Sunday, June 28, 2015


Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden...
Genesis 2:8a (NIV)

Stepped out the front door

Today and found a surprise

Berries by the stairs

Oh! the summer memories

fingers darting through glossy

Leaves like hummingbirds

Pop one in my mouth

Toss another in the pail

Sweet cluster bubbles

I think the Garden

of Eden must have had these

Perhaps without thorns

Linking with Sunday Stillness

Friday, June 26, 2015


Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12

Ok, so I'm cheating just a little bit. The prompt today is Dream; we're supposed to write for five minutes and then stop. My problem is, I've thought about this prompt before, in life. I don't think I'm wrong to suppose that we've all had dreams, dreams that change, dreams that are forgotten in years of living, years of making the best of, years of other priorities. We've been told to follow our dreams, to reach for our dreams, to dream big and to dream on. We've been told what we should dream, what we could dream, and how to interpret our dreams. We've wanted our dreams to come true, like fairytale wishes. All of us. Dreaming about so many things. And for many, our dreams grow and mature - they encompass more than just ourselves. They include our family, our children and spouses. They include our country. They include our world.

So this is the cheat. I've written for almost five minutes, but I also want to share. My daughter just turned 24 a month ago. I still remember how her birth and diagnosis of Down syndrome rocked my perfect world, how my hopes and dreams for my child were changed, shifted, blown away. Hope deferred... But I didn't remain heartsick - God had different plans. Following is an excerpt from a book-in-the-making about my daughter. Well, really about how raising Sierra has changed my life. The Very-Do Adventure is a description of the journey - 

The road goes ever on and on down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone, and I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet, until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet. And wither then I cannot say.
J.R.R. Tolkien

I am in the office, thinking about the past 23 years. Sierra is in the other room, exercising.  I hear the music and I picture her, eyes focused on the video following the steps of an on-screen avatar. That birthday of hers is almost here and I am remembering doctor visits, therapies, early intervention, Individualized Education Plans. I reflect on decisions made, on scaffolding, on choices. There are differences between parenting a child with extra needs and a typically developing child, but the similarities outweigh those differences. Great strides have been made in quality of life, education, health, and acceptance of our differently-abled population. 

Almost twenty-three years on this very-do adventure.

I am in the office, thinking about my wishes and hopes for my girl, for the people around her, for parents and families who are new to the parenting adventure, parents and families with typical and extraordinary journeys ahead. I think big thoughts that float and glitter like giant, helium-filled mylar balloons on parade. Balloons that proclaim Universal Hopes and Dreams. I think beyond Down syndrome.

I hope that my daughter will be safe from any who want to take advantage of her. I hope she continues to search for and find purpose. I hope that others, parents, families and communities learn as much from their sons or daughters, as I have from mine. I wish them joy in the journey. 

I wish that being 'special' wasn't an automatic label based on a diagnosis. My daughter has EARNED the description of special based on her unique personality, her unique outlook, her unique actions.

I wish there weren’t disappointments in the disability, but rather celebrations in the ability. I wish, like Chris Burke, it could be called Up Syndrome.

I hope that people take time and effort to get to know my girl. I hope they take time and effort to get past the challenges of understanding her speech, past her conversation loops, her need to please, her drama moments. I hope they discover her sense of humor, her empathy, her distinctive intelligence, spirituality and joy. I hope they appreciate the journey.

I hope she experiences true, unconditional friendship. I hope she experiences Relationship (with a capital ‘R’).  Active, vibrant, caring relationship. Beyond family. 


"It is my birthday, next week. Are you scared?” 

Done exercising and back to her favorite topic, my daughter interrupts my thoughts.

“No, Sweetie, not scared,” I fold her Zumba’d body in my arms. I blink back warm tears of hope and love, turn away from the computer and focus on my soon-to-be birthday girl. “I am incredibly blessed.” 

Linking with Five-Minute Friday

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Finding the Joy

A note about the picture:
Sometimes, what I catch through the lens becomes an entirely different picture after I take it home to my computer. I crop. Sometimes I crop away. Sometimes I crop toward. Either way, the final picture is the result of a hunt for the best composition. I think, a lot of times, we find joy by looking for the best composition in our circumstances. We can frame it and crop toward it, or we can frame it and crop the extraneous distractions away.

Finally, brothers and sisters, 
whatever is true, 
whatever is noble, 
whatever is right, 
whatever is pure, 
whatever is lovely, 
whatever is admirable—
if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—
think about such things. 
Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

"Tomorrow, I eat my breakfast slowly."

The refrigerator door is open, my eyes focused on the makings of my own breakfast. I only half hear her. Some people need coffee to wake up; I need food in my tummy to take myself off of autopilot. But something about this sentence stalls me out, stops my hunt for the cream cheese container, and has me look at her.

Autopilot means I haven't noticed that my daughter is standing at the counter eating her banana, instead of sitting at the table. Autopilot means I haven't noticed the 'work' bag on the counter next to her, flaps open, purse inside. Autopilot means I haven't noticed she has already changed out of her exercise clothes and into an 'outfit', ready to return to her volunteer position at the Army Community Services center on post.

I know she's excited. We've spent the last three weeks as a family, my husband on leave, boating, fishing, enjoying the crisp weather and blue skies. She has started telling me it is time to go back to work. She has started telling me she will see her friends. She has started telling me she is hard work (yes, exactly in that way...) But what stops my pre-breakfast autopilot is the -ly in the word slowly.

Yes, it's a really little thing. Two letters, to be exact. At the end of a 6-word sentence. But for me, it is huge.

See, my daughter has Down syndrome. Those little morphemes, those little one-, two-, and three-letter word attachments, those little bits of meaning, have been agonizingly slow to show up in her vocabulary. Sierra, my daughter, is very concrete. Very in the here and now. Very visual. So it's not surprising to understand why this part of her language skill lags. Those bits of meaning add abstract information. The -ed shows past tense. The -er shows someone who. The -s shows plural, or possession. For most of us, these little bits get added way back in our toddler and primary years. For Sierra, it's an ongoing process.

