In This Small Way

My grandpa passed away nearly two weeks ago, at the age of 94.

When I heard the words come out of my parents’ mouths my stomach dropped—even though we knew the day was coming soon. And even though I understand it means he’s free from pain and confusion. When I found out this person was no longer on earth with me —who I  thought of as part of the very foundations of the earth in a strange, illogical way (despite my knowledge of science and human lifespans and history)—my body felt the loss. My brain couldn’t conceive it, but my organs knew better. 

When I think of living life well, I think of my Grandpa Helm. He was smart—the kind of smart that starts with curiosity and never leads to arrogance. He was well-read and cared about current events. He read multiple newspapers on a regular basis until dementia made that difficult—from differing perspectives, to get a sense of all sides. He was full of compassion, and kindness and close attention. If you wanted to feel seen and heard, he was your man.

If you wanted some knowledge, or better yet, some wisdom, you asked Grandpa. And then you waited. You might wait a good while, because he let his thoughts simmer, and when he spoke you knew you were getting gold. It wasn’t always fun to wait—as a child I remember wishing Grandpa would hurry up already and just spit it out so I could run and expend all the energy I had stored in my lanky limbs. But all those times I held that energy back, waiting and waiting for his thoughts to finish baking—ding—and then the words to come out slowly, one bite at a time, I got something to chew on for my whole life. That’s how good those bits of wisdom were. And I’m not even being dramatic. 

He loved justice. And mercy. His faith was built on loving God and loving people—it was as simple and complicated as that. He was slow to anger and quick to listen and even quicker to smile. He adored his wife and loved his kids, and his grandkids, and his great-grandkids. He loved people because they were his fellow humans, no matter if he had something to gain, no matter if he disagreed with their politics or religion or line of work. In these days of us and them, of determining who’s in the right camp and the wrong, I think of Grandpa and see a different way. One of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

He was the closest thing to Jesus I’ve seen in my lifetime. My very own Grandpa Helm.  

Isn’t that spectacular?

I’m thankful to have known him, let alone to have been raised under his watch, his loving hand, his kindness and calm direction. I needed a few days for my own thoughts to simmer, the impact of his long life taking a while to digest. And I’m considering it a good sign that I may be like him in this small way. 

He was my grandpa. And now he is gone. That is just so weird, I don’t have the words to say. But goodness sakes if his doesn’t sound like a life well-lived to me. 

A life worth mulling over and then writing some measly, thankful words from one of his biggest fans. I love you, Grandpa. Thank you ever so much. 

William J. Helm Obituary

Winter Ends (I Promise)

Okay, okay, so this post popped up on my Facebook feed as a memory from 5 years ago. No I didn’t scour my site for a good one to re-post this week, it just fell into my lap and I took it as a sign. That I didn’t have to do anything. 🙂 And also that maybe this was a great time for this reminder.

This year’s a little different, at least here in Kansas. Easter brought snow and sleet and, therefore, an indoor egg hunt. The signs of life and warmth that usually serve as hiding places for eggs in our yard – the tulips, the daffodils, the green stems of day lilies not yet in bloom – were coated in ice rather than sunshine. Boo. Not my idea of the hope that Easter and spring usually provide.

But the sermon I heard at church spoke to this very tension. The waiting. The taut pull of a rope just before it snaps. The hebrew words that we translate to “hope” in English which mean so much more than “Gee, I sure hope we eat spaghetti for dinner.”

So I still wait. For warmer temperatures and the grass seed in my yard of mud to sprout. This essay was a good reminder of what I have to look forward to. The beautiful things to come…

Winter Ends

Now Is Now (Again)


This is from just over a year ago. In honor of summer – the extra hours of daylight, the time to really pay attention, the abundance of sweet memories made – here’s an oldie but a goodie. Happy summer, everyone!

Plumb » Now Is Now.

Into the Fold

Warm water, peppermint soap, time alone with a zero percent chance of needing to make snacks for anyone. The conditions were perfect for deep thinking. The other day as I shaved my left leg, to be precise, I saw a scar I got last summer after a nasty bout of molluscum contagiosum (thank you, children). I realized what bad memories came up due to the sight of that scar, and it got me thinking. About all types of scars. About what they mean, truly and metaphorically. About the stories they tell.

