The Kindest Kelly

June 22, 2021 | My Jottings

From the archives…

Her name tag said Kelly. She was a ticket agent in a smart navy blue uniform with green trim, behind the Eastern Airlines counter in the Atlanta airport in 1979. I was 22 years old, a heartbroken and exhausted young mother with two tiny daughters in tow, eleven pieces of luggage to keep track of, and a bleak-looking future before me.

When my then-husband Glenn decided to rather suddenly end our marriage in Germany so he could be with another woman (who also needed to end her marriage), I just had to get home to Southern California. The Air Force required meetings and copious amounts of documentation to warrant their issuing airline tickets earlier than the planned three years we were all to be stationed in Germany. By the time a few weeks had passed and the Base Commander gave the go-ahead, I was anxious to depart and to return someplace where we were wanted. I’m not sure my mother “wanted” us to move lock, stock and barrel into her quiet West Covina home for six months and nearly turn it upside down with sorrow and baby and toddler paraphernalia, but she was gracious to welcome us and let us stay for a time, so I could find a job and get on my emotional feet.

The Air Force travel agent (if there is such an animal) issued our tickets, and itinerary was mind-boggling.

Our first flight was from Frankfurt to McGuire AFB in New Jersey, a long flight filled to the brim with military personnel and their families. I’d been issued two tickets, so two year-old Sharon and I had seats, and eight month-old Carolyn was on my lap for the entire eight and a half hours. Thank God she was a nursing babe.

We were not allowed to deplane in New Jersey, and the big jet then took us to Charleston AFB in South Carolina in about an hour and a half. Here our military transport ended and we had to find a way to get to the civilian airport in Charleston, with all our possessions. We had two bags for each of us (because we had to bring everything we owned, aside from furniture, which would be shipped across the Atlantic in six weeks), a high chair, a diaper bag, my purse, a folded high chair, an infant car seat, and I can’t remember what else — I just know there were eleven pieces. I will never forget that. Can you imagine trying to travel with eleven pieces of baggage today? Impossible, and not even allowed.

As I stood on the sidewalk at Charleston AFB with Carolyn on my hip and Sharon holding my hand, surrounded by our bags, a man approached me and asked if I needed to get to the civilian airport. He was driving a bus there and kindly loaded everything up and we were on our way. Once we reached the smallish airport in Charleston I knew we’d have a layover but I must have put it out of my mind since the first time I’d seen the tickets days before. The girls and I settled in to a row of connected airport chairs and my eyes probably bugged out of their dark shadowed sockets when I looked up at the screen and saw that our layover was nearly six hours.

Yes.

No place to go, no cribs for sleeping little girls, no real restaurant to speak of. And of course no cell phones in 1979.

I did my best, cheerfully reading to the girls, making a big deal out of snacks and water, taking frequent potty breaks and changing diapers, helping Sharon curl up in a chair to rest, and leaning back in mine so Carolyn could doze on my shoulder. My sweet little daughters were so good. They were tired, but were cooperative and easy to console. It makes me tear up just to think about it now.

When we finally boarded our next plane we were headed, not for Los Angeles which was my neck of the woods, but for Atlanta, because that’s the way the Air Force travel agent planned it for us.

Because everyone knows the best route for a single woman with two little children and a bunch of baggage is Frankfurt>New Jersey>Charleston AFB>Charleston civilian airport>Atlanta, Georgia>Los Angeles, California.

This flight was about an hour, I think. We waited six hours to fly one hour. In Atlanta we now had a four hour layover. And I remember thinking we had landed in the biggest airport in the world. The concourses seemed endless and the crowds were thick. Our ticket changed to Eastern Airlines (now defunct) and we got in a long line to check in and get our boarding passes. Again, this was before the days of online or kiosk check-ins.

By the time we neared our turn at the ticket counter, Sharon, Carolyn and I had been traveling for over nineteen hours. Sharon was almost sleeping on her two year old feet as she shuffled along beside me, holding my hand. Carolyn was fitfully sleeping on my shoulder as I held her and my purse and the diaper bag, and who knows what else. When the attractive blond woman named Kelly called me forward and took my ticket, she must have seen the exhaustion in my face, and assessed my situation quickly. “How are you this evening, Julie?” This was going to be the red-eye flight from Atlanta to LAX, but until Kelly had greeted me I’d lost all sense of time. The compassion in her eyes and concern etched on her face was too much for me. I started to cry, and I told her right then and there that my husband had decided to take up with someone else and had sent us home from Europe. Kelly deliberately put down the paperwork, stilled her hands and looked straight into my eyes and said with quiet fierceness, “How. Dare. He.” I can’t even convey how much her words meant to me. She was outraged on my behalf and for my little girls, and what happened next I will never forget.

