15 November, 2009


A novelty to me when I moved to the Midwest was the tradition within some German heritage congregations of Totenfest: the celebration of the the dead. Usually this is held either on the Sunday nearest All Saints Day, or the last Sunday of the liturgical year, often the Sunday after Thanksgiving -- just before the start of Advent. Call it a Memorial Day for the church, perhaps. In the New England congregations of my younger years, this was not part of my experience. Though I would not consider myself to be liturgical in a traditional way, this is a lovely tradition.

In this season between the traditional times of Totenfest, I find myself remembering my mother. Anyone who knew her well and knows me at all can see traits of hers in my being. Practicality, logic, ration, frugality, eccentricity are all words that could describe either of us. Can do and make do are attitudes I learned from her. Like her, I often forget where I've left my purse; and like her, I've taken to wearing it over my shoulder and across my chest so that it doesn't get away from me. (Unlike her, my purse is tiny and contains the bare necessities instead of anything that might possibly be needed.)

Over the 8+ years since my mother's death, the hole in my being where she lived has become a familiar part of who I am. Early on, I stumbled into it frequently and found myself shedding tears over my loss. That hole is still there: I still long to pick up the telephone and call her for a recipe or to share some good news (shouting it so she'd actually hear it, then explaining it so she'd understand its importance to me). I still miss her e-mail notes with daily itinerary and menus from her days since her last e-mail. When I open my cookbooks or photo albums and find a note with her handwriting -- a piece cut from old file folder turned into a post card with a recipe or an address she sent to me by request-- the vacuum is obvious to me. As my children have become young men with lives of their own, as my nieces and nephews have babies, as my life reaches numeric and chronological markers, I look into that hole and wonder -- even speculate -- what her response would be to these.

The hole has not filled in over time, but it has become familiar and less forbearing. As time has passed, it has even become the source of celebration, of joy, of moments of warmth and loveliness. That does not discount nor make nostalgic the less than happy memories: embarrassment, hurtful words exchanged, inexplicable actions. Those will always be part of the memory and, fortunately, part of the vacuum. Those memories have become markers and reminders of where I need to draw the line between her being and my being.

When I find myself doing or saying something particularly frugal, practical, rational, or otherwise "Evelynesque," I've been know to break out into song -- a particular song with an Easter melody:
She lives! She lives! Dear Evelyn lives today!
She walks with me and talks with me
Along life's rational (or practical or frugal) way!
She lives! She lives! Frugality none too terse
You ask me how I know she lives,
She lives within my purse!

Perhaps that could be seen as sacrilegious. That's not the intent. As with her, there's no malice in my actions here. To me it's a humorous way to honor one whose influence on my life is noticeable in everyday ways, to acknowledge that seed of who I have become and am becoming, and to celebrate the life of one important to me.

What do you do with regularity to lift up and honor the life of someone important to you? Where is his or her life reflected in your actions, attitudes, perspectives, or words? How does a sense of loss become a source of celebration in your everyday living?

07 October, 2009


So I'm sitting here wondering about how one thing leads to another. We ripped up a piece of carpet and padding in the computer room and found black mold. That led back to a broken dishwasher in the kitchen 18 months ago. The insurance adjuster came and pulled the new dishwasher out from the cabinets and found a lot more mold. He took down a piece of drywall in the computer room and found the base of the wall behind the kitchen black with mold. He lifted the carpet in the living room along the same wall and found more mold. He crawled under the house and found mold on the underside of the floors under the kitchen cabinets and under the adjacent computer room floor.

I've never liked the arrangement of the cabinets in my kitchen. I've always wanted ceramic tile on the floor and a matching ceramic splash guard above the counters. This mess might make it possible. But, it's going to come at a cost. The money isn't the issue. It's the mess and the timing. We're supposed to host Dan's family for Thanksgiving. And, the insurance guy is telling me that once they remove the cabinets and floors, we can't live here. Black mold.

When I was living in Terre Haute in 2007, we had a massive flood. It hit the hardest in an area of town that was not on a flood plain and hadn't seen flooding in the 150 year recorded history of the town. The folks who owned those houses were lower middle class folk, most of them retired and living in houses whose mortgages had been paid off for years. These folks had their houses flooded to the height of window sills. The church I was serving flew into action helping people find temporary housing, organizing work crews from other churches to help us clean up people's homes, helping people put their lives back together.

