year.

Well.  Who are we kidding?  I will send a letter.  It's the OCD.  I have to have a complete record of Christmas cards to give to my daughters-in-law on their wedding days.  God alone knows why.  It's no tradition I've ever encountered.

My letter will be different this year, as are all things.

Seven times in my life, I've experienced a paradigm shift.  My world view shifted so drastically each time and I was reborn.  The seventh is still in progress.

Two events dramatically ignited rebirth.  The first was our bus accident in 1997.  The second was my mother's disappearance in 2008.  Both those incidents were abrupt and shocking and heinous.  Both had lasting impact.  Both changed -- forever -- how I define myself.

And, you know?  I'm not sure where the story ends or what characters people the landscape for the duration, but I am sure I like the direction I'm heading. 

To lift a phrase from my favorite song, "I Will Rise" by Chris Tomlin, "Jesus has overcome and the grave is overwhelmed.  The victory is won; He is risen from the dead.  And I will rise, when He calls my name."

I believe those words.  The victory IS won and when He calls my name and asks me to account for me, I will rise.  I will account.  I will rest in Christ's love.  I recognize that's a little redemptive for the Advent season, but -- seriously -- we all know where the story ends.

Still, I'm not sure I will ever stop talking about events that shape me.  That's okay; my love language is WORDS.  I am compelled to use words. 

It's good to use words.  While I honor the requests of friends to keep their secrets, it is in secret that sin is born, and I don't feel like keeping secrets of my own anymore.  So, I won't.  My propensity for Truth may be uncomfortable for some people.  God bless them.

My greatest Truth this year is that I am appalled by how Americans celebrate Christmas.  It's an orgy of food and consumerism and greed.

None of that interests me or my children.

I lie.  The food interests them greatly.  They are growing boys, after all.

Gifts.  I wish with all my heart that not a single person would give me one this year.  Instead, I wish they would look for someone who really, really needs and give.  I would never dishonor a gift-giver though -- especially those who give me gifts of the heart.


The stories I hear about Black Friday appall me.  People standing in line for hours and then rushing through the doors like animals, shoving and yelling.  People running with cartloads of products.  People arguing with others over items that won't matter a year from now.

Christmas, for me, hides in the little things:  the exchange of peace with my immediate family at the Christmas Mass when both of my sons -- and this year my daughter -- wrap their arms around me and we exchange the kiss of peace; the delight my sons take in finding a SINGLE gift that will make me laugh with joy in knowing they are gift-givers; the warmth of love between my spouse and I as we celebrate Christ with our family.

And, I would be keeping a secret if I didn't mention my GREAT, great joy in the one entire day each year my entire family spends at home together.  Since it's January 27th, I'm hoping it's a tradition that endures!

So, as the mad dash to Christmas continues, I focus on the three things that most matter to me:  faith, family, and friends. 

God bless.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Advent in Me

I love Advent.

It's the start of the Church year, and it's the time of year that I always equate with STORIES.  Luke, the Gospel writer, is my favorite story teller, and it's his voice that brings Advent.

One of my favorite authors, Fr Andrew Greeley, writes that it's the stories that make him love being Catholic.  He writes:

It is, of course, the story of Mary the Mother of Jesus who represents the mother love of God, the truth that while God loves us in many different ways, She also loves us the way a mother who holds a new born child in her arms loves that child. Any religious heritage with such a story is well nigh irresistible to its members. If the love of the mother for her child to whom she has given life and is about to nurse is a valid metaphor for what creation and life and death are about, then that is very good news indeed, perhaps too good to be true, but true nonetheless.

And Advent is about Mary.

Mary who said "yes" to God, even though saying so might have resulted in her death. 

Mary who gave birth to the Savior of the world -- and she did so knowing His life would not be easy.

Mary who interceded for the bridal couple, and urged her Son to perform the first miracle of His ministry, the changing of water to wine in Cana.

Mary who stood at the foot of the cross and watched her beloved Son suffer and die.

Mary who witnessed His resurrection.

Mary, for me and many others, is the link to Christ's life and death.  She provides the human connection to the Divine.  Her misery I can understand.  Her love I can absorb.  Her sacrifice I can recognize.

And so tonight, like every other during Advent, I will end my day with this prayer:
Hail Mary, full of Grace.  The Lord is with you.  Blessed are you among women and blest is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.  Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.
Research it; it's scriptural.  Pray it; it's comfort-giving.  Live it; it's Truth.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy Birthday, Joe

100 Things I Love About You
On Your 41st Birthday

1. You are gentle when it matters.
2. You love me the best way anyone could.
3. You encourage people to be better.
4. You genuinely love teenagers.
5. You have the best smile; it consumes your entire face.   

6. You are the perfect father for our kids.
7. You get things done!
8. You don't swear, and you don't like people who do.
9. You put people before tasks.
10. You have a strong sense of justice.

11. You are smart.
12. You enjoy having a beautiful lawn with all the work that entails.
13. You play just as intensely now as you did when you were 17.
14. You have an excellent work ethic.
15. You are not judgmental.

16. You trust.
17. You are a good son.
18. You never treated my mother the way she deserved to be treated.
19. You are friends with my sister.
20. You learned good things from my dad.

21. You support your family but balance that with playtime.
22. You love the Boundary Waters.
23. You love it more when I'm there with you.
24. You love Mexico, even though you never wanted to go there.
25. You like having new adventures with me and our boys.