Kelly quietly issued me FIVE seats on the flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles, all across the center of an L-1011. And I didn’t have to pay anything extra. I’d never been on such a big plane. Here’s an old picture so you can see the five seats at the center of the L-1011. 34267_800 (1)

Then she closed her side of the counter and let the other agents continue issuing boarding passes, and she led me and the girls to a comfortable bed in a private employees’ lounge, where she brought us blankets and pillows and encouraged us to get some sleep. Kelly assured me she would come get us in time to board the plane. So we slept in this blessed, quiet place for over three hours, and I thanked God for Kelly.

When Kelly came to wake us in time to board, she escorted us onto the plane before anyone else, like we were some kind of VIPs. Even the First Class flyers were still waiting to board. She gave us more blankets and pillows and I was able to sit in the middle of the five seats, and Sharon and Carolyn each had a bed made of two seats on either side of me. They both slept almost immediately.

As Kelly was about to go back to her job behind the Eastern Airlines ticket counter, she bent over toward me and wished me well on this flight and in my life. I couldn’t thank her enough.

I have told the story of my encounter with Kelly many times. Several people have speculated that she might have been an angel because of the ways she ministered to us, citing Hebrews 13:2, which says,

“Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

I’m pretty sure Kelly wasn’t showing such love and kindness to me because she thought I was an angel. I wasn’t. And am not one still. But even though I wasn’t the one showing such love and care to her, I never completely discounted the fact that Kelly could have been divinely dispatched to come to my aid on that grueling trip. A ministering angel, perhaps. Or perhaps she was just a really wonderful woman who used the authority she had to soften my way.

Forty-one years have passed, and I have prayed that God would bless Kelly for the way she took care of Sharon, Carolyn and me. If Kelly is still alive, she’s probably in her early seventies by now. I hope someone is making sure she sleeps well and is gently covered at night. I hope there have been friends who’ve come along side her and expressed their outrage at any injustices Kelly has had to endure. And I pray that all the things she did for me during that short time, giving me five seats on the plane instead of two, finding a quiet place of rest for us, going out of her way to help and comfort us during such a terrible time, are multiplied back to her a thousand times.

I’ve known a handful of Kellys in my life, but the Kelly who worked for Eastern Airlines in Atlanta, Georgia was the kindest Kelly I’ve ever met.

O time, whither dost thou fly?

June 19, 2021 | My Jottings

A few days ago two of my granddaughters came to spend the night with me. Lovely Louisa is eight and is Sharon and Chris’s youngest. Marvelous Miriam is six and is Carolyn and Jeremy’s next-to-the-youngest. I use those adjectives intentionally — Louisa is lovely, but she is also a child who loves. She has a big, unselfish heart for such a young child. And Miriam is a marvel — a beautiful work of God who blesses our family and makes us marvel at Him and the way He creates children and actually gives them to us.

We did all the things we normally do when my grands visit — we had scrambled eggs for breakfast (“Grandma, please make sure the eggs aren’t slimy!” requested Miri), watched a couple of cartoons on television, played games, read books, took a bubble bath, braided newly washed hair, and played outside. And I was the official Counter of the Cartwheels and the Timer of the Headstands.

This is Miriam, with a smile that lights up the whole world, a voice that sounds like the morning song of a bird, and a heart of love and cheer that touches everyone who knows her. She chose the red scooter from Grandma’s scooter stash, and went up and down the sidewalk on my street while I sat on the driveway in a camp chair and told her how great she was doing each time she whizzed by.

Miriam just finished Kindergarten, a lot at home and some at school. She makes friends easily and shows her love to others in a way I so admire and delight in.

The resemblance between Miriam and her paternal grandma Diane is uncanny. When I look at Miri I see Diane, and then feel all the more love for her because that grandma is one of the greatest treasures in my life.

Louisa just finished third grade and looks so much like her mama. She is very attuned to the feelings of others and has a heart to comfort and serve. She is kindhearted, has a wonderful sense of humor and goofiness, and is so easy to be around. Her very presence is a gift. I’m the only living grandparent for Louisa and her siblings, and I want to be around a few more years to give them a good memory or two.

Louisa has a new pair of roller blades, and I recently took her to the cemetery where she practiced (with knee and wrist pads) staying upright and I sat in the shade with my summer Bible study lesson Jesus in Me by Anne Graham Lotz. We stopped at McDonald’s to pick up a lunch for her, and while she ate her chicken nuggets she sat on a rug and read a book in the sun.

When Louisa had enough rollerblading she sat on my lap and we laughed together about a few things. She had a lot of energy to expend, so I gave her some running instructions without pointing, so she would find things on her own: “Run to the headstone that is white and very tall, then go touch the place where a flag with the color red stands, then run to the twin trees, and back to me.” She did it.

“Now run to the black bench with a lantern near it, then to the grave with yellow flowers, then touch the green basket, and find the headstone with the name ‘Bolf’ on it, then back to me.”

She completed that. When she grew restless with my quiet studying we drove through the lanes of the cemetery and rolled to a stop when we came to the resident geese with their new babies. There’s one group I call The Ladies, and Louisa likes when I lower my window and call to them, “Hey Ladies!” and they all come waddling over to my side of the car, looking crazily sideways with their blue eyes, hoping I’ll toss them a crust of bread.