For example, my newest scar. I was trying to get dinner on the table before we left for my son’s middle school parent-teacher conferences and noticed some blackberry on my shirt, so I applied the magic trick that gets out berry stain. I leaned over the sink with my shirt held out a bit, and poured boiling water on it. The water ran down the shirt and onto my hand, which hurt, so I yelled and let go, which made the water hit my bare stomach. A lot of pain ensued, as well as blistering skin and the need to wear a giant bandage that stuck out under my shirt (which was now free of berry stain). After a few weeks of burn cream and gauze pads I was left with a scar. I tried various methods to reduce it’s appearance, but it soon became clear that swimsuit season had changed forever.

I’ve racked up a long list of scars over the years: an oval-shaped scar on my knee acquired when I was seven from sliding on thin carpeting, little ones on my hands and wrists from errant knives while cooking or the surprisingly rough edge of the dryer, the stupid ones from mosquito bites scratched to the point of bleeding – they don’t last forever, but they stay through the summer season and really piss me off. And the ironic island-of-Taiwan-shaped scar that used to call my shoulder home (after a scooter accident in…yes, Taiwan.)  But Just as I have lost nearly all of the Chinese language I learned so many years ago, the scar has faded away to nothing.

None of those, however, harken back to anything truly horrible. Some scars bring to mind much worse tales. Scars on bodies, or on hearts from emotional pain and suffering. From the time you learned your jeans were not the cool kind or you realized he didn’t love you back; the day you saw your first fight or the time you were nearly in one; those years you thought your parents might divorce or the minute you considered it yourself. Those kind of scars remind you of their presence in different ways than the ones on your skin. They go deeper, into the soul, and show themselves when the same sort of hurt happens again. Or when you see someone else suffer the same pain. Or even when the fear of that pain haunts your life.

Sometimes those emotional scars come out when you thought they had healed and disappeared. They tend to come up for me when I’m writing. I am often surprised how strongly I feel about a long-ago event that hurt deeply, even after years of time to mend. Sometimes it’s because I didn’t take any measures to make the scar disappear: dealing with the emotions and circumstances head-on, accepting them as part of my story and then sending them off like a lantern to float up and away – putting that emotional neosporine on the wound to help it fade. Sometimes it’s because it was such a deep laceration it will always be with me, like the scar on my knee. I’ve had it for 33 years and it looks the same, but without the fuzz of my green sweat pants stuck inside. It is part of me. If you drew a picture of what Jenea looks like, it would include that scar. Just as a drawing of my emotional being would have to include a few choice moments from junior high (that stuff never dies, man.)

By definition scars generally don’t go away. They are forever reminders of our past mistakes and accidents, of often significant pain, and of disappointment. But I’ve been wondering if I can accept them. If I can let them be a part of my story without hating them for that fact. I’d like to stop fighting them. Just as I’ve accepted the unsightly burn scar on my stomach. Because there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. Go ahead and add it to my picture.

And just as I’ve accepted myself more over the years – my forgetfulness, my poor math skills, my rather tender heart (I went through a period of adopting the Simon and Garfunkel lyrics “I am a rock, I am an island” as my mantra) – I want to accept my scars, emotional and otherwise, into the fold. Not try to hide them. Just let them be what they are – part of my story, part of myself, part of my picture.

Scars are simply a sign of what’s happened to me in the past. They say that I’ve lived. I haven’t spent my life in a bubble but have risked and failed, and their very presence means I made it through. Those marks of old aches – both on the body and in the heart – are more interesting than an airbrushed version. Save that for Glamour Magazine. I’ll take the real, scarred truth any day.

The Underbelly

Pros: no seat belts, you can get up and pee whenever the need arises, electrical outlets at each seat, wi-fi, giant windows, no one has to drive (i.e. the parents can read or work and even do things with the kids), boarding is quick and easy, you can take lots of luggage without a fee. Cons: it takes a while.

