Sunday, September 25, 2011


This is our first house, and also our first real encounters with home maintenance and repairs. It was well into chilly weather that early winter when we realized we hadn't done anything with the swamp cooler. Neither of us had ever seen one up close, much less the inside, so we had no idea what to do. Still, we were pretty sure something needed to be done before spring. I would go up and try to figure it out.

It was dark by the time we got home and started on the project. I climbed the tall ladder and gingerly made my way across the roof. The surface was covered with a combination of ice and snow. Thankfully, there was a nearly-full moon to provide light for the task. I fumbled about, poking and prodding as I pondered the beastly box. Eventually I managed to open it up. Awhile later, I broke through the icy surface of the reservoir with my fist and, even later, figured out how to open the drain hole.

Looking back, I am amazed that we survived the experience.

Years have passed, autumn has come again, and we decided to cover the swamp cooler today. I climbed to the roof on this comfortably cool evening, then stood at the peak and watched the sun slip slowly down behind the trees in the distance. It was beautiful, calm, peaceful.

On this day, the swamp cooler chore was not a serious risk, not bitterly cold, not marked by confusion and frustration. Instead, I stood a little apart from the busyness of life and paused to see the beauty of the horizon.

It was a lovely gift in the midst of the mundane. I don't want to miss such moments.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Wilted Plant

A fun little plant has graced our kitchen for a few months. It is the only plant we have inside, mostly because our plant-raising skills are... lacking. When we returned from a recent trip, our plant was terribly sad. Its pretty red flowers were dried out and turning black; the stems and leaves had wilted so much that the touched the shelf all the way around. It looked quite dead. I sighed, having failed another plant.

Still, I added water on Tuesday. Nothing to lose, right? Added some more yesterday, too.

Take a look at it now. Amazingly, we have a plant again!

It reminds me of times when I have felt dried out and wilted, my outlook darkened. I think of times when I have been "watered" in some way by God, a friend, even a stranger. Like with the plant, it often doesn't take much. A simple conversation has at times made a world of difference -- giving strength to stand and restoring me toward full life again.

Looking at my happy little plant, I am encouraged by those memories.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Beyond Fun

I meandered through a shop in the airport recently, and found this happy little mug:

"Friends Make Everything More Fun"
It's cute and cheerful, like sparkly unicorns and fuzzy puppies dancing among rainbows. I don't like it.

It's not that I am opposed to unicorns and puppies and rainbows. I just think more highly of my friends.

Yes, friends bring joy, and often laughter. But some things simply are not fun, and no amount of cheerful cuteness will change that. And sometimes, true friends even take the risk of squashing fun when something more important requires attention.

I am grateful for fun times with friends, and I am grateful for friends who make space for un-fun times, too.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

DC Reflections: The Why

A friend recently recommended a movie, and did so with enthusiasm. Why? It wasn't based on the plot, but reflected significant underlying themes that reach far beyond one story and into the story of humanity -- complex relationships, messy situations, courage, truth, goodness, triumph.

Light Traffic
My husband and I recently spent almost a week in Washington, D.C.  With traffic, crowds, and other such factors, it isn't precisely a restful place to visit. The city is filled, too, with reminders of war, grief, Holocaust, and other difficult issues. There are some truly impressive structures and attractive park spaces, but none of that was worth flying across the country.

So, why go? For me, it overlaps with why I went camping the week before. Two very different experiences, but with pretty significant overlap in purpose.

On The Mall
First, Mark and I went together. It was wonderful to experience DC with him. We walked a lot, saw the same things, sometimes saw them differently, and talked along the way. Whether going to Washington, D.C., or Wall Drug in South Dakota, I like going with Mark.

Second, this time in DC was opportunity to connect with something broader than my own little world, to think in bigger terms, to see where I fit within a broader story, to be challenged toward something greater. Best I can tell, that kind of connection is central for many other DC tourists, too. It isn't easy, isn't restful. But it is important, and it is worthwhile.

I can recommend touring DC, and do so with enthusiasm. Why? It's not about knowledge to acquire or interesting things to see, but is more about significant underlying themes that reach far beyond individual stories in history and flesh out a broader story lived out through centuries. Yes, it is messy and complex. And it is filled with all sorts of courage, truth, goodness, and triumph.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Story Minus Zombies

"When you take away the zombies, what's the story about?" Mark introduced me to this question awhile back. It's a pretty good one. And it isn't just about zombies. It can be vampires, pirates, ninjas, aliens, dragons, wizards, prancing ponies, singing vegetables, pocket lint come to life, or whatever. The question is still the same -- what does a particular story portray about the human experience?

