Monday, October 31, 2005

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The day in photos

I've been fighting a sore throat and fever for a couple of days, so decided to forego writing and post photographs from our day: the festival we attended, our band and colorguard, the trip home. Beautiful colors, beautiful lighting, beautiful moments and beautiful memories.

Wishing you all the same!

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Light of His Face

"May you see the face of Christ on everyone you meet, and
May everyone you meet see
the face of Christ in you."

These were the final words from the benediction given at the service for my sister-in-law's father. I sat in the pew, absorbing the words as people drifted slowly from the church, talking quietly or in silence. I didn't know if anyone else was carrying this profound blessing with them until my mom and I slipped into the back seat of the car. Being of Mother's heart, I should have known that she was thinking on it too.

"I remember Marguerite from Park Church," Mom said, referring to a lovely woman from the small, country church of my childhood. "She always had such a serene expression on her face; a look of peacefulness, love, contentment. And I wondered what message I was carrying around on my own." We continued to discuss it as my oldest sister turned the car towards a nearby restaurant.

"The Carriage Crossing" is located in the midst of a small community, very strong in its Amish and Mennonite heritage. Horse-drawn buggies whisk by at a lively gait carrying hatted men in black and lovely women in dresses and bonnets. It is like stepping back into a simpler and focused life.

Once seated we were greeted by our waitress; a young girl in a plain, gray dress that brushed her ankles, and a sheer, white cap. Though we were a party of ten, she moved about us with ease; her hands in practiced, lifelong expertise. But it was her face that captured me. I found myself entranced as she circled our table, taking orders, smiling. Her soft voice rose with an inner song as she spoke to each of us, and her beautiful smile shone through her eyes. She was grace and loveliness; her face glowing with a light from within.

I longed to take her picture, but a photograph would have been inappropriate, out of place and not allowed. Besides, how can you capture on printed paper a look that comes from the soul? It was a message, a gift, a witness of looking into the eyes of someone close to God. There in that restaurant, upon that sweet expression, I saw the face of Christ.

Through this journey may I continue to see it in the faces of others, but more importantly.....may I live the example that allows others to see it in mine.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Human Kindness

This morning while driving to work I was listening to my favorite morning show. Each day the DJs pose a new question, then field stories from callers. Today's topic: "Have you ever been in a situation where you've unexpectedly left your money at home?" In came the phone calls relaying tales of being at the check-out counter with no wallet or remembering you'd used your last check the day before. But it was the last call I heard that has stuck in my mind all morning.

A woman who worked in a convenient store along the turnpike called to say that she had been on the other end of that situation on more than one occasion. There were numerous times when a customer got up to the counter and realized they had left a wallet at home, or thought they'd had more money on them than they actually did. Naturally, she couldn't "OK" it by funding their purchases with her company's money, so instead, she paid for the expense out of her own pocket.

The remarkable thing was that she had never lost a penny by doing so. Every person she'd helped had repaid her in full. An accompanying "Thank You" was usually included with the repayment; a message of sincere gratitude for an act of kindness going above and beyond. "My rewards," she said, "Have always been greater than the initial sacrifice."

This woman never knew what the response would be from these strangers. Would they pay her back? Or would they take her kindness and run? The point is that as a result of her own goodness, she believed in theirs. And it's been my experience that what you expect of others is usually exactly what you get.

She will probably never know the true consequences resulting from her compassion. It is my guess that her recepients will not soon forget her actions and that they, in turn, will be on the giving end when someone else is in need. Her true gift, afterall, was not the money, but faith in her fellow man.

We have all heard the initials, "WWJD". But bracelets and bumper stickers hold nothing if they're not backed up with action. What would Jesus do? Ask the woman at the convenience store along the Kansas turnpike. It sounds like she has it exactly right.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Remembering Jim

This is a repost from last summer, but pertinent in my series of "important men in my life".

His name was Jim Crawford and he was the golf coach at the University where I worked. Each morning he would come into the Admissions Office with his beautiful white hair and broad smile and sit down with us for awhile. He'd have a cup of coffee, check his mail and inquire about our well-being. In the hectic rush of morning, he took the time to get to know each of us and became a fixture in our office....and in my life.

I wasn't supposed to be there, in the Admissions Office. The Library, where I usually worked, was undergoing renovation so I was temporarily placed in the position of Credentials Specialist until it was completed. Accepting this new job, which I would only hold for 6 months - a job I'd been told would take that long to learn - was less than thrilling. But as it was expected more than requested, I obliged. It was a new door; one that opened up to find new friendships, lessons and insights.

