Monday, December 28, 2009

A Change Is Coming....

I am a big believer in seasons, change, starting new, contemplating things past, planning for what the future holds.  Birthdays are especially thoughtful times for me, but the end of the year brings the most “deep thinking”.  I take time to reflect on the year passed.  Mainly I wonder if I have changed and did I bring about any change in others?  I am hoping that the year just passed finds me farther along in my journey of purpose and being who and what I am meant to be.

It’s that “end” of things that gets me going.  Outside plants have gone to sleep till spring, inside we try to complete all we can in our personal lives and in business before the end of the year.  We must get things done before December is done and the year “ends”. Somehow, completing something by December 31st gives us a special feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.    January 1st is more than a date on the calendar, it is the beginning of a 12 month span of time, 365 days that are yet to be.  It is a measure that most of the world recognizes as significant and plans their lives around. 

That’s one of the things I like about years...because we note their beginning and ending, it means each one can be different. Because something ends, it brings a chance that something new will begin.   Last year I felt we were to leave much behind in 2008.  This year I sense expansion.  Each year can bring a shift, change, fresh start, new beginnings, leaving behind...all that.  If God’s mercies are new every morning, I have 365 to look forward to!

I’m not a big resolution person, although I do like to write down my hopes for the new year.  Years ago some girlfriends started a tradition of going to “Cracker Barrel” on January 1st and we would have breakfast and grill each other about what we wanted the new year to bring.  I use the word grill, because we were not allowed to just state “lose 10 pounds,” “pray more,” “make a million dollars” and such.  No, we had to have purpose,  meaning and honesty behind our hopes and if you came to the table with the generic statements above, you were put in the hot seat and prodded for more.  EVERYBODY wants those things...what we wanted to establish was what did YOU want, specific to your life, your loves, your interests, your purpose.  HOW are you going to make a million dollars for example.

We would write these things down and some years we were pretty good at reminding each other of our goals.  The next year we would bring them back to Cracker Barrel, check our progress and start all over again.  Cracker Barrel became not just a place to eat, but a spiritual experience for us; it was not so much the place, the building and such, but what went on when we gathered there.

We started out with just 3 or 4 of us, and some years grew to 10 or more.  Sometimes those new to “the group” were a little taken aback by our seriousness in prodding and not letting them get away with “I just want to do God’s will” line.  If you did not want to share something real and heartfelt, you had no place in this group. We were in your face and not apologetic for it.

Whenever I run across those lists, it brings these women to mind.  Many of the goals shared have come to pass, some have not.  But the sharing of our hearts certainly affected us.  The declarations made were real and the saying of them brought weight and power to the thought.  One woman determined that either her marriage would get better, or it would end.  One declared her art would come to life, or be put to rest.  One was sure marriage would be a part of the coming year.  In the sharing of these things, we took to heart what was the desire of our sisters.  Prayer and encouragement followed as we tried to keep track of each others status.  Some years we were better at it than others.

Our yearly meetings at Cracker Barrel have become a kind of altar in our lives.  Not a place of worship, but a place of remembrance.  Changes were made, ideas birthed, declarations proclaimed.  We had agreed that in the coming year we would accomplish something special.  Our meal together signified our unity in purpose and agreement to be accountable to each other.  To know that there were others who loved us, agreed with us and supported us gave our hearts power...power to believe, to change, to dare.  Even if all our proclamations did not come to pass, we were better for hoping for them and reaching for more.

As I look back on 2009 I find myself in places I never thought I would be.  Without a “formal” church, relationships I thought would last forever severed.  But in that pruning and cutting I have found that sometimes it’s a good thing that people leave our lives and that true church happens outside of the walls of a building. 

So, what change for 2010?  As I said, I sense expansion.  The past few years have been ones of things “going away” is now time to rebuild, add.  The forest seems to have been cleared a bit to actually see and appreciate the trees and perhaps do some building.  What does that mean?  Not sure yet, I just hope the “pruning” is done for a while ‘cause my branches are a little sore from the cutting!

Whatever is in store, I know it will include people and relationships.  If there is one thing I have learned in my 51 years walking on this earth is that God is all about people coming together, relationships and fellowship.  Whether you like it or not, you need me - and I need you.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cake Stories....

Here are two recipes that some of you have requested.  Of course, I had to include the stories behind them.  Enjoy!

The first recipe is for Caramel Cake.  My introduction to this delightful piece of sweetness was almost 20 years ago while I was on staff at my church.  One of my fellow staffers, Glendar Haskin, shared my love of sweets.  She knew of a local bakery that made a caramel cake that she raved about, and one day she got a taste for it.  Her description of the wonder of this cake got me hooked.  She called the bakery and they would only sell it in a sheet cake, which cost about $20.  Neither of us had much money to spare, but we bought the cake with the hope that the rest of the staff (most of them shared our sugar addiction) would be willing to donate to support our habit and buy pieces of the cake.

We took a road trip to the bakery, brought the cake back to the church office and we shared the "spiritual" experience of this was delicious!  The cake was tender and moist, yet solid...the indicators of a homemade cake.  The butter and caramel taste just "oozed" out of it, helped along by the delicious caramel frosting.  The frosting was soft and creamy and smelled of perfectly blended brown sugar and butter.  I had never had anything like it.  I had made my own cakes for years, but had never made one like this.  I was hooked.

Our co-workers flocked toward us to join in our delight and gladly put up the $1.00 we charged for each piece.  We had no problem recouping our investment and probably wished it had not been so popular.

The next time we got the "urge" for this cake we were devastated to find the bakery had closed.  What to do?!  My quest for the perfect caramel cake began and after much trial and error, I have ended up combining two recipes, which you will find below.  The first one I found while searching the Internet.  It's called "Fran's Funeral Cake" and I was intrigued by the description of it by Fran's daughter (who posted the recipe).  She said "Theres a tradition in the South of taking lots of food to mourning relatives when someone dies.  We call this funeral cake because Mom, ever prepared for the hand of God, always has one in the freezer to take to the newly bereaved!"