And now the -ly. It tells how.

So, I'm standing in the kitchen with my mouth open, just like the refrigerator door. And I'm celebrating my daughter's language. She just turned 24 - and the language keeps coming. Nice, right?

Jennifer Dukes Lee found a barn painted with a sign "Praise God." She interviewed the veterinarian who had the sign done.

He said the two words, “Praise God,” seemed like the best ones to hang over a farm … and over a whole life.
You can read the rest of her post here. It's worth the read.

Today, I'm joining the #TellHisStory Community, and ThreeWordWednesday with a simple praise of my own. I praise God for steadfastly walking beside my daughter and me, in all things, even something as little as an 'ly.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Strongest Thing

This post is a continuation, in a way, of A Fragile Thing.

For I am convinced 
that neither death 
nor life, 
neither angels 
nor demons, 
neither the present 
nor the future, 
nor any powers, 
neither height 
nor depth, 
nor anything else in all creation, 
will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

Imagine this:
A young man walks into a church during bible study on a weekday morning. He sits in the church for an hour, listening. Impressed by the kindness he is shown, he almost doesn't do what he came to do. But a voice whispers to him. A voice in the recesses of his soul. A familiar voice. A voice of darkness. "Do it."

And he does. He opens fire on the very people he has been sitting with, killing eight with multiple gunshots. A ninth dies at the hospital. He tells them they have to die. That voice has taken over his life.

Days later, the survivors gather at the young man's hearing. They tell him what he has stolen from them. They show him the depth of their sorrow. And then, they forgive him. There just isn't room in a heart for hatred and love. They choose love.                                                   Find the article here.                             

This is a strong thing.

Imagine this:
An infant is adopted from abandonment. He is terrified of people. He has been diagnosed with a language disorder. He has a sensory processing disorder. He is not an easy child to enjoy. And yet, his mom takes him out, to explore places, to be with people, to interact and intermingle - always hoping beyond hope that he will connect.

And he does. To a stranger at a rodeo. He laughs and giggles, and discusses the bulls. The mother sits by in tears because a miracle has happened. Her heart is full at the kindness of that stranger, the one who chose to love a boy unconditionally.                                                     Find the article here.

This is a strong thing.

Imagine this: 
A young woman with Down syndrome is preparing to graduate high school. She is excited to do and be like the other graduates. She is excited about the robe, and the hat, the diploma, the ceremony. But she can't do it all by herself, independently. She can't quite wrap her intellect around the alphabetical order, the turn this card in at that table at this time, the lining up and the marching in, the waiting your turn. It's all confusing.

A young man, about to graduate himself, with honors and a scholarship to play football, on a day when it should be all about him, chooses to take this young woman under his wing. Into his care. He does it out of kindness. The kindness of a stranger enables the young woman to soar through the ceremony, without helicopter adults; she is doing and being like the other graduates. It is a gift.
Read about it here, here, and here.

This is a strong thing. 

Imagine this:
El, the Master of the Universe, created day and night and all that they encompass with His holy breath. He formed creatures to inhabit the air, the sea, and land. Then He made man and He made woman. These He made in His own image, companions to each other and to Him. He gave them His world, His universe. He gave them free will. He saw that all was well and good.

Free will includes temptation. It includes enticement. It includes choices. The man and the woman made a choice that separated them from the face of El. It was a disobedient choice. It was sin. And sin then became a part of who they were, separate from their Maker. Sin was separate from good. All was no longer well.

But El, still loved his creation. Unconditionally. Even when they wronged and disrespected His wishes. Even when they allowed the not good to ruin them, to ruin the earth, to ruin the creatures. And He made a plan to redeem them.

Through selfless love, He came to earth. Fully man and fully God. Through selfless love, He experienced hurt and pain, hunger and sickness, violence and greed. Blameless He allowed Himself to be sacrificed. For the sins of men. He experienced punishment and returned grace. He experienced thirst, and returned mercy. He experienced hatred, and returned forgiveness.

Through selfless love, He changed the world.

This is the strongest thing.

"If we could imagine the love of one who loves men purely for their own sake, and not because of any need or desire of his own, purely desires their good, and yet loves them wholly, not for what at this moment they are, but for what he knows he can make of them because he made them, then we should have in our minds some true image of the love of the Father and Creator of mankind."  --O.C. Quick

Heavenly Father,
Thank you for your love, your unconditional, all-powerful, inseparable love.
Help us to remember to love others as you have loved us.
It can change the world.
It is the strongest thing.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Fragile Thing

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. 
Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 
Ephesians 3:17 (NLT)

  • (of an object) easily broken or damaged, flimsy or insubstantial, easily destroyed
  • (of a person) not strong or sturdy, delicate or vulnerable
-Web definition from Google search

We are at chapel. My daughter is wearing her favorite blue dress, the one I bought her for a homecoming dance four years ago. She is excited this morning, and has been telling me about her 'friends' on the short ride over, the chaplains and their wives whose names she has learned in the past few months of attending. She tells me that Cody will be out of town, but his wife, Jenn will be there. She tells me she is a leader; she has a job. She tells me she is a good usher. 

We walk through the door into the back of the sanctuary together. We are early. I watch her look around at the people who have arrived before the service, like us. I see her eyes light up as she spots those she knows. We find a seat. Her friends are spread out, mingling and talking. They are all engaged. I sense her impatience; she wants to say 'hi.' She wants to say 'Happy Father's day'. She wants to mingle and talk.

I tell her that she can't interrupt. She needs to wait. So she sits next to me; she's smiling in anticipation. I'm proud of her; this is social maturity. She is learning. 