Work crews were given their task: take everything apart and empty the houses so that we can stop the mold before it starts. Tearing apart the walls was no problem because all that mattered was opening up the walls to get rid of the moisture before mold could form. We used sledge hammers and shoveled everything away into giant dumpsters and trash heaps. We had huge crow bars to lift up hardwood flooring and carpets. Most of their belongings from their main floors and basements were damaged beyond salvage. Furniture was piled on the curbs, food from basement freezers rotted before the water receded. Life long collections of memorabilia was handled by people with N-95 respirator masks and full body protection from the mess. We helped people through the loss -- the shock, the grief, the anger, the numbness, the mindless FEMA paperwork, backlogged adjusters and contractors, and no savings to cover their losses -- not to mention the scammers that such a disaster attracts. And we stayed with the families until they were back into their homes 6, 9, 12, and 15 months later. Those masks and body protection outfits were a barrier between the workers and the mold. They were also a barrier between us and the pain of those home owners.

This is my house. We didn't have a flood. We had (maybe) 30 gallons of water (three loads of dishes in the dishwasher). We're not losing all our belongings; we're only dealing with the inconvenience and mess that's probably no worse than a remodeling job. We have insurance that will cover a large portion of the expense, a bank account to cover the difference, and an adjuster who was in the house within 24 hours of my reporting it, and who was able to take his time and go through the house systematically and thoroughly. We have a list of contractors who are hungry for work instead of being back logged. We'll be back into the house in weeks, not multiple months. We won't be the ones swinging hammers, carrying trash, wearing protective clothing. We're not losing our live-long memorabilia or, frankly, any of our "stuff."

In the midst of all this confusion and mess, I am thankful that I have been blessed with prosperity, with the means to make this happen smoothly. When I complain about the delays and the hassles, I hope I can rejoice that it's not a disaster, the it's only an inconvenience, not a loss. As the kitchen I really wanted to begin with begins to take shape, I hope I will be grateful. And when I'm not, I hope you all will remind me to count my blessings.

12 July, 2009


I had an ominous feeling all morning. I really was dreading the trip to Holywell but could not put my finger on why exactly. I was not looking forward to a Roman Catholic Medieval Low Mass for the remembrance of a venerated saint whose head was cut off, rolled down a hill and spouted a well, whose head was reattached and she lived to lead a chaste and charitable life of service to the Church. Add that the mass was to be in Latin and it was less than exciting.

We arrived at the church 30 minutes early. Though we were told that there would be "bus-loads" of people coming from this service and for the marching of the relic from the church to the well, the church was relatively empty. The choir was still rehearsing when we arrived: The choir was indeed the highlight of the service! They were fantastic! Yes, it was all in Latin, but it was wonderful. They sang the Introit and the Collect, the response to the Gospel. It was flawless, the acoustics were perfect, and the 8 voices blended and resonated well.

The scripture was from Matthew, the 10 virgins waiting for the bridegroom. It bore no relation to the rest of the service.....

The the priest stood up to speak. I assume he is a bishop or higher because of his regalia and the fact that all the other priests kissed his hand over and over earlier in the service. He removed his triveca hat and blessed himself with it. A deacon placed the manuscript in front of him. I thought he would preach in Latin. That would have been a blessing. Instead, he began a rant against the evils of the split of the east from Rome, the scandal of the Reformation that began the scourge of secularism, the plot is Islam to take over Europe, and the evils of Modernism. The hate that spewed from this man's mouth! I was at the end of a pew against the wall with 20 people between me and the aisle. I was trapped there! Two of my classmates stood up to leave. Our professor stood up to leave -- but all these were in the pew in front of me and on the end! When spew got unbearable and I could take no more, I too stood up and walked on the kneelers to get out of the pew. I walked down the aisle and out of the church.

When I reached the sidewalk in front of the church my blood was boiling. I was so angry! I caught up to my classmates and professor. We got to the end of the street and wondered what to do. We looked back and 5 more of our class were walking out of the church. All of us who left but one are US Americans. The one Brit who left is a Roman Catholic! The US Episcopals and Church of England folks all stayed in the service.