It is wonderful both in cake and frosting, but the cake is really a pound cake consistency and sometimes I want something a little lighter.  So, now I use Fran's frosting and a cake recipe called "Brown Sugar Caramel Cake" from the magazine "Taste of the South".

2 sticks butter or margarine
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
6 eggs
1 cup milk
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract

Preheat over to 325 degrees.  Cream shortening, butter and sugar.  Add eggs one at a time, beating after each.  Mix flour, baking pwd and salt.  Add flour mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour.  Stir in flavorings.  Grease and flour a large tube or bundt pan, or two 9 inch round pans.  Pour batter into prepared pan(s).  Depending on pan used, bake for 30 minutes to an hour or so (tube pan will take longer).  Cool about 15 minutes before removing from pan.


Combine 1 stick butter or margarine and 1 cup brown sugar in heavy saucepan.  Boil hard for about 1 minute.  Add 1/2 cup milk, whisking to keep from separating.  Boil 2 minutes.  Cool.  Then beat in 3-4 cups confectioners sugar.  You may need more depending on how cool your syrup is and how thick you want the frosting.  When using a tube or bundt pan, I like to make it thinner.  It will thicken up when completely cool.  Spread on cooled cake.

CARAMEL CAKE #2  (Lighter version)


   1. 2 cups all-purpose flour
   2. 1 teaspoon baking powder
   3. 1 teaspoon salt
   4. 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
   5. 2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
   6. 4 large eggs
   7. 3/4 cup vegetable oil
   8. 1/2 cup buttermilk
   9. 1/2 cup sour cream (I also use yogurt)
  10. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  11. 1 teaspoon maple extract (I used a TBL of real maple syrup)

   1. Preheat oven to 350°. Spray 2 (9-inch) round cake pans with baking spray with flour. Line with parchment-paper rounds. (I just spray the pans and sprinkle with flour) Spray parchment rounds. Set aside.
   2. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.
   3. In a mixing bowl, beat brown sugar and eggs at medium-high speed with an electric mixer until smooth, approximately 3 minutes. Add oil and beat until combined. Set aside.
   4. In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk, sour cream, and extracts.
   5. Add flour mixture to brown-sugar mixture, alternating with milk mixture in 3 batches and beating well between additions. Pour batter into prepared pans, smoothing tops.
   6. Bake until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean, approximately 30 minutes. Let cakes cool in pans for 20 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

The second recipe is for a cake I call "Miss Ceilie's Chocolate Cherry Torte".  We used to serve it in our cafe, "The Peaberry" and it is my husband Bill's absolute favorite cake ever.  It too is a combined recipe.  The frosting is from my dear friend Ceil.  My friend Marce and I used to visit her when she lived in Ann Arbor several years ago.  Her home was a retreat for the weary and wayword soul and she always had great wine and food.  One visit she made this delightful cake and she graciously shared the recipe.  It used a mix for the cake, but the frosting was homemade and a decadant, fudgy dream.  The filling is canned pie filling and I always promise myself that one day I will make my own cherry filling, but have not as yet.

The cake recipe I use is from Hershey and I love it because it is so easy, yet the best chocolate cake I have ever had.  Be sure to use a good cocoa and feel free to add more to taste.  Bill likes really dark chocolate, so I usually add a little extra and cut back on the sugar a bit.

This cake is beautiful to serve with the red cherries against the dark chocolate cake.  Be sure to refrigerate left overs, as the frosting has egg yolks in it.  If you get really adventurous, add a little rum to the mm good!


2 cups sugar (I like to use a little less to intensify the chocolate flavor)
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup cocoa (feel free to add a little extra if you like dark chocolate)
1 cup milk
1 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup boiling water (I NEVER use a whole cup, more like 3/4 of a cup)

1 cup butter, room temperature
4 1/2 cups confectioner sugar (a little more or less, depending on your preference)
3/4 cup cocoa
3 egg yolks
A little milk or water to thin frosting out

1 can cherry pie filling (I use light)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 9 inch round cake pans.

In large mixer bowl, stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking pwd, baking soda and salt.  Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla.  Beat on medium speed of mixer for 2 minutes.

Remove mixer, stir in boiling water (I only use about 3/4 of a cup).  If using the whole cup, batter will be thin. Pour into prepared pans.  Bake for 25-35 minutes, testing with a toothpick.

Cool for 15 minutes or so, and remove from pans.

Combine butter, confectioner sugar and cocoa.  Beat with mixer, add egg yolks and beat till smooth, adding a little water or milk, just a TBL or two at a time, until of spreading consitency.  Beat till fluffy.

To Assemble cake:
Place one cooled layer on plate and spread with frosting, creating a 1/2 inch border around the edge (helps to hold in the cherries).  Carefully spread the cherry pie filling on top of frosting, being sure to reserve 10 cherries for garnish (I like to spoon out the cherries into another bowl, leaving off most of the pie filling "goo" before spreading onto the frosting).  Top with remaining layer and frost.  To garnish, you can used some shaved chocolate and then garnish each piece with a cherry.


Friday, October 9, 2009


I wrote this piece because I was so disturbed by what I see many in the body of Christ use as an excuse for hiding their "true" selves from people...haters. I had heard it just one too many times in finding out news about people I had shared my life with for years, then finding out from someone else news that should have been shared personally with those that loved them.

Others must share my sentiment, because at poetry events, it is my most requested piece.


Haters, Haters everywhere…Haters, Haters, I don’t care!

I am sick of hearing about haters as if they are a threat
Why worry what they say; why do we break a sweat?

We talk about the haters and the damage that they wield
The only damage I can see is when we choose to conceal

Afraid that news of what you do will be out on the street
The bad news and the good news to yourself you keep

You keep things under wraps, afraid the haters just might hear
Since when do things of darkness cause people of God to fear?