I see her favorite chaplain break away from his conversation. She sees him, too. I nod my ok and she jumps up to greet him. She says all the things I expect and more. She asks him if he likes her dress. She tells him her father has a cold. She tells him where we had lunch yesterday. He smiles and nods; I can see he tries very hard to understand her. From my seat, I tell him that yes, we had a great day with lunch out, and no, unfortunately my husband has a cold so will not be at chapel...I want to translate without making her think she's spoken wrong, and without him feeling like a frustrated listener.

This is a fragile thing.

The ushers are called to the front and the plates passed out. My daughter doesn't get a plate. She doesn't understand. I anticipate her confusion even before her arms raise and lower in question. Her friend of the do-you-like-my-dress conversation rescues two more offering plates from behind the pews in the front. He hands one to my daughter. I see her breath of relief. I hear her voice in my head: I am an usher. 

This is a fragile thing.

I think about the responsibility of holding someone's esteem. I think about how it must feel to realize someone has gone out of their way to see you, to speak with you, to listen to you. To be with you. How do you handle the attention? Do you watch what you say, realizing that your words are an influence? Do you want to make sure you listen well? Do you want to rescue them? Teach them? Build a relationship with them? Respect them? 

This is a fragile thing.

It is humbling. It is heavy. I think of depending on, living for, trusting. I think of parents and teachers. I think of friendships. I think of outside influences and pressure. I think of self esteem and confidence.

These are fragile things.

I think of Jesus.  I think of God.  I think of love. 

Love through Christ is not a fragile thing.

Heavenly Father,
Thank you for your mighty love. 
Help us to recognize our fragile things and to cover them with your strength, 
your kindness, your compassion, your righteousness.
Thank you for placing people in our lives who demonstrate how this is done.
You are amazing. 

Friday, June 19, 2015


And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. 
Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. 
Do not be afraid of what they say or be terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people. 
You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. 
But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you.
Ezekiel 2:6-8

Somewhere there is a family awaiting the good news of a birth.
Somewhere there is a family mourning the loss of a child.
     Or a mother, father, grandparent
Somewhere two little girls are pinkie-swearing to be best friends forever.
Somewhere there is a little girl, or little boy, being held for the highest bidder.
Somewhere a hymn is raised.
Somewhere a bible is ripped apart and thrown away.
Somewhere, hands are held, all colors, all sizes, all textures, held in sacred prayer.
Somewhere, a man is shaking, from fear, from exhaustion, from anxiety,
     because he's seen too much, done too much, been too much.
     Too much.
Somewhere a lullaby soothes and a mother rocks, and a baby sleeps.
Somewhere a gun is loaded.
Somewhere a church service, a bible study, a worship team meets.
Somewhere worlds collide.

Oh God, help us find common ground. Help us listen. Somewhere.

Linking with 5-Minute Friday

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Isaiah 55:12

As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;

the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.

Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.

This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”

Isaiah 55:9-13 (NIV)

It's a thoughtful kind of day...

Linking with Sandy at Still Saturday, and Cheryl at Scripture and a Snapshot

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Point

Jesus answered, 
“I am the way and the truth and the life. 
No one comes to the Father except through me. 
If you really know me, you will know my Father as well.
 From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
John 14:6-7 (NIV)

I tried reading Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. Tried, I suppose, is the operative word. I think I'd had just enough physics to get myself in trouble in wrapping my mind around what he wrote. Ya know what I mean? Just enough to feel like I was on the verge of a great and powerful understanding.

But I finally stopped. Reading, I mean. The man really is genius; I'm not. At least, not in the same way. And I guess that's the point of this writing, this post. See, there was one concept he wrote about, he actually drew a picture of - and that was the possibility of multiple universes. Which I kind of like. What he drew, to explain the concept, was something that reminded me of two funnels, one placed on top of the other, mirroring each other, with the funnel parts touching. And actually, they weren't exactly funnels because instead of tubes, they ended in points. So the points of the funnels touched.

And at that intersection, he envisioned us. The funnels were like all of the possibilities of all of the universes in the future (picture the funnel on top here), and all of the possibilities of all of the universes from the past (picture the funnel on the bottom). We stand at the intersection. The actual, only possible point in the now. Present tense, emphasis on possible. He used some calculus stuff too - calling it the sum of histories. Calculus is that branch of math that calculates possibilities and makes them handle-able and quantifiable.

The world. See, I picture our world at the point of all of these possibilities, past and future. There is nothing we can do to change the past, that funnel is closed. But there are an infinite number of choices to the future. I want right choices to be made. In the nexus, in the now.

God. I picture our God into this model. He surrounds it, infuses it, because He is not limited to a single point. But his plan, his great, good plan guides us to a single point. That point between infinite futures and infinite pasts is Jesus. He is the Way. He is the Truth. He is the Life.

Linking with Five-Minute Friday

*** Five-Minute Friday is a free-write based on a prompt word. The time limit is five minutes which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation.
Just write.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bucket List Thoughts

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
Isaiah 55:8 (NIV)

I have never made an official bucket list.

Thank goodness!

And I'm not sure that I ever will. But that's probably obvious already.

It's not that I don't believe in setting goals and working toward them. It's not that I don't want to visit places and see things, experience things, read books, learn, grow, achieve. It's not that I don't believe in planning, or anticipation, or choosing, prioritizing, sacrificing, discipline.

About a month ago, after much discussion, my husband and I decided to buy a boat. We looked at a lot of different kinds of boats. We talked about form, and function. We talked about activities, comfort and convenience. We talked about getting the family out of the living inside and into the loving outside. I don't always know if we're a good match for each other. He's a bigger and better kind of guy. I'm a making-do, watch the dollars kind of girl. In the end, we bought a pontoon boat. A combination fishing/cruising boat with a half-camper canvas. We didn't buy new, but we agreed that we bought well.

