“It Wasn’t So Bad!”

Did you ever wish you could recognize holy moments in time to live fully in them?  I had an opportunity to do just that this week in the most unlikely place – the flu clinic at the doctor’s office. As usual, I was rushing and flustered after pushing my husband to get ready so we could get there at the appointed time. I was even quizzing him on his behavior:  “Who taught you that it was appropriate to leave for an appointment at the time you are supposed to be there.”  Thankfully he did not respond. This was not the holy moment – although it could have been, as can any moment.

The holy moment began when we pulled into the crammed parking lot. I was turning carefully into a spot next to a big van when I saw the van door slide open. I stopped immediately, half way into my spot. A little girl, maybe four years old, grinned at me through the open door. “Mom, there’s a car coming,” she reported. Mom peeped through the door on the other side of the van, while trying to corral a small flock of children. Thanks for being careful,” she said calmly.  “Come out this door.”

The girl scampered across the seat and got out while I finished parking. I was getting out of  the car  when I noticed a small boy hurrying around the back of the van and past me.  Mom gathered up this child with three more little ducklings, and they walked into the doctor’s office.

By the time we got in, mom was filling out five forms for flu shots for four kids under 8 and herself, when one of the older girls came out of the playroom and said something to her.  Mom responded, “Well the first thing you need to know is that we don’t use that word about people.” 

We waited behind the family, while the nurse checked their forms.  One of the kids grabbed some suckers and passed them out; even mom got one. I thought, “She should take those away and use them for a reward after they get the shot.” (Bad idea from parenting two boys who hated shots!) But Mom knew better. One of the children couldn’t get her sucker out of the cellophane.  Mom leaned down with her sucker in hand and said “If you start at the bottom, you can pull it off more easily.” The girl followed her example and was rewarded with a lick on a purple sucker.

Just then the nurse called to the family, “You can all go into room 1.” We finished our forms and sat outside room 1, waiting for our turn. Then I realized that all five of them were in there together lining up for shots and said to my husband, “We’re about to hear some screaming.” But it stayed eerily quiet. Finally, we heard some whimpering. Then three girls and a boy trooped out of the shot room, followed by mom.

Mom corralled the kids outside the door. Then she looked at us as we sat awaiting our shots. She said to the kids, “Tell them it wasn’t so bad.”  Instantly four little faces turned to us and a choir of little voices, including one that belonged to a tear-stained face, chorused, “It wasn’t so bad!” in perfect tune and in perfect unison. Then they all grinned, three blonde little girls and a curly-headed young  black boy – a family full of love. We all smiled back as the family marched out the door – and we went in for our shots.

My husband and I talked about being serenaded by these children at least three times in the next half hour.  I really wish I had been able to capture on video the second those children turned to us as one and offered us comfort. As I reflected on the whole scenario, I was impressed by this young mother’s calm behavior with these four little ones in her care. I realized that she had turned every moment into a teachable (and holy) moment.

She impressed the need for safety on one child by thanking her for being careful. She taught another child about social values without even lifting her head from the form and carefully explaining that we don’t use mean words about people. She taught the whole crew to be responsible for themselves by teaching them to unwrap a sucker.  She helped them face a possible fearful moment by matter-of-factly leading the kids in for their  shots. Finally she helped them replace any fear they may have about a doctor’s visit by encouraging them to offer us (and themselves) reassurance .

Later I remembered watching a TV show in which a 20-something young woman was waiting for her first experience of helping birth a foal. Mom did most of the work herself, but as the girl came in the stall, she raised the foal to its feet and began  putting her hands on its face and neck and rubbing them on his back.  Then she placed him so he could begin nursing. She explained that she was “imprinting” this newborn. By helping him feel comfortable with her touch and her good intentions, she was teaching him that humans (at least this human) could be trusted.

I decided that my holy moment was all about a young mother imprinting her children with love, respect, independence, and a positive attitude. I wish I could live next door to this young family so I could watch her work her magic and observe the kids grow into loving, respectful, independent, and positive young people. 