When you get to be my age (63), your thoughts begin to change. I think about when Louisa was a baby, how she came to spend time with Grandpa Michael and me on Fridays. She was just newly walking. She wanted me to pull the lever on a toy that played “Old McDonald” and played animal sounds over and over again. When “Old McDonald” would play she would wag her head back and forth vigorously like Ray Charles used to do when playing his piano, and I still have that video and watch it. Why does it bring tears? Why does the passage of time seem so painful to me now? A quote by C.S. Lewis sheds light on this:

“For we are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished at it. ‘How he’s grown!’ we exclaim, ‘How time flies!’ as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty. It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the very wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed: unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.”

I think that is it on the button — I am so little reconciled to time I am astonished at it. Lewis posits that we chafe at time because we are eternal beings who live temporarily within the constraints of time. I believe that with all my heart.

I don’t want Miriam to grow up and change, even though I know it is God’s will and He is growing her every moment. I don’t want Louisa to become a teenager, then a grown woman, even though I know that is part of God’s plan and He can be trusted. I want their lives to be suspended in time, I want them to stay eight and six for a millennium or two. I want Louisa’s blue eyes to stay huge and full of wonder, her teeth to stay slightly crooked and her smile to be that gummy breathtaking masterpiece it is right now. I don’t want Miriam’s voice to deepen and stop sounding like a robin outside my window in the morning. I want her to stay as she is, loving children’s cooking videos, adoring her daddy, welcoming everyone as a new friend. I don’t want that smile you see in the photo above to change to something dimmer, less eye-crinkling. Why, oh, why, is the passage of time so achingly, astonishingly painful and beautiful?

I don’t want the day to come when they won’t want to spend the night at Grandma’s anymore, where they have to shower themselves, where they won’t sit in front of me in warm jammies and wet hair, waiting for me to French braid their hair. I don’t want to see the day when they have cell phones and don’t answer my texts. I loathe the thought of the day (for it has already happened with some older grands) when they’ll say “Meh,” when asked if they’d like to come spend the night. I don’t want other children to hurt them, gossip about them, lie about them, ignore them. I don’t want them in environments where Jesus and His love will become faint and the lure of friends and the world will beckon loudly and stridently. I don’t want the world to teach them to disrespect themselves and to go looking for treasure in moldy crates of pyrite and colored glass. I want so much for them. I would give my life for them in one second without a hesitating thought.

So I do what I’m supposed to do, even though when I drop them off at their homes I sob almost uncontrollably as I pull out of their alleys. I pray for them. I plead with Jesus for them. I write their names repeatedly in my prayer journal and ask for impossible things for them. I can do that, because God’s love and power are limitless and His faithfulness reaches to the heavens…. which we now know, thanks in part to Hubble, are billions and trillions of miles deep and wide and high. I ask God to make Himself known to them now and for their whole lives. I ask for godly friends, protection, confidence, humility, industry, mercy, joy, self-control, wisdom, love, adventure, prayer, wholeness, wonder, and more. I never stop asking. Pages and pages and pages and pages…. I ask. I write their names and weep because they are my flesh and blood and I love them more than I have words to tell or ways to show. I bring them to the feet of Jesus and say, “Oh Lord, here are my treasures. Please.”

I don’t do this just with Louisa and Miriam of course. I do this with my three grown daughters. My two sons-in-love. All my grandchildren. I do pray regularly for other people, especially friends. Most likely if you are reading this I have prayed for you.

But these exquisite children make me ask, no, almost wail, “O time, whither dost thou fly? Why dost thou torment me so?”

And then I breathe deeply in and out, and reach for the seventh Kleenex, and I say, “Lord Jesus, thank you for Miriam and Louisa. Thank you! May your will be done. They belong to you, really. Help us trust you Lord. Amen.”

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 148

June 16, 2021 | My Jottings

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

~~G.K. Chesterton

Nothing Much

June 11, 2021 | My Jottings

Are you familiar with the Enneagram? I am a little bit, and I know the origins are reportedly strange, but what little I’ve learned I am shocked by. I took the test, ho-hum, because some friends and family asked what my Enneagram number was. I took it again, to make sure. I am a 9 with an 8 wing, or a 9w8. The reason I say I’m shocked is because reading about the traits of a 9 wing 8 is like reading my diary, my thoughts, my ways of walking through life. As I listened to a podcast by a Christian the other day interviewing three people who are 9s, I had to listen to some parts again, because what I was hearing took me all the way back to elementary school. I recall times when I just walked around the perimeter of the playground, observing, choosing to be alone even as a seven year-old. I did play hopscotch and four-square and such, but I also didn’t have to be doing things with other kids.

The 9 is the peacemaker, seeking peace at almost any cost, to the point of being absorbed into someone’s life just to avoid conflict. The 9 wing 8 is known as The Advisor and that made me chuckle. Oh yes. I have had to try hard to tone that one down.