That was on paper.

Then we took the boat out on a lake. It was a little windy. It was a little cool. It was a little rainy. I took a ton of pictures. My daughter's hat blew off and we picked it up out of the water with the fishing net. We played with the canvas enclosure, putting it up, tying it off, taking it down. We anchored and fished. We had lunch. We had a great day cruising on the lake.

Then we took the boat out on a river. A big river. With shoals, and shallows, and islands, and rocks. And waves. And wind. And other boats. My husband drove. I kept my eyes on the map, trying to figure out our location worrying about changing water depths and hidden obstacles. I didn't understand why that favorite Army guy of mine kept looking at me, kept checking on me, and finally came right out and asked me if I wanted to sell the boat. Because obviously, it wasn't what I thought it would be.

I had to think about that.

Paper versus reality. Hmm...

The lake was safe. It was deep, so there was no chance of hitting bottom. It was wide enough to turn and move at will. We could tuck ourselves into an inlet out of the wind and sit peacefully on water that was smooth as glass.

The river was unpredictable. Channels of ninety feet and deeper butted right up against shoals of five feet. The current was fast, with waves that sometimes came up over the deck. There didn't seem to be anywhere to hide from the wind. It was full of islands, like God had thrown a handful of boulders and earth and seeds into the stream.

Safe versus unpredictable. Hmm...

Years ago, if I'd made a bucket list, it would have included lots of adventures. Lots of excitement. I remember thinking I'd like to try skydiving, scuba diving, mountain climbing, I'd like to homestead in the wilds of Alaska, I'd like to backpack across Europe. I wanted to go on safari in Africa. I was fearless.

On paper.

We have taken the boat out several more times in the last month. Some on the river, and we've tried a couple of other lakes in the area. Honestly, some trips are definitely more relaxing than others. My ideal boat trip is to sit in the front of the boat snapping pictures while my husband drives - and I especially like pictures with mirrored water. See, my husband's got my back. He's slowly bringing me up to speed on our trips, baby steps and all. I've enjoyed all of our trips. In different ways, for different reasons.

I wouldn't want to have missed the look on my favorite Army guy's face when the camping gear we had stowed at the front of the boat for a weekend on an island in that unpredictable river, came floating back to us because we had just taken a monster wake over our bow. I wouldn't want to have missed my daughter's ear-to-ear grin when my husband gave her at turn at driving. I wouldn't want to have missed the satisfying sound of casting a line out and hearing it drop into the water - almost where I aimed it. I wouldn't want to have missed watching a fish the size of my arm glide at the edge of a weed bed, paralleling the shore.

I'm not sure a bucket list would include high-octane adventure anymore - but it would certainly include moments like these.

I think about my Christian life - safe vs unpredictable, paper vs reality... I'm not sure I always want to stray out of the safe and predictable, but I know better; and I know it's ok. God's got my back.
"He'll [Aslan] be coming and going" he had said. "One day you'll see him and another you won't. He doesn't like being tied down--and of course he has other countries to attend to. It's quite all right. He'll often drop in. Only you mustn't press him. He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” 
CS Lewis - The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

Linking with Janis and the Sunday Community, and Charlotte at Spiritual Sundays

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

All the Time

This is a 4000-word Curio story. It may be too long for blog-hopping. But if you decide to stay, this is the scoop about Curio stories; they are my way of working out questions I have. I have written two others, one about the Garden of Eden, and one about Curio's Show and Tell. This story helped me sort out the question of if God is good, why....  I realize it is not a complete explanation and I relied very heavily on essays by C. S. Lewis. He, in fact, is Curio's professor in this story.

God is good.
All the time.
All the time.
God is good.

Curio was confused.  Again.  It seemed like every day there was something.  Something to make her squirmy, uncomfortable, doubtful, or like today, just plain confused.

She focused on the words she had written.  The gold ink reflected the light and they glimmered and shone on the page. It wasn't the first sentence she was having difficulty with.  Those words glowed.

God is good.  Yes, He was. Glowingly, wonderfully, sparklingly good.  Just the thought of Him lifted her spirit, like effervescent bubbles that tickled the nose, like a spray of water on a hot day, like goosebumps on the underside of her wings that stood her delicate down on end. She bounced a little on her seat; she just couldn't contain her enthusiasm for her good God.

It was the second part, the frequency part that had her stymied, that almost had her cross-eyed with frustration. All the time? Really? Did that mean always and forever, continuously without rest? As in time never-ending? An infinite line of goodness? Or did it mean each and every incident, every single action? She pictured the heavens filled with infinite points of goodness, spinning and swirling into galaxies of kindness and decency, into universes of righteousness. But if there were points of goodness, then it followed there would also be points of not-so-goodness, of nothing-ness, and even, perhaps, of bad-ness. Wouldn't it?

Curio could list lots of examples where it didn't seem like her good God was good at all. When it seemed like her good God might be acting a little to the left of good. She started to count, extending her fingers in recitation. It didn't feel very good when her friend Patience lost her temper and huffed away without a word. It didn't feel very good when she stubbed a wingtip playing 'Roll the Halo'. It didn't feel very good when she went to bed with no supper just because she had stretched the truth a little. And those were just a start.

What about the news she was hearing, like distant thunder, of war and pestilence, of hunger and disease, of fear and anxiety? Again, Curio stared at the words on the parchment before her. All the time. 

She couldn't stop her hand from raising; it crept into the air above her head, stopping and starting, stopping and starting. Face warm, stomach shaking, wings all aquiver, she blurted out one, single word...


"But, what?" Voice calm, the Substitute Teacher focused on the trembling, little angel.

"But, He's not good ALL the time." Her voice was very, very quiet, and her eyes were filling with tears.