We who left walked down to the well. We spent some time around the well, washing our hands. We made a circle and prayed. Some of us cried. Some of us stomped our feet. Then we waited, wondering what to do.

When the procession came down the hill with the relic and hour later, we stood beyond the gate where the procession would enter the area of the well and sang, "They'll know we are Christians by our love" over and over and over. It was very spontaneous. We had been just standing there. We received glares from the priest and one woman scolded us. But we continued to sing until the procession was through the gate and at the well.

Folks, I've been angry in my life many times. But this was so very different. Never have I heard such hatred spewed from the mouth of one in the regalia and vestature of the Church. There are people who will follow this man's words as truth. He spoke lies! He is misleading people into a gospel of hatred, distrust, fear. I remain appalled. Yet I am helpless to do anything about it.

No Veritas!! Kyrie Eleison.

"I am not here attacking Christianity, but only the institutional mantle that cloaks it." ~ Pierre Berton

09 July, 2009


The theme for today was Pilgrimage. We traveled to some ancient sites now covered by more recent builds. These were primarily sites of ancient Irish and Welsh "saints" who established monasteries. I've posted photos on my facebook page for your perusal. (http://tinyurl.com/momsbm) I will post more complete descriptions at another time.

My "pilgrimage" today has been back and forth to the Loo. All day. Something I ate yesterday caused one of my proverbial "flare ups". I spent much of the night "worshiping the porcelain god." Today I've learned where and how to ask for toilets politely in obscure places. This evening I was still unable to eat dinner (having had tea for breakfast, a ginger "bisquit" for lunch (which did not stay in me)). I've taken yet another benedryl and am eating "calcium caplets" (Tums). I will survive. But it has not been a comfortable. day.

I will post this before my battery dies, but look for a longer note either late tonight (for you) or when you get up in the morning.

Peace out...

Day 2 of the Great Excursion

On this side of the pond it's already Thursday. I've been up for about 2 hours because the cook did not realize there is MILK used as a "filler" for sausage. I ate only one bite of the sausage that was wrapped in a chicken breast at dinner last evening, and spent most of the night in the bathroom as a result. I guess I need to quiz him more carefully about food. I thought this was a non issue...but... I'll be eating only crackers and tea today....
Anyway, here's the blurb I wrote last evening before I went to bed....

They say it rains a lot in July in Wales. I think they mean it too. It was raining when I arrived. It was raining when I awoke this morning. It rained through my reading and writing for class this morning. It seemed to have let up a bit at lunch time, so my classmate, Laura, and I decided to walk down to a local tearoom for lunch. The chaplain at St. Deiniols for this month (they rotate much like Chatuakwah [sp?] in New York does), a retired Episcopal priest from Bucks County PA, decided to join us. (Andrew, thanks for buying my lunch today. I still have about L3 left of what you left at the house -- lunch tomorrow, no doubt!) Then Laura and I decided the weather might hold out and we set off on a walk to the castle in the middle of Hawarden (pronounced Harden). It was a lovely walk and the rain did hold off. Unfortunately, it had rained more than 2" in the previous 24 hours and everything was coated with MUD... And, I didn't remember to bring my camera!!