One woman who is a 9 spoke about her “intense need for inertia” and that phrase hit me hard. That is me, through and through. I have this need for inertia, silence, stillness, and I have gravitated toward that all my life, even though for many years my life was not conducive to all that inertia. Having small children sort of waylays that somewhat.

Nines are said to be very low energy, easily distracted, want to prioritize and stay organized but have some difficulty prioritizing (although I am fairly organized), and are the only number who can usually see and understand both sides of things. I related to all of this. Nines are usually introverts, but they can love being with people too — that’s me. It’s just that I reach a point of overload, and almost immediately need to retreat.

Years ago I was asked to speak at the Spring Women’s Luncheon at a church. I spoke on Treasuring Jesus, and worked super hard on my talk, which was to last 30-40 minutes. I was a tad nervous as I always am, but confident in what I’d prepared, and I had prayed and prayed. It was a packed house, a delightful time. The fellowship hall had been decorated, women were dressed up (as was I), a delicious lunch was being served.

After I finished my message, it was time for the lunch, and people began turning their chairs toward their tables, servers were getting ready to bring out plates of food, and in a moment it hit me. I had to leave. I had enjoyed a great time worshiping with old friends, chatting and catching up a little, had even liked getting up to the microphone and giving my talk. It was about what God was doing in my own life, so I could share from the heart. But as these women I knew were transitioning toward lunch, I quietly slipped up the stairs unnoticed to the main level, out the front door of the church and out to my car. I drove home without a second thought. I never said goodbye to anyone. It was just what I had to do. It’s not agoraphobia, it’s not shyness or fear or being fed up. I just had to get home.

Apparently this is very common for Enneagram 9s. And I could name multiple times something like this has happened with me.

It was recently 95 degrees here in NoMin, today it is 50 and the wind is whipping and the foggy air reminds me of Morro Bay, California. Tomorrow it’s supposed to back in the humid 80s. That means the A/C will be on, I will be inside doing foster care paperwork and laundry, and I will close out the day tomorrow night by virtually attending my Covina High School reunion for the class of 1975. I’ve never been able to attend the reunions held before and I’m glad they added this online option. I hope others far away will be Zoomed in as well.

Have any of you ever tried the app called Pause? John and Stasi Eldredge have put it out, and I love it and use it every day. You can set it for the times you like, and you can choose one minute pauses, three minute pauses, and they gently and wisely guide you into stopping what you’re doing and consciously turning to the Lord, to hand everything over to Him as many times as you need in a day. It’s wonderful how reorienting one minute or three minutes can be. I highly recommend you try it!

Another thing I love is raw, slightly salted cashew butter heated as a sauce to drizzle over roasted vegetables. I’ve been trying to do food preparation for the coming week on Sunday nights, and part of that is roasting big pans of vegetables. I roast broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, onion, tiny red potatoes, cauliflower. Then I store them in lidded containers in the fridge, and I’ve got yummy roasted veggies anytime the mood strikes. Which happens to be daily.

I have two precious granddaughters spending the night with me tonight. Miriam is six and Louisa is almost nine. We just went outside in the foggy, windy cold so I could watch them scooter and roller blade up and down the street on the sidewalks. Gone are the days in this grandma’s mind where two little girls can be just sent out to play without being watched. I have loved ones who think I’m too fearful about this, and so be it. I remember riding my bike miles away from home when I was little, not telling my mom where I was going, but somehow in my mind things have changed. Miri and Louisa came inside with very rosy cheeks and are wondering when dinner is going to be. Then they’ll get a bubble bath in my deep, fancy tub, and we’ll play some games and read some books before bed. Louisa typically likes to play Battleship, Backgammon, and a card game called Garbage, which is pretty fun. Miriam likes to watch children’s cooking shows online before she sleeps.

Do you know your Enneagram number? If so, please let me know in the comments below!

Also, do you have a favorite app you use all the time? I’d love to know about that also.

Have a peaceful weekend – ha – there’s the 9 talking. If I were a 7 I would have bid you a fun and exciting weekend, and if I were a 3 I would have encouraged you to use the time to get some things done.

Until next time,

America’s Government Teacher

June 7, 2021 | My Jottings

Well. A lot has been going on with my oldest daughter, Sharon. I wanted to share her recent appearance on Good Morning America. 🙂

It’s a wonderful thing to watch so many peoples’ lives being changed, and burdens being lifted. I’m a proud mama. If you’re on Instagram, check out her account @SharonSaysSo.

Blessings to you all,

Ten Things My Dad Taught Me

June 1, 2021 | My Jottings

Another one from the archives…

A few months ago I published a post about some of the things I learned from my mom. If you didn’t read it, it’s here. I thought it only right that I write a post about some of the things I learned from my dad.