26. You have high standards.
27. You are a good example for others.
28. You really, really love playing baseball.
29. You understand baseball better than anyone I've ever met.
30. You like to win, but you don't pout when you lose.

31. You know all the things I don't know.
32. You don't expect everyone to know what you know.
33. You are a great teacher/coach because you are patient.
34. You usually give the best presents in the world.
35. You don't mind that we can never see eye to eye unless I stand on a step.

36. You never say bad things about people you love.
37. You rarely lie.
38. You think about things I say.
39. You rarely give advice, but when you do, it's sound and reliable advice.
40. You make good friends.

41. You have a spot that's messy, and you're protective of it.
42. You otherwise like things in order.
43. You indulge in your love of all things sweet.
44. You are silly.
45.  You are strong.

46. You thrive under pressure.
47. You almost have a poker face, except for the muscle that ticks when you clench your teeth.
48. You mean what you say.
49. You do what you promise.
50. You apologize when you are wrong.

51. You teach me something new every day.
52. You are my resting place.
53. You make the bed and do the laundry.
54. You refold the clothes when I fold them "wrong".
55. You put my shoes in the closet when I leave them out and you never complain.

56. You pay our debts.
57. You are kind-hearted and sympathetic to others.
58. You wake up when I come home late and want to talk.
59. You listen again the next day when I tell you again.
60. You don't always think you have to solve my problems.

61. You own a batting cage and share it with everyone.
62. You play games with your sons that teach them while they're playing.
63. You love them beyond reason, but you never smother them.
64. You don't let me smother them either.
65. You are proud of them.

66. You see me with the eyes of love.
67. You treat me like your best friend.
68. You believe in "happily ever after."
69. You are authentic.
70. You never expect people to give you more than you offer in return.

71. You make the best pancakes in the entire world.
72. You put fuel in my car when it's raining or cold or I'm cranky.
73. You climb on the roof every winter -- just after the cold snap -- to put our star on the roof.
74. You can tell me the same story three times, and your enthusiasm increases each time.
75. You don't understand decorative towels, but you tolerate them.

76. You forgive me when I fail.
77. You forget the times I failed.
78. You say you're sorry when you're wrong.
79. You are not afraid to make me listen to you, even when I'm not cooperative.
80. You know how to think of marriage building ideas (the Question Game!).

81. You love to shop for Christmas.
82. You think of things people would really love to give as gifts, even when they don't know they'd love them.
83. You are the best turkey carver in the world.
84. You support my "never-make-the-same-recipe-twice philosophy" until we find something that should be made twice.
85. You always do your mother's Thanksgiving dishes and she loves you for that.

86. You love to solve mysteries.
87. You love the smell of fresh flowers as long as they don't smell like "funeral flowers".
88. You wish funerals didn't occur, but you go to them when you have to go.
89. You love people who can solve mysteries.
90. You solve mysteries every day of your life.

91. You love Christmas best of all.
92. You love to watch people open the presents you chose for them.
93. You love when someone surprises you with the Best Gift of All.
94. You love when YOU surprise someone with a gift they love, but didn't know they wanted.
95. You love decorating for Christmas.

And... the five BEST things about you...

96. You believe.
97. You trust.
98. You learn.
99. You live.
100. You love.

And because of all those things, I love you.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thankful for These 13 Things

Tonight I am in list mode and I am thankful.  I'm thankful for thirteen things.  Thirteen is my lucky number; both of my sons were born on the 13th -- one in November (91) and one in February (95). 

1.  I'm thankful Adam made it through surgery and will recover.  I'm hoping I'll be thankful next week that he's no longer on the pain medicine.

2.  I'm thankful Jakob is doing what he loves every single day.  Every.  Single.  Day.

3.  I'm thankful Mari is staying with us until a little after Christmas and that she is only moving from here to the homes of two of my best friends in the world.

4.  I'm thankful for Haleigh, who is the epitomy of courage for me.

5.  I'm thankful for each person who was at our home on Thanksgiving.  They are beloved.

6.  I'm thankful for my dad who is the greatest teacher who ever walked the face of the earth.

7.  I'm thankful for my husband's parents.  They are the most welcoming, loving, faith-filled people I have ever met and they love me.

8.  I'm thankful for money in the bank at a time when people are losing their jobs and their homes.

9.  I'm thankful for my Church family because they are God-blessed and Spirit-filled.

10.  I'm thankful for health -- every person in my immediate circle is blessed with health.  That's precious.

11. I'm thankful for the people I don't even know who bear good wishes and glad tidings for members of my family.  Each person has touched so many others and those others have blessed us. 

12. I'm thankful for the strength, courgage, and wisdom I take from my relationship with the Lord every day.

13.  I'm thankful for my marriage and where I am in relationship with my husband today.  We don't always walk the same path, but we look for each other every moment of every day.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Art of Being Thankful

In honor of my promise to myself to put my world in order, I've been cleaning closets and cabinets and cupboards. 
I have always needed internal order.  It doesn't seem to matter how messy the world around me is, but messy drawers give me anxiety. 

Over the last two years, I let things get messy.  The greater the emotional trauma, the more difficult it was for me to care about messy closets and cabinets and cupboards.  Coping consumed all my energy.

