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When you miss someone

and that feeling is new

you can pinpoint the hole left in the place of daily filling

acutely aware, no beauty goes without notice

breath and friendship not taken for granted,

your mind can move forward and back at grief’s bidding,

it feels like paralysis and flight all at once

Every day, the face of the Earth loses a speck

and gains another, but I do not. I gain much from my loss–

words already spoken, a faith now cradling my restless head,

the significance of ordinary things. Is it marking time?

Or is it grabbing the colors of a universe bent upon painting

and framing the eternal in each one of us? When you miss someone

your soul is on fire, you know life in a singular way

you pick up the pencil and you trace the shapes.

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Tribute

These two are those friends…

The ones who read your blog when no one else does.

The ones who drive over in the dead-end of night to help you through tragedy, who make Amtrak reservations because you just lost your parents in a plane crash and cannot bring yourself to get on a plane.

The ones who cry at your 25th anniversary wedding vows on a cruise ship to Alaska while the inebriated ship captain with the “Princess-bride” lisp mispronounces you “huthsband and wife.”

Those friends. The ones who invite your daughter, who is struggling at school, over once a week for sewing lessons. The ones who watch your baby for the weekend so you can attend a marriage retreat and baby pukes on their new carpet and they don’t mind at all.

She was the one who brought a basket of freshly-baked muffins to my house the day our oldest son left for college. They were the first ones to hold our youngest as a tiny preemie.

Once when I shared with her how disconnected I felt from my own extended family, and how painful that was for me, she labeled herself as my “sister” on facebook.

They are those friends, who have called each of our four children on their birthdays and sung them the “Happy Birthday” song every year of their lives since our kids lost their grandparents. The prayers for my children are like jewels strung from their hearts, now all the way to heaven, where I know she will still be praying for them.

When it comes to faith, I am confident that I possess belief in spades, belief that will endure no matter what. But these friends, these friends have more than that. Together, they were a dynamo of love together, full of grace and acceptance and humor and fun. They led, always, with their hearts. And they held on to you in such a way that you knew there must be a reason for everything and a God much bigger than reason.

They were our card-playing friends. Easy to laugh with. Easy to cry with. The only thing they ever judged was barbecue. Christ-like yet authentically flawed and human, always pointing to Him as their strength and reason for living.

You know. Those friends. Two of our greatest gifts. Today, we say goodbye for now to her.

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Alchemy

Writing really can’t be taught or caught.

It’s more walking uphill backward and barefoot carrying a screaming baby or bird and giving it your last morsel of trail mix even though

you know you won’t eat for days. You hoard your drops of water and you hide your dictionary because the ideas are signposts pointing

the way to everywhere simultaneously. No one understands. You don’t understand.

I am called a writing instructor–a teacher– but I don’t teach, actually, really. I walk around, masked these days, looking at whittled shapes

that young people who have lived so fully already, have carved out of their own skins and memories and I talk to them about how to re-arrange or mix so the formula (the 5 paragraph essay) gets its own fresh dose of life. Nothing happens for a reason and nothing in Creation

is so formulaic–look at a bird-wing and say it isn’t so.

I walk around with my hands open showing them a lost alchemy, talking to them about the used bookstore I love in Breckenridge where poetry occupies such a small shelf, and I hope they’ll remember the one I shared last week as a warm-up, I hope they will remember

one stanza or two when the Science stops making sense yesterday. I hope they remember that Grammar needs us more than we need her, and we are so much more in the reflection of our beating time, so much more and so much less all at once–Champions, we are

of a broken page.