1.  Always snap your wrist to the right when shooting a basketball. My father was a successful and well-known basketball coach in our community, and it seemed like no matter where I went, if someone learned my last name, they always asked if I was related to Doc Sooter. One of the distinctive things his players always talked about was the odd way he taught them to forcefully snap their wrist to the right (if they were right-handed) when taking a jump shot, as soon as the ball rolled off their finger-tips. I have never forgotten this. Most players I see today do snap their wrists in a pronounced way, but I don’t see them snap it out to the right, with fingers splayed and wrist turned. If you’re going to play basketball anytime soon, you might want to take note as well.

2.  How to parallel park. Along with coaching, being a high school counselor and a math teacher, my dad taught Drivers Education for years. That was back when the schools offered it to 15 1/2 year-olds in preparation for getting their Driver’s License at age 16. I wasn’t allowed to have my dad for a teacher, but from the time I was about ten years old, he let me drive in parking lots, and he taught me many things I still think of today as I drive.

“When you make a turn, you should be sufficiently slowed down enough to accelerate into a turn. Never brake into a turn.”

“Always check your side mirrors every few seconds, not just your rear view mirror.”

“Never assume anyone else on the road is going to be a good driver. Anticipate the mistakes they could make.”

“Parallel parking is a skill worth having, and when it’s done right, you can slip right into a tight spot with one try. None of this in and out, forward and backward, turn this way and that way kind of stuff.”

And today, over 40 years after learning how to drive, I can still perfectly parallel park in one try. Is that boasting? I hope it’s not bad to say that. Just last week Michael and I drove to this restaurant to meet my family to celebrate my 56th birthday, and there was one place remaining on the street to park. The space between the two cars was tight. I remembered all the steps my dad drilled into my head about parallel parking, put them into practice, and slipped into the space like a glove in one try. Michael always smiles at me when I do this and says “I’m impressed.” And I always say, “Thanks Dad!”

3.  Reading a book a day is a worthwhile pursuit. My dad was an avid reader. When I was little, books were rewards. I hated going to the doctor and getting shots when I was young, and my father would say to me, “We have to take you to Dr. Klink’s office today, and you may have to get a shot. If you’re good and don’t raise a fuss, we’ll stop and buy you a book on the way home!” I still love the idea today of books being a reward. By the time Dad retired, he was going to the Morro Bay, CA library once a week, checking out five or six books, and finishing those books in time to return them all a week later. I cannot imagine my life without books. I would truly be bereft without them.

4.  Not saying you’re sorry is a big mistake. Our family was not the most dysfunctional I’ve ever known, but we had some big problems. Some of these problems could have been hugely alleviated if my dad had apologized in a truly humble way. He wasn’t the only one at fault, of course. But I think if I could talk to him now, he would say the same thing. I think it’s so important to say the words “I’m sorry” and truly mean it. I’ve heard many people say, “Well, ‘sorry’ just doesn’t cut it!” and I understand what they’re implying, but I think that a genuine apology heals and helps much more than we think it might. sc00021674

5. Say peoples’ names. My dad, like my mom, had scores of friends. One of the things I saw him do over and over again was listen carefully as people conversed with him, and to speak their names when he talked to them.

6. Be genuinely interested in people. Ask them questions about themselves. My dad was good at this too. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had a one-sided conversation with someone, and when it ended I’ve thought to myself, “Well, they didn’t take lessons from Doc in that area.” (And to be fair, I have probably done the same to my friends since I’m known to be the long-winded chatty sort.)

7.  Enjoy the company of your children. I can’t remember one time in my entire life when my dad shushed me, told me in any way to be quiet, acted like he didn’t want to be around me, or considered me a pest. I didn’t know it so much then, but in looking back now I can see how remarkable that is for a parent. I felt that he valued my company even when I was a little girl. If I walked into a room, his face lit up. If I wanted to go with him someplace he always welcomed that. He listened to me chatter, asked me questions, patiently answered my questions, and spoke to me a few levels above what I was probably capable of fully understanding. 

8.  Peanut butter is delicious with many things. My dad loved peanut butter—Skippy crunchy peanut butter. He ate it on Wonder white bread, smeared it on saltine crackers, dipped pickles in it, and often just ate a spoonful right out of the jar. I am a huge peanut butter fan as well. I prefer my peanut butter without sugar and hydrogenated oil, but I could eat it every day of my life. I like it with apples, with a slice of swiss cheese, on toast, in cake frostings and on top of ice cream.

9.  Going to church can change your life. My father was the son of an itinerant Missouri preacher, and heard the Gospel preached all during his growing up years. By the time I came along in the family he was no longer attending church much, but he wanted to make sure I went. From the time I was about three years old, he drove me to Covina First Baptist Church every Sunday and dropped me off for Sunday School, for many years. I know it would have been more authentic for my dad to go to church with me, but all these years later I’m grateful he did what he did. He meant for me to catch the Gospel message there, and catch it I did. I can’t ever remember a time in my life when I haven’t believed in Jesus, that He died for me and took on my many sins, and loves and helps me every hour of every day. I remember the songs, the verses we memorized, the flannel board stories, the little painted chairs and the baskets full of crayons. I remember my Sunday School teachers, the clothes they wore, can still picture their high heels and beehive hairdos, their smiles, love and dedication. They made me want to know Jesus, and I still want to know Him.