It was bad.  I had Things That Don't Cut in the Things That Cut drawer.  My measuring cup was in the Christmas Cupboard.  My root vegetables waited in random dark corners of the kitchen.  My once alphabetized spice rack -- well, it was so disordered I stopped using dried spices.

This weekend I cured my kitchen of clutter.  It is a thing of beauty, though pockets of disorder remain.  I have confidence they will be a thing of history by the new year. 

While sorting and restoring, I stumbled upon my Thanksgiving stash.  I have kept a journal of all things Thanksgiving since 1998.  I have the recipes I used every year until 2007.  I saved my timelines (1. Start the Turkey at 4:48 am.  2.  Go back to bed for forty-five minutes...).  I have the guest lists.  I even rated each recipe. 

On a separate piece of paper, I found my Thanksgiving 2008 planner.  2008 was my first mom-less Thanksgiving.  I wrote: "Shoulda paid better attention all these years.  I have no idea how to make gravy.  Buy bottled."  Lucky for our guests, my mother-in-law makes a mean gravy.  It's delish.

This year's Thanksgiving is no exception to my "let's try something new" philosophy of holiday events.  I have a new turkey idea that promises the most succulent turkey to date.  I no longer need a recipe or timeline for anything else on the menu.  I heard a recipe from a friend for a divine cranberry dessert I think I'll try, more because I love watching the cranberries pop than because I think anyone will eat it.

While I'm cutting and basting and mixing, I'm going to be thankful.  I'm going to be thankful the last two years are in the past.  I'm going to be thankful for the people coming to share the feast.  I'm going to be thankful that my spices are alphabetized once again. 

And I'm going to be thankful for all these blessings without worrying about what will happen tomorrow.

That, I think, is the art of being thankful.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

And Then There's Faith...

I read, with shock and dismay, a publically published reflection by a Lutheran pastor I respect. 

Pondering Luther's "by grace alone, by faith alone" theory, she wrote about her early experiences as a Roman Catholic and her revelation that the only true and right path to salvation is following Lutheran doctrine.  Of course, she writes, "you will never find a stronger Lutheran than a former Catholic."

She describes her early Catholic years and the acts she did to earn a "right" relationship with God.  She attended daily Mass, participated in daily prayer, learned the Catechism, said novenas, blessed herself with holy water, and attended confession.  The Lutherans call those things "good works" and she notes that the acts have no impact on salvation.  Because she's now Lutheran she does good works because she wants to, not because she has to.  In fact, her greatest revelation came from a nine-year old friend who said, "Catholics go to church because they have to; Lutherans go because they want to."


I have examined Church history for the last twenty-five years; I minored in Theology in college.  Roman Catholics are humanly frail and we fail.  But failure -- even on grand scales like the medieval Inquisition and the more recent sexual abuse by clergy -- does not constitute sufficient justification for discarding a tradition that dates back to the days of Jesus.  If it does, then Luther's own 95 Theses belongs in the same rubbish heap as his work encouraging harassment and hatred of the Jews. 

I am Roman Catholic by choice.  I studied Catholicism and I believe it is universal.  I believe the Catholic Church is the guardian of Truth.  I believe what I say when I pray the Our Father and the Nicene Creed.  I love Mary and the scriptural Rosary.  I love the Mass -- its history, the Liturgy, the mystical actions of the priest.  I love the familiarity of the Mass; no matter where I attend Mass and what language is spoken, I have a sense of being among family. 

I've never attended Mass because I had to go.  I have never dipped my fingers in holy water and blessed myself because I thought I might go to hell if I didn't.  I have never knelt during the Transfiguration for any other reason than humility in the presence of Christ.  I don't do those things to achieve salvation. I do those things because I believe they draw me closer to the Lord and I long for a relationship with the Lord.

I am most thankful for the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, Marriage, and Reconciliation. 

The Eucharist is our regular opportunity to enter into the Pascal Mystery.  We do what Jesus told us to do:  take and eat; drink this cup.  From the moment we sing the "Holy, Holy" we commemorate the first Palm Sunday and all the events culminating in Easter morning.

In Marriage, a man and a woman enter into a covenant with each other and with God; we are called to love one another like Christ loves the Church.  Two become one when Christ stands in the center.  Since the moment we married, there was no longer an I or a me; there is only us and we.

During Reconciliation I make reparation for the harm I have done to myself and to the entire body of Christ; I don't confess as part of a private motivation for personal salvation, but because I have the opportunity to rest my failing on the altar of the Lord.  The Lord gladly takes it from me and flings my failure as far from me as the east is from the west.

I am Roman Catholic by choice.  I was blessed with salvation on the day I was baptized.  I do good things because I believe we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ.

Don't get me wrong.  I appreciate a thoughtful reflection about faith and where people are in their faith journeys.  Personally, I have never felt the need to denigrate another religious practice to increase my conviction that I belong in the Church.  It makes me sad when others do.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I finished a great novel this morning, A Suitable Vengeance by Elizabeth George.  George is a brilliant author.  Her stories touch the ugliest the world has to offer and her characters are people I want to know.

The final segment of this book is titled "Expiation."

What a great word.

Expiation.  The means by which atonement or reparation is made.  The process of forgiving a transgression.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention forgiveness. 
Then Peter approaching asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)

"When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions." (Mark 11:25)

"Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven." (Luke 6:37)
I've been searching all the corners of my heart for lingering resentment. 