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Olympic Moments

The Summer Olympics. I’ve been watching the Summer Olympics since the days of three channels and rabbit-ear antennas with aluminum foil pressed around for better reception. Some casual observations:

  1. Remember when the athletes looked almost inhumanly fit, almost like they were from another planet? They are still fit; however, so is your neighbor down the street who is a Crossfitter-marathon runner.
  2. Remember when getting know more about the athletes was limited to special feature sections on one of three channels with rabbit-ear antennas? Now, I can Google the athlete and record an event or watch livestream anytime I want. Why does it seems so overwhelming now?
  3. Remember when the TV Guide came tucked into its bed of the Sunday paper? Now, there are so many channels and so many guides with live links that I find myself guessing and hoping I don’t miss any of Simone Biles’ routines. Even though I know there is Youtube and it has all been recorded. I want the best opportunity for viewing–I am going for the Gold in television viewing, which makes me an Olympian, right?
  4. Remember “Wild World of Sports”? The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. I dozed off to these words almost every Sunday afternoon of my childhood. I am not sure “Wild World of Sports” as a title would work in 2021.
  5. My son told me once that there are 2 types of people: the one who wants to win and the one who doesn’t want to lose. Which one am I? This seems like a trick question to me.
  6. Olga, Nadia, Marylou, Carly, Shannon, Nastia, Gabby, Simone…I once watched Olympic gymnastics and decided to try some balance beam moves atop one of our wooden fence lines on the farm. On my dismount, which didn’t go well, I almost bit my tongue in half.
  7. Sugar Ray Leonard. I went through a phase when I wanted to be a boxer. In retrospect, a boxer’s mouthpiece would have been a good idea for my gymnastics phase.
  8. Now there is 3×3 basketball in the Olympics. I grew up playing half-court ball in Oklahoma. I’ve always tried to tell people that 3×3 is an entirely different sport from full-court basketball. I feel vindicated. I was an athlete ahead of her time living in a time-capsule state.
  9. Why is beach volleyball so addicting to watch? I plan my days around Olympic Beach Volleyball, and then the Olympics end and I forget it exists until the next Olympics. I feel like my calves are getting toner just watching the athletes.
  10. If you watch the Olympics and you aren’t familiar with the story of Jim Thorpe, be sure to Google and YouTube after you read this post. I am surprised how many people have never heard of this great athlete. There is a Facebook meme that floats around from time to time showing Thorpe in an old football uniform and wearing shoes that neither fit his feet nor match. What isn’t always told about Thorpe is the tragic irony of his burial and his children’s legal battle to try to bring his body back to Oklahoma for re-burial, which is what Thorpe wanted.
  11. I am not entirely sure our world creates true amateurs anymore. Most small towns, like the one I live in, start recruiting basketball players when the babies are still in the womb, or so we like to say. Even though most of us never rise to Olympic glory, many of us train, skip church, skip family events as though we will. Thrill of victory. Agony of defeat. It seems that now, anyone can run a marathon, pull off the Murph on Memorial Day, eat food that comes in little tubes like astronauts and fork out gzillions for the right equipment. Amateurism in sports is murky as are many other “cut and dried” aspects of competition that once we did not think about or question. In the real world, amateurism has been replaced by professional mediocrity. I formulated this idea while attending a sports fair prior to the Austin Marathon, where we were all lined up to buy expensive special socks, protein bars, some kind of weird tube-food, and elitist Gatorade that was called something else. All of this so my sister and I could run-walk the 5K and other family members could complete the big race with varying levels of fitness and training on display, proving forever than almost anyone can eke out the 9- minute mile if you deprive yourself of dessert, skip alot of church, and become “evangelical” enough about keeping your feet blister-free and in Brooks.
  12. The Olympics teaches us that life is about the journey, not the destination. This is what I tell myself as I channel surf my thousands of options, searching for beach volleyball. My face feels ready for my Wheaties Box, however, I will need to get a new recliner prior to the photo-shoot.

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Don’t order that Big Mac!

Everyone go back to vacation and post pics of your food and the wildlife and the beach sunsets. Yes, Delta variant is on the rise and it is unsettling and yes, mostly un-vaxed people are afflicted, and YES many un-vaxed people appear to be getting their information from social media and unvetted news sources. In short, they are listening to people who aren’t “experts” in the field. Ok, well facebook is anything but a forum of “experts” so stop feeding the monster. If the only place you have to debate about the Covid vaccine is facebook, you are probably not qualified to provide “expert” opinions. Chances are I am not an expert either.

