Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Beauty Parlor in Room 904

Mom has cancer. The children come with Joe from Washington Island on weekends to visit me at St. Vincent Hospital, Green Bay. Thanksgiving weekend they arrived on Friday, November 27. I invited them to cut my hair. The child life specialist came to assist. Each child had an opportunity to take the scissors and remove portions of my hair. Shammond kept saying "no" but there came a time when he was ready to rise and stand by my bed and hold my hair in his hands and cut. Joe cut a length and I reached and took a piece. When the cutting was accomplished, our hospital staff support person buzzed to the scalp. All participated. Lent hands and heart to a transformation. Instead of sad and loss, I was filled with strength and joy. Our family is stronger than Acute Leukemia. Together we took another step through this disease.

I am jubilant. And, the celebration continued. From my bed I learned that I am still mom. I fed my family with the help of the telephone and my credit card. I ordered the best and most pizza ever and it was delivered to Room 904. I directed the children to move the table, ready the chairs. Wash hands and prepare. The pizza man came in and I knew where I wanted the drinks lined on the window sill and the pizza opened on the table and prayer before we dug in. We ate together a family meal. I got permission to eat the delivered food. We chewed together. I watched our children eat. I ate with them in a grand circle with my bed just part of the circle. We had the t.v. OFF. We talked and laughed and ate and ate. A family stronger than cancer. A family normalized in the hospital and carrying on a tradition of table fellowship and every day. Guess what? While we are eating pizza the nurse comes in a gives me a main line through the PICC of chemo and a muscle shot of chemo and I keep chewing. Before the children left for their hotel, they listened and cleaned the room, clearing the table and hugs all around saying goodnight. Thanks be to God for this remarkable, amazing gift of abundant life and healing, hope and promise.

Earlier in the day before they had arrived, I was beside myself. "Failure as a mom," I was sure and laying in this bed proved it. I called David Hirne, the counselor who comes to Washington Island whom I have visited for three years. He talked me through. Sure there was anxiety of seeing my family for the first time in a week and wondering if today would be a "good" day and I could hold my head up through the chemo. But what David helped me to understand was that beneath my anxiety, was an old wound of guilt that was still plaguing me. It wasn't my kids coming or me laying here that had me gripped, it was the old wound rising its head and saying "in this new develpmental stage deal with me, I'm still here." David said "Did you know that the great sin of Judas was not the betrayal of Jesus but believing that he could never be forgiven." David Hirne, my counselor helped me to explore the pain place.

I claimed and heard the good news that I am forgiven. Years and years I've worked with this pain. Progress has come through this pain, reconciliation and healing but in God's perfect timing in this healing place, Sat. morning with my children coming near noon I got ready for them in ways I had not known would be required and provided for.

When the children arrived I was no failure. They poured life into the door of Room 904 and I greeted them with life, abundant life passed and shared. What a glorious time we had together this weekend. Thanks be to God for this healing time and place.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Doing It By The Book

Bob Eldridge took Joshua fishing at Jackson Harbor. Before heading out the door with a fishing pole, Bob had Joshua sign a paper declaring that when Bob said so, the two of them would come home and Joshua would get in the car. Joshua signed the paper. Off they went.
Hours later, Bob came back alone. "He wouldn't get in the car," said Bob. "I left him."
I get in the car and go after Joshua. Joshua wouldn't get in the car with me. He kept fishing.
Joe went to fetch Joshua from the fishing post.
Joshua wouldn't come. Joe waited until dark with the boy still fishing. When the last light began to fade, Joshua got into the car.
Ground him for life? Take the fishing pole forever? What would you do?
I called the police.
"Joshua really likes to fish," I told him. "He fishes intently and he doesn't want to come home. Can we drop him off at Jackson Harbor and let him fish? My dad fished from Jackson Harbor when he was half Joshua's age. My grandpa fished at Jackson Harbor. Can we set him down at the Harbor with a sack lunch and water bottle until he is fished out?"
I don't remember what the officer said exactly but I got the message that there weren't no crime to it.
I called the parent educator.
"We are going to try something," I said. "Put Joshua out at Jackson Harbor and let him fish. He loves to fish. I'm listening to him."
"Does he swim?" she asked.
"Like a fish," I replied.
"Check on him during the day," she countered.
I drove out to the Harbor and made the rounds of the DNR, the "Time Out" concession at the Jackson Harbor dock, the Karfi ferry captain.
"We aren't asking you to baby sit. Joshua is going to try fishing here. We will check on him during the day. He has ONE CHANCE. If we hear any ill report he won't be here to bother," I promised. Joshua stood beside me and heard every word.
We walked together to find an overhanging roof where he could hang out in case of rain. We located the public phone and practiced dialing home. Joshua pointed out the bathroom and confirmed he knew where to go. We set a boundary for no wandering. Absolutely NO getting into a boat even it invited.
"No second chance," I told Joshua. "We get one bad report and you are out of here," I said sternly as he gathered his pole and set down his bucket on the dock.
Joshua fished through the summer. Catch and release. Fishing till dark some days. Fixing rods for other fishermen. Talking fish talk with other anglers. Untangling lines for visitors. Reminding Joshua to pick up his trash was the extent of the needed redirection.
"That boy sure does know his stuff," we heard more than once. "He is the most intent fisherman I've ever seen," said a spectator. "I've never seen anyone fish all day without stop."
We accepted our son as a fisherman and let him be.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Washed Whiter Than Snow