I can't find any.

... And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us...  Amen.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Give Thanks

Giving gracious and heartfelt thanks can be tough.

I once gave myself a challenge:  for thirty days I would authentically compliment someone on something.  Of course my challenge was no challenge; once my eyes opened to the world around me, I saw brilliance and beauty everywhere.

Authentic compliments demand nothing in return.  Yet people's responses fascinated me. 

"Oh goodness!  This mop of hair?  It's hideous!"

"THESE jeans?  Really?"

"That solo was terrible.  I hit seven wrong notes in the second verse!"

I might have believed I had no taste and was tone deaf.

And you know?  I did the same thing to people.  Was it that I thought accepting praise was arrogant?  That nice girls should be self-depreciating?  That I was unworthy of praise?

For awhile I took the praise-begets-praise approach.  When someone offered a compliment to me, I offered one in return.  It's trickier than it sounds.


My uncle approached after Mass one Sunday.  He grabbed both of my hands and looked me in the eye:  "I can't stop watching your hands on the keyboard.  It's not just the music that moves me; it's the way you touch the piano." 

My husband hugged me after attending a show I wrote: "That was amazing! I'm proud of you."

A teammate of Joe's caught me after a Florida game I watched with my sister:  "I saw you listening to your friend during the game.  She was telling you something important.  I have never seen anyone listen so intently.  I wish people would listen to me like that."

The parent of one of my faith formation students waited for me outside my classroom in May:  "You are the best religion teacher my daughter has ever had.  She could not stop talking about the stories you shared and the things you taught.  Thank you."

Genuine compliments are gifts I unwrap long after receiving them.  Don't the gift givers deserve something authentic in return?  Don't they deserve my undivided attention while speaking?  Don't they deserve acknowledgement?

Still, it took me a long time to accept praise in a way that honors the person offering it. 

I've learned to pause when someone offers me a compliment.  I make eye contact with the person.  I say "Thank YOU.  Your opinion -- and the fact that you took the time to tell me --  matters to me."

I hope the gift giver leaves feeling as warm as I do.

Friday, November 13, 2009

November 13, 1991. Adam Joseph.

On this day eighteen years ago, Adam came to live with us.
From the moment of conception until the day he was born, the wee little parasite wrecked havoc on me.  Early in the pregnancy I spent weeks flat on my back.  Motion made me vomit.  The smell or sight of food made me vomit.  The telephone made me vomit.  Near the end of the pregnancy I was on bed rest.
It didn't matter.
I was so in love with our baby.  I dreamt of him and wondered who he would be.  I hoped I would be enough for him.
Shortly after making his first ever ambulance sale in Cokato, Minnesota, Joe registered me at Unity Hospital in Fridley.  We were a little concerned because I should not have been having contractions yet; the baby wasn't due until December 5.
We waited in a room with a baby monitor while the doctors and nurses ran tests to see how well the baby's lungs had developed.
I'm not sure what Dr L actually said when he came in the room with the news that we could have our baby; I saw in his face that all was well and turned my attention inward.
Dr L broke the membranes and things started happening fast.  And then, suddenly, things stopped happening.  When the doctor came to recommend pitocin, I recalled the childbirth instructor's comment, "Often once there is one medical intervention, others follow."  Crap.  I wasn't doing labor right.
Things happened even faster.  Nearly thirty hours after arriving at the hospital, the contractions were ninety seconds long with fifteen or twenty second pauses. 
Joe doesn't like hospitals or doctors or blood.  He gets faint.
In the last days of our pregnancy, he was my Knight in Shining Armor. 
He stayed with me for the duration.  He watched the monitor.  When he saw a contraction starting, he held my face in his hands and said, "Okay, Kari.  Breathe."  He washed my face with warm washclothes.  When the nurse said it might help, he rubbed the small of my back.  He helped me take a shower to help me find rest.  He fed me M & M's and gave me sips of water.  He encouraged me to sleep in the seconds between contractions. 
And, when the doctor came to recommend a surgical delivery, he said, "Do what you think is best.  She can't do this anymore."
I let myself rest in the circle of his arms, knowing he would keep me safe.  After all these years, I'm not sure I could feel safe without Joe.

It seemed like hours later they were doing all the prep for the surgery. Joe left me to do his own prep.  The next time I saw him, he looked like he belonged to the hospital rather than to me.  Joe stood by my head with his hands on my shoulders and watched for his first glimspe of our baby.

I watched his face.

I felt some pressure and then a huge release as they lifted our baby from and held him over the sheet. His little scrunched body was dark skinned and beautiful.  Even his wee face was scrunched too.  He was trying to open his eyes -- much like he does to this day -- to see his brand new world.

And on Joe's face, I saw wonder and awe, two magnificent gifts of the Spirit.  I watched Joe fall in love with our son.  He whispered, "It really is a baby."

He looked a little surprised when I answered "Adam Joseph" to the nurse requesting the baby's name.  It wasn't what we'd chosen.  Every year when I told Adam the story of his beginning, I always told him God whispered in my ear. 

In the mad rush of love Adam brought us on November 13, 1991, I forgot the long months of pregnancy and the intensely difficult hours of labor. 

Suffering disappears in the enveloping folds of love; even when love causes the suffering.