But, the remains of this castle are really just the outer walls and a watch tower for the real castle which is about 2 miles down the road. Where we walked was through a pompous gate (very similar to the cemetery gate in Hinsdale but with HUGE wooden doors) and into a rather large hilly field. The field was full of sheep. And the sheep left lots of "fertilizer" along the path we were walking!! Laura is NY City born and raised and this was quite upsetting to her! But she soon forgot what she was stepping in and over when she saw all those adorable little lambs. And they were indeed cute.
We walked over a hill and down into a valley along an old road that at one time was paved in stones and bricks. It's now quite washed out and muddy. When we got to the watch tower and climbed up the hill to get to it, we discovered it was behind a locked gate and a second wall with signs every where warning "No Trespassing. Motion Detection Cameras in Use." So we respected the signs and walked back down the hill to the path we were walking.
The path is a designated walking path for those who hold "permits." We had such a permit that the Library had given to us. So we were indeed legal. We followed it down the hill and through a wooded area. At the bottom of the hill, in the middle of the woods there was an old stone bridge over what was once the "valleam" or mote around the property. We actually crossed this mote 3 times before we were done, each time on ancient stone bridges. The walk turned out to be just under 3 miles (by my pedometer, anyway). It ran through the north end of the walled property and then back to town along the outside of the wall on a path above the mote. The original estate was a fiefdom dating back more than 1000 years. It was most recently owned by the Gladstone family. W.E. Gladstone was a 4 time Prime Minister of the UK. He was instrumental in the politics of the Baltics prior to WW1 in saving one of the peoples there from extermination (don't ask me which tribe of Eastern Europeans at this late hour of the day!!).
It was W.E. Gladstone that founded this library called St. Deiniol's where I am both staying and studying. In our orientation this afternoon, we were given the history of this place before our first set of lectures. It seems the Sir Gladstone had always felt called to ministry in the Anglican Church but was pressured by family to follow his male ancestors into politics. He was also very fond of reading and by the time he was in his 40's and PM of the UK he had acquired and read over 30,000 books -- primarily on theology, church, and world history. When a friend of his died, he over heard the family discussing what to do with that man's "extensive library" of a couple hundred books. That family chose to donate them to Oxford. Gladstone decided Oxford had enough books without his, London had enough books without his, and poor little Hawarden had no public library. So he and his daughter moved his 30K books to a large "tin barn" on property in the center of the village. He set up the library for anyone with a hunger to learn to do so affordably. In his will, he willed that instead of the state setting up a memorial to him, they build a permanent building for his public library (which by then had grown to over 100K books). His family then matched the funds and built a residence attached to the new library that would serve for residential guests who used the library from other areas. So, the library, still catalogued according to Gladstone's numbering system (which is logical but not universal by any stretch) now sits in the original building plus an annex with 4X as many books on sliding cases (which Gladstone supposedly invented and sold the patent to).
The library itself is beautiful. It was built in the late 1800's (Gladstone would have been 200 years old this year). The exterior is brown stone, three stories high. The interior is all intricately carved wood pillars and roof rafters, with the second floor open to the first through a large balcony over the first floor and all the way around it. The bookshelves are also intricately carved and stand back to back with a third bookcase on the ends. The area is really well lit with natural light through the windows.

The 30 residence rooms are tiny -- much like monks cells -- with just enough room for a bed, sink, and desk. The women are on the third floor under the rafters -- yes, we have to "mind" our heads as we walk down the corridors because the buttress beams are low. I suspect that at one time these were servants' quarters! But... it's a bed and desk.
The lecturer this afternoon and evening was Ian Bradley, who wrote one of the texts we've read for the course. The first lecture on "What is Celtic Christianity" was interesting; the second was a repeat of much of what is in his book...

There are 17 people in this course. Probably 10 of us are from the States. Several are Anglican Vicars, a few are British Presbyterians. Of the US folks, 3 of us are UCC, 3 are United Methodists, 3 are Episcopal Priests, and one is Roman Catholic (Laura). Of the whole group, 9 are women.

Tomorrow we will be out of the library and on "excursion" to ancient sites. We'll go to Gwynedd to visit Clynnog Fawr, Caenarfon, Penmon, and Beaumaris. Yes, I'll remember to bring my camera! Then after walking around ancient sites of monasteries and churches all day, we have an 8 p.m. lecture by Ian Bradley.... this after a full dinner at 6:45... can you see me sleeping through this????

That's the news from this side of the pond......

08 July, 2009

Travel across the Pond

I made the trip across the pond. Well, it was uneventful, yet not so. Let's just say I arrived in one piece and with my luggage and passport. But...

The flight from Evansville to Memphis was without problems or highlights (no pun intended). As I walked through the Memphis airport things looked vaguely familiar from other flights through there. There's some cool "jazz" artwork on the walls as you walk from the "smaller" gates (turboprops) to the larger gates. I came into the last gate on the "smaller" area -- we had to walk from the plane to the terminal by walking in front of other parked planes. No big deal.