Consider the crime show CSI: Miami, which has survived a number of years despite the cheesy dialogue and acting. It's also pretty much the same plot told over and over again; all that changes is the details. Surely this show's popularity is not about creative storytelling.

How, then, does it manage to continue? I think it actually might be because it is pretty much the same plot told over and over again.

Spoiler Alert! I'm about to reveal what happens in pretty much every CSI episode ever produced! Here it is:  People are going about the usual business of life when somebody is found murdered, which is unexpected and horrifying, seriously interrupting the usual-business-of-life stuff. A group of experts with diverse skills and a thirst for justice is called in, with leadership from a caring and capable boss. The team works together to solve the crime, the criminal is revealed, the team goes home, and the business of life can resume again in some way.

It happens every week, and people keep coming back for more because there is something in the storyline that matters to people.

In this ultra-connected age, we are constantly bombarded by stories of tragedy -- disasters which may be natural or manmade -- which significantly disrupt business-as-usual. At such times, it is natural to seek assurance that someone is in control. We want to know that troubles -- and especially evil -- will not be left unchecked. Especially in such times, we crave relationships in which each person is recognized and has a place not in spite of his or her uniqueness, but because of it. There is confidence, too, in following someone whose leadership and character are competent and caring. There is hope for justice, for the world to be set back upright again, for return to a safer, more predictable situation.

Like a bizarrely morphed version of Mister Roger's Neighborhood, CSI speaks to fears and brings a measure of reassurance that good will in some way triumph.

"Take away the zombies," and I see some deeper truth reflected in CSI: Miami. There is comfortable security in the apparent predictability of everyday life, and that is threatened when evil rears its ugly head. In the midst of such times, it is hard to see how the pieces all fit together, and may be difficult to even imagine how life will continue, how a "new normal" will be found. But, when we look beyond ourselves for the answers, and stick together, evil will not triumph in the end. Ultimately, good wins.

It's no Narnia story, but there's still something of God reflected here.

"Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed." (G.K. Chesterton)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Camping: Differently Practical

We went camping recently with a group. Temperatures varied quite a bit, and it rained briefly on Saturday. A small tent was our primary shelter, furnished by sleeping bags and thin mats. The dog was out of sorts in the unfamiliar environment. The whole trip took extra time and energy and planning. We returned dirty and smelling like we hadn't showered for 2 1/2 days of camping.

Why do we do such things? It doesn't make "practical" sense.

The sky turning dark

Yet we were intentional in going, confident the experience would be worth it.

Much of my reason was to be with the others. Yeah, we could have all gotten together at someone's house and spent two days there but, for whatever reasons, we don't do that. So we all went camping instead. It took us away from our individual homes to more neutral space which "belonged" simultaneously to all of us and to none of us, where we shared space far more than when living in our geographically dispersed homes and, in the process, shared a little more of our selves.

A few of our camp-mates

There is something else about camping, too -- not being there simply in spite of the discomforts of nature, but also, in a way, because of them. When we go camping in the mountains, we place ourselves more directly in the path of nature. In the process, I can see more clearly the bigger picture beyond myself, beyond my relatively small corner of the world. Such experiences remind me there are many things we cannot control and should not try; sometimes our role is to just anticipate appropriately and to respond flexibly as needed in new situations.

Setting up a tarp shelter over the fire

The camping trip was not "practical" in the realms of finance and comfort, but it was important in a less tangible way, by shaping me a little more into the kind of person I want to become. It was a good weekend. I'm glad we went.

View from our site

Friday, September 9, 2011

Making a Difference

"It was just 10 minutes of my life, but I hope it made a difference."
-- Kathy Poiry --

Photo by Caroline Henri

Poiry was approaching a railroad crossing when a 17-year-old fell under the train and severed both legs. A nurse, Poiry partnered with Nicole Crowley at the scene to calm the injured one, call paramedics,  and administer first aid until they came. The two are believed to have saved the young woman's life.

Poiry's story is one of life and death, and it holds significance because life is precious. It is an attractive story. It calls me to courage and hope, reminding me that "ordinary" people can make a difference, that we can do great things in the midst of "ordinary" life.