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From My Reading – November

All the great saints in history about whom I have read have been people who were so passionately in love with God that they were completely free to love other people in a deep, affective way, without any strings attached. True charity is gratuitous love, a love that gives gratuitously and receives gratuitously. It is following the first commandment that asks us to give everything we have to God and that makes the second commandment truly possible. . . .

We are touching here on the source of much of the suffering in our contemporary society. We have such a need for love that we often expect from our fellow human beings something that only God can give, and then we quickly end up being angry, resentful, lustful, and sometimes even violent. As soon as the first commandment is no longer truly the first, our society moves to the edge of self-destruction”  (Henry Nouwen, You are the Beloved).

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“Contemplation is a kind of seeing that is much more than mere looking because it also includes recognizing and thus appreciating. The contemplative mind does not tell us what to see but teaches us how to see what we behold.

Contemplation allows us to see the truth of things in their wholeness. It is a mental discipline and gift that detaches us, even neurologically, from our addiction to our habitual ways of thinking and from our left brain, which likes to think it is in control. We stop believing our little binary mind—which strips things down to two choices and then usually identifies with one of them—and begin to recognize the inadequacy of that limited way of knowing reality. Relying solely on the binary mind is a recipe for superficiality. Only the contemplative, or the deeply intuitive, can start venturing out into much broader and more open-ended horizons” (Richard Rohr in Daily Meditation,  October 20, 2029). 

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“You cannot believe in or practice unitive consciousness as long as you exclude and marginalize others—whether it is women or people of different sexual orientations or people of religious or ethnic minorities or, in my experience, people with intellectual disabilities. My work is largely with and in support of people who have significant vulnerabilities because of intellectual disability. In many cultures these people are excluded and oppressed, though often unconsciously, even more so than other marginalized groups. . . . They are thought to be hopeless. Mostly they are ignored and forgotten.

For twenty years I have been mentored by these same people. Some might not be the best-spoken, the most articulate writers, the most celebrated thinkers, the fastest runners. And yet, despite all of that, I have met person after person who emanates a kind of radiant light. After a while, even the densest of us may have our eyes opened to that something which transcends all superficial distractions of disability: the unimaginable beauty of every person. That beauty is ours for the seeing if only we have the eyes to see, if only we pay attention” (Tim Shriver in “Ripples in the World: CAC Multipliers,” the Mendicant, vol. 4,no. 4, Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), 3-4.)

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We need ways of navigating our differences that deepen our curiosity, deepen our friendship, deepen our capacity to disagree, deepen the argument of being alive. This is what we need. This is what will save us. This is the work of peace. This is the work of imagination” (by Irish poet Pádraig Ó Tuama, quoted in the OnBeing newsletter,Oct. 18=9, 2019).

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The Battle of the Newspaper

It’s only a thin daily paper, maybe 12-15 pages many of which are filled with ads. But for years, I have faithfully read the Holland Sentinel – when it was not so good journalism and now that it is pretty good journalism. Sometime during the last year, I started scheduling appointments with the paper. I get my “work” and errands done, eat lunch, and then in mid-afternoon sit down with 8 Hersey Hugs and devour the paper.  

I read every section: the front page local news describing fireworks in a local mayoral election; the local news section full of local business achievements, non-profit collaborations and celebrations, and crime stories; the obituaries, making me aware of the personal pastimes and achievements and families of people I know and strangers I don’t; the letters to the editors and editorial columns both local and those reprinted from bigger papers; the feature stories about sports heroes from our town and surrounding areas, very personal and fascinating. I even read the legal news and announcements.  

Before we moved to a new apartment (down the block about two hundred feet), I called the circulation office for the Sentinel to give them our new address and to ask them to have the carrier put a new bright blue Sentinel box near our door because the apartment complex won’t allow the paper to be just thrown in the driveway or on the grass.  They said it would get done! For sure! !  The day after we moved!!!

Promises, promises.  In the ensuing days, I made 11 calls to the circulation desk:  my paper was not at my new address, the paper was being delivered to the box at the old address; there was no paper at any address, the new box was never put up, the paper was being thrown in the parking lot (which our apartment doesn’t face). The paper was not delivered. The paper was on the grass again.  The only time the paper was delivered properly was the time a sub delivered a Sunday paper because we never got one – surprise!