Concealing all your business because you are afraid
But was keeping out the haters worth the price you’ve paid?

Behind your guarded gate, you’ve locked out lovers as well
Because you choose to hide yourself behind a darkened veil

Those that love and care are hurt and dismayed
What happened to all those years together, the prayers that were prayed?

The faith that said we can overcome anything
Seeing that faith snuffed away brings quite a sting

Locking out the lovers for fear of those who hate
Keeps transparency behind that guarded gate

My God is mightier than any hater’s words
He alone will choose my fate, He will be my guard

Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me
We forget the lessons learned as early as the nursery

I cut my teeth on adversity, scandal and hard times
Having my first child at 14 wasn’t considered sublime

My divorce and remarriage created quite a stir
Causing some peoples vision to temporarily blur

I can’t say it doesn’t hurt me that people act up so
But I won’t shut out my friends because I worry about a foe

The word says the power of life and death is held in our tongue
I believe life trumps the death of the hating one

Whatever you focus on is magnified the man of God has said
So why focus on the haters and what they choose to spread?

Haters haters everywhere; haters haters I don’t care!

Why focus on the haters when lovers are the key?
Haters only want to bind, but lovers set us free

Free to be honest, real, who we truly are
With this kind love and freedom we don’t have to be a liar

Can’t you see the lovers just waiting for your call?
People who reach out to you, even when you fall

Lovers who long to share in your pain, triumphs and joys
Yet you choose to keep them away with elaborate ploys

Some say I’m a hater because I make my thoughts known
I say come back and see me when your mind has grown

Haters, Haters everywhere…Haters, Haters, I don’t care!


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Falling Off...

I write a lot about seasons, nature and the beauty of creation. They speak to me and add so much to my life. As we go into the next season, it once again teaches and inspires me.

Burning Bush (with just a corner of the Frank Lloyd Wright house behind us)

Autumn has arrived and fills the air with its presence. The crispness of the breeze, the drizzle of the rain. Leaves beginning to turn from green to orange, amber and red. Just the very top of my “Burning Bush” is starting its dramatic change from plain green to bright red, making me look twice out my window whenever it catches my eye. The seed pods on the Magnolia tree are turning “orangey red” and at times looks like there are cardinal ornaments hung all over my tree.

Leaves have begun to fall to the ground, emptying the trees of their clothing, leaving them naked and exposed. The bare branches appearing dead and lifeless, yet reaching up, reaching out with very little left to make a sound when the wind blows.

Magnolia Seed Pods

Autumn is all about the falling off of things, shedding what was once supple, bright and colorful but with the passing of time and changing of seasons will become dry and brittle. Huge trees that provided refuge with all the foliage, now bare, no place for anything to hide in the must burrow inside to find shelter. My plants that once were green and full get pruned of the seasons growth to ready them for next spring.

This season brings the smell of those fallen, crisp leaves as they crunch under your feet as you walk down the block or gather them in your arms to bag them. I can’t resist giving them a squeeze as I shove them in the bag, allowing the release of the last bit of themselves, the battle over for another year. Never another leaf like them, a new batch already in the making on the tree they just left.

Each day is a surprise, wondering if the sun will shine, will there be frost on the ground...will there be an Indian Summer? Jackets are pulled out of storage, mittens not far behind. Gratefulness whenever we get a warm day. Knowing that you should pull in those plants on that sunny day, but at the same time fooled by its warmth, you think there is going to be another chance. Then that fateful morning when you see the hard frost has come and that plant you were going to nurse through the winter inside the house has succumbed to the weather.

Today I picked my last rose of the season and placed it in my grandma's vase, sniffing it with each pass through the dining room. The tomatoes are slowing down in their maturation, only 1 or 2 a week, instead of a day. Will that squash ever get ripe enough to eat? Can I get one more batch of pesto out of my basil before it’s done?

My last rose of 2009

It’s now October and October brings November and November brings December and then the dreaded January and the foreverness of February and March...oh, but I get ahead of myself, this is only autumn.

I can’t stop thinking about the falling part of this impressive is it we call it “Fall”. The leaves float off the trees when the breeze blows or they are tousled about in a whirlwind tornado as the gusts of wind come. If left undisturbed on the ground, as in the forest, they return vital nutrients to the soil that help the next generation of growth. It seems that is what this season is all about, letting go, stripping bare, clearing away...but first, one last hurrah of color and activity, then silence, dormancy, rest.

Creeper vine of color

In the spirit of fall and releasing of the old, Bill and I have taken time to go though stuff, getting rid of things, putting order to what was chaos throughout the house, paying special attention to our basement. There is more to do for sure, and we trudge on, hoping to clear more clutter. But thankfully we have begun. It’s amazing how holding onto “stuff” keeps you from moving forward and doing things, stunting your growth. If the old leaves keep hanging on, how will the new ones ever appear? 

Lets talk about the basement. I have wanted a new washer and dryer for a long time...but the clutter in the basement would have made it impossible to get through to remove the old and deliver the new. The task of sorting and cleaning and getting rid of things seemed so monumental and overwhelming...yet NOT doing anything made my life so much harder. Seeing the mess every time I went down there, using a washer and dryer that were clearly past their prime (which made washing and drying clothes even more of a chore). But actually taking the time to clean up changed so many things and was well worth the effort. Clearing the basement out made a path to make my life easier: 1) New washer and dryer 2) A smile on my face instead of a frown when I look at the newly ordered surroundings 3) Knowing where things are instead of having to look through mayhem to find something. And best of all... the great portion of my brain that got freed up knowing that this task was finally done! It inspired me to do more so I cleaned out two closets and two dressers...amazing.