To the woman he said: "I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master."

                                                                                          Genesis 3:3

Happy Birthday, Adam.  We are so proud of the boy you were and the man you are becoming.  It's not going to be easy to make your way in the world, but you have the tools you need for the job.  We like to think you'll take on every challenge the way you take on offensive players on the soccer field: head-on and with no quarter!  And in life -- just like on the field -- when you do fall, get up, dust off your knees, and take the next step.  Keep your faith, honor, and courage, and rest in the circle of your family and friends. 

And, Adam, thank you for the Grace you brought to our lives. 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Great Escape Artist's Last Escape

A dozen years ago -- when Jakob was a toddler and before Adam started school -- Joe and I were away at a conference.  On the way home we stopped at an animal shelter.  Not a dog lover, I was drawn to the quiet lab leaning against the wall of her cage.  She watched my approach with the slightest wag of her tail.  The closer I moved, the bigger the wag. 

Joe saw her too.  We shared a glance over her head.  "She's the One!" we agreed.  The sign identified her as Coco, approximately two years old.  The only other information read, "Escape Artist."

When we told the boys we had a surprise in the car, Jakob thought it was food.  He rushed out to find... Coco.  His belly wasn't happy, but it was a joyful meeting.

"Escape Artist" proved an apt description.  Left home during the day, she'd wander the Golf Course or the neighborhood.  She's imposing, so it wasn't long before people complained.  Joe tried keeping her at the office with him.  His theory was she could sleep in the kennel behind the building.  She didn't like that notion.  Joe spent many an hour combing nearby neighborhoods looking for Coco.  She could escape anything, it seemed.  She was always delighted when Joe found her!

Eventually Joe installed the invisible fence.  She learned her boundaries quickly, and contentedly explored them. 

She loved the boys.  Whenever Adam played outside, she paced a ring around him.  If anyone came too close to her ring of love, she gently turned them away.  No one was getting near her boy until Joe or I said it was fine.  Jakob, a little more active and always hungry, had a different relationship with Coco.  He liked to sleep on her; she didn't mind since he was so sticky and tasty.

Once Adam and I thought Coco would like to attend Pet Day at LME.  Big Mistake.  She outmuscled us and went to greet the other dogs; one owner screamed that Coco was trying to eat her baby.  When we finally caught her, I tripped over the edge of the pavement, and she dragged me along the pavement.  Adam thought she might be the reason Pet Day was subsequently discontinued.

Coco always missed Joe when he was away from home.  She'd wander the house looking for him.  She checked his favorite chair in the living room.  Then she'd sniff around the front door.  Finally, she'd make her way to the bedroom to check for him in bed.  When there was no trace of him, she'd rest dejectedly on the floor.  Hearing a noise in the garage, she made a mad dash to the door.  Sometimes he'd come through it for a celebration of homecoming.  Other times she waited in vain.

This morning our Coco couldn't get off the floor in the living room.  Our best guess is she laid down there last night, and didn't get up again.

Joe said I should bring her to town and we'd go to the vet.  Since she couldn't move, Jakob, Mari, and I lifted her on a blanket and carried her outside.  She couldn't help, though she tried.  There was something in her expression that said she wasn't coming home again.

We collected Joe and Adam.  Knowing she'd do what she could to please him, Joe encouraged her to get out of the car.  She made a valiant effort, but she was too weak.  He caught her shoulders before she fell.  She made her last journey on a stretcher.

Dehydrated and probably suffering some internal bleeding at the great human-year age of 123, there wasn't much to do for Coco, except let her escape her pain.

Joe was last to say goodbye to Coco.  He knelt beside her for the last time and ran his hands over her beloved body, his hands cupping her face and stroking her ears.  Both boys watched with breaking hearts.

The boys and I stayed with her until she made her last great escape.  The nurse held her, and when they administered the drug Coco relaxed into that gentle hug.  Her heart stopped and she took her last few breaths while our boys willed her their love.

The dozen years of life she shared growing and loving and learning with our boys will live with them always, and I think they will be better men for witnessing not only her life, but also her death.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Girls, Girls, Girls...

Last week in Florida, my house was overflowing with girls.  It was SO amazing.

Someone always cooked... and we learned new recipes.

Someone always cleaned... and we learned different cleaning products.

Someone always talked... and we learned each other's stories.

Back in my boy-house, I find myself missing my girlie girl week. 

My 10 on the Tenth

I just found a delightful new blog, Life at 7000 Feet.  As a rabid list-maker myself, the mountain girl with altitude appeals to me.  I'm making my own list of...

Ten Things that Really Annoy Me

1.  I get annoyed when people request something from me after I've already said no.  When someone makes a request, I respond thoughtfully.  Don't ask a second time.

2.  I get annoyed by socks stuffed under the cushions of the furniture, especially when that furniture is in the room adjacent to the laundry room.

3.  I get annoyed when all three dogs sit behind me in the kitchen when I'm cooking and look at me with deep, mournful longing.

4.  I get annoyed by long explanations.  Great example:  when an someone is ill, I would appreciate a notice that says, "Hi, it's so-and-so.  I'm ill today and will be back in two days."  With a few exceptions, I don't need to know anything about the illness, including gross symptoms.  I also don't need to hear a croaky voice to make the illness more believable. 