Soon, I noticed myself getting more irritated and more upset as the Battle of the Newspaper continued. I complained several times to my husband about how unfair! this all was.  Trying to be solicitous, he said, “Well, at least you don’t have to go down 14 steps (as in the old apartment) to look for it.”  He never said that again!

When the apartment maintenance guy came to ask if the toilet was working properly now, I said yes and immediately launched into my experience with the newspaper delivery guy.  He told me that he routinely has arguments with the guy because he routinely throws the paper any old place in the parking lots. He admitted that last winter he just plowed the papers into the piles of snow rather than stopping to pick them up – and the oblivious tenants had to call to complain that they didn’t get a paper that day.

I shared all these stories with the circulation desk. On my 11th call I stated that the delivery person evidently had a grudge against this complex or or the maintenance guy, or he just didn’t like being told what to do.  The person at the desk was horrified that I would vilify their employee like that. On another call, I had said that if I didn’t do something a boss had asked me to do 8 or 9 times, I would have been fired. That person agreed with me.

As I talked this over with my husband and friends, I was told that the only way to fix this was to cancel and then subscribe again a month later. None of them seemed to understand that this would do no good: I would still have the same person delivering the new subscription! A few told me to subscribe digitally and read on line. Only one person sympathized and agreed with the fun of just sitting in the recliner with my Hugs lined up on the end table while holding an actual paper.

And then, finally, (and this is the point of this silly blog), I realized that I had not been acting much like Jesus the last three weeks. The “it’s not fair” moments took over my days and my conversations. If I could’t act civilly, let alone lovingly, I’d had to just give up the paper. If a newspaper was so important to me that I daily lost my cool, I would have to let it go. One more lesson in detachment was obviously needed.

And so my 12th call to the Circulation Desk was to cancel the Sentinel.  I could almost hear the collective sighs of relief that went around that office. And, as is my experience with most detachment soul-training exercises, I really don’t miss the paper. I keep my rendezvous with Hugs while reading a library book.  I buy the paper once or twice a week at the gas station down the road, but I no longer have withdrawal pains. Once in a while, a friend will send me the digital version of an article she thinks I would enjoy, and I am grateful.

Now I just need to be reimbursed for most of October because the cost of the paper was withdrawn on Oct. 15.  The person on the phone promised me that would it be done in a few weeks.

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Sit and Enjoy the Stillness

When productivity is our main way of overcoming self-doubt, we are extremely vulnerable to rejection and criticism and prone to inner anxiety and depression. Productivity can never give the deep sense of belonging we crave. The more we produce, the more we realize that successes and results cannot give us the experience of “at homeness.” In fact, our productivity reveals to us that we are driven by fear” (Henri Nouwen, You are the Beloved).

This quote by Henri Nouwen will probably hit home for most readers of this blog. Being productive, staying busy, making the most of our time, contributing, giving back, obeying our calling – all these concepts can motivate us, drive us, and make us feel good about ourselves until we stagger in exhaustion. And, even then, as we struggle to fall sleep or we oversleep, we feel that the more productive we have been, the more we have given the world our best.

Somehow we feel that the lifestyle of  “work ’til you can’t”  is what God wants from us, too.  We identify with the disciples who wondered why Jesus took so much time off – from the work and from them – to sit in a boat or on a hillside.

Henri Nouwen was one of us – until he learned that all the time he had spent pushing himself and then patting himself on the back was not what God had in mind for his “beloveds.” Nouwen learned what God really wants from us during the last ten years of his life while he lived in the community of L’Arch Daybreak in Canada. He was the community’s pastor, but he learned about the mistaken value of productivity from caring for Adam Arnett, a profoundly disabled young man from the core community. For years, Nouwen was paired with Adam: feeding him, washing him, sitting with him, caring for his every need. He learned that even though Adam could do nothing for himself, let alone for anyone else, he could love, which was all that God required of him. In keeping with his words about productivity above, Nouwen said, “It is I, not Adam, who gets the main benefit from our friendship.” (Read this beautiful story of friendship and love in Adam: God’s Beloved.)