Sometimes it is a struggle to actually get rid of or throw something out. I surely have things that I would rather hold onto, and my husband comes from a long line of “keepers". But I find that so much “stuff” only encumbers me, weighs me down. Again, the lessons of nature speak to me, inspire me. It can be a sad thing to see the leaves fall and die, and often it's a cold wind that blows those leaves off the tree. As we were cleaning, more than once the harsh words “What are you keeping that for!?!” were uttered as we pushed each other to let things go.

Hard to give things up...there is an empty space where once was something of value, memories, familiar things. But, it’s only for a time, life goes on, seasons change and new things come. Sometimes we like having more room with a clearer view. Sometimes we find something else to take the place of the old. But for sure if we stay stagnant, never allowing for the plucking out, the pruning and the seeding of new, we will wither and cease to bear fruit. It’s the cycle of life...I can fight it, or agree with it. History proves who will win.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Last Days of Summer...

Door County, Wisconsin

We are still in the days of least that’s what the calendar tells me, and I choose to believe it. Even though the leaves are beginning to fall, the walnut tree is dropping its fruit and the chilly mornings make me wear a jacket when I sit out on the patio...I choose to say summer. There have been a lot of complaints about our Indiana summer this year...too cold, too much rain. Those things are true. But as a life long Indiana resident, anything that is not snow is good and helps me get through. So, I am trying to focus on the positive about the weather right now.

The sun is shining, the grass is green, my flowers are blooming and it is warm enough to sit outside. The falling leaves actually look peaceful as they drift to the ground with the cool breezes of these last summer days. The squirrels are fat and furiously trying to get more to store for the winter. The Magnolia tree is heavy with its huge seed pods and hangs low in the branches. My herb garden is still bearing it’s fragrant leaves for me to pluck and add to dishes. Some of my flowers that did not do much this year are just now beginning to bloom as if to say “Hey, look at’s still summer!” My tomatoes did not yield very well this season, but they are still coming and we have had a few batches of salsa from them.

Magnolia Pod.....................................Herbs

Can you see what I am doing here? Focusing on the good things...because I know that snow is coming!

It’s been a good summer for me. I’ve traveled to New York City with Shay and her family to see Anna. Bill and I have been to Door County in Wisconsin, Grand Haven and Douglas in Michigan, Coeur d’Alene in Idaho and Deer Lake in Washington. One of the highlights for me was when a dear friend traveled 5 hours to come see us while we were in Washington. All the travel makes me smile because years and years ago God told me I would be traveling. Well, with great expectation I went right out and bought a suitcase! Do you know that everybody and their brother used it before I did? I thought “What’s up God?” Good things come to those who wait.

I’ve been to several open mic events and got to perform lots of poetry and essays, as well as heard a lot of great work from other artists. It has encouraged me to see whats going on in our region with the arts. More than what most people know about for sure.

We added two members to our family - Isabella and Blue - our new kitties. Our hearts were heavy after losing our longtime cats Molly and Toby, and nothing ever “replaces” things lost. But we thank God that we were ready to open our hearts again to pets. They bring much joy to us and its good to hear the scampering of clawed feet again.

Isabella and Blue

I have had some struggles...some things are just the vicissitudes of life, but some have been more serious. We are still adjusting to not having an “official” church home. I am still figuring out what church really means and trying my best to walk out what is in my heart. My asthma acted up more than usual before summer ever really began. That was hard because it put me on lock down for much outdoor activity...which is no fun in the summer.

Bill and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary...and many said it would never last! We had some that were opposed to our joining and let us know about it. But we weren’t scared and moved forward with openness and faith. We overcame the haters and our marriage and love have prospered greatly. In fact, some of those most opposed have turned into our biggest supporters. It’s one of the reasons I am so vocal in my disdain when my people aren’t up front with their stuff...if it’s of God then be out there with it; no reservations as in “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If its not of God, then confess it and get whole! Don’t get me started...

Birthdays were celebrated, my dining room got painted (thanks Shay), new chandeliers hung and plans for more improvements birthed. One season may be ending, but the promise of another hangs in the air and with it comes change. Change can be good or bad - we hold the key to which one it will be.

New York

Door County, Wisconsin................. Brown Eyed Susan

Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

Birthday Celebration................................. Open Mic

Friday, August 14, 2009

Queen Anna...

I wrote this piece almost 3 years ago, as my youngest daughter Anna was preparing to leave for New York City and make it her home. Today is her birthday, so I thought I'd share it.


It is often noted that each child a mother bears is very different
My story holds this to be true

Shay, was my first born, not “planned” as they say
Her birth was at a time of turmoil in my life unlike any other
She rescued me from the path of destruction I had begun

She was “born saved” and loved Jesus always it seems
Almost always obedient, loving and my friend
Shay was the “easy” child

Job was my second. Born in my “natural woman” days
He was all boy from the word go, topping 8 pounds at birth

I would become familiar with emergency rooms with Job
Since his activities were prone to bring about injury

His teen years would bring rebellion and the testing of wills
Through it all, God prevailed and spared his life, more than once

Anna was my last, and I knew she would be
So perhaps she was “spoiled”, as her siblings often say
By the time she came along, so many of the “rules” seemed to lose their importance

Anna’s life barely started before it was almost taken from us
She was born in a labor room, all the delivery rooms were full
She was blue, with no breath and no oxygen tanks were around

Powerfully, God stepped in and brought her to life

And the moment I held her I saw wisdom in her face

Anna Naomi, means “Gracious and Pleasant”
It is a name she has grown into, become really

Grace flows around her like a silk scarf
It is her carriage, face and stance
It has been said by some, that Anna walks about on air

Pleasant is who she is, her demeanor, her “style”
Who does not enjoy her bright smile, her hearty laugh
Or the way she invents new movements to accompany her conversation

From the beginning, the fight for her life was clear
As bad news and illness came upon her
A “brewy” in her brain, a heart murmur and fevers