10. Don’t ever say I told you so. My dad was a strong man with black and white opinions he rarely kept to himself. This wasn’t always the funnest thing to live with. But I am grateful that when he was right (at least with me), he didn’t say “I told you so.” For example, my dad didn’t like my first husband much, and in that 20/20 hindsight that comes with wisdom and years, I can now see why. I refused to look at it when I was eighteen years old, and just stubbornly married my handsome boyfriend of three years even though red flags the size of king-sized bed sheets were waving three feet in front of my nose. My dad attended my wedding, embraced Glenn, rejoiced when two beautiful granddaughters were born, and cried with me when the marriage suddenly ended in Germany four years later. My husband had been just who my dad suspected he was, but Dad never said, “I knew this would happen. I told you so!” I was very thankful for his restraint.

I learned other things from my father too, but these are the ten I thought of today. How about you? What are some things your father taught you?

Letters in the Sand

May 26, 2021 | My Jottings

From the archives….

You are on a beautiful beach. The sea is turquoise, the sky is filled with giant, slow-moving clouds, and the rhythmic sound of the gentle surf is like a balm to your harried soul. The sun warms your shoulders as you walk, and you breathe in the brisk, salty air. For as far as your eyes can see, you are the only person on this slab of earth, and you revel in the peace. No phone calls or text messages interrupt the solitude, no paperwork calls your name, and you do not have to dash madly to any appointments. For a brief period of time you have no obligations, and you relax.

After you walk alone for over a mile, you come across this note written in the sand:  I LOVE YOU.

What would be your first thought upon seeing those words? Oh! I’m not alone after all. Someone was here before me. And you might hold your hand up over your eyes to scan the beach in all directions, to see if the person who wrote the words is very nearby. Whether or not you ever spot the person who wrote the message in the sand, you walk on, knowing someone was there first, and had something to say.

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Not once would you ever surmise that the waves and the wind formed the letters I LOVE YOU in the sand. Never would you come to the conclusion that the message appeared there as a random, fluky occurrence. Those three words are too complex to just materialize as the result of a happy accident. You would naturally (and rightly) assume that the letters in the sand were formed by design, by a being with enough intelligence to scrape them into the wet sand, perhaps with a finger or a piece of driftwood.

When I consider the world around me, when I see people and animals and plant life, and the unfathomable hugeness of the cosmic spheres and the smallness and intricacy of DNA, I can’t bring myself to believe that something so complex just happened, as a result of a lucky chemical event millions of years ago. Just as those letters on the sand (simple as they are) betray their intelligent design, so does the rest of creation, which in comparison is so much more complex than I LOVE YOU written on the beach.

I am not smart enough to debate anyone on this. I just know that when I see the magnitude and detail of every single thing that exists, it speaks to me of a very powerful and a very intelligent and purposeful creator.

I’m a Christian, and someday on the blog I will share why I think Jesus is who He says He is, and why He is worth living and dying for.

But even if I weren’t a Christian, I think I would look at the universe and say, “Someone made all this.” It’s too vast, too involved, too detailed, too specialized, too miraculous, to not have been created. Even if I didn’t name the name of Jesus, I would still believe in some kind of a God. Just like the letters in the sand, it seems very reasonable to deduce that this isn’t all an accident.

And I might just remark to myself, “I’m not as alone as I thought I was…”

 

On that final day

May 21, 2021 | My Jottings

Many years ago a good friend shared with a group of us that she would give anything to be a fly on the wall at her own funeral. So, a zany bunch of us planned Joanne’s funeral while she was still alive, and we graciously invited her to attend. It was held in the evening at a friend’s house.

My husband Michael built Joanne a makeshift coffin, which was laid out on the dining room table. There were chairs set up in the living room as in a funeral parlor, candles lit, flowers placed, somber music playing in the background. All of us wore black, even our friend (who was approaching sixty at the time). One by one, everyone came up to share personal eulogies and memories about our friend, while she laid there motionless in the coffin, listening. Some comments were more serious and truly heartfelt, most were a little on the goofy and melodramatic side, and I remember seeing Joanne trying to keep a straight face as she laid there and listened to all of the weeping and wailing and reminiscing. We dabbed at our eyes with hankies and some even threw themselves across the body in practice grief. Then a couple of us performed a song, an oldie with words we rewrote for the occasion: “It’s my funeral and I’ll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to…you would cry too if it happened to you!”

Then we had a funeral lunch. And Joanne climbed out of the coffin and joined us for that.  It was agreed that a good time was had by all. 🙂

Some of you are thinking this is pretty funny. Others are reading with a raised eyebrow and thinking it’s kind of sick. This sort of humor is not for everyone. I think since our friend Joanne (a wise and dignified woman we all love so much) wanted this and could laugh at herself, it was okay. It certainly created an unforgettable memory for all of us.