5.  I get annoyed by poor grammar and spelling, especially with the written word.  We have so many tools to prevent poor writing -- even though I cannot find those tools in blogger anymore.  I usually spot my errors as soon as I publish.

6.  I get annoyed by people who insult each other during heated discussions even when an opponent is stooooooopid.

7.  I get annoyed when I've finished 38 out of 40 things on my list, and someone comes and asks me for the 39th.

8.  I get annoyed by people who refuse to take responsibility for mistakes.  "It's not my fault" has to be one of the most ridiculous phrases in the language.

9.  I get annoyed when a person refuses to make the effort to learn a new task or complete a challenging project.

10.  I get annoyed when my cupboards, drawers, closets, cabinets, or anything that closes (think car trunks and storage boxes) are disordered.  I'd rather everything be left on the floor or counter than stored sloppily.

That was a little more difficult than I thought.  My husband always tells me I'm not much of a complainer.  He might be correct.

The Week of Adam

This is a big week for Adam.

Last night was his final high school soccer banquet. He received his awards, the most impressive of which was his All Conference Keeper award. The senior plaques gave Coach Chad a chuckle: the player on the plaque is splayed in a scissor kick. Adam -- able to play on the field during one game -- did his valiant best to score. His scissor kick, not a thing of beauty, was nearly effective; the ball hit the post. Still, it was an uncommon pose for that solid and strong body. He's splayed most often in the mud, the body of an offensive player mashed beneath him.

On Friday Adam turns 18.

Eighteen years ago, we celebrated Joe's first ambulance sale in Minnesota.

Not long after the memorable Halloween blizzard of '91, he had a council meeting to attend in Cokato, Minnesota. He really needed to attend the meeting; he was the lowest bidder thanks to a calculation error, and should receive the award unless something went wrong. Hugely pregnant and already having the odd contraction, I was nervous about staying home alone so I accompanied him to that meeting.

Council meetings have a tendency to be lengthy. This one was no exception.

B, a long-time ambulance dealer and Joe's competitor, was at the meeting too. The council was trying to decide which ambulance to purchase. While Joe's price was better, he was unknown in the ambulance world.

Joe vibrated with energy. He presented his product and defended his pricing admirably.

B did his level best to convince the council that Joe was too young and inexperienced to sell an ambulance. He suggested Joe wouldn't be around long enough to provide support and service to the ambulance crew.

I could not get comfortable. Sensitive only to the tiny body inside mine, I couldn't even take interest in the proceedings. I shifted continually in my seat.

Finally an ambulance crew member and councilman whispered to Joe, "I'm not sure you realize it or not, but your wife is in labor."

"I'm not leaving until we're done," answered Joe.

"No, really," crew member urges, "she's gotta go."

"I really can't leave!"

Crew member interrupts the discussion, "I make a motion to purchase the ambulance from Ninety-Four Services. We gotta get this lady outta here."

Someone seconded the motion and they called a vote. Joe made his first sale.

Crew member approaches and asks which hospital we're using. We were headed to Unity in Fridley, a long haul from Cokato. "Want a ride in the ambulance?" he asked.

"Oh no!" Joe exclaims. "We're fine!" and we climbed in our Chrysler Laser for the ninety-minute drive to Fridley.

He probably could have flown.

To this day B chuckles when he suggests Joe played the dirtiest trick in the world.

And Adam? Dr L wasn't sure Adam should be born yet; he wasn't due until December 5. He did all manner of things to stop labor so he could run some tests.

When we left the hospital nearly a week later, we carried with us the beautiful baby boy who is now a man full grown.  

Monday, November 9, 2009

How My Story Began...

When I was 16 someone hurt me.  At the time it felt like the end of the world.  After a few weeks of trying to manage it myself, I went to Fr Harry.

What he offered, I didn't expect.  I'm not even sure I liked it.

Upon completion my tale of woe-is-me and my tears -- real ones -- of grief, he remained silent for a moment.

"You know, Kari.  You are writing -- if you will -- the opening paragraphs in the book of your life.  These are the parts that set the tone and direction for the rest of the book.  If you want to live life as a victim always overshadowed by guilt and shame, by all means, continue this theme."

Pause for a long slow drag on the cigarrette.

"But I see something different for you.  I see your strength, love of the Lord, and compassion.  I would like to see you write like a warrior."

Another drag.

"The life of a warrior isn't easy, you know.  There will still be disappointments and failures.  You'll slip and fall.  You'll cry.  But you'll always get back on your feet and continue the journey."

Final drag.

"Make a choice, girl."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Swing........... And a miss..............

Joe's team lost today.  Had they won they'd be playing tomorrow.

I'm not sure whether to be glad or sad.

Win.  We're at a stadium most of the day, jockeying car rides to the airport.

Loss.  We do what we want when we want and take people to the airport at random times.

I know Joe -- and the team -- choose the win every time.

Sometimes I don't.

Today was a "Swing... And a miss" day.  Nothing happened in their favor.

And yet.

They played every pitch like it was valuable.

They supported each player even when he struggled.

They smiled at the fans who were less than die hards.

I LOVE the guys Joe plays with.

There's Rick.  Friend.

There's Tim.  Manager. 

There's Terry.  Widower.

There's Jeff.  Married to a Really Nice Girl.

There's Doc.  Batter When It Matters.

There's Marshall.  Energizer Bunny.