We discussed many things during the time that I worked there and Jim became like a father figure to me at a time in my life when I really needed a positive male relationship. He was funny and charming, his laughter filling the room; his dearness filling our hearts.

For his birthday I made him a card, drawing the silhouette of a golfer on the front. Inside, I expressed how his kindness and the loveliness of who he was had touched not only me, but all those who knew him. His birth day was really a gift to the world. I remember watching him as he went through his mail that morning; opening my card, and seeing the look on his face. He came around the partition of my cubby and whispered, "You are so dear....." and reached down to hug me tightly. It still brings tears...I still feel it....

One day, towards the end of the year, we were discussing the upcoming millennium and how excited he was to see it. That was his wish, he be here to welcome a new century. And welcome it he did with his exuberance and magnificent presence. He struck a chord in all of us, and how grand was his symphony!

Sometimes it's hard to say the exact moment when someone comes into your heart....but you always feel it when they go. I got the call on a Monday morning in January of 2000 that Jim had passed away. He had gone into the hospital the week before for knee surgery, which he hoped would allow him to play golf again. I talked with him on the phone during his hospitalization and he was looking forward to getting out soon and being among those he loved. But complications arose; first his kidneys, then his heart and he left us suddenly...without warning.

The church was full. A loving eulogy from his son, a congregational song, "On Eagles Wings".....a beautiful rendition of "O Danny Boy" on a lone cello. I walked back to my car, thinking about loving someone and wondering if it was worth all the pain of losing him. Remembering Jim, it only took a few seconds to come up with a resounding "Yes!"

He got his wish. Though only for a few short weeks, he saw a new millennium. Though he is no longer here to see it, each of us who were so very fortunate to have known him carry him with us into this new turn. I like to think that he is watching over my shoulder as I type this. He would have loved the world of "blog" and the fact that I am thinking of him. So... as I push "publish" and send his name out into the world, I remember. And though I changed jobs for just a moment, the moment changed me for a lifetime.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Images of Autumn

My Dad and the Silver Ring

It was the summer of 1973 when my family pulled into the quaint little town of Ouray, Colorado. Nestled in a valley between two mountains, it was a picture postcard of a Christmas town on summer retreat. I remember how charmed I was by all the little trinket shops that dotted the streets. It was there, in one of those shops, that my father bought me the one - and only - present he has ever given to me.
My mother must have been with some of my brothers and sisters in another store, and I don't recall if anyone else from our family was there with Dad and me. It doesn't really matter. What I do remember is that he let me pick something out from the glass case which displayed all kinds of wonderful things to catch a little girl's eye. It was a treat to be allowed this extravagance. It was a gift to receive it from my father.
After careful thought and consideration, I selected a little silver ring made of loops that wove around my finger. At the top of each loop was a small silver bead, not unlike the silver candies we decorated our sugar cookies with at Christmastime. I loved it and cherished it, and when we got home....I lost it.

It was out on the pavement beside the gymnasium at our school where we used to play dodge ball and tag when I first noticed I'd lost it. I don't remember the precise moment when it disappeared from my finger, only that it was gone and I was horrified. I'm sure that it only cost a few dollars, but the sentiment behind it was priceless. I hadn't lost a ring. I had lost a treasure.
Growing up, my mother always did the shopping and every Christmas and birthday was complete with a wonderful present or two from both of my parents. But to this day, that beaded silver ring, purchased when I was just 11, is still the only present my father has ever truly given me.

Though presents were a twice a year occasion, the intangibles were daily gifts that I received from my father. I learned and grew from watching the great man that he is. He taught me much about humility and respect, honor, honest and integrity. He showed me how to be kind towards others, how to be a loving, respectful and respected parent and to have faith both in God and one another. Those things mean so much more than a little silver ring. But I still want it back.
For years, I went to the place where I believed I had lost it and spent much time searching through the rocks and grass for a hint of its sparkle. But I never found it. I'd like to think that another little girl came across it during her play and that it adorns her finger as it once did mine. Perhaps she too, can feel the comfort of my father's love.

I ponder other pretty rings I have worn since: the birthstone my mother bought me when I stopped (briefly) biting my fingernails; an opal that belonged to my grandmother; a fancy diamond ring won from a contest; assorted gems and gold bands. But there is still a special place in my memory and my heart for that swirl of beaded silver, just as there is that special place reserved only for my father.

Other jewelry has been lost or removed over the years, but it only hurt when I lost that little ring. Perhaps it has to do with unconditional love and feeling cherished and warm, and in the midst of a large family, special.