Curio found it impossible to look at her classmates; she was so distressed. Why, oh why had she interrupted a perfectly good lesson? No matter how much she wiggled or squirmed in her seat, she couldn't push herself any further down; she couldn't make herself invisible. She felt miserable. Case in point, she wasn't feeling so very good in this moment...

Hand down, now, she chanced a peek toward the man in the front of the room, the substitute. Without lifting her head, she looked past her lashes, peering from beneath the glow of her halo.

He was looking right at her. Her first inclination was to duck, but she chose, instead, to face him. A single tear dropped to her desk. Her lips smiled at the thought of showing this stranger her weakness, her emotional uncertainty, her lack of control. Not for the first time, she wished she could disappear.

Curio noticed his eyes first. They were soft brown, rich and loamy like the silkiest of clays. He had introduced himself as Jack, simply Jack and had insisted the class must call him that, without any honorifics or pretenses. The writing on the board, those simple four lines, which all the angels had dutifully copied into their notebooks, was his. English schoolboy, proper and precise. He was not dressed in heavenly robes and did not have wings, as other substitutes had. He wore earthly garb, a roomy, tweed coat with wide lapels, a comfortable sweater vest, and a double-windsor-knotted tie. He was, beyond a doubt, professor material, linguistics they had been told; and in those deep eyes, holding her gaze, she saw deep tenderness, and infinite kindness.

"Ah," his voice was as soft as his eyes. Abruptly, he turned and began taking measured steps, back and forth, back and forth, across the front of the classroom, hands clasped loosely behind his back.

Curio could feel her classmates; she sensed their emotions, eddying and swirling like rainwater in a flooded drain spout, like waves in a tidal pool, like her own confusion, embarrassment, curiosity, and determination. Overflowing without release, pressing and pushing, jostling and splashing. As their professor paced, Curio noted other hands, some raising into the air tentatively, some thrust forcefully overhead, some waving frantically.

The Professor stopped his pacing and stood quietly. His posture commanded attention; without moving his head, Curio could see him acknowledge the fountain of raised hands. He cleared his throat softly and the fountain splashed apart, the hands lowered, uncertainly at first, and then faster, with purpose, until there was nothing left in the space between heads and ceiling except haloes and wings. The classroom was silent.

"What are the natures of God?" The Professor-named-Jack stood poised by the board, ready to write.

"He is all-knowing," Patience called out.

"And all-powerful," added Principio.

"He is all-loving." Wisdom's voice was just a whisper, but it cut through the silence like thunder.

Jack, using Curio's favorite gold marker, wrote:
  • Omniscient, 
  • Omnipotent, 
  • Omnibenevolent
"Which of these is NOT good?" He turned to look at the class, angels sitting at the edges of their seats, quills poised. His half-moon eyebrows raised and lowered with the inflection of his question, causing his hairline to bob up and down. 

No one answered. 

Patiently, he pointed the marker to the first word. "God is all knowing. Do you agree? Can you think of any examples?"

Puppetlike, heads nodded and haloes glimmered and gleamed. Agapio raised his hand. "God knew the Babylonian king's dream." The professor nodded in agreement.

"God knew what David did to Uriel." This, from Honoria, blushing slightly.

"Circumstances. Do you agree? God knows events. Is there another kind of all-knowing? One that isn't incident oriented?"

Curio's hand shot into the air. Again, before she could stop herself, she blurted out, "Wisdom!"

The professor smiled, as much at her impatience as at the correctness of her answer. "Well done." She could tell he was pleased. It made her heart glad to please him.

He turned again to the board and added a definition: omniscient - all knowing, all wise, all seeing. Then he pointed to the next word: Omnipotent. "And this one," he asked, eyebrows raised slightly, causing lines on his forehead to wrinkle, giving him a slightly surprised expression. "Can you think of examples for this?" He looked over the class with his plowed forehead and quizzical smile.

"The plagues of Egypt...the great flood...Sodom and Gomorrah...the Tower of Babel...Jonah and the whale...Jonah and the worm...Isaac..." Titters and squeaks erupted through the room. "...yes, Isaac, and Jericho and Gilead..."

The response was immediate and loud. Not quite chaotic, and the professor practically danced in agreement to all. "Yes, yes!" He exclaimed, he sang, he shouted. "Words, phrases, thoughts, ideas!"

Titters and squeaks. Curio couldn't hide her smile of delight at the antics of this man. The classroom sparkled with amusement, none more than he, swirling with arms raised and coattails flapping. "Yes," he exclaimed again. Then his eyebrows drew together into a 'V' and his voice thundered, "Yes, power that created the universe with a WORD!"

And the angels sat delicately, dangerously, adoringly still, because another voice was booming through the room:
I am he; 
I am the first and I am the last.
My own hand laid the foundations of the earth,
and my right hand spread out the heavens;
"Is this power good?" Jack whispered into the silence after the storm.

Heads nodded solemn assent; Curio found herself balanced on the edge of her seat, wingtips pointed, toes curled against the straps of her sandals that barely touched the floor beneath her desk.

Next to the word Omnipotent, the professor had drawn and labeled columns, and placed headings over each: Creation and Destruction. "Categorize your examples, you may work together if you wish."

Curio moved next to her best friend, Patience, and they looked at the categories together, trying to remember the examples from the frenzy-before-the-voice.

"God created the earth," Patience began. Curio agreed, remembering the sound of HIS voice echoing foundations of earth...

"And the heavens," Curio added. They both scribbled Earth and Heaven in the first column.

The classroom was all abuzz with activity and discussion as the angels worked. "What about the Plagues of Egypt?" Curio, even as she voiced the question, was already writing Plagues under the second column; she remembered the destruction by the locusts, the biting flies, the river running red with blood, and she remembered the wailing of Egyptian families on the morning of the Passover. Unconsciously, she snugged her wings up next to her ears, soft, downy, sound-blocking, memory-fogging wings. Definitely destruction.