We took the train from Kansas City to St. Louis for spring break this year. It was my kids’ first time on an Amtrak and they loved it. The pros beat the cons by far. But there was one additional positive outcome, which surprised me with it’s goodness. A plane gives you the bird’s eye view; the car gets you on the ground, feeling the distance and experiencing each place you travel through; but the train shows you the underbelly.

Clouds hung low and full over the fields as we sped through the countryside. The comforting rock of the train car, the clickety clack over the rails, the view from the giant windows all brought back memories from when I was a child traveling from Kansas to the east coast. Watching the landscape change as one state melted into another. Playing checkers in the observatory car, ordering apple juice at the snack counter, sleeping in the tiny bunks – these are the recollections that hang on in my mind. But on this trip, as an adult, I noticed something altogether different.

“The other side of the tracks” is a phrase for a reason. Trains live on the outskirts of towns. They run past scrap yards, through tunnels plastered with graffiti, over rivers lined with tangled wilderness rather than tidy vacation rentals. They frequent parts of the country most don’t often visit – the small towns of little value to many sight-seers. Amtraks’ once sleek, silver bodies have dulled to gray, and like an aging old man they carry the weight and wisdom of years spent traveling the byways. Even the lonesome whistle harkens back to the past, fits this forgotten mode of transport. I, for one, enjoyed soaking up the nostalgia.

The scenery was beautiful and ugly in increments: the greening fields of spring, crumbling walls of cement, Cottonwood trees dotted with eagles by the wide Missouri River, a hodgepodge of trailer homes and ramshackle houses around a lake, fields of purple flowering henbit and deadnettle. But it was all the underside of the creature – the hidden or forgotten or uncelebrated bit. The part of the country you don’t see unless you go out of your way to do so, for which there are no billboards to make it an attraction. And though I’m not against attractions, per se, sometimes it’s good to see the rest. To travel though a space as an observer, seeing just what it would look like without the train you’re on. Highways have en entire economic system built around them: Cracker Barrels, gas stations, fast food restaurants, Lion’s Dens (Missouri’s interstate is lined with adult video stores). But the train simply has tracks and a few scattered, mostly forgotten stations. It gets you where you want to go without the fanfare. But with an internet connection.

The people who take the train are the real deal, too. Not a single person was dressed in heels for travel (as I’ve seen plenty of times at LAX). There were families, singles in their twenties, older folks who needed help with their bags. One man had a lively yet vulgar conversation on his phone during one part of our return trip: “I know, they’re all bitches, but this one is the biggest bitch of all…if I divorce her she’ll take my boat!” The young man behind me and I looked at each other and laughed as we listened, then he put on his Beats and I opened my novel. Some of my fellow travelers smelled. I’ll just say it. And by the looks of their clothes they hadn’t washed anything for a while. But like the public pool, or Checkers grocery store where your cashier may or may not have all his teeth, being in the midst of that reality is good for a soul. To see the spectrum of local humanity and remember that not everyone is exactly like me. The world is much more interesting than that. I’m not ready to have the guy on the phone over for coffee, but I can sit on a train with him. I can learn about life from being thrown together with all sorts of folks.

Next month we will drive to Florida for a family beach vacation, and I will partake in the gas stations and McDonald’s rest rooms (but probably not the Cracker Barrels, and definitely not the Lion’s Dens). I love a good road trip. And such a long distance would take a week on a train, which is just silly. But my little jaunt on the Amtrak to St. Louis was a treat. Not a super-sweet sugar rush but a slow melting bit of dark chocolate – actually good for me even days later. I’ll do it again sometime. And I’ll watch for the secret places, both beautiful and not. Because together they equal what’s real. The top, the sides, the front, the back, and the underbelly.


I Hear You. I See You.

Here’s what I learned from the Women’s March:

1. Everyone has a story to tell.

2. We should listen.

I went to the women’s march in little ol’ Topeka, KS, last Saturday, along with over 3,000 men, women and children. We were a small portion of the total Women’s March attendees worldwide, but we were there. As I scanned the signs in the crowd I got a sense of each person’s motivation for attending. Some people were clearly angry. Some were more sad. Some were there to support a specific cause or people group. And surely some were all three. I was conflicted about going, not because I was against the march, but because I didn’t think this type of event fit me. I am hyper conscious about keeping my word – letting my yes be yes and my no be no. In the things I promise and the things I merely say. And a lot is said by one’s actions. By showing up, or not.