One simple present from my father didn't tell me that he loved me. It simply confirmed the fact that I already knew he did.

Friday, October 21, 2005


It's been a rough week...and I'm ready for a break.

My friend, Kris, whom I've known since we were both 15, is coming to stay with us for a couple of days. I'm looking forward to slipping into a comfort zone and catching up with someone who has been beside me through most of my life. She is a "true-blue" friend, and though we only see each other once or twice a year, our time together is always as if we'd never been apart at all.

Wishing you all a safe and happy weekend; a respite from the busy-ness of the week-day world.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Remembering Records

While I was at Mom and Dad's last weekend, I slipped up to the attic. Christmas decorations lay on a makeshift plywood floor, along with boxes of childhood momentos. The dusty smell of wood, antiques and memories filled the small, triangular room, and the single 75 watt bulb lit the path to the particular box I had in mind. The records.

No CD, cassette or IPOD can hold a candle to the complete absorption of needle on vinyl. If you are of this generation, you can remember well the sound when it first made contact; the initial pause that flowed into a burst of song or gentle beginning to a favorite story. I will never forget lying on the floor, completely mesmerized, truly listening. For a record, you see, was interactive. It required your full attention; first as its audience, then as a participant in its continuation. It was a two-sided tale of Peter Pan swooping down upon Wendy, the mellow sounds of Richard Chamberlain, the blast from Herb Albert's Brass, and Snow White's sweet voice from the wishing well.

The album covers were a glimpse of what lay inside and the imagination was a powerful and vivid thing. Once in awhile the jacket would open up to reveal drawings or pictures that accompanied the tales. My favorite were the gifts from Walt Disney. Each cover was draped in a brilliant colored curtain; the cinema boxed up and brought home to our living room. An oval window edged in silver - the Magic Mirror - gave us a view into the enchantment of technicolor. Inside were pages filled with lovely illustrations that led us through Disney's journey and though no characters moved before us in 3D images, they marched across slick white pages and danced in our minds.

It is a time of innocence forever lost in today's technology and that saddens me somewhat. The antique of today was once a marvelous window that opened my world to enchantment and wonder. It was a time in my life when everything was possible. Good ruled over evil. Friends never left your side. There was beauty around every corner, a valuable lesson to be learned and at the end, a handsome prince awaited (even if you were foolish or slept for a hundred years).

I remember records. And sitting up in that attic, I realized how lucky I had been to be part of an era when things were simpler, and everyone lived "happily ever after."

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Images of Mother's Garden

"The kiss of the sun for pardon
The song of the bird for mirth;
One is nearer God's heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth."

On my way to my parents' house last Friday, I stopped at a small convenience store I'm familiar with on the outskirts of a tiny town. Chickens wandered aimlessly around the rustic building, a porch swing hung listlessly above the boarded floor, and colorful flowers bloomed in boxes hugged around wooden columns. It was a moment frozen; a picture postcard of the heartland.

The evening was perfect, peaceful... so I decided to forego the interstate and took a back road instead. It wound around the foot of the flint hills and set me on a much-desired course of solitary travel. Rare was the car that I met as I took my time, soaking in the sights and scenery.

I drove past the lake where the sunlight lay like a rippled golden path and its twilight rays filtered through the trees. I wanted to stop and take a photograph, but somehow it would have ruined the enchantment. Instead, I took a picture in my mind and stored it in my rolodex of beautiful moments.

It took me longer to get to my destination, but the time spent was well worth the while.

"Two roads diverged in a wood,
And I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference."

Monday, October 17, 2005

Going Home

"If home is really where the heart is...
Then home must be a place we all can share,
For even with our differences, our hearts are much the same
Where love is we come together there."

Two years ago my parents moved from the town where I did most of my growing up. Though this is a house where I've never lived, it still has the essence of "home". The walls hold paintings that decorated my childhood, and every corner contains a cozy familiarity: the reminiscent ticking of the clock on the wall, photographs of family, knitting in the basket, books on the table. And in the midst of it all, those I love.

I sat on the front porch, listening to the stillness. While much was going on around me, I took time to think and remember, hope and dream, count my blessings.

It was a difficult time for my sister-in-law, my brother and their children. The circumstances for their being there never escaped me and yet, there was something healing about our being together, something special about being "home".

Though miles scatter us in different directions, our hearts remain close. We are children, parents, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, cousins. We reach out to catch one another when things hurt us, and help find the light when it grows dark. We celebrate the joys, and triumph in one another's grandest moments. We are family....we are friends.