Nouwen posits that the reason we are productive is that we crave approval and belonging. But these blessings are gifts of God. We can’t earn them; the harder we try the more anxious we get and the less at home we feel.

Learning to just sit and be still has been my biggest challenge as I age.  I was raised to be always working and productive. That lifestyle was how I earned my own approval – and that of others. But then I learned that the only approval I need is God’s and that God doesn’t demand constant activity, let along approve of it. So now I do a reasonable amount of work in a day . . . and then just sit and enjoy the stillness. I am thankful that learned to find joy in being still before pain made it necessary to just sit. It’s a blessing to learn to feel comfortable just “being” before our physical condition forces us to live in a world of quiet and inactivity.   

If you are one of those who feels driven by the false good feeling we get by being constantly productive, try this soul-training exercies:

Partner with God for a week of self-observation:

  • Ask God to help you see yourself constantly doing and running faster and faster.  Make notes of what you feel while you are busy. Approval? Belonging?  Are you working and doing mostly to avoid the unworthy feelings you have when you are not busy?
  • Then stop the frantic going and doing for a day. How do you feel? Anxious, bored, lonely, useless?  Are you doubting your worth? If you have any of these feelings when you let go of productivity, what is God trying to teach you?
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Moving Days

So . . . once again we have moved.  It wasn’t far – about a tenth of a mile from one building to another, from an upper level apartment to a ground floor apartment,  but it took all the energy and patience that we had and then some. For two months we have been reeling from problems – and opportunities. Joy at the thought of being liberated from 14 straight-up steps was tempered by sorrow at losing the view from our balcony. We were re-introduced to our physical limitations and our emotional anxieties. We vacillated between “We can handle this!” and “We are so grateful for your help!” Changing addresses, changing paper delivery, changing leases, transferring electric and gas services and insurance coverage tested my courtesy and my memory. I was again grateful for my organizational skills while bemoaning my decreasing physical stamina and painful and unbalanced locomotion. 

Now that  the roller-coaster ride over and we are settled and happy in our new apartment, I can tally up all the help we received from our community of friends and family:

♥   The apartment manager who pointed out that, if our doctor would write a letter of med- ical necessity for a lower level apartment, we could go to the top of the waiting list – and our very busy doctor who did just that. We ended up in a new apartment with our preferred floor plan with new carpet and, unexpectedly, handicapped showers and bathtubs!

♥  Friends who offered packing boxes.  It seemed as if we had a 100 boxes in the garage ready to use and a dozen more to be taped. In the end, we used every one of them – and needed no more. This remarkable story reminds me of II Kings 4 when Elisha asked the friends of a poor widow to each bring all the empty jars they could spare to her house. He then took the woman’s only treasure, a bottle of oil, and used that one bottle to fill all the empty bottles. The widow had a treasure of oil to sell. She paid her debts and saved her family.)

♥   My sister who came over twice, once to help dismantle the potted garden on my balcony and once to help me tape up boxes and pack up kitchen stuff.

♥ My son Ryan who brought his 13-year-old daughter and carried the first of dozens of boxes down the stairs to the garage, and who later brought his wife and 16-year-old son to move a bookcase I was giving to their college sophomore daughter – and, yes, carry more boxes. They also brought a huge pizza which I froze and ate for four nights before and during the move. On our moving day Ryan was busy with a tennis tournament, but still picked up our U-Haul at 7:30 A.M and brought it back at 4:00 PM.  My other son Kelly came from Wichita to Grand Rapids to present a college-level academic game on the genocide in Rwanda he has written and published to interested professionals.  In his free time, he came twice to the apartment to carry down boxes and even re-organized the garage so more would fit – and spent hours in great conversation, as well.

♥  The Care and Repair team from the church I served for several years as director of spiritual formation which contacted us and said they wanted to help us move. About a month later, four men in their sixties and seventies, one hobbled by a hip problem, went up and down our steps and in less than three hours had all our boxes and furniture in place in the new apartment. 