In going to the march, was I supporting everything this crowd was supporting? I knew I wasn’t, so was going a lie? Was it a falsehood to be a body in that place on that day? Those were questions I asked myself before I decided to hitch a ride with my friend, her daughter, and her mother. I had no sign. I had no specific agenda. I went as an observer, a witness, a supporter of equal rights in general.

I’m going to show my hand here: I am pro-life in that I wish abortion wasn’t a thing at all. I am pro-choice in that I think the answer to the problem is much more complicated than making laws. I am conflicted about legislating morality, on either side of the aisle. Because both sides are doing it. Because we all have a set of values from which we move in the world. From which our political stances arise. The Republicans are not the only ones with a moral standard. The Democrats are not the only ones with compassion for the marginalized. Trying to make our society work for both types of people (and for those who don’t fit in either camp) is a complicated task, necessitating compromise. I sit in between the parties as an independent, and marches don’t always speak for those of us on the fence. “Yes, but…” was my most common internal response to the speeches I heard. Or “Yes, and…”

The very best sign I have seen from any march was made by a friend of mine. She was at the same event as me, though I didn’t see here there – only caught a photo of her sign on social media that evening.

It said simply:

I Hear You.

I See You.

I asked her later about the meaning of her sign, and she said it was up for interpretation. My takeaway was that it perfectly summed up why I went to the march – what it was all about it my view – and the attitude which if everyone adopted, no matter his or her political views, would solve so many of our problems. I hear you. I see you.

When my husband and I have an argument, what it almost always comes down to is one or both of us feeling we haven’t been heard. That one or both of our points of view has been passed over as unimportant or wrong. And the best way to diffuse a disagreement is for us to communicate that we’ve taken in the other’s words and considered them. That what was said wasn’t worthless or silly. Eye contact is key. Body language that communicates empathy instead of disgust.

For me, going to the march was saying with my presence, “I hear and see you” to all the people who feel left out. I, myself, don’t feel that way. I have had it pretty easy as a white, straight, middle class girl/woman in America. I am not particularly angry for me. But as another sign said “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it is not a problem for you personally.” That’s where listening comes in.

The whole idea of a march is to be heard. To be a squeaky wheel for a people or a cause. The problem right now is that so many groups of people were belittled during the campaign that the squeaky wheels are all over the road. The list of speakers at Saturday’s event was long, because numerous groups were being represented. So many people felt blatantly attacked by the man who is now the President that the anger and fear is widespread. And to just say “hush” to all those people is both unkind and foolish. Just as preaching to the choir does little to help further a cause, shushing the other side does a lot to embolden it.

This goes both ways. The conservatives need to hear what the liberals are saying/the liberals need to hear what the conservatives are saying. And both sides should say things in a positive way – not just because it’s kind, but because it’s smart. I doubt a single conservative was moved to a new understanding by the sign “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Translation = Bitches Be Crazy!” Nor would a left-leaning person be swayed by the Facebook post on the Women’s March page that read “You guys are a joke.”

As soon as one side won’t listen it feels foolish to listen in return. It’s hard to answer disrespect, condescension, and outright hate with respect and love. Our nature cries “Hey now! Get off my back!” But it is possible. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t move from a place of hate. He moved from anger and frustration, but not from a desire to see harm done to anyone else. He moved from an understanding that God made everyone, and therefore everyone had value.

Even if someone doesn’t believe that basic tenet of human decency, we should ask why. And then we should listen to the answer. Even if the answer makes our skin crawl. Because until we know why, we can’t address the core issue; we can only address the symptoms. Assumptions are no good here. They are the enemy. Not the other political party. Not those who marched or those who didn’t.