I found the gate assignment for the flight to Amsterdam. It was, of course, at the farthest end of the most distant terminal. But I found my way there just as they were calling up the first passengers (45 minutes prior to departure). I have an Elite Membership (NW Air's frequent flier program) and so was allowed to board with the first and business class folks even though my seat was neither. I was the sole female in a section of 20+ men who all knew one another and were on their way back to work in Saudia Arabia in the oil fields... a herd of Texas long horns who've been home with their women for a month and returning to work for the next month. I put on my headphones and turned up my mp3 player and took a benedryl. Somewhere over New York State I fell asleep and woke up to the sound of the dissonance of the gaggle of long horns snoring. But the sky outside the plane was bright with sunshine and they were serving breakfast, so I must have slept at least 6 hours. We did a 20 minute holding pattern over the North Sea while waiting for a thunderstorm to pass the Amsterdam airport, then landed in the smoothest landing I've ever been in. I never felt the wheels hit the runway. Very impressive.

I had no trouble getting through the Amsterdam airport. The "Cityhopper" flight from there to Manchester was out of a gate and onto a bus that took us across the airport to a smaller set of runways on a smaller plane. Not as small as the plane from E-ville to Memphis, though! When I arrived in Manchester, things deteriorated.

There was a thunder storm between Amsterdam and Manchester, so we had to circumvent it. This put us into Manchester about 15 minutes late. Then, once on the ground, there was construction on the runways, so taxiing to the gate was another 20 minutes. Customs was no problem. When I got into the main arrival area, I cashed out my US$$ for L... But, I could not find the "car" that was to pick me up. I looked at my e-mail and found the phone number. I was to call them and they would tell me where they were waiting. I found a "red box" and put in 40 pence (thanks, Andrew!) and dialed the number. The number was not recognized. The phone number was missing a digit. So I called St. Deiniol's Library. I got a recording saying the office was closed. So I went back to my computer and e-mailed the person who sent the information about the "car" reservation. But, I could not get an internet connection.

After 2 hours of wandering through the "car park" (parking garage) looking for a "car" service from Hawarden, I went back into the terminal. A scruffy looking guy walked up to me and asked if I was Mrs. Stucklen. I laughed! Who on earth with a cockney accent would be looking for my mother?!!! Of course it was the driver who didn't get my name correct. But we laughed and he walked me to the "car" -- a small bus, really. And I was the only passenger. From the parking fee, I knew he'd been waiting less than an hour.

He got me to the "library" and I turned to pay him. He didn't take a credit card. Cash only. So.... I looked into that magic wallet and found only L20. The fee was L40. So I walked into the village to Lloyds of London and pulled out that trusty ATM card the Credit Union ASSURED me would work in the UK. But there's no ATM machine, or "hole in the wall" as they call it. So I gave my card and passport to the teller and asked if perhaps she could make it work. She did. I have no idea what the exchange rate is,but I think that the 40 minute trip from the airport cost me over $120. There's got to be a less expensive way to get back there!!!

I walked back to the "library" and the driver had left. I left the cash with the receptionist and she assured me he'd be back with other students in the morning and she'd pay him then. Okay.... taken care of. But I was wet and tired.

I crashed for a couple of hours before dinner (6:45). Eating dinner was a bit like eating in Mother's house -- lots of food, many people, and it's all served from the kitchen. The food was, well, British. No seasoning. Just boiled carrots, boiled potatoes, boiled pork(?), and boiled broccoli. I didn't venture to dessert since it looked like a milky pudding.

I will write more about "the library" tomorrow.... for now I'll leave that to your imaginations.

My friend Laura (a classmate from Drew University) and I talked until it was nearly dark (10p.m.). It's chilly.
I've put on long sleeves under my sweater, and I've got on full length knee socks and shoes. They all say it was a lovely warm day.... I guess the midwest "heat and humidity" is still inside my bones because I'm anything but warm. They also say it does not get completely dark here. I'm looking out the window into the clouds and still see light behind them.... But morning comes early. So it's time to retire.

There's no internet access in my room (which is a little smaller than Harry Potter's under the stairs room). I have to walk my laptop down two flights of stairs to sit under the wireless router. I'll do that in the morning.

"I am not here attacking Christianity, but only the institutional mantle that cloaks it." ~ Pierre Berton

01 July, 2009


Remember that TV ad for Lays Potato Chips?