♥   Doug, one of those movers, stayed behind and told me he was going to go back to the old apartment and get the food we left from the refrigerator and freezer.  I protested – twice. Finally, he looked at me kindly and said, “I am offering to help you, why would you turn that help down?”  I had no answer.  He gave me a lesson that will last a life time – in addition to putting everything in the new refrigerator in the same place as he found it in the old one!

♥ Two women, one from one of my writing groups and one from my small spiritual formation group who offered very specific help. One borrowed her husband’s truck the day before our move and helped me lug box after box after box, all my plants, and all the garage stuff to the new garage. The other e-mailed me that she would arrive at my new apartment at 1:30 and make the beds and help get the kitchen in order.  She did all that and much more, including putting up two shower curtains, my most hated task in the world of housekeeping. These two energetic and “bossy” women motivated me to get almost everything in its place by Monday noon.

Through all of these people we learned the consistent theme of life in the Kingdom of God. Life will test and life will bless, sometimes at the same time, but God is always present.

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From My Reading

My brain is in a fog. My attempt to post on this blog twice a week has dribbled down to no times a week. We are in the midst of a move to a ground level apartment. The fourteen stairs which have provided us with a beautiful, much – loved balcony are now our #1 enemy. My husband has to stop mid-way to regain his breath; I have been known to go up on my hands and knees felled by back and leg pain – not an easy way to carry up bags of groceries. Now we are surrounded by boxes up here and in the garage. Our homey apartment is just a shell. We will move a week from tomorrow; a group from our former church offered to help us.  This is difficult time, but also a time of many blessings.  When I have recuperated, I’m sure the writing block will disappear and I will share them with you. Until then, I haven’t stopped reading. Here are more words from some of my favorite people.

 “He or she who cares is invited to be poor, to strip himself or herself from the illusions of ownership, and to create some room for the person looking for a place to rest. The paradox of care is that poverty makes a good host. When our hands, heads, and hearts are filled with worries, concerns, and preoccupations, there can hardly be any place left for the stranger to feel at home” (Henri Nouwen, You are the Beloved).

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“It may be a temptation to want to be transformed into the dominant images of our society and imagine it is the gospel — more winsome, more clever, more competent, more ambitious, more secure. You can hustle around and achieve, because we here are all high achievers. But that transformation finally will not do, because it is in truth not what our life is about. The transformation that counts is to embrace our oddity as creatures of God” (Walter Brueggemann in a 1992 sermon on II Cor. 3:18).

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“The power of stories is that they are telling us that life adds up somehow, that life itself is like a story.  And this grips us and fascinates us because of the feeling it it gives us that if there is any meaning in any life – in Hamlet’s, in Mary’s, in Christ’s – then there is meaning also in our lives. And if this is true, it is of enormous significance in itself, and it makes us listen to the storyteller with great intensity because in this way all his stories are about us and because it is always possible that he may give us some clue as to what the meaning of our lives is” (Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat).

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“Grant me daily the grace of gratitude, to be thankful for all my many gifts, and so be freed from artificial needs, that I might lead a joyful, simple life” (Edward Hays).

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“Does God want us to compromise our moral values—continuing to support Trump, remaining silent about his outrageous behavior—in order to accomplish what we believe to be good results [conservative judges, reversal of Roe v. Wade]?  Or would God have us act in moral and honorable ways, including denouncing Trump, while trusting that God will deal with the evils in the world in God’s own way and in God’s own time? I do not think there is any question about which of these God would have us choose.

Jesus called Christians to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Jesus did not limit this command to non-political activity only. When Christians enter or have influence in the political realm, they are to be salt and light there. Does this not mean that Christians should demand that their leaders be fair, reasonable, and decent?  As it is now, the world sees Christians supporting and defending a morally corrupt leader. It gives many a reason to reject the Christian faith out of hand.

What if evangelicals took a different path? What if we insisted that our political leaders be decent, honorable, and fair—and we started trusting in God, and not power politics, for results in the political arena?  If we did, we would give the world a reason to view the Christian faith in a different light. We would be inviting God to accomplish things far beyond anything that can be done through the ways of this world. We would be inviting God to demonstrate what can be done through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Steve Skahn, Reformed Journal:  The Twelve, Sept 24, 2019.