If someone is pro-choice, we should ask why. I have friends whose bodies were assaulted in the past, so attempts to legislate their bodies feels violating. I have relatives who likely don’t know a single Muslim person, so they fear what they don’t understand, as we all tend to do. I have friends who came to America, illegally, from Mexico (and Guatemala, and El Salvador) because they or their parents wanted to give their children a chance to escape poverty, or worse. I have friends who are rich, friends who are poor, some who have been both in one lifetime. And I care what each of them has to say. Empathy does not have to mean agreement. It merely says…

I hear you. I see you.


May They Dream Big

Today feels heavy. Like this scarf I’m wearing is full of bricks. But I refuse to let that feeling win.

I say today is a day for dreamers. As our new President is inaugurated, I am choosing hope over fear. Because I must. I want to scream, and maybe I will for a bit, inside my house, as a lamentation of what we have become. But then I will take several deep breaths, let my blood pressure drop a notch, and remember, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Today is a wrenching disappointment for many, but it is not the end.

I say bring on the dreamers.

We had a family double feature last weekend consisting of La La Land and Selma. Two disparate films, but with one important commonality. One is a bittersweet tale of chasing dreams, of fantastical and lovely head-in-the-clouds romanticism. And the other is a hard-to-take portrayal of a different kind of dream, and a struggle that seems so apropos in our current reality. Both are relevant. Both point to the way to handle Right Now.

After the increasingly combative election, and it’s aftermath which we all had hoped would settle the tension but instead ratcheted it up twelve notches, La La Land was like breathing again. The opening scene of joy-despite-obstacles (both literal (an L.A. traffic jam) and metaphorical (breaking into Hollywood)) made me smile so big my face hurt. It was needed, cinematic medicine. It was an escape from reality. But it also touched on deeper questions of dream-chasing. What is sacrificed in the effort? What about when the dream seems to have died?

And when they let you down
You get up off the ground
And it’s another day of sun


Selma is about dream-chasing too, though King’s dream was a loftier, more altruistic vision of the future by far. Clearly. The movie dives down into the grit of those days in Selma, Alabama without a hint of romanticism. King wasn’t a perfect person, and the film doesn’t pretend so. But it shows both his moral and strategic motivations for non-violent protesting. It gives life to that movement that is still so relevant today. Especially today. It was a lot for my younger ones to handle. But it seemed important. It seemed essential, as learning about history always is.

Many of my friends are headed to Washington D.C. this week to participate in the Women’s March. I thought of going but in the end decided against it. For many reasons, none of which is disagreement. Their tangible effort to express a belief in the rights of all those marginalized in our society echoes those of decades earlier. And it echoes my own heart. People are people, we have the same hurts and fears, we all bleed and love our friends and get sad when someone says we don’t count. These truths have been instilled in me since I was a child and I hold on to them today.

I go back and forth in my mind about how to handle our current reality in America. About what exactly I can and should do. Where my energies will be best spent. How I can be one of the helpers rather than merely a critic of everything I don’t like. How to be for things instead of against them, as a rule. I spend time thinking of this because it matters. Because I want to use my life well. On behalf of others, not just myself. But how to do that is the sometimes overwhelming question. Especially in the face of big obstacles.

I also believe in picking my battles. Because if everything is a fight with me, eventually nothing I do or say will be taken seriously. If I yell at my kids all the time, the yelling becomes normal and completely ineffective. If I only yell when something really awful is going on, my kids take notice. They feel the importance of the moment, of what I’m yelling about. The same goes for life in general. The squeaky wheel only gets the grease when the squeaking is out of the ordinary. What, then, do I squeak, or yell, about?

One battle I am determined to fight: teaching my children about empathy. It’s a battle of daily decision. Of impressing upon them our equality with everyone else and imagining what it must be like to be that other person. After watching half of Selma the girls were getting ready for bed, brushing their teeth and arguing about who touched whom with lotion on her hands. One felt offended at the other’s (moisturizing) assault. It was the perfect teaching moment.

“Can you imagine what it must have felt like for the people marching for their right to vote? They didn’t even have the power to choose their leaders. And then they were hit and kicked and yelled at. It must have felt awful. And they didn’t fight back; they were peaceful. That must have been so hard.”