Many nights as a baby, she laid almost lifeless against my chest
As we held her close for fear she would stop breathing
While 105 degree fevers racked her body and sucked her energy

Vials of blood taken to run tests, yet never did she shed a tear
When time and time again, she would be poked and prodded

Each time the dr.’s answer was the same;
Which was, we have no answer, no disease we can name

She was so small, purple circles under her eyes
Blond curly hair about her soft cheeks
People often asked if she was a “preemie”

Smiles were hard to come by many days
As I lived in fear of the next fever

But miraculously, one New Years Eve
God said not so, and healed her of her infirmities
The fevers never to return again
Heart murmur and brewy both silenced

Around outsiders, she was quiet, and subdued as a child
It would become a “quest” for some church members
To get her to speak

She also had her times of acting up, acting out and the like
It was those times I would look in her eyes and make her recite
“My name is Anna Naomi, gracious and pleasant”
With a roll in her eyes, she would repeat my words

Her teenage years brought a soberness that would be hard to pierce
And a loathing of school that tried my sanity
But God told me she was a Queen, not a silly young woman
And peace was my restored to my mind

She endured disappointments and surely felt alone often
But like Anna in the bible, she waited for Christ’s appearance
Not wavering in her seeking of Him, He heard her cries

And as a bird that has found it’s wing, she took flight
Almost overnight it seemed, she embraced who she was
And the facets of her diamond shone in brilliance

Now the fire in her belly seeks new fuel
As she leaves what is familiar, in a quest for more
To be all that God has made her to be

Queen Anna Naomi, follow your dreams
Surely God is in your heart, His favor is before you

Saturday, July 25, 2009

All We Need Is Love...

We all want to be loved, don’t we? But what is this thing called love?

When I think of love, so many things encompass my mind. If you asked 20 people to define love, you may get 20 different answers. Perhaps many of us don’t really understand this thing called love – even though we desire it, yearn for it and make so many choices in the pursuit of it.

If you have never felt love, seen love, given love – you are confused by those of us who spend so much time thinking about it. Because true love, deep love, passionate love - it changes you. It messes you up. In a quote from one of my favorite movies “Moonstruck”, it “ruins everything”.

Love is an emotion, a feeling, an action, a thought, a deed. It can be associated with most anything one might do on this earth. An act that appears to one person as so simple, so minute they give it little thought, can be considered one of the deepest examples of love to another.

The scripture has some things to say about love...Love is patient, love is kind, it is not quick to anger, love endures all. Such nice descriptions, such good things. But another scripture says that God is love, and that He first loved us and sent His son to die for us…. the crucifixion. Something that those of us who call upon the name of Jesus look at as the greatest example of love ever - was violent and ugly. I relate to both sides of this coin. It is the perplexity of this thing called love, on the one hand so gentle, so beautiful, and the next moment it brings a grief that can rip your heart in two.

There are times when in the loving of one person, we hurt another. Not long after Bill and I got married, my mom came to live with us. She could no longer live on her own and we welcomed her into our home. When she came to live with us we had a great deal going on. First, Bill and I were newly married. Second, I had my own business, plus a part time job. And last but not least, my youngest Anna, who was about 14 at the time, was going through a very dark period. She refused to go to school, didn’t talk (except to say “I don’t know” at evey question posed to her) and was “sulkingly” trying to adjust to a divorced and remarried mom.

The care of my mom, my business, and my daughter required a great deal of me and I had to make choices. I loved very deeply all those in this “triangle” - my mom, my partner in the business who was also my friend and my baby girl. But I knew the drowning of me would help no one and I had to choose where my attentions would lie. I chose Anna. In choosing to focus on her, I had to kick my mom out and leave the business behind. Hurting my mom and partner in the process, but I believe saving Anna’s life. And I have no doubt her life was in the balance. Thankfully, years later, Anna safely grown, I got another chance to care for my mom and reunite with my partner and friend. Love covers a multitude of sins and triumphs over all.

Where there is love, there is certainly joy, but, as mentioned before, this same love can bring raging pain and sorrow. Because when we love, we hurt. If we did not love, most likely much of the hurt would not come, but then, neither would the joy. So, this love I speak of is a choice. If we choose to open our heart to love and be loved, we also choose to open our heart to pain and sorrow.

A good example of this “schizophrenia” of love happened when Bill and I were dating. Soon after we began our relationship, I found myself in love with him, truly in love for the first time at 40 years old. The previous year, I divorced after being married 25 years, having never experienced the things I was with Bill. I was so unfamiliar with this new condition, it put me in somewhat of a panic and I was unsure what was happening to me. But as a great friendship grew into something “other than”, leaving the platonic behind and moving into courtship, I was thrilled with the wonder of being “in love”. With it, came the sense of “need” for this other person in my life. The fact was, yes, if I had to, I could live without this person, but I did not WANT TO. Having him in my life added, completed, complimented, challenged. I allowed myself to NEED him. The coolest thing…he loved me back. I was head over heels and he was too – we both jumped in and allowed this new found love to envelope us.

But, there were times when we would be together, that this overwhelming sadness would come upon me. I would be in his arms, and would begin to weep with sorrow, heaving with tears. I became filled with a sadness that did not seem to fit with this wonderful joy I had. It was the bitter and the sweet…I was so joyful that this love had come my way, but so bitter and saddened that I had lived so long without it. I had never known fully what I was missing.

Poor Bill. A perfectly good make out time interrupted by these bursts of tears. I am sure it perplexed him as much as it did me, because when these times of sorrow would come, he would ask no questions, gently lay my head on his shoulder, let me cry and with his hand on my head, softly pray in tongues over me till the tears stopped. And little by little, I was cleansed of my sorrow, able to bask in the safety of his love.