She stopped writing mid-word. Her mind had caught up to her hand. Destruction? She abruptly put her quill down and looked at Patience with horror. How could destructive power be good? Remembering the smell of sulpher and the raining of fire on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Curio felt queasy. Again, she heard screaming; she saw the burnt corpses, the scorched stone, she felt the groaning of the earth beneath toppling walls. Anytime? She remembered the panic from the rising waters of the flood, like a never-ending, incoming tide, the unstoppable, inexorable drowning of all that was green, all that breathed. Except for a lone ship floating like a cork above the waters, floating with the hope of a world. She was right back where she had started, feeling confused, and uncomfortable. Somehow guilty, somehow ashamed.

She knew what she needed to do, right there in the middle of the classroom, in the middle of the activity and noise. Carefully, Curio placed her quill on her parchment, then she folded her hands in her lap, trying hard not to hold them too tightly. Squeezing her eyes shut in an effort to push away from distractions, she tucked her head down, and prayed. "Oh God," she thought silently, lips moving with earnest sincerity, "Oh God, forgive me for thinking anything but good about you. Forgive me for doubting you. I am just a little angel, God, and you, you ARE. Thank you for all your works. All of them, because they are good, because you are good. God, I know you made me to glorify you. And I do, really. You are holy. You are awesome. You are God. And I'm not. So maybe you can help me understand a little of these things that confuse me. A little. God. If you want to. Thank you God."

Curio still had her eyes shut tightly; it was her ears that sensed a change in the room. It had just been a short prayer, but in that time, the noise in the classroom had gone from active to silent. Raising one eyelid from beneath her bowed head, Curio noted dropped jaws, wide eyes, and paralyzed quills. All of the angels had stopped writing. Angel mouths shaped like angel-O's, angel feathers in shocked disarray, angel halos tilted in unexpected surprise. Curio opened both eyes, swinging her head away from the stunned look on the face of her partner, to the front of the room where the Substitute Teacher stood by the board, with the two columns. He was the center of focus.

And he continued to be the center of undivided, scrupulous attention as he wrote each example Curio had so viscerally remembered, under both column heads: Plagues, Flood. She looked at the words, shining in gold marker, written fluidly, painstakingly in English schoolboy cursive, twins, commanding recognition as creative power as well as destructive power.

"Curio," the substitute's voice rang out, "How can this be? How is it possible for one event to occupy two columns?" She stifled a nervous giggle and pushed down her immediate thought: God's power makes it possible....get it?'s the punchline to a celestial joke...tada-dum. Instead of blurting out her first thought, with a silent thank-you for help in controlling her tongue, she focused on the first word. Plagues. Yes, the plagues were, plain and simple, bad. But they helped Moses accomplish God's plan for the Hebrew slaves. They helped to soften Pharoah's heart. Out of Egypt was born Israel. The laws of Moses. The birthplace of the Messiah.

Curio's heart skipped a little beat in her excitement. And the Flood. The sinful world was destroyed but God gave the new world a promise of hope, with his rainbow. And He had chosen the survivors. Noah. Out of Noah, Shem. From Shem, Terah. From Terah, Abraham. Then the impossibility of Isaac. And so on, all the way across generations to Jesus, son of Mary, betrothed to Joseph of Nazareth.

God's destruction led to Redemption. To new life. To hope, to grace, to mercy.  To Love himself.

She began to talk, to explain, trying hard to control the pitch and speed of her words. She was so very excited about her conclusion. The words poured out, her thoughts and connections. She saw the other angels nodding and she smiled inwardly when she saw a couple of her friends give her the thumbs up. The professor still stood by the board with his gold marker. She was in the middle of reciting the lineage of Noah when she stopped short, her words arrested by a new thought. The professor was writing Sodom and Gomorrah in the Destruction column, and had paused and turned slightly toward her, perhaps waiting to hear how the annihilation of these cities was also redemptive, cause for new hope and life.

She couldn't think of anything. This was, in her mind, pure and simple destruction. And destruction couldn't possibly be good.

Could it?
Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death.
The voice, just as it had before, filled the air and spaces within the classroom. It ruffled wings, feathers rustled like leaves in a wind. The silence erupted into a chorus of sharply indrawn and expelled breath. The atmosphere tingled, Curio felt fine webs across her face, and knew them as echoes of power, charged and electric. She knew HIS voice and closed her eyes in anticipation of HIS glory.

"Ahem." Quietly, the professor cleared his throat, gathering the attention of the angels like a net gathers fish.

"Did I mention that this is not an easy lesson?" His brown eyes shone, a little tired, perhaps, yet his smile was full of light. He walked slowly down the aisle and stopped by Curio's desk. He smelled like soap and spice, and she thought she detected a faint hint of pipe tobacco. The scent of him, earthy and real, calmed her. He looked down and his smile widened. Curio noticed that he wore a pocketwatch, the chain draped elegantly from his vest. The initials CSL were engraved in a swirly monogram.

"Did I tell you," he was looking directly at Curio with this, "that this is one of the Great Debates in Christendom? That for some, it is the make-it-or-break it reason to believe or not to believe?"

Curio felt curiously relieved. Yes, she was still confused, but at least she wasn't the only one...

"But," he smiled very broadly at this, winking at Curio, "God is good."

"And," he continued, walking swiftly back to the front of the room, "We are about to unravel this debate." His words had quickened; his pitch had risen from baritone to tenor; his step could only be described as lively. Curio knew to get her quill ready because his excitement was contagious. She knew THIS was going to be good.

"The argument is: If God is good all the time, then all that God does must also be good. And because God is all-knowing and all-powerful, then He must be responsible for all things. If, however, there are bad things, then God can't possibly be good. At least not all the time.

Curio wrote his words as he spoke, nodding in agreement. He said it so easily, so clearly. She caught her breath at the thought of her good God, and the logic that was proving Him faulty.