"Betcha can't eat just one!"

And the challenge is set.

The only thing is, there's no winning it. Lays knew that when they put the ad out. No one can eat just one because fat, salt, and sugar (carbs) are so very addictive.

This all came together for me as I was walking through the grocery store this afternoon. Well, it began before that. As I was parking (in that space that is as far from the store door as I can possibly get), the radio was playing an ad for McD.'s You've heard it, I'd bet.

"This is economics 101. Value is defined as .... as proof, there are McDonald's Value Meals on your desks..... 'I LOVE economics.'.... Mouth watering french fries.... add a cool, creamy hot fudge sundae for just $1.00"

You get the idea. So those are playing in the shadow narratives of my mind. I walk into the store to be greeted by a large display of potato chips and, my weakness, Fritos. "God, save me from myself. I've lost 15 lbs and I will NOT succumb to the fatty salt gimmick... if only You'll help me!"

I walked by. I got to the produce and found a lovely seedless watermelon. Much better. Then a display of lovely local peaches; I picked out ten and placed them into a sack. So far so good.

I pushed the cart past the deli case of rotisserie chicken (I've eaten a whole one by myself in the past), and am confronted with another display of Fritos.

"Come on!! This is too much!"

I pushed on past them to the dairy case. Half a gallon of low fat soy milk goes into the cart. Pushing on past the sour cream and chip dip (yummy -- sour cream on those Fritos!!) and into the coffee/tea aisle. Two boxes of cold brew ice tea bags, a box of flavored Splenda packets. I'm getting closer to the end.

At the end of the aisle there it is again: Potato chips and Fritos display. The same one I saw as I walked in but this time from the back side. Hmm... so very tempting. I think of the scale in my bathroom and push on ahead.

"Wow, this holiday weekend stuff is going too far. I should have eaten some lunch today... my stomach is growling."

Down the soft drink aisle to its end where the plastic wrap and GladWare bowls are stocked. A pack of two large bowls (for the watermelon) go into my cart. Almost home. I round the corner and pick out a quart of yolkless eggs from the cooler and turn left. Here it is: the home stretch. If I can make it down this aisle, I'll be in the free and clear.

I push the cart down the aisle of freezer doors behind which sits fat, sugar, and salt. Some may call it prepared food and ice cream. But since most of it contains either milk or too much fat and salt for me to safely eat, I prefer to tell my brain it's pure fat, sugar and salt. The milk will land me for days in the bathroom. The fat will coat my veins and arteries and shut them down. The salt will push the water content of my blood into the hypertension range. Heart attack #2 stacked nicely behind the glass doors of the freezers.... must walk by... must walk by.

The folks in the aisle look at me strangely -- as they rightly should. I'm talking to myself at this point.

"Fat, salt, sugar. Fat, salt, sugar. Fat, salt, sugar." I'm almost to the end. Almost there.

Then someone calls my name. I turn around. Strolling down the aisle behind me is a 5.0 ounce, 800 calorie bag of Fritos holding in its hands a hot, juicy rotisserie chicken and a Snickers bar. Really! I'm a pastor; I don't lie!! This bag is walking toward me calling my name, offering to give me the Snickers and the chicken if I can eat just one Frito.

"Eat just one and walk away and the Snickers and chicken are yours. And you will know as much as God knows." (oops, wrong story.)

"Must resist. Must resist. Must resist."

The guy with the cart full of beer and potato chips giggles at me. "Crazy lady talking to herself." I KNOW that's what he's thinking. Doesn't he SEE that bag walking down the aisle? What's wrong with him?

I'd better turn and run. So I push the cart faster down the aisle. "Fat, salt, sugar. Fat, salt, sug..."

It's no use. The big bag caught up to me and jumped into my cart. I told it to get out! I don't want it. And wouldn't you know it. It starts to cry. It feels rejected. Big pouty lips....


I made home in one piece. I ate a leg and thigh of the rotisserie chicken for supper. I can honestly say I put the Snickers on the rack at the checkouts, and that not one Frito passed my lips. Not one.

I think I'd better go walk ten miles now.