I am certainly not an expert of other individuals and the complexities of why they are not making the choice that is right for me. As a society, we need to clear the stage so that it becomes impossible to listen to nonsense instead of having those important conversations in private with our own medical providers. It seems to me, we are drowning out the voices that people should listen to. Shhhh! Vacation pics! We are all experts at that. Kindness. Love. Empathy and Mercy as we attempt to minister to people who, just like us, suffer the consequences of the choices they have every right to make.

My thing is fast food. Over 20 years ago, after I gave birth to Baby #4 as an older mom, I realized that, with my genes, the only chance I had of still being alive at this kid’s wedding was to give up fast food and the convenience of that. I was also aware that my being able to idle up to a drive through window and order a Quarter Pounder and large fries with a soda was a part of my class privilege. No one feels the need to question an unhealthy “skinny-fat” person driving a Lexus about her choices. It seems to me the best thing we could do to help our fellow Americans navigate Covid and heart disease and stroke and cancer and kidney failure and lupus and high risk pregnancies and just about every health problem that could be faced is not to increase minimum wage for fast food workers (which isn’t a bad idea) but to eliminate fast food altogether and force our society to relearn how to soak a pot of pinto beans and to eat slow again.

This pandemic is a complex issue and everyone who diminishes it down to a black and white decision is making it political. So stop. Everyone. Stop. In your spare time (some of you will have loads if you stop posting Covid articles on Facebook), read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Find the photo I saw this past week of a bottle of alcohol that was labeled “Government Whiskey” and was distributed along with bad cheese to Native Americans on reservations. Attempt to understand. Go stealth with the preaching to people you don’t even really know on social media and have smaller, more meaningful conversations with the people you personally know that are against the vaccine in the context of friendship and care.

And no more Taco Bell for you. 🙂

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What did you learn?

Today I engaged in a roundtable discussion with some of my amazing colleagues at McPherson College as we spent time processing what it was like to teach during the Covid-19 pandemic. The fact that President Schneider allowed time and space for us to process our experiences made me feel valued. The organizational question asked of us was “What did you learn?”

I didn’t share much at the roundtable because, well, I am a writer and why waste a good journal prompt on the spoken word when I can hoard the idea, listen to others and rush home to fill my blog with all of my insights and ideas. Here is what I learned:

  1. Most of what works in teaching during a pandemic works even better when not in a pandemic. Open communication, flexibility, patience and grace. Flexible deadlines and the willingness to communicate the same message again and again to students who have questions is something I have always done as a teacher. It was even more important during hybrid course delivery.
  2. Today’s students are often living in pandemic-like situations even when the rest of us, who are insulated from hunger, poverty, abuse, neglect, and anxiety about where the next ——– is coming from, can easily pretend the world is a stable place. When all the unknowns during Covid-19 left me taking on bad habits or attempting to escape rather than get my work done, I realized that we, as teachers, often expect our students to juggle these kinds of stressors all the time.
  3. I am not a teacher-centric teacher. If a student doesn’t know how to write a good essay, I don’t consider that an insult to me or that it is beneath me to teach such a student or that someone else in the faculty food-chain should have taught him this instead of me. The truly valuable educational moments are not mine, as the teacher, to dictate. I can plan for teachable moments, but they aren’t always going to happen according to my best-laid plans. Teachable moments operate much more like Nirvana.
  4. Flexibility and inconsistency are not the same thing.
  5. I simplified my lesson plans and it helped me to teach better. Post-pandemic, I will continue to simplify.
  6. I was cognizant throughout the pandemic that part of my job as a teacher was to model for students an honest but positive quest to thrive while in survival mode. I might not be teaching my dream lesson plan on Zoom (because my dream lesson plan consists of fully exposed faces in face-to-face format) but I could still have a good day.
  7. It was easier to allow at-risk students to fall through the cracks during the pandemic and it was much more difficult to pull them up through those cracks after they took the plunge into failure.
  8. It is ALWAYS important to take time to connect because without human connection, retention won’t happen. They will always remember how you made them feel is often quoted, but the pandemic taught me that this remembering and feeling is the only gate through which any kind of meaningful learning can be attained. This is foundational.
  9. Children learn what they live is another well-known parenting mantra, and we readily accept that this applies to small children, but what we don’t always remember is that the children in this premise grow up often to become those self-fulfilling prophecies I studied about in sociology class. Good teaching changes narratives rather than just reinforcing existing ones.