They are each special men.  I'm sorry they lost today.  And I'm not.

Tomorrow Joe and I get One Entire Day in Paradise to spend whatever way we like.  Yay us.

Friday, October 30, 2009

That Evil Little Serpent

I'm currently leading two bible studies, one with adults and one with teens.  I'm using The Great Adventures Timeline.

The twenty-four week adult study promises to take participants from Creation to the formation of the early Church reading only the fourteen narrative books.  The eight-week teen version does the same, but at a different level. 

We're not far into the study yet, but there is already so much food for thought.

I was thinking today about the serpent.  When we read about the serpent tempting Adam and Eve, we read with our twenty-first century eyes.  Jeff Cavins, author of The Great Adventures, paints an early world picture for us. 

The original Hebrew word is much more descriptive than the English "serpent."  In original form, the word used to describe the serpent paints a monstrous figure.  This was no mere slimly little snake.  It was a terrible and threatening beast.  Not only that, the serpent was intent on damaging the trusting relationship God had with Adam and Eve.  It's God who punishes the serpent:  "Because you have done this, you shall be banned from all the animals and from all the wild creatures; On your belly shall you crawl, and dirt shall you eat all the days of your life" (Genesis 3:2).  God then gives us the first promise of a Redeemer:  "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel" (Genesis 3:3).  Jesus, the promised offspring, devotes His ministry to crushing the head of the Serpent.  He teaches us to do the same.

God's treatment of the disobedient Adam and Eve is that of a loving, merciful father.  He follows through with consequences for their misdeed.  He sends them into the world knowing they would live to have children and produce food from the earth.  He promises them new life through the Redeemer.  Mercy. 

As a child, I wondered why Adam and Eve couldn't tell the serpent was evil. 

As an adult, I recognize that what's evil and deceptive isn't always ugly and monstrous.

Evil, no matter what its form or how it's dressed, is the same now as it was in the beginning:  cunning, insidious, and deadly.  It twists truth, mocks beauty, and destroys love.

Our sole protection is our Redeemer.

When Compassion Returns

I heard my mom was struggling - again - with her "friend" and this time, FINALLY, I felt compassion for her. 

For the longest time, I felt nothing when I heard about her antics.  It's a relief to feel again.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Two Days To... Baseball Week

We leave for Baseball Week on Saturday.  Two days and counting.  My bag's packed.

Joe plays baseball on a 38-and-older team in the Roy Hobbs World Series every year.  They play at least four games at the beginning of the week.  Wednesday is a free day, unless there's a hurricane.  At the end of the week they get tournament play.

Joe's been playing baseball in Fort Myers for four years.  For this fifth year, he seems most excited about bringing his new wood bat. 

It is a fine-looking bat.

I've accompanied Joe to Florida for three years.  I'm most excited this year that my favorite sports-watching chair in the whole world in coming to Florida.  Honestly.  I'll use my chair way more than Joe will use his bat.  It's worth bringing.

I'm clearly not a sports fanatic.  I was though.  Imagine being a super-fan during Les Steckle's stint as head-coach of the Minnesota Vikings.  What followed with Jerry Burns wasn't much better, in my opinion.  With each humiliating loss, I was more and more devastated.  I couldn't focus in my classes.  I had to give up sports to live life. 

I am a fan of Joe, Adam, and Jakob during whichever sport they're doing in the moment. 

And I love Baseball Week.

For me, Baseball Week is a self-indulgent week.  I'll sit in the sun on the sidelines and watch my husband do what he loves best.  There are other fans too -- wives and mothers of the other players.  I fell in love with the players and the fans during my first trip there.

There's Fan Grandma Rose who has been watching her son play baseball longer than I've been alive.  Like moms everywhere, she keeps score on a napkin, and cheers for all our "boys" when they do well.  She made a bet with my tattoo-hating husband.  Should he not get a hit the entire week, he'd get a tattoo.  Honestly, she didn't know whether to cheer or hiss when he got his hit.  I hissed while she tried to pretend she wasn't cheering.  I really wanted to see him with the pink energizer bunny tattooed on his bicep.

Then there's Fan Pat.  Pat's no longer with us; she lost a battle with cancer.  She was quieter support in the cheering section, but she came as often as she could manage.  I really only knew Pat a handful of days, but knew she was someone I would love as a friend.  Her greatest delight in the days I knew her was her husband.  When he came to talk to her between plays or after games, she smiled at him with tremendous, delicious, gracious love.  Knowing how much he loved baseball, she spent some of her last days on earth watching him play and being with him when he wasn't playing.  She was beautiful.

There's Fans Beth and Carla.  These are the only two women I know who completely understand why our husbands play baseball and how bereft they'd be if they could no longer be.  Baseball is part of what makes them men we love.  We could no more ask them not to play than ask them to stop breathing.  That doesn't mean we're not tempted, at times, to scream, "Enough is eeeee-freaking-nufffff!"  And you know what?  We each understand that about each other.

Now we have new fans.  This year my in-laws and Carla's will be there to cheer for their sons.

In between baseball we find other things to do.  We walk on the beach, daydream while touring houses listed for sale, and share meals at some of our favorite annual haunts.  It's one of the best weeks of the year.

Last year a player announced it would be his last year.  His wife was tired of being a baseball widow. 

How could a wife steal her husband's greatest joy?