I don’t plan on asking my friends and family to stage a funeral for me before I die, although I do relate a little to the curiosity of wanting to know what will be said after I’m gone. I’ve left my wishes and instructions in a file on my computer and my family knows all about it. They won’t have to guess what I want, who should sing, what I should be dressed in, what verses should be read, etc. I don’t want them to have to wonder about any of that at the time of my passing.

But I do have one special request for that day that only God can fill.

This is what I would like to happen outside our window on the day that I die, and I would want it to occur so that all my family members were in one place at the same time to witness it.

I don’t know if it will happen, of course. Only God could orchestrate something this lovely and miraculous. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.

I can dream, can’t I?

Little House in the Big Woods

May 16, 2021 | My Jottings

Almost two weeks ago I took my foster resident Carrie on a four day trip to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, to see all things Little House on the Prairie. We decided to invite a former foster care resident, Betsy, since she loves the Little House series too. Carrie has lived with me for thirteen years; Betsy was here for seventeen before I began the glacial process of semi-retiring, and decided to help place her in a wonderful family foster home not far from here.

Even though it was a working vacation for me, Lloyd wanted to come with us, and we rented a new Voyager at the last minute when I went down to the garage to load suitcases and found my Outback battery so dead not even a click would sound. (I didn’t know then that the wayback dome light had probably been nudged on when I put two big boxes there, but at the time I didn’t want to chance jumping the battery and having the source of the problem be something more serious that would plague us on the trip.)

The gals were excited for our adventure and we had a great time with them. They each had enough of their own money to get hotel rooms for themselves, and we had three, right in a row so I could check on them and help them as they needed. One of them is severely diabetic and her continuous glucose monitor helped me keep her blood sugars safe while we were gone.

We stayed in New Ulm, Minnesota, a beautiful little German town with an interesting history. We took the gals to see the town Glockenspiel play, had takeout Mexican food in a lovely park, drove to Minneopa State Park to see a herd of buffalo. Walnut Grove was about a forty-five minute drive from New Ulm, and we went to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and toured all they had to offer. Carrie and Betsy love to shop for soobeneers, so a lot of time was spent in the quaint gift shop, filling up their bags with books, DVDs, key chains, hoodies and doodads. Carrie was happy to swim in the hotel pool, and we had plenty of time to rest too.

I had never spent time in Southern Minnesota, and it was so beautiful. I’m accustomed to the rugged, rocky, densely treed and river-cut North Shore area of Minnesota, where all things lead to Lake Superior. We drove through miles and miles of Brown and Blue Earth counties, and I was entranced. Mostly flat but sometimes mildly hilly, the terrain was dotted with neatly kept farmhouses set back from the highways, grain silos, barns and cows. Lloyd told me that Blue Earth County was named so because the earth was so rich and black it almost looked blackish blue, and we saw this clearly. Blue- black soil as far as the eye could see, ready to be planted, and I wondered if anything that had ever passed my lips had been grown in this fertile area we were passing through.

My foster gal Carrie always says, “It’s good to get away, Julie, but it’s always good to come home!” And so it was with this trip as well. We recounted aloud together the things we’d done and seen while we were gone, but there’s something wonderful about sleeping in your own bed after being gone a while. One of the highlights was when we drove through Minneopa State Park, hoping to see buffalo. We were warned to take binoculars since the herd might be far off, and we did. But as we passed one fenced area I caught sight of a few beasts within a long stone’s throw and Lloyd slowed to a stop so we could see them through the scrubby trees. If they had been cows I could have stuck my head out of the window and mooed to get their attention, but I wasn’t sure how buffalo sounded. I quickly found something on my iPhone, bluetoothed it through the van stereo system, rolled down the windows and hit play. Oh my goodness. If you’ve never heard the American Bison, you can click here.  We were so tickled to see one of the shaggy and hunchbacked bulls slowly swing his head toward us when he heard the calls. He fixed his little eyes on us as if thinking, “Who do you think you are?” and promptly lifted his tail. This delighted Carrie and Betsy to no end, and might just have trumped the entire trip over all the Laura Ingalls Wilder details.

Like Carrie says, I love to come home. My house is a gift from God, a haven and quiet place where I can hope, heal, rest, renew. Introverts need a lot of those things. And even though Michael has been gone for over six years and I’m remarried, Lloyd and I technically live apart. If you had told me when I was young that I’d someday be married and yet not live full-time with my husband, I would not have thought that appealing. But lots of things change when you’re old. Lloyd lost his Rosemarie two months before I lost Michael. They raised their family in St. Paul and then they retired on eighty acres of north woods after the kids grew up and had families of their own. He built a log cabin in the middle of those woods and dug two ponds. It’s his piece of heaven on earth, and we both love it. I have my own piece of heaven fifty miles north of him, with ever-changing and sapphire Lake Superior always in view. Lloyd has two seventeen year-old cats who are crazy about him, and when his neighbor can care for them, he comes to stay with me for a few days at a time. When I can get respite care for my foster gal, I drive down to stay with him on the occasional weekend. We talk to each other at least twice a day, but ten days or two weeks might go by before we see each other. He loves his little house in the big woods, I love my white house by the big lake.