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Sign Language

God, You continue to move, like the wind, like a bird

sleep is flight for you, and I continue to move, not always

in graceful ways. Stillness is a part of dance. White space is integral to poetry. Rest empowers our wakefulness. Emptiness-fullness. Darkness-light. Instead of focusing on contentment, Lord, today I focus on its movement–on my walk. Lord, what do I do with my arms of praise? What motions might signal the elusive enough? How do I hold myself?

As an empty vessel that allows other sinners to fill me up? Do I reach

like a child in front of a blue fir for the wisps of lowest imperfection? Do I settle for this and with these stretches name myself? Let me strive for the top where the fronds are star-like and the sky

intercepts light. Let me bend my legs only to jump for more. Let me only entertain Your words and Your responses to me. Slowly and perhaps for years more slowly I am learning this; but you know what? It doesn’t matter how awkwardly we catch the current. If we learn to listen only to this, we fly.

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Freedom

This is my favorite poetic first line ever written. Sharing this poem today as we celebrate all the freedoms. This poem was published in 2013 in Relief Journal. It takes a stab at our tendencies as Christians to claim free grace for ourselves then revert immediately back to legalism. It’s a picture of what it looks like when we reject our freedom in Christ and try to earn instead of receive.

Freedom                                                                                      

God is nothing more than a psychopath                                                       

if He is everything you need him to be—

a neutered animal hiding in the bagpipes,

some pretty floral tones of devotional cover

with stretched tape measuring your thigh in shorts,

delivering pears in foil boxes at door-point.

Breathe and let the micro-manager work

His magic. Turn wine back into water.

Free from law we must obey the rules—

they multiply like cells under microscopic scrutiny.

Sweetener in your coffee? Disposable diapers?

Bible without embroidered cover? Days of the week

without to-do? Leavened bread? What, exactly,

are you praying for, exactly?

Have you so soon forgotten your legacy—

how you are related to the last century?

There is no male or female but we know

there are always cousins. Life is an organ

which must be touched at all times by all appendages—

sweat while you play. The bricks of heaven

lay before you in the street you cross

to get to the other side. And God waits in the phone booth,

 sheds the skin He died in just so you could try on these wings.

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Hello Life

How many of you are coming out of your caves of hibernation thanks to the Covid vaccine? What refreshment to hug friends again. I can almost feel the snakeskin ripples in my soul begin to soften. I see the world with fresh eyes.

I have a newfound concern for those who have been even more isolated than I was during the pandemic–those older than me. Those making forced life changes. Those who lost spouses during this past year.

Now that we know how vital community is, that God’s plan is for us to “get by with a little help from our friends,” let us pray for the lonely, the isolated, the grief-bearers. Let us pray that God will use us to alleviate loneliness and lift up the spirits of others.

I still don’t fit in most of my pre-Covid jeans. Like my thighs, my socializing muscles feel flabby and neglected. Unused. I plan to keep moving and to keep putting myself out there in yoga pants.

Is it just me or are we all having “It’s a Wonderful Life” moments as we lay down our summer patio rugs and water our flower pots? I have missed all the imperfections, all the cracks in the concrete and uneven burners and soggy dip and hovering insects all made perfect by conversation and laughter and touch and grace.

This day made by the Lord for life.

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Psalm 51:10-12 (in my own words)

Re-create me, oh God, in your drenched image again and again

for as long as it takes. Daily like a sun rising before the eyes of the moon. I feel loved as the old me, partaker of the dirty ground,

but only as I flap new wings. I will forget how long I have wasted and how long you have waited on me. There are no broken paths ahead or behind as your Grace transforms, but I will recall the tripping and the bleeding: a dull idea that might torment me were it not for your re-joining and rejoicing.

This one caveat that is too beautiful to believe–You never let go of me.

I reach with wriggling eyes into my own heart: clean!