They stopped and thought. I watched the wheels turning. They got it, in whatever nine and five year old ways they could. One more step toward an empathetic world view. And one small thing I could do.

Which brings me back to La La Land. Some will surely be angry at my comparison of a movie about privileged, white kids trying to make art, and one about poor, black people fighting for their rights. And if I were saying they were equally important in the span of history, that would be fair. But they’re both about dreams – not letting them die. One can assist the other.

So bring on the rebels
The ripples from pebbles…
Here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make


Here’s to my friends marching this weekend in D.C.

And here’s to raising up the next generation of dreamers.

May they dream big.


Inspiration to help the dreaming…

A portion of Dr. King’s “Where Do We Go From Here” speech

Night Has Passed lyric video, The Brilliance


Finally, Hopefully, Eventually

My brother’s dear friend, whom he’s known since he was a child, died this weekend. He was 38 years old.

That sort of thing makes you stop and ask some big questions. It makes you sad and mad and confused and thankful, in waves. Like a spotlight, it reveals all that’s good and bad in glaring, brilliant relief. And for me, it makes Christmas, surrounded by family and pointing to a man who loved in total sacrifice, an even more welcome celebration of hope.

This fall I’ve been reading through the Old Testament in a Bible study. And let me be real here: I’ve been confused. I’ve read the Bible before (yep, the whole thing, more than once), but this year I’m looking at it through a more questioning lens. There are many reasons for this, but one is the simple belief that if my faith can’t stand up to questioning, to a deep, thoughtful wrestling match, it’s not very strong at all. I’m not interested in faith that ignores the mess of life. That puts up a wall against uncomfortable uncertainties. I want to meet those questions head-on.

As I’ve read this telling of the God of the Hebrews and pushed and pulled with my understanding of it, I’ve had to throw some things into the simmering pot of pondering. Stuff that needs more time to reveal it’s true flavor and depth. One fabulous take-away I’ve had is that God is not worried about right-this-second as much as eventually. He is not rushed, he is not restrained by our sense of time. So I’m trusting in the process and in eventually. I’m trusting that I’ll understand those simmering questions when I need to, rather than today. A friend recently said that my writing is like a crock pot – I have to throw ingredients in my brain and let it cook for a long while before the timer goes off and the dish (the essay in my case) is ready. So I suppose this idea of simmering is fine with me, by nature. I like it, in fact.

As the books of the Old Testament have simmered on the stove, they’ve given off an aroma of despair. If you have not read, say, the book of Judges before, it is full to the brim of sadness and scandal and bad choice upon bad choice. There’s a reason you don’t see inspirational verses on Facebook from Judges. It chronicles a pretty terrible stretch of time, and it, along with so many other books of the OT make you long for a reprieve from the violence and misery. And then comes Isaiah, the prophet, like a spark in the deep darkness, promising light. After hundreds of pages of human dysfunction, you actually sigh with relief to read “…for unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.” Finally. Your shoulders drop, your back loosens and you feel the goodness of this news.

The questions remain, but even in the questioning over what exactly is meant by certain passages, even in the confusion about how the God of the Old Testament meshes with the God of the New, I’m left with something I do know with certainty. And that is my experience. These lines from a song by Housefires whittle it down to what I do not question:

Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think you’re like

But I’ve heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night

And you tell me that you’re pleased

And that I’m never alone

You’re a Good, Good Father

It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are

And I’m loved by you

It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am

I do not doubt this. No matter if I view the Bible from a Calvinist perspective, or a Wesleyan one, or from the point of view of the mystics, I know what I’ve heard in the dead of night (both metaphorically and in real-time). And this Christmas I celebrate that. It is more than enough.

Krista Tippett, the host of the radio show and podcast On Being, wrote something recently that felt like the crock pot timer going off, with a megaphone attached. An excellent summation of the glory and beauty of what we happen to celebrate on the 25th…

There is something audacious and mysterious and reality-affirming in the assertion that has stayed alive for two thousand years that God took on eyes and ears and hands and feet, hunger and tears and laughter and the flu, joy and pain and gratitude and our terrible, redemptive human need for each other. It’s not provable, but it’s profoundly humanizing and concretely and spiritually exacting.