30 June, 2009

Tossing Kittens

I was on my way to the office this morning, driving along listening mindlessly to the local morning DJ duo. From beneath the semi in the lane to my right what looks like a white grocery bag rolls/blows around first in my lane then behind the semi. Then, I realize it's a kitten. O My! I slowed down so I wouldn't hit it if it rolled into my lane. It got up on its feet and darted toward the other edge of the road, then turned as if dizzy and ran back into the road. The car behind me swerved and avoided it, and I watched in my rear view mirror as it ran into the grass.

No sooner did I look in front of me than ANOTHER kitten fell or jumped from the underside of the semi and started rolling in the road. This is a 4 lane "expressway" (said with quotes because it has stop lights up and down it -- the Lloyd for you E-ville-ites). And it's 7:30 in the morning as people are on their way to work. This kitten didn't get out of the way of the truck's back wheels and it was hit. In my rear view mirror I see it flopping around in the road behind me.

I cautiously slowed down. Does this guy know he's dropping kittens on the road? I pull up immediately behind him and I straddle two lanes so no one can get by me. Then I slowed down. This really ticked off the people behind me, but if this truck was going to drop kittens on the road, I was going to try to make sure they didn't get run over.

Sure enough-- two more kittens fell from the truck before it turned into a shopping plaza. Both made it to the side of the road.

I followed the truck as it wove to the back of a grocery store. When the driver stopped behind the store, I got out of my car wondering what I was going to say to him. I was livid. I took my tall cup of iced coffee with me and took a long sip before I walked up to his door. I knocked on the door of the cab. He hesitantly looked out of the window then opened the door slightly. I told him what I'd seen.

The man turned sheet white. "Four white and gray kittens? About 3 months old?" There was panic in his voice.


He quickly turned around and looked in the "bunk" back of the cab. He wailed. He pounded the steering wheel.

His sister had given him the kittens to bring home to his daughter. He didn't realize they could get out of the bunk window. His daughter was expecting the kittens that evening.

So if you see a guy in a Keebler Cookie truck crying, you know why.

I'm not sure who I feel more sorry for -- the man or the kittens.

19 May, 2009

Company is Coming!

I don’t know about you, but three words can turn my house into a frenzy of activity:

Company is coming.

That’s all it takes for the vacuum cleaner to fly out of the closet, the dust cloths spring into motion, window cleaner starts spraying, and Dan starts tossing things out.

“Company is coming” are three very powerful words! They are loaded with meaning, innuendo, and layers of implications. We want to make a good impression on people. So we hide away those things that might say something negative about us, we clean up all the dirt, and organize the clutter. All the counter tops get a fresh wiping, the lampshades get dusted, and the glass end tables and coffee table get the kitty paw prints washed off. The bathroom gets a special cleaning, the soap dispenser gets filled, the extra shampoo bottles get tucked beneath the sink, spare rolls of toilet tissue are put in the cabinet, and the guest hand towels get placed on the towel rack. We want “company” to find our home clean and comfortable. We want guests to be impressed.

“Company is coming” usually means planning a special meal, or at least a special set of snacks and beverages. We probably will make a menu and go shopping for the favorite foods of our guests. We might chill a bottle of wine. We’ll put a table cloth on the table and carefully fold the cloth napkins. All the details of the meal will be carefully plotted out: the time to put things in the oven, what serving spoons are needed, whether dessert will be eaten at the table or with tea and coffee in the living room. Hospitality is important: it tells people we care enough about them to sit and share food and our lives with them.

When we’re expecting “company,” it usually means the family is coming to visit. And company, since they come from a great distance, usually spend at least a night or two with us. Planning where people will sleep, considering their schedule and how tired they will be from their travels, planning options for entertaining them over their visit (do we take them to Mesker Park Zoo, Blue Grass Wildlife Refuge, or to a concert?). How we spend our time with “company” will dictate how much sharing we’re able to do together, how much we can refresh and renew our relationships with one another.

Our Churches ares expecting company! Specifically, we’re expecting new family members!! Are you ready? Does your church home look like you’re expecting company? Will your new family know you were expecting them? Have you got everything planned out?