I know there are those who guard their heart from loving too deeply, afraid of hurt and pain. But of all the love I have given and all of the love I have received, the best love has always been the one given in abandon, with the whole heart. It’s the love that bares ones soul and leaves you “out there - to’ up draws” and all, nothing hidden; extreme. Have I gotten hurt? Damn right, more times than I can count. But this one thing about love I know for sure, I have never been sorry that I have given it, but regret has come when I have withheld it.

The pain of love, the joy of love. It is a mystery how the two can reside as one, but I know I can’t live without the joy of it, so for that joy I will gladly risk the pain.

Watching Big Brother...

Oh, it’s not the kind of “big brother” that phrase has come to be associated with, it’s an actual big brother...mine, and his name is Ed. Bill and I just spent a few days with him and his family in Door County, Wisconsin.

Door County is a lovely place located on the peninsula of Wisconsin. Green Bay on one side, Lake Michigan on the other...just beautiful. They rent
a cottage on the Green Bay side and that is where we stayed. Egg Harbor to be exact. It’s a lovely little town full of craft shops, restaurants, art galleries and an array of small businesses. Not a McDonalds in sight!

Ed and his wife DeeAnn have been going up there every year for the past 16 years (they started before their daughter Ellie was born; she is 10). Many family members and friends have joined them over the years. They love it up there - including Ellie - which is pretty cool I think for a 10 year old. They have favorite restaurants, activities and places that they go every year for the week they stay. They have several “traditions” of must d
o things...even Ellie. One of hers involves “Blue Moon” ice cream.

We had a great time. It was fun sharing with them a place they enjoy so much. The cottage has a gorgeous view of the sunset, the water was clear and the setting around us serene. We went to "Al Johnson's" restaurant and saw goats on the roof and ate swedish pancakes, we ate cherry pie at "Sweetie Pies", which even my husband (who is not a fruit pie fan) had to admit was the best cherry pie he ever had. We took a ferry (one of my favorite things on this earth to do) to Washington Island and explored there where I held an ostrich egg and enjoyed art made by locals. But those
things are not what impressed me the most...what I take with me from my time in Door County was my brother Ed...more accurately, my brother the father...this is the memory that stays with me.

Perhaps it is becaus
e during our visit Ed and I chatted about our dad and childhood. We shared memories of growing up and recounted some classic stories about my dad. Whatever the reason, my heart is full of my brother the father and I feel it’s a story worth telling.

Growing up, my brother Ed was not known for his patience or calmness. He was known to yell a bit and had quite a temper...we all did really. He tormented me as a child with his teasing, but he would also come to my defense when threatened by the neighborhood kids. Usual stuff with minute screaming at the top of your lungs to each other, but the next minute helping to pick you up if you fall.

A little about my brother Ed today...he’s a kind man with a big heart that is changing the world one soul at a time...he leads and teaches by example. Some things that make him happy are sitting in a rocking chair, watching Cubs games, playing golf and spending time with family.

I watch Ed today with his family, and he is patient, a great teacher, thoughtful and takes his role as husband and father seriously. This doesn’t surprise me, since I have seen him with my kids and he is great. Years ago, when my kids were little and Ed was single, we would visit for weekends. His place was a couple hours away, near Chicago, and the weekend would be such a wonderful break from our everyday life. His first home there was an apartment, then later he built a house. We were always welcomed to both with open arms. He thought ahead and had the fridge stocked with food. There were always clean sheets and a comfy place to sleep. He
always made us feel at home and treated us to dinners, br
eakfasts and was a refuge. He took an interest in my kids and was patient and loving to them and they were never a bother. His focus was always to teach them something with most activities. He helped make it fun to learn and was a really cool uncle. It was never a chore for them to go visit him, they always looked forward to it. He even let my son Job live with him and his family when Job finished high school so he could attend a culinary school near where Ed lived. He provided a home, resources and guidance to
my son...which I am sure was not always easy...Job was a handful at that time in his life. Bu
t he did not give up on him even when Job quit school and his investment in him is evident today...Job later finished school (on his own dime) and is now working as a chef. He got married and has 2 kids of his own and is a wonderful man and father who has never forgotten what Ed did for him.

I think what impresses me ab
out my brother’s fathering is that much of what he does was not done for him. Now, I am not slamming my dad...I long ago made peace with what he was and what he wasn’t and know that he loved us very much. My dad fathered better than he got for sure. I make note of it because it is so awesome to me when we rise above what we did not have to make something wonderful, instead of passing on to another generation our mess. And that’s how I see Ed. He took what my dad did do and expanded it, improved it, added to it.

One of my favorite Ed and dad stories happened over 30 years ago in my home, after I was married and had 2 of my 3 kids. Ed was a young man still living with our parents...probably college age and home for the summer. My then husband and I owned our own home but knew very little of repairs and
upkeep. Our toilet was stopped up and we had no money to call a plumber. My dad was an electrician by trade, but knew some about plumbing, so he came to the rescue (one of many times) and brought my brother Ed along with him. Ed, my dad and my first husband got to work. They unseated the toilet and removed it from the floor. Low and behold, the problem was immediately visible. One of my delightful children (who were about 3 and 5 at the time) had decided to flush a canning jar lid down the toilet. It fit perfectly over the opening to the pipe and covered it completely. So, they removed the obstruction and went about the task of removing the old wax ring seal and placing a new one. This can be a pretty yucky job. The wax is gooey and fits around an opening that waste passes through...get the picture? But the three men pushed on and I went in to check on them just as they were finishing. My dad, much like Ed, liked to turn activities into learning opportunities. So as they surveyed their work, sewage soaked canning jar lid and old wax ring about them, my dad turned to Ed and said “Well, some day when you own your own home and you need to fix a toilet, now you’ll know what to do”. Ed looked up at him and said “Yup; I’m gonna call a plumber!”