The time together is never long enough. My brother's family left all too soon; their presence here almost like a dream. If I could just take a picture of time and make it stand still so that we could say and experience it all...

But time moves on...and we move ahead. I know that I will carry this weekend with me for awhile, reflecting on the moments shared and that place in our hearts where we are always "home".

Another Year

Today is my birthday. But I'm giving credit where credit is due.

Thank you, Mom and Dad for finding one another out of all the people in this glorious world, for building a family that I am so blessed to be part of, and for giving me the most wonderful foundation on which to build my life.

My true gift today is to be your daughter. I Love You both!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Weekend Away

I'm going away for the weekend to spend time with my family - parents and siblings - as we come together to help my brother's family deal with their loss. My sister-in-law, Diane, lost her father suddenly this week and they are flying home for his services.

Since they live in Seattle, we don't get to see one another as often as we'd like, and as their time here is limited, we are trying to find some moments in the midst of sadness to celebrate our love for one another and the gift of being a close family.

Here in Kansas the promise is for a picture-perfect, "October Bright Blue" weekend. I wish you all a safe and wonderful few days, no matter what the weather brings. Enjoy your time, enjoy each other and remember your own gifts and blessings.

'til we meet again...

The Written Word

I love handwriting; the flow of pen across colorful stationery or at the bottom of a sentimental greeting card. From the beginning of time it was our way of communicating, of reaching out to another heart with words of inspiration, encouragement and love.

My paternal grandmother wrote with a backwards slant, her words hovering low at the bottom of holiday messages in thick, blue ink; her left-handed, unique cursive writing. Mother's letters are written, always, with a black, fine point pen; her penmanship graceful and filled with words of beauty and hope. My brother, Keith, mimics my dad's handwriting with capital block letters that speak of strength and goodness while Wayne, my oldest brother, writes in a creative flourish of energy. Each of my sisters, Kathie and Julie, have similarities in their writing yet spotlight their own differences in unique ways. My children add drawings as their penmanship changes from year to year along with the rest of them, and my husband's lovely words always bring a quickening to my heart.

Penmanship, though still taught as part of the elementary curriculum, falls away in high school as papers are tapped out on compact keyboards. Computerized fonts have replaced the proud, scripted lettering of days gone by. Even our mail has changed. In an age where emails knock at our online mailboxes, a hand-written letter in a stamped envelope is a rarity; a treasure amongst the bills and advertisements.

I miss the flow of ink on paper; the beautiful loops of cursive "J's" and "L's" upon crisp, lovely sheets with monograms at the top and a spray of posies across the bottom. A letter is not just news, but the personal touch of time spent with pen in hand as a loved one contemplates, reflects, shares.

So as the weekend approaches and we begin shifting down from the fast lane, I pen this letter, sending it out into the world for you, my dear friends:

Wednesday, October 12, 2005


When I was in the 8th grade, I was given a special award for creative writing. My wonderful English teacher, Mrs. Mosiman, stepped forward at the school assembly and presented me with this medal; the first time it had ever been given.

She believed in me. My 14-year-old ideas were still forming, and to read my adolescent musings today would probably make me cringe and yet, back in 1976, she saw something.

I teach Science to two 6th graders. One of them is a little boy so eager to learn and do well, but who struggles in nearly every aspect of academics. His writing is extremely difficult to read and his ability to put words together is on a level much lower than his age would suggest.

Yesterday I gave him a journal; a blank book with lined pages and a bright, colorful cover. In it, I told him, he could express his thoughts and feelings, write about his day or tell stories. My one rule was that he never write anything mean or hurtful about someone else. He took it eagerly, immediately putting it in his backpack and promising to write in it faithfully.

Today, as soon as he walked in our classroom, he brought it over to me with a smile, showing me how he had filled the first page with Science news, home activities and a story about a blanket given to him by his grandmother. Though his words were still difficult to read, they were much better and fit easily between the lines. In the school setting, he dislikes writing and feels stressed while doing it. I had hoped that if he chose to write about things he liked, his penmanship would improve and he would see that there is joy in written expression.

He comes from a harsh background and his home life leaves a lot to be desired. School - and his teachers there - are a security and a safe haven. We care about and want him to succeed, despite the odds that are against him.

A little book with lined pages is just a small step. If nothing else, perhaps it will allow him a place to go - a quiet, reflective world - when his own is out of focus. But I hope that as the years go by and time moves on, he will look back and remember that there was someone who wanted to see him succeed. Someone, who believed.

My Pleasure

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to step in for the 4th grade teacher who had to attend a meeting. Her class is small so I know each student by name, and the environment in the room is familiar and friendly.