Monday, October 26, 2009

I had dinner with a friend who is in the midst of a struggle for contentment.  While we were talking, she exclaimed, "Do you have ANY friends who aren't struggling??"

The answer is no, I don't.

People struggle.

My husband and I have struggled, and we'll struggle again.

We struggle because we're both passionate and we both love.  And what we love is each other.

Sometimes people on the outside look at us and think they understand what makes us tick or what defines our boundaries.  The reality is no one can tell us what works for us except us.

There was a woman once who wanted nothing more than to have Joe in her life.  I recognized her longing from the beginning and finally advised him to befriend her.  I thought if she understood who he was and what he wanted, she would realize he's exactly where he wants to be.  "She'll learn something," I said, "and be a better person because of it." 

It wasn't a friend she wanted.  She wanted it all. She wanted him as confidant.  She wanted him as father.  She wanted him as lover.  She did strange things to convince him to need her.   She tried to make him a liar and conniver, two things sure to disgust him. 

Example?  She once walked him through the process of changing his passwords.  The email or text said, "I would like to send you private messages and here's how you can do it!"  He texted me, asking, "Why would she want this?"  He never changed his password.  He never had anything to hide.

The very characteristics that made her want him were the same ones that made me believe in him.  He's true.  He's committed.  He's honorable.

When we struggle or hurt each other, I always remember what Joe's mom said to me long, long ago.  "His love is true and abiding.  Trust in it."  Joe and I may speak different love languages, but I believe and rest in the depth of his commitment.


Hope is so fragile.

I have so many, many friends who struggle for just a smiggen of hope.

They wish people would give them something to make them feel better about themselves.

I'll say this once.  There is NOTHING that will make you feel better about yourself until you find peace with yourself.

Spend your hope wishing for more hope.

Enough said.

God bless.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ten Things I Won't Do

I won't forget when remembering will guide future choice.

I won't stop speaking the truth though sometimes it's easier to say nothing.

I won't stop learning even when I'd rather not know.

I won't pretend when it's important to be authentic.

I won't stop listening even when my friends wish they could stop talking.

I won't wander off the narrow path even when wandering feels good.

I won't ever relive the last year, even though I learned.

I won't ever settle for second when first is achievable.

I won't focus more on the process than the result.

I won't stop loving, even when loving hurts more than anything else.

There might be more, but ten seems like a good place to stop.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Self-Discovery #1,308

I can't write and read at the same time.

Right now I'm reading.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Eat This Soup

Last night was busy.  I drove Jakob's football trip (yay! they defeated an undefeated team!  woot woot!).  I kept in touch with Adam's soccer game via text messaging (Adam allowed more goals in this game than in any other, but he also stopped more than his fair share -- remember, my boy is ranked FIRST in the STATE! and it's okay for  me to say so, because I worked SO VERY HARD to say positive things to him in the early soccer days when he SUCKED big time!). 

When we finally returned from my bus driving job,  I had just enough time to take Jake home and return to the office for practice with SALT.  At the end of practice, we SALTINES spent a little time laughing at our history (we've had some SERIOUS bloopers).  Though I consider practice work -- albeit the LORD's work -- last night was the most fun we've had in a Very Long Time.

Hanging over my head -- and NOT in a bad way -- was today.  Today I need to have a pot of soup to give to a friend.  I had the ingredients at home and in my car.  I just needed to be home to work some magic.

I started my soup at 11:55 pm. 

Starting entailed cleaning the kitchen.  I live with lots of boys -- not only mine, but the ones they connect with.  I also live with a darling daughter who loves to bake.  I am not a baker, and have never discovered the MESSINESS of flour until this darling daughter showed me.  Seriously, her treats are worth the mess.  Still -- do the math! -- I had to start by cleaning.

Then I turned on the burner and placed my beloved and well-seasoned cast-iron skillet on the burner.  I poured in a little EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL (EVOO to Rachel Ray fans).  As the oil heated, I cut potatoes and tossed them in the oil.  Adding a little butter, I cut the rest of the veggies:  a few more potatoes and some carrots, onions, zucchini, and mushrooms.

With each layer of vegetables, I add my own unique, creative, and HEARTFELT prayer.  Read:

Potatoes:  Each person who will eat this soup is conscious of her weight and well-being.  Consider her needs and help her know how very much You (AND i) love her and want her to love You AND herself.

Carrots:  Each person who will eat this soup is an amazing and talented wife or mother or daughter.  Help her be strong and steadfast in her role and give her the glimmer of a hint about how much those around her love her.

Onions:  Each person who will eat this soup has many, many, MANY layers of being.  Help her while considering all her strengths:  She is wife.  She is mother.  She is daughter.  She is friend.  She is employer.  She is employee.  She is beloved.  Help her be thankful of her many, many layers.

Zucchini:  Each person who will eat this soup is a surprising, refreshing, and BELOVED flavor to someone. Help her recognize her own ability to surprise and refresh those around her.

Mushrooms:  Each person who will eat this soup is of the earth and THANKFUL for the earth.  Help her share her love and dedication to Mother Earth with others.

There are other ingredients in soup.  My ingredients change with each pot, so I cannot name them here.  All I can say is that my prayers are heartfelt, my ingredients are ALWAYS fresh, and my consumers are always beloved.

I might mention something else:  the soup is incredible.