As you come to worship and Sunday School, or to the church of a meeting or a fellowship group, take a look around through the eyes of someone who has never been to your building before. Ask yourself how a new person might see the things you look at all the time. Does the space invite people to come in? Is there order and cleanliness to the rooms and corridors? Is there clutter anywhere? Are there things “hanging around” that are no longer useful or needed? Will your new family be impressed with your church home? Are you doing everything you can to help them feel expected and welcomed?

Hospitality is important because it tells another that we care enough about their comfort to work hard to achieve it. And, it’s important to make a good impression.

May we see with new eyes all that God is doing amongst us and with us.

16 April, 2009

Shedding Season

If then there is any

encouragement in Christ,
any consolation from love,
sharing in the Spirit,
any compassion and sympathy,

make my joy complete:

be of the same mind,

having the same love,

being in full accord

and of one mind.

Do nothing from

selfish ambition or conceit,

but in humility

regard others as better than yourselves.

Let each of you look

not to your own interests,

but to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:1-4

In my younger years, I owned a horse; I was always amazed at how ugly she looked in the Spring as she shed that winter coat. She would have clumps here and there of that not-yet-shed winter coat, and areas where the undercoat of summer was healthy, shiny, and beautiful. The Church of Jesus Christ is also in the middle of a shedding season. In this new era, we too are called to shed our old weather coats.

Just before the trees shed their leaves, we are amazed at the glory of their Fall colors. Once those leaves fall, we are frustrated by the amount of work it takes to clean up the mess!

Not all things shed gracefully. Certainly my horse didn’t! One of my cats inevitably turns up raw, oozing sores when he sheds because he tries to hurry the process along by over-licking himself.

Faith communities are also less than attractive when we shed: we want to cling to our cold weather coats — our familiar ways of doing and being the church — long after the heat of summer has shown itself. Change does not come easy to us. We put on this coat, and we’re really comfortable wearing it, and we don't want to take it off.

Only when things begin to get uncomfortable do we begin to rethink things. We might adjust a thing or two — take off a sleeve, or maybe roll it up — but certainly not look in the mirror to see just how unattractive we’ve become. And, we’ve grown accustomed to our coat and we're not comfortable exposing the body beneath the coat!

We get not very attractive when change is in the air. We've all met people who feel like they own this coat! And they have earned the right to wear it. They pay their dues and work hard to keep it up. How dare anyone ask them for their coat?! They can't imagine life without it!

But alas, the season is changing around us and beyond our control. We can try to keep the space around us cool so we’ll be comfortable in our coat; but it takes more and more energy to run the cooler, to maintain the status quo. And there are fewer and fewer of us who love the coat so much. You can blame it on global warming, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are no longer engaged in the world around us. No one else wants to put on our coat!

Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly in the Realm of God. Not in the world of our own making, not in the coat of our own sewing, not in the comfort of our climate controlled institutions and organizations. We are called to live into God’s Kingdom. And that has nothing to do with us and everything to do with how we reach out to others.

The challenge of our generation is to ready others for the Realm of God. That means divesting of our human made coats and living as the Body of Christ.

May we journey together toward this end.

17 January, 2009

Uncle Lee's Tea

About 9 years ago, Darlene (Georgia's lovely sister in law) introduced me to the best Chai I've ever had. I lived in Cincinnati at the time and finding this gem at Susan's Natural World on Beechmont Avenue was ever so simple.

Then I moved to the east coast. I was introduced to Trader Joe's there, but they didn't carry Uncle Lee's Teas. I found numerous natural food stores, but only one carried anything close -- a tiny store in Taneytown Maryland carried Traditional Medicinals Chai -- a close-but-not-quite-there substitute.

At the time, I checked the internet for sources of my brew, and found none. Online stores were not well stocked then. I resigned myself to rationing my stash and hoped for a miracle.

So whenever I traveled through Cincinnati, I stopped at Susan's Natural World and purchased the contents of her shelf of Uncle Lee's Chai. The last time I stopped, Susan's wasn't open. Then I dropped Andrew off at college and I have no further reason to travel by way of Beechmont Avenue. That was five years ago. I've carried my stash with me from place to place through the many moves since I left there...and this morning I opened my last box (Can tea be good 6 years after it was purchased?).

My miracle has happened.
I just found my "goods" on line.... Uncle Lee's Green Tea with Lemon.

You must try this!