She does not buy in to the gift-giving and capitalization of Christmas. I, on the other hand, love the gift-giving and all the hubub leading up to the birthday celebration of this God-become-man. So on this we differ. In fact, I’m about to drop everything non-essential to life (Do we need to eat? Yes. Do we need clean clothes? Pretty much. Do I need to blog? Nope.) to prepare for my favorite holiday. But we agree on this: that our celebration is not silly. It is not about Santa. It is not even about bubble bread, though that is a staple of Christmas morning at the Havener house. It is about the creator of the universe (the multi-verse, whatever we discover in time) sending love to the world in human form and all that means for us. It does not erase the sadness over loss of life. It does not answer all my questions in an instant or “fix” all the world’s ills today. But it points to eventually. The hope of eventually, which makes today better.

Merry Christmas, readers. Here’s to wrestling with questions, simmering pots of uncertainty, finally and hopefully and eventually. May they all bring you joy this holiday.


Thanksgiving Do-Over

This Thanksgiving I forgot to be thankful. I spent a lot of time cooking, prepping the table, planning logistics of when to put the rolls in the oven, take them out, and warm rest of the food before the rolls cooled. Hosting family and friends on Thanksgiving day, more than a typical get-together, is a hit-the-ground-running affair. But since I didn’t schedule actually pondering my own, and our communal, thankfulness, it didn’t happen. I forgot, and it made me sad.

Two years ago when we hosted Thanksgiving, I made an effort to recognize what exactly we were celebrating. Of pointing everyone’s attention toward gratitude and of listening to each person’s thankful heart. It was memorable. It was bonding. It was what Thanksgiving should be. This year I failed as the ring-leader of gratitude. I made some rockin’ brussels sprouts (yes, that’s possible) but I didn’t host the bigger idea of the occasion, which I think is even more important.

I’m certainly not saying I was actually in charge of others’ thankfulness or lack thereof. And I’m not saying anyone else at the table failed to spend time reflecting personally on their many blessings. But in my experience Thanksgiving tends to be more about food than about a celebration of bounty itself, and I’d like to change that when we’re celebrating in our home. I want to make it about stopping for a moment and truly considering the depth of goodness that surrounds us. As a group. I want my kids to absorb the overflow of thankful hearts and let it color their view of the world, to combat some of the yuck they face in the same world each day. And it was likely more important to do so this year than any in recent memory. Bummer.

I dropped my kids off with my in-laws the weekend before Thanksgiving, and on my drive home through the darkening Flint Hills I listened to a podcast. Krista Tippett from On Being interviewed Irish poet Michael Longley and focused on his penchant for writing beautifully about normal, regular things. His “quiet insistence on celebrating normalcy.” In one significant part of the interview he pointed to the Holocaust as an example of this type of gratitude. “In that kind of nightmare what kept people sane was thinking of the ordinary things back home. And what made things slightly less nightmarish would be securing a toothbrush…”

In contrast to all I have to be thankful for, no matter what is happening in the greater world, this stark reminder of what thankfulness can be whiddled down to was poignant. It seemed an appropriate train of thought before the holiday arrived. I thought about it then, even including the pleasure of listening to Michael Longley reading his own poetry among the list of small but significant delights in a time of disheartenment. But I forgot to think about it on actual Thanksgiving. Not that there’s some sort of magic in being thankful on a particular, set-aside day. And yes, thanksgiving should be an ongoing attitude of the heart. I just wish I would have brought this up on that day, to have createa more memorable occasion. A ceremony of thankfulness, almost.