The next day I returned to the classroom to talk with the teacher and was greeted by Rachel, one of the 4th graders. She had a shy smile on her face and this note in her hand.

Hallmark couldn't have said it better.

P.S. Some names have been removed to protect the innocent!

Monday, October 10, 2005

Dreams, Realities, Blessings

WHAT IF..... Everyone was kind and treated one another with compassion?
WHAT IS..... Not everyone cares about other's feelings, and there will always be people in this world that we don't like.
BUT..... Though I don't have to like everyone, I do need to be kind to all, and as I tell my children - if I can't do that, then it's time to step away for awhile...

WHAT IF..... I had a shiny new car with an odometer set at "0" and the fresh smell of leather?
WHAT IS..... My 1998 Explorer is inches away from 200,000 miles, has squashed French fries
between the seats and a transmission on its way out.
BUT..... It's hanging in there and has carried my family safely over many miles. Its seams have nearly burst with laughter, music, friends and memories...

WHAT IF... My husband was closer to his family and truly understood the importance of hearts that long to be near him?
WHAT IS... Something happened somewhere along the way that made him step away.
BUT... I still love him - we all do. And I, myself, am blessed to have that closeness with my own dear family. I pray that someday he will find his way back and experience that kind of joy.

WHAT IF... All of our bills were paid in full and our balance of debt sat at ZERO?
WHAT IS... Medical bills and major setbacks haunt me daily as we struggle to keep up and not let the undertow consume us.
BUT... We have a roof over our heads, food on our table, God in our hearts and friends at our side. We have healthy bodies to earn our living and have everything that we TRULY need.

WHAT IF... I had the job of my dreams; writing and taking pictures of all the people and things I love most, and being able to earn enough to live comfortably.
WHAT IS... I am a para educator in a learning-disabled classroom, making an annual sum that - as a single person - would put me way below poverty level.
BUT... I cannot put a price on the lives that I touch, the children I help...nor the heart-warming rewards of smiles, hugs and "thank you's"... And how grateful I am to have a job where I can be close to my own children and home when they need me.

WHAT IF... I was able to travel, to visit places I've never been before; to see art, hear music, experience beauty that lies beyond the borders of the only place I really know?
WHAT IS... Vacations and glorious destinations are out of reach; something to dream about for the future.
BUT... How fortunate I am to live in a wonderful state, in a country that is free; where opportunities lie around every corner and true beauty resides all around me...

WHAT IF... Everything was easier; there was no suffering, no sicknesses, no struggles, no failings?
WHAT IS... Hard times and difficulties come to us all in many shapes and through many sources.
BUT... It is through these struggles that we learn compassion, strength, perseverance, patience and above all, faith. And when joy does come - and it always does - it is that much sweeter.

I could live my life pondering the "What If's", and grow dissatisfied with "What Is".
... my life is a melody of highs and lows that has been orchestrated into a beautiful symphony of memories and moments. And though there are things - that if given the opportunity - I would change, I am content in the place where I stand and choose happiness as the course on which to charter my life.

WHAT IF... All of my wishes came true?
WHAT IS... Chances are, they never will.
BUT... I am still one of the richest people I know!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A Chocolate Promise

Sometimes some of our best advice comes from the strangest places. Who'd have known that a little bit of chocolate could hold such a profound message! What is your dream?

There is a Season

The beautiful sunflowers have gone to seed. Their velvety yellow petals have curled tightly to the center and the grainy brown centers have dropped their seeds to the earth. They stand majestic, yet bare, waving in the wind.

My sister-in-law lost her father this morning. Though he was in a retirement home, he had not been ill and had moved to Seattle to be closer to his two daughters and their families. He passed in his sleep, quietly, peacefully; his season on this earth at its end.

As I drove around our section this evening, having alone time to think, I looked at the remnants of the sunflowers and was sad to see them go. But right around the corner I noticed the newly planted wheat fields. Kermit-green sprouts were just beginning to shoot up, and they danced and swayed in the autumn sunshine. Last summer these same fields were reaped as harvested wheat came to full circle and ended its season. Now, new life unfolds. It will lie in wait while the winter winds brush across the prairie; sleeping through dark and snow until the springtime sun embraces it once again.

Ecclesiastes says, "To everything there is a season under the heavens". And though the circle never changes and the seasons come to us all, tonight my heart is heavy for my sister-in-law who has - for this season - lost her father. May the promise of a new life for him sustain her through a time when her own feels shadowed in sorrow and may tomorrow bring new light and hope for the seasons ahead.