At the same time, I am reminded of something I heard recently from Andy Stanley about "Bible heroes" who made courageous choices that were tipping points at which the course of history changed. Stanley lists people like Abraham leaving home to follow God, Moses returning to Egypt to face down Pharaoh, Joshua leading the Israelites across the Jordan River against apparent odds, Joseph forgiving his brothers, David facing Goliath, and Gideon reducing his army to attack the Midianites.

As Stanley points out, these stories are just so big, and things in our lives just tend not to be that dramatic. Most of us are not kings or generals. Most of us will not lead an entire people group out of slavery, command an army in battle, or even save the life of someone run over by a train nearby. Most of our names won't even be known beyond our relatively small circles.

Most of our stories are not dramatic or well-known, but there are certainly circumstances we face in which the world may be changed in a significant way. The occasional "big" stories tend to get the press, but courage and character are at least as necessary in the many "little" ones as we live out our values and convictions in so many decisions throughout everyday life.

When I think of what Kathy Poiry said -- "It was just 10 minutes of my life, but I hope it made a difference" -- I have a few stories of my own in which somebody acted to protect me from serious physical harm. I have many more stories of people who, sometimes even in just a single interaction, have made a significant difference in my life -- often through a meaningful conversation or a simple act of kindness.

Reading Poiry's story reminds me of those, and calls me to courage and hope. There is no such thing as an "ordinary" person, or an "ordinary" day. Each holds potential for something great.

Monday, September 5, 2011

When I Was a Kid...

We got a card reader over the weekend that allows me to transfer photos from my phone to my laptop. My phone's gallery was becoming unmanageably large. Interestingly, my 1,048 photos take up less than half of my itty-bitty memory card.

Apple IIc
My baseline expectations were set (as is so often the case) in childhood. My folks bought an Apple IIc when I was around 5th grade. The thing didn't even have a hard drive. Both the programs and the work were saved and accessed on a "floppy" -- a flexible plastic disk just over 5" square. To compare the technology, it would take over two thousand of those disks to hold what is on my fingertip-sized phone card right now.

I remember using that computer for the first time to write a spelling assignment. My brother started the machine for me, got the program running, and set me loose.  To this day, I clearly remember turning off the computer after finishing that first spelling assignment -- annoyed by the homework, relieved to be done, and a little pleased by the novelty of completing it on the computer. But nobody had mentioned anything about saving my work. And, living primarily in my reliably concrete ten-year-old's world, I believed that once I'd created something, it would continue to exist.

Turns out, that was no longer correct. As smart as computers were supposed to be already, they apparently still did not realize that I did not create stories using spelling words for the sheer joy of typing. I would soon discover, too -- after additional frustration -- that floppy disks are fragile, sensitive things, so even saved work sometimes disappears or becomes unreadably muddled.

My ten-year-old eyes were focused on the task at hand, on my little piece of the world in that time. I had no idea how much technology was in the process of changing the landscape of my world.

I wonder how much I don't realize now.

Friday, September 2, 2011


"It is healthy and honorable to weep
at the loss of someone we love.
Healthy because such passion must be released.
Honorable because it is respectful to admit
the importance of people who have loved and supported us...
people whose footprints cannot ever be matched."
(Maya Angelou)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Noticing Construction

I was driving a familiar road recently and was very surprised to see a new-looking multi-story brick building. It hadn't been there all the time, had it? Where did it come from? It seems to have been built up while I wasn't paying attention, and now stood strong.

In relationship with someone I've known for years, I had grown accustomed to this person's patterns of putting up walls whenever matters of substance were brought up. In conversation one day, this person displayed courage regarding a challenging situation, boldly trying something new rather than seeking a way out. I was surprised. This kind of response hadn't been there all the time, had it? Where did it come from? It seems to have developed while I wasn't looking, and now stood firm.

I'd struggled in a particular relationship and couldn't engage the other person, much less reach reconciliation. We continued to interact as our paths crossed, which was always a reminder of the conflict. I was hurt and angry, and needed to find a way to love this person -- regardless of whatever else might be the outcome. One day, I was surprised by a twinge of compassion as I recognized a difficult time the other person was experiencing. Where did that come from? It seems to have developed gradually over time as I wrestled with the brokenness between us.

Buildings are constructed, new roadways are created, the landscape is shaped, and people change. There is always intentionality leading to good results, and it is often a very slow, gradual process. Surprised, I think back: That wasn't there this whole time, was it? Where did it come from? And in those moments, I think about the broken parts of my life, the situations around me, and the world as a whole, and I have hope.