Here is an aerial picture of Lloyd’s cabin. See it, down at the bottom of the photo?

When I’m at Lloyd’s, I love the immediate feeling of everything slowing, breathing more deeply, and observation intensifying. We’ve seen a huge black bear swim around in the pond closest to his cabin, lumber out and shake off, then stand up on hind legs to scratch his back against a tall pine tree for a at least thirty seconds. We’ve seen a good-sized porcupine with light-tipped quills amble toward the cabin, close enough for it to hear me whisper in the window and decide to go back into the woods from whence it came. We’ve seen glossy fishers, three feet long and so fluid in their movements, dart through the moonlit snow in one direction, disappear from view, then run back with some unfortunate rodent hanging from its mouth. Wild turkeys fan their tails and strut hopefully to attract potential (yet mostly indifferent) mates, cautious deer with twin spotted fawns step into the yard, redheaded pileated woodpeckers cling to the sides of dying trees, listen for insects, then soar low and slow through the woods. Red squirrels run-hop nonstop from tree to tree, from brush pile to picnic table, squabbling with each other, dashing under the cabin. Lloyd goes outside and tells them in the most reasonable manner that they need to stay away from the cabin or else. He thinks they listen to him sometimes.

At Lloyd’s little house in the big woods, I read. I write in my journal. I pray. We make a big salad each time I visit. He grills a chicken breast outside, and I finish chopping romaine, red cabbage, vine-ripe tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, carrots, celery. If I remember to bring mushrooms, I saute them in a little olive oil and butter, and when they’re reduced I add garlic and sherry, a pinch of salt and a generous couple of twists of fresh ground pepper. I might add a few dried cranberries to the salad bowl, a handful of pecans or walnuts, and some roasted asparagus. We slice the chicken and toss everything together for an early dinner. I like blue cheese dressing (first tasted when I was a little girl at the Lyon’s Den restaurant in downtown Covina, California), Lloyd prefers French. If we have any Great Harvest sourdough bread, I thinly slice that and warm a couple of slices in a skillet with all the mushroom/sherry/garlic juices, and I know Lloyd will roll his eyes when he takes a bite.

If the bugs aren’t too bad, we walk the half mile of his winding driveway to the mailbox. In the fall when the bugs are gone, we traipse through the woods and he chuckles when I interrupt our walks every seventeen feet to oooh and aaah over some treasure I find. We read devotions to each other while we sit on the screen porch and listen to the birds.

At night we sleep in his loft, which barely fits the king-sized bed. I like a softer mattress and he likes one that disguises itself as a quilted board, so he kindly and ingeniously solved that problem by purchasing two twins, one hard, one “plush,” and putting them together on a king frame. We use king sheets and blankets, and you can’t even tell there are two different kinds of mattresses. Sleeping in Lloyd’s cabin loft is like being in a treehouse. The view from the windows is nothing but trees and sky, and waking up to the green quiet is sublime.

Lloyd and I freely talk about Michael and Rosemarie. We honor them and our previous marriages and families. We love each other, but he was married for fifty-one years and I for thirty-three, so we know how much of our lives were filled up with another.

This is probably why we both feel comfortable with the way things are, living apart for now. We talk about the day when my house might be more than I want to care for, and when the never-ending maintenance a log cabin in the encroaching woods requires might be too much for him. We know we might live together full time someday, perhaps in a place new to us both. And we know too, that it might not happen at all.

Experiencing deep grief helps us live in the moment more than we did before. We know how quickly someone we love can just up and depart from this earth. He likes being here in the white house by the big lake, and is often reluctant to go home. I like being in his little house in the big woods and wish I could stay longer, but I feel the pull of my responsibilities here call me back. For now, for two old people already established in their homes and ways of life, it’s working well.

I’m off now to make myself a late breakfast. One half of an Ezekiel sprouted wheat English muffin with butter, a couple of chicken and sage sausages, and a sliced Honeycrisp apple. I might take a bike ride later, and then this evening I’ll be going to hear my beloved granddaughter Audrey sing in her choir’s recital at The College of St. Scholastica. She’s almost fourteen and I call her Beauty, because she is.

A very blessed and peaceful Sunday to you all,

Basic Math

May 14, 2021 | My Jottings

1 + 1 = 2

2 + 2 = 4

4 + 4 = 8

5 + 7 = 12

23 + 86 = 109

44 + 101 = 145

256 + 814 = 1070

1298 + 8330 = 9628

219,011 + 637,226 = 856,237

Godliness + contentment = Great gain    (1 Timothy 6:6)

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I find that regularly going over the basic tables of addition is really helpful.

What kinds of things do you need to be reminded about?