"We've looked at God's omniscience. I believe we decided that the knowing, seeing, and wisdom were all good. Then, we started to look at His omnipotence, and we could see that redemption was part of the equation. And redemption is good. But we were faced by a conundrum about His goodness when we considered Sodom and Gomorrah. Now, let me remind you of an earlier event. Would you consider the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden to be an act of God's power? Yes? Was it God who caused Eve to sin? It was the serpent? Are you sure?"

Curio knew what he was leading to. The serpent could not have tempted Eve, if she had not had the ability to choose. If she had not been given the gift of free will. Honoria had her hand in the air.

"It was her choice. She chose the Tree of Knowledge, even after God told her not to. She made a bad choice."

"Bingo!" The professor, Just-call-me-Jack, was positively ebullient. "She chose. Was God responsible for her choice? Turn to page 212 in your textbook. Read the paragraph at the top of the page."

Curio was stunned. This was a new look at an old story. God created Eve with free will. If he hadn't... Concentrating, she flipped to page 212, it was a quote by a man called C. S. Lewis from his book Mere Christianity.
"God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can't. If a thing is free to be good it's also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible."
The paragraph was only half read, when a stray thought came to Curio.  She had read C.S. Lewis before. She was very familiar with his delightful series about Narnia; she especially loved Aslan, the not-tame. The substitute liked to be called Jack; C. S. Lewis like to be called Jack. Hmm.... She continued reading.
Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata - of creatures that worked like machines - would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight...And for that they've got to be free."
Oh my! HE wanted them to choose to obey; HE wanted them to choose to love HIM; HE wanted them to say Yes to HIM.

The professor continued. "So, what is good? You can be good for the mere sake of goodness; you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness. You can do a kind action when you are not feeling kind and when it gives you no pleasure, simply because kindness is right; but no one ever did a cruel action simply because cruelty is wrong - only because cruelty is pleasant or useful to him, In other words, badness cannot succeed even in being bad in the same way in which goodness is good. Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled. There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. "

Oh my! Curio was processing the professor's words. God was good all the time. Humans made bad choices. But how... how could her good God not KNOW those choices would be made? How could her good God allow a world with pockets of the absence of good?
“If God 'foresaw' our acts, it would be very hard to understand how we could be free not to do them. But suppose god is outside and above the Time-line... You never supposed that your actions at this moment were any less free because God knows what you are doing. Well, He knows your tomorrow's actions in just the same way--because He is already in tomorrow and can simply watch you. In a sense, He does not know your action till you have done it: but the moment at which you have done it is already 'NOW' for Him.”
Oh my! The cost of free will was sin. And God knew it as it happened. Curio thought back to the columns Creation and Destruction. She considered that word redemption. She thought about her good God, the God who always had a plan. A plan! Curio's quill knocked the inkwell off the desk, she raised her hand so quickly. She jumped up and down in her seat; she couldn't contain her excitement.

"My dear Miss Curio, is there something you'd like to share?"

She felt quite breathless and gulped a couple of times before squeaking out the precious name.


The professor stood for a moment, beaming at the class. Then he abruptly turned to the board and wrote:

It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost His crucifixion. 

She remembered a verse she had learned long ago, a verse about God loving the world so much that he gave his only Son...

She remembered the scars on the hands and brow of her Teacher. The scars she could see beneath his sandal straps. She remembered the day when 10,000 angels cried because God hadn't allowed a rescue, the day the veil in the temple split. Because, she now understood, God had planned an even greater rescue, an even more daring rescue than that of lifting a man from a cross. Any angel could lift a broken body, that was compassion. God-in-the-Flesh took on the sins of the world, even at the cost of the-Father-God turning his face away. And He died with those sins. He took them to the grave. That sacrifice, that undeserved suffering, THAT was love. And love was the ultimate good.

Omnibenevolent. She should have figured it out from the start. All-loving.

The substitute finished writing:

"But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.”

Curio couldn't help herself. She had to say it. It needed to be said, loud and clear and in a ringing voice:

God is good. All times. all the time, all of time, all through time.

The professor began to clap. Curio turned slowly where she stood, still breathless, and now flushed. He was clapping for Jesus. Her hands acted independently from her thoughts. She was clapping for Jesus. And for her good God - one and the same. Perfect love. She saw the other angels, her classmates, standing one by one. They joined in the Professor's applause.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

I Caught A Fish

I pray that out of his glorious riches 
he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. 
And I pray that you, 
being rooted and established in love, 
may have power, 
together with all the Lord’s holy people, 
to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 
and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—
that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:16-19 (NIV)

"I caught a fish!" Her voice rose effervescently like bubbles in a soda. In her case, red cream soda, sweet, with a single note of vanilla. Uncomplicated. Like my daughter.

"I caught a fish, Mom!" She couldn't contain her excitement, bouncing up and down on the cushion of the pontoon sofa.

Here's the thing.

The fish was caught on the rod that my husband bought for her. The rod I set up with hook, and weights, and a red-and-white bobber. Not to mention a big, fat Canadian nightcrawler. It was caught while she was on the seat at the back of the boat eating lunch.

There is theology in this. Beside the symbolism of fishing.

She couldn't have been prouder as she watched me reel in her fish. On the line I had cast out, in a first effort to teach her to fish with us. Really, she was eating lunch. Really it was my fish. In my universe.

But in her universe, what was caught on her rod was hers and really, she couldn't have been more excited if she had set the hook and reeled the fish in herself. I know, because later, she actually did hook and reel in a fish, a little panfish, like the one I caught on her rod. And she was just as excited, equally thrilled, to do it herself as to see me do it with her pole. They were both her fish. And she didn't even mind when I unhooked them and tossed them right back into the river. They were, after all, too small to keep.