He is an involved and engaged father. He makes Ellie warm chocolate milk morning and evening. He takes turns putting her to bed and reading to her. He allows her to follow her dream of being an Olympic ice skater...even after a couple of broken bones. She is a priority
for him and I know he would do anything to keep her safe and cared for. And if things were out of his control, he would willingly call upon God’s power to intervene.

He speaks to Ellie as God would; loving, kind, encouraging, believing that she can do and be anything her heart desires, a rebuke when needed, but unconditional love and acceptance always. One of the most powerful things I took note of...he is there for her and he is consistent. He says only what he intends to do and does what he says. So, there is security in her life - and any woman will tell you that feeling secure is in the top 5 “things we want to have” list. The way he treats her is an example of how her husband should treat her...and from what I have seen her husband “to be” will have some big shoes to fill. My prayer is that she will never settle for anything less.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

I Remember Mommy.....

Today is Mother’s Day. We take a day to celebrate motherhood and our moms.

Last year on Mother’s Day was the last time I saw my mother. She had been ill for five weeks and in the hospital. She fought through several bouts in Intensive Care and seemed on the road to coming back home. We had just moved her a few days earlier to a Rehab Facility, which is where we had a special Mother’s Day gathering with her. It was our last day with her, but it was a wonderful time and I am so thankful that it was so special. It was as if she was thinking "I'm really tired and since this has been such a great day; I'll make it my last". She passed that night.

So today, in honor of her, and really all mothers, I post the eulogy I shared at her funeral. It is stories of life, love, pain and triumph. Those of you that have lost a mom will relate, those of you that still have your mom with you will hopefully be moved to appreciate her even more and show her that appreciation while she is still with you on this earth. Give your mom an extra hug from me.

As I was writing this eulogy, a word kept coming into my heart and mind, and that was “Kingdom”. In particular, Christ’s Kingdom and what that entailed, and as I thought about it, “Mom’s Kingdom” became my title for this eulogy. A Kingdom is:
  1. A state or people ruled over by a king or queen
  2. A realm or area of activity in which a particular thing is thought to dominate
In “Mom’s Kingdom,” she ruled with quiet strength and led by determination and example. Her realm was dominated by love.

Eleanor Crabill was a strong woman of great resolve. She made it through a pretty difficult childhood. She married young, had two daughters and shortly after became a single mother at a time when that was pretty “scandalous”. But, she picked up her roots in New York and came to South Bend, where she met my father, and had 4 more children. Marriage to my dad was not always easy and raising 4 more kids not a walk in the park either. But my mom was strong willed, faithful, and determined.

My mom was not what you would call “bubbly” or “cheerful” in her ways, but neither was she sad or oppressive. In fact, I attribute most of what I have accomplished to her positive words to me growing up. She believed you could do anything and if I had said to her as a child, “I want to grow up to be president of the United States”, even though that would have seemed pretty far fetched for a girl at that time, she would have said “Then try as hard as you can and be the best you can be”, never putting any thoughts of failure or impossibility in my mind.

My mom loved to read and as a child she read to us and because of that I believe, I also love to read, as do all my siblings. This truly is one of the greatest gifts she gave to us, because in reading books, you can go anywhere and be anything, even if you have no money or means. So, from a young age my world was expanded far past our house in the “hood” on Huey Street.

Some of my greatest memories from childhood were at Christmastime. Mom always made a big deal about “Santa”. The stockings were always hung on Christmas Eve, “The Night Before Christmas” was always read and we always woke up early to see if Santa came. One year, apparently “Santa” had overslept, because when we started downstairs, mom yelled up the stairs that “Santa had not come yet, go back to bed”. Thankfully, just a short time later Santa showed up and we were able to open our presents.

Mom was not one to give you advice unless you asked for it . And the advice would most likely include some form of “You can’t change anybody else, they have to do it for themselves. You can only change yourself”. That was a frequent “momism” that she said many times throughout my life, but there was another one I remember hearing often, and my most memorable recollection of it was related to me by my sister Patty. I was in labor with my first child and Patty was going to give us a ride to the hospital. I was out in the car waiting, and as Patty was leaving the house mom said to her “It’s going to get worse before it gets better”. She was right, it did, but about 8 hours later I gave birth to my beautiful baby Shay.

And as with most moms, she could have a critical word or two for you that cut like nobody else. My two words from her were “Oh Susie!” and they came whenever she measured my hips for a garment she was making for me.

Mom was not a big talker, but had a quick wit and could be pretty funny. Several years ago, she had  fallen and broken her wrist. It was clear she would not be able to stay by herself, so she was going to live with Bill and I. At the time, we had two cats. My husband was telling her that they were quite friendly and loved to sit on laps and snuggle. He said “You may find them sleeping with you sometimes”. She thought for a moment, then responded, “That might be nice, it’s been awhile since anyone’s wanted to sleep with me”. Another time she really made me laugh was just recently when she was in the hospital. She had been diagnosed with influenza, and the drugs they gave her to treat this made her a little “out of it”. One evening during this time we were in the room with her and she kept fidgeting and trying to get out of bed. I said “What’s wrong mom?” She said, “I need to get to the bathroom”. Now, she was in no shape to get out of bed, so I told her I would call the nurse. Then, realizing she had a catheter in place, I inquired which type of “bathroom duties” she needed to take care of, and she looked up at me with a dead serious look on her face and said “Well, I don’t think that’s any of your business!”

Mom was one of the most unselfish and generous people I knew. She always put her children before herself and would have given us her last dollar if we were in need. She taught us well to save our money, always pay cash, never credit, pay your bills on time and don’t live beyond your means. However, if we happened to not follow these guidelines, or were in need because of some calamity, she was always there to help you out and never made you feel bad for having to ask.