We still had a lovely time. We somehow avoided discussion of the current political climate (and the younger set of us gained some welcome perspective about an even more contentious period of our nation’s history – the 1960s). It wasn’t void of warmth and kindness and community. I simply wish I would have marked the occasion more clearly. But wallowing gets me nowhere. I’m going to forgive my slip-up and keep this in mind for our next round of hosting. Often our mistakes are what teach us best, and this has shown me that I want to make that which we celebrate on the holiday more central than the way we celebrate it. I still want to eat yummy molasses and oat dinner rolls, but they shouldn’t be the biggest take-away (though the caloric take away from those rolls is pretty great). Forgiven, but not forgotten. Next time. And for this year, better late than never, a list of simple things I don’t want to take for granted…

my comfy bed

green tea

a warm scone

heat and air conditioning

a car that works

wool socks

birds singing

peanut butter

vitamin D


a washer and dryer in my house

the sound of Luke playing the piano

the view from my bedroom window

podcasts and long drives through the Flint Hills


Feel free to list of a few small-but-significant things you appreciate.

Happy Thanksgiving do-over.


The Wounds That Bind

I wanted to write about anything other than the election this week. Maybe my kids. My marriage. A fabulous song I want to share. The change of seasons. Anything but the elephant in the room.

But my heart still feels a bit raw more than a week after the election. I thought that once the actual voting was finished we would feel a collective, national release of tension, but obviously that was wishful thinking. It seems blaringly clear now that whoever won, it would have been a difficult transition for our country, since half of us feel one way and half feel another. A drastic split down the middle – at least according to those of us who voted. Sadly, we’ll never know what the rest of our countrymen/women wanted. We’re left with the reality of a jagged tear in the fabric of our country. Not a clean cut, even, but a fraying, ragged mess of threads that must somehow be patched together if we want it to be one nation again.

The first step to healing is what is always the first step: empathy. To see the humanity even in our enemies. To actually go so far as to imagine what it feels like to be another person. It takes work. It takes stopping for a moment and considering. Playing pretend – with more significant ramifications than it had in our back yards as kids. It’s crucial to knowing how to respond to others. Even in our anger, even if we believe it’s righteous anger, we must take care in our reactions.

I know some will find fault in this way of thinking. Fight power with power. Don’t back down. We can’t let the bad guys win. And there is certainly a place for self-defense. Super Man and Captain America are heroes for a reason: they fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. Against those wanting only to harm. But most people aren’t out to harm everyone, but rather, acting out of what they view as self-defense. If we can understand what they are defending, we can work toward changing their views. It takes longer than striking out, and sometimes there’s not time for time (i.e. the Holocaust).  But I believe that empathy is powerful. It changes hearts – yours and, like a benevolent virus, others’. It’s even logical – if you want to change something for the long haul, you make it attractive. Forcing others to agree never, ever works. Appealing to their interests and, eventually, their humanity does.

A song by the band The Brilliance says it like this…

When I look into the face

Of my enemy

I see my brother

I see my brother


Forgiveness is the garment

Of our courage

The power to make the peace

We long to know

Open up our eyes

To see the wounds that bind

All of humankind

May our shutter hearts

Greet the dawn of life

With charity and love

Being known for what you are for rather than what you are against will do wonders. On both sides. If you are for small government, get involved with or help support charities that solve the problems you don’t think the government should. Help your church house homeless people, or feed the poor, or support women with unwanted pregnancies. If you are for civil rights, get involved with or help support organizations that work toward them, or peacefully march in favor of something, or write on your blog to promote a way of thinking. We tend to think that little actions don’t matter. But the whole of history is built on small action upon small action – one moment plus one moment.

I’m starting here: writing this post. Then I’m going to write a meager-but-something check to Family Promise of Lawrence, KS. Then I’m calling my state representatives about a few things. Then I’m showing my son the movie Selma.

And most importantly, I’m going to try to remember that empathy rules the day. Each day. Even right now, when everything feels out of control and the us and them mentality is so rampant. Even if I’m not given the same respect and thoughtfulness. It’s a decision to act this way. It’s the harder route. But it can effect actual change-of-heart, which is the end goal. Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, my grandfather have all been examples of this. Love your enemies. Even pray for them. It’s so awfully hard, but so very worth the deep breaths it takes.

May we have this sort of empathy toward those with whom we disagree. Even those who seem the enemies of everything we are for. It’s a challenge – for me and for you. For all of us.

To see the wounds that bind

All of humankind.




Now watch this to get the song’s full effect…The Brilliance – Brother