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From My Reading

“Our sociology is predictably derived from, legitimated by, and reflective of our theology. And if we gather around a static god of order who only guards the interests of the “haves,” oppression cannot be far behind. Conversely, if a God is disclosed who is free to come and go, free from and even against the regime, free to hear and even answer slave cries, free from all proper goodness as defined by the empire, then it will bear decisively upon sociology because the freedom of God will surface in the brickyards and manifest itself as justice and compassion. . . ”  (Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination).

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“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and is exactly what it  needed to be.  Don’t think that you have lost time” (Asha Tyson).

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“Self-love or pride is a sin when, instead of leading you to share with others the self you love, it leads you to keep your self in perpetual safe-deposit. You not only don’t accrue any interest that way but become less and less interesting every day” (Frederick Buechner, The Clown in the Belfrey).

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“I believe that until we create churches that allow for more authenticity and transparency—where it’s okay to not be okay—and people can honestly tell their stories, we’ll continue to hear about burnout, stress, depression, anxiety, suicides, exhaustion, and breakdowns. 

. . . .  I believe with all my heart that vulnerability and authenticity are the only way to find wholeness in Jesus Christ. We’re not meant to gloss over or skim the surface, pretending our way through life. Jesus invites us to be real with him and with one another” (Junius B. Dotson, Soul Re-set). 

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Exhaustion, burnout, and depression are not signs that you are doing God’s will. God is gentle and loving. God desires to give you a deep sense of safety in God’s love. Once you have allowed yourself to experience that love fully, you will be better able to discern who you are being sent to in God’s name.(Henri Nouwen,  You are the Beloved).

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Where I’m From

The idea for this post comes from a crowd-sourced poem created by poet Kwame Alexander from 1400 poems on the topic of “Where I’m From” sent in by listeners of “Morning Edition,” a morning radio show on NPR.  Here’s my version; you might try writing yours.

I come from:

♥ immigrant Dutch and English families joined in 1909, greeted with home town dis- approval, but proudly lived out.

♥ a white cross in a graveyard in France dated April 5, 1945; sorrow, tears, longing, grief and broken dreams.

♥ days and nights in a home filled with frightening anger, stiff silences, and confusing behavior – and worst of all, feeling unwanted and ignored.

♥ multi-generations of teachers, musicians, and athletes, and heartening examples of public service:  an agent for the Indians in west Michigan, service men in WWII, a state senator and lieutenant governor, dedication to non profits.

♥ millions of tall and proud red, yellow, purple, orange, and multi-colored tulips filling tulip farms, front yards, downtown planters, boulevards, parks, and elaborate plantings with hope and joy.

♥ Tulip Time festivals in May, Dutch costumes, parades, Dutch dancing, Dutch folk music – and “if you ain’t Dutch you ain’t much.”

♥  the crashing waves of Lake Michigan, sand dunes, pink, orange, and red sunsets.

♥ blueberry bushes, strawberry plants, grape vines, carefully staked leafy tomato plants, rows and rows of green and yellow beans, purple lilac bushes and delicate pink and white fruit trees joyfully bringing in spring, and roses bushes artfully climbing trellises viewed from Grandma’s desk.

♥ Honey Bunch, The Bobbsey twins, Nancy Drew, stuffed bookshelves in libraries and living rooms, the Book of the Month Club, newspapers, magazines (decades of National Geographic) –  reading, reading, reading!

♥ church twice on Sunday, Sunday school, youth group, catechism and, always, choir practice!

♥ The Hallelujah Chorus, Onward Ye People, Amazing Grace, Mary, Did You Know? Crown Him with Many Crowns sung in congregations and choirs; Johnny Mathis, Elvis, the Everly Brothers, the Righteous Brothers, and the Temptations; sheet music of WWII love songs and ballads stacked on the grand piano and vinyls of patriotic marches on the turntable.

expectations of college degrees and beyond (I’m all in), conservative politics (sorry grandpa, no can do!) and Calvinist theology (sorry mom, I don’t totally fit there either).

Posted in My journey