Growing up, I hardly remember my mom without a tape measure hanging around her neck. She not only sewed because she enjoyed it, but to make extra money. So she always had customers coming in and garments in the works. Of course she is trying to accomplish all this with four kids running around the house. That’s where that trusty tape measure came in. If we got too out of hand, that “practical necklace” was right there, quick as a flash being lashed towards you, usually as you were trying to run to get out of its way. It wasn’t too bad with the old cloth tape measures; the worst that got you was the little metal end. But when mom got the new and improved fiberglass tape measures…ouch! Those had a little more sting to them. My brother Ed was the quickest of the bunch, because she usually had to get another tool of her trade, the yardstick, to reach him. I must not have been a very fast runner, because I usually got stuck in the corner of the couch, with mom over me, a new lash with every word, or sometimes syllable that came out of her mouth. “I – told — you — to — list —en — to — me!” or whatever my offense happened to be. But my favorite was when she would say, AS she was lashing me, “Stop—that—crying!” And of course, I wanted to yell back... “then—stop—hit —ting — me!” But, never did. And, as you can see, I survived these well-deserved lashings just fine, and so far, I’ve murdered no one and served no prison time.

My mom was not really into cooking that much, but we ate pretty well growing up. And while we ate quite a bit of “Ragu” sauce and “Duncan Hines” cakes, there were a few things mom made that I have never been able to replicate, nor have I had it better anywhere else. Every Sunday was fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy. Nobody fried chicken like my mom! And I have never had better gravy than she would make. Every year I try to duplicate the wonderful dressing that our Thanksgiving turkey would be stuffed with. While I have been able to master her Chicken and Dumplings, I have never seen anyone else outside our family make it like she did. Of course there was “Ham, Cabbage, Carrot and Potato Soup,” and my brother Ed is still hoping that someone will continue the legacy of her “Christmas Cutout Cookies” that she gave up making many years ago. So for someone who didn’t like to cook all that much, she made some "doozies".

My mom came from a generation that was taught to keep secrets, not tell your business and so forth. Because of this, there was a lot about my parents that we did not know about. As mom grew older, I certainly began asking more questions and she at times would give me answers. It was hard to realize she had been keeping so much inside of her, never sharing her pain with someone who cared and might be able to comfort and encourage her. Some of the secrets she kept she was afraid to share with us because she thought we might think badly of her. But I found it only made me love her more and appreciate what she had endured. Children are much more resilient than we give them credit for I think, and while growing up around parents that kept their own counsel had the opposite effect on me, I usually tell all my business, there are a few things that I have kept from my kids for the same reasons my mom did. But recent events in my life have convinced me that the truth is better than a lie and Christ covers my every offense. Looking back, I would have wished to have known more of my mom, not less. Because to know her, is to understand myself better, my upbringing. The clearer the picture, the better the view and it meant so much when she would share with me, even though some of her recollections were quite painful. It helped me to see her as not just my mom, but also as a woman who had lived at least a couple of lives before I ever came along.

It’s hard as your parents grow older and they come to a place of needing your care. No more are they the protectors, the fixers – you now assume that role of seeing to their needs and making sure they are safe and taken care of. There is a balance to be brought to this care, making sure you respect them as your parent, understanding how hard it is for them to give up their independence. I don’t count this as a burden by any means, it was a blessing. Mom allowed us to care for her and realized her limitations and willingly accepted help. There were her times of saying, “Oh, I know you’re so busy” and she would feel somewhat guilty for calling on us. But I think we all tried to assure her that there was nothing more important at that moment than her care. And then, in the midst of her hospital stay, when she was in intensive care, weak and still very sick, those times of being my mommy would still come through. One of the danger signals that she was not doing well, would be confusion and lethargy, which because of her weak lungs would be a signal of her retaining too much Co2, which was life threatening. So, after having gone through this a couple of times, I would take to asking her often, “Do you know where you are mom? Or “What’s your name? One of these times I asked her if she knew who I was, and she looked up at me, with a sweet smile and said, “Well, you’re my Susie”.

I wish I had called her more. I wish I had her over for dinner more. I wish we had played Scrabble. I wish I had asked more questions and listened to more answers. I wish I had said thank you more. I don’t say these “I wishes” as a regret, but in realizing that I will no longer have the chance to do it with her, I hope that I will do it more with others and that through my words, others will be encouraged to do the same.

Mom was a very intelligent, well-read woman who could have done anything she wanted I believe. She chose to take care of us kids and invest in us. She seemed to understand that one of the greatest things a human being can ever accomplish for God is to invest in someone else’s future. There is no greater “work” for the kingdom of God than that…there is that word, “Kingdom”. For who is the Kingdom for, and who is it made up of, but us? Sure, it’s wonderful to witness to the world and feed starving children, to translate bibles and preach awesome sermons. But, as Christ did, she spent her life investing in the few that she knew would go on to make a difference on this earth, and therefore eternity.

The last day of mom’s kingdom on earth was Mother’s Day. About 20 family members had gathered around to celebrate with her at the Rehab facility she was staying at (in hopes of getting strong enough to come home). And there she was, her last day on earth, a queen in her court, loving subjects gathered around to celebrate her. As the group quieted down to hear what she had to say, the voice that had been weakened by her recent illness strengthened as she spoke what was to be her last proclamation; a blessing for all who gathered and expanded well beyond the walls of the room that we were in. She put her hands together, as if in prayer, and then extended them towards us and said “I love you all, and am proud of each and every one of you.” The words she spoke, some children wait a lifetime to hear, but she made sure we heard them often.

She has left a legacy of unselfish love in her children, family and those who knew her. Because of her life, just within her own family her realm reaches throughout the world to New York, California, Illinois, Michigan, Afghanistan, and soon Puerto Rico, just to name a few. Comfort has been given to hundreds, souls have been led to the Lord, and then encouraged to stay with the Lord, shelter has been given to those who needed lodging, money has been given to those who are in need, hospitality has been extended to those who are hungry in body and soul. Eleanor Crabill’s kingdom is one that is rich and will continue to carry on into eternity. We are going to miss our mommy, but her rule of love lives on in us.