"Catch and release," I told her. Feeding new language into her life, preparing her for more boat trips, more fishing, more success.

It started this morning when my husband and I, drinking coffee in the office, were discussing our plans for the day. We were deciding where to take the boat, how long we'd be out, whether or not to take the dog. Sierra came down rubbing sleep from her eyes, moving in slow motion the way she does before her coffee. She walked to each of us for a morning hug and then into the kitchen to pour that cup of wake-up. Apparently her ears were on fine-tune mode despite the sleepy appearance. She brought her coffee to the desk, pulled up her chair, sat down, and proceeded to join our discussion.

"I not go." This in her no-nonsense voice.

"Sure you'll go," I brightened my voice, trying to convince her with my enthusiasm.

"I am twenty-four years old." Her comeback was to remind me that she is a young woman with Down syndrome, capable of making her own decisions. 

My husband looked at me over his cup of coffee. Smiling because he knew what she was saying, without words. He knew the second, unsaid part of her statement, the invisible part.

"Yes, you are twenty-four years old. And you're going fishing with us today. You like the boat. Make sure to pack your books and ipad." This is a redirect. The fishing isn't a choice, but what she brings with her is...

She moved to her favorite spot on the sofa at the mention of her ipad. It was time to catch up on Facebook. My favorite army guy and I continued talking about where and when and what for the day.

Voice from the sofa: "I can not go fishing on the boat. I do not have it, my fishing pole." Exact words, no kidding.

OK, this stopped our conversation cold. See, the backstory is, a couple of days ago we went fishing, and my husband dropped Sierra's pole while he was setting it up for Sierra to use. Well, yes, it dropped right off the side of the boat and we all watched as the bobber disappeared. Pole gone. Big oops. It happens.

But, what doesn't always happen, is Sierra's increasing sophistication in communicating. Two complete sentences with a plausible argument. Umm, wow.

So, we added 'new pole for Sierra' to our list of items we needed before our trip. She packed her own backpack so she'd have something to do with downtime. And we went fishing.

"I am fishing, Mom." This said from my colorful daughter, sitting on the edge of her seat, holding a pole with great tenderness and trepidation, eyes and attention focused on watching the red and white bobber floating. Right next to the boat. Lots of scaffolding, lots of help to promote her success in this new endeavor. Lots of encouragement, lots of repetition, lots of redirect.

There is theology in this.

Christianity is really simple sometimes. It's all about a sovereign God, keyword God, who is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent. It is all about this sovereign God who made us in his image, gave us free will, and then continued to love us even when our choices went awry. Even when our choices led us away from him. It is all about the gift this sovereign God gave to us, the gift of himself, really, wholly God, yet willing to take on our own flesh in the form of his son Jesus, in order to redeem us to him. Because he loved us so much. Love that surpasses knowledge. It is all about the fact that God didn't create us to be alone, to stand solitary, to take on the world by ourselves. It is all about the fact that, through the blood sacrifice of Jesus, we have God in us - we have Godstrength, Godlove, Godforgiveness, Godcompassion, Godenthusiasm in us. We are filled to the measure with all of the fullness of God. Amazing.

I picture God in my life, working out the scaffolding, the support, the encouragement. I picture him sometimes a little impatient with the repetition, but infinitely patient bringing about result. I picture him managing the redirect. All for his plan. And that plan surrounds us. Always.

"I caught a fish."


Heavenly Father,
Thank you for your love. 
Thank you for your Son, Jesus. 
Thank you for this life that is so full of You - your love, your strength, your wisdom. 
Thank you for living parables, and for unexpected teachings. 
Thank you for grace unimagined.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

I Am Volunteer

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26 (NIV)

I thought I knew all of my daughter's smiles. You know, kind of like smiles-in-a-closet, hanging in order from the brightest, sunshiny-est, to the bite-your-lip, I'm-trying-to-hide-that-this-is-funny, to the shaky-mouthed, teary-eyed, barely-there shadow of a smile. Just like she hangs her clothes, by color and by type, dark to light, short to long. I thought I knew them all, until I saw a new one.

She stood at the front of the room with this new smile on her face. A complicated one. It didn't start with her mouth. Her mouth was serious.  It started with her eyes.

She was planted at the front of the room to receive an award. My favorite army guy and I had gone over protocol and procedure with her beforehand. I had him take the lead because, after all, this was a military event and he knew best. He told her she could not, under any circumstances, hug. Handshakes only. And we practiced the handshake that she is surprisingly good at.

So, the smile started with her eyes. For a half a second, I thought she wasn't going to smile at all, her face was so focused, there didn't seem to be room for a smile. She was focused on the rows of chairs filled with rows of people sitting before her, on the certificate in the hand of the woman next to her, on the uniforms milling about in the back by the door. Mostly, she was focused on the words being said. Words about her work, about her attitude, about her joy.

That's when it started. With her eyes, at the word joy, like the word was a cue to turn on a light.

Her eyes crinkled. Then her eyebrows raised, as if the crinkling had surprised her in some way. Those eyebrows raised, and that lifted her hairline up, which created a chain reaction with her mouth and her nose. First the corners of her mouth turned up, every so slightly. Then her nose wrinkled up, just a tad, right between those laughing eyes. Then the lips parted. Then the corners of her mouth curved up more, which opened it wider. The eye crinkles had deepened and eyebrows were back home, but the mouth stayed in its full-on grin. By the time my girl went to shake the hand of the presenter, she was smiling all the way from the inside out. You could hear it in her voice.

"Thank you," she said. Then, holding the certificate with great, tender pride, she looked at me and her dad and winked.

"I am volunteer." She told me later.

Yes. She is.

Heavenly Father, 
You have shined your face on us in ways we never dreamed of. 
Thank you for the many blessings you have given us. 
Thank you for my daughter's many smiles.

Sharing with #TellHisStory and Unite