10:30 a.m., Sunday morning, September 27, 2009. Ring, ring. My cell phone erupted just as I said goodbye to my new neighbor.
"Hello, this is Valerie."
"This is Donna at the church, you have to pick Joshua up. He is misbehaving badly."
"I'm in my car. Will be there in five minutes," I reply.
This wasn't the first time I had received the get-him-out-of-here call. I am the only mom with cell, home and office numbers listed in the church kitchen by the wall phone with my name on it.
In less than five minutes, I was at the church searching downstairs. "Where's Joshua," I ask when finding Donna.
"Upstairs," she answers.
Other church members intercepted me before I found the boy.
"He took berries off the bushes outside and threw them."
"Look how he ruined the carpet."
"Here he is, outside." Culprit accusations were all I heard .
I followed the blue berry stains on the carpet to where Joshua sat facing a corner on his knees.
"You've lost this," I said grabbing his yellow toy radio, ready to seize any consequence I could muster. Joshua got up and followed me without protest.
We were down the front steps when the church door opened. Another member stuck his head out. "He's got stains all over the carpet," said the man.
"I'll get it," I replied before walking beside Joshua to the car.
When we got to the car, I faced the boy.
"Trever threw them too," he said.
"We aren't talking about Trever," I countered. "What does Joshua take responsibility for?"
"Mom, your are driving too fast," he cautioned.
He was right but I didn't admit it. I stopped the car and looked at him square, raised my voice and hollered. "Don't deflect this, buddy. You are the one we are talking about. Your behavior is on the line this moment." I eased on the gas to head south on Main.
We got quiet.
I drove to Bread & Water.
"Stay right here," I said as I got out of the van.
From the kitchen, I got a bucket, brush, and cleaner. I drove back to the church.
"Stay right here," I said as I got out of the van.
I filled the bucket in the sink and went to the damage.
The congregation was singing. I was on my hands and knees on the sidewalk scrubbing,
remembering that my grandfather had fallen in love at first sight with grandma when he saw her from the back side scrubbing.
"This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long. This is my story......"
I sang along. Bleach on concrete helps but there was more to it than that. The big, ugly, blue blackberry stain was being washed whiter than snow. I was flinging berry bits off the side walk until I looked up and noticed that some of the berries were hitting the church siding and there was more work to be done.
Why was Joshua locked in the car? Why wasn't he doing the work? I didn't want to give him an inch. I wanted Joshua right where I knew where he was with no wiggle room to smell the flowers or any moment for me to have to correct one more iota. I didn't want no argument. I wanted to be mad.
The singing kept coming. I kept scrubbing. I walked my way into the church foyer and worked on the carpet. Every stain, every bit, every evidence, all the horror of what my kid had done, all the it-will-never-be-the-same, look-what-he has done was removed. If a trustee had gone about the work every brush stroke may have confirmed the hooligan. Because the mother's heart was at work and the heart of God, a blessing happened.
The stains removed was evidence enough for me of love's power. I worshipped in that church this morning with my scrub brush and a bucket of hot suds, in the place where they do not believe in women ministers, the place I send our children because they learn bible stories, the place where Joshua threw berries once in his life. The place where Jesus works miracles. Joshua is one of God's miracles.
"This is my story, this is my song. Praising my Savior all the day long."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Chess Tourney

Island residents are used to arriving at the Washington Island Ferry and receiving directions for parking on deck. The morning of the chess tournament, Joel, a ferry crewman, directed our student-filled car by using chess notations --"Pawn 4, queen 6," he said, motioning to the space where he wanted us to park.
The Washington Island Chess Club attended our first tournament at Southern Door High School, February 28. Nick Knudson placed 8th in the K-12 division. He beat the number 2 rated player of Southern Door in his third game during round 4. The student Nick lost to became the tournament winner. Oliver Hansen won 5th in K-6. Hannus, Alex and Ben Johnson, Korrina, Micala, Joshua, Kayla and Shammond Ervin all won medals! Kayla, a kindergartner, was our youngest player. The Washington Island team won 3rd place in the K-3 division. And, students won 2nd place in the K-6 division!
Brett Hanson, the tournament director gave each one of our players ½ point since our arrival time (coming from Island) missed the first round. When it came time for the second round, most of our Island players were cautious. Some were scared. By the third round all players were running eagerly to take their places in the library across from assigned partners. Between rounds, adults sat with players, debriefed the round and practiced moves. The gym was open at Southern Door High School so students played basket ball and badminton between tournament rounds.
I don’t get paid for this,” said Bob Patterson-Sumwalt, president/founder of the Wisconsin Scholastic Chess Federation as he shared club tips, links, study books, knight and pawn rubric and other resources with Washington Island Chess Club members. “We are growing young minds for the future,” Bob said showing examples of “First Move", a curriculum for second and third graders from the America’s Foundation for Chess. The Idaho legislature voted to provide "First Move" in every 2nd and 3rd grade classroom in the state. There are schools that have improved their student’s math scores by 20% with chess added to the curriculum.
Following the tournament, the Washington Island Nick and Hannus were still playing chess at 12:30 a.m. the morning before sleep at the Maritime Best Western in Sturgeon Bay.
The Washington Island Chess Club meets on Wednesdays, 3:30 at Bread & Water. Warren Marik, Bob Eldridge and Valerie Fons are volunteer leaders. The school bus drops off students (with parent permission) at Bread & Water. Snacks are served. There is no charge. Students and adults are welcome.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


The van windshield was fogged inside and glazed with ice out. I could not see the snow drift at the foot of drive though I might have remembered that a howling north wind blows snow across the twenty acre pasture next door and drops it over the fence line where my car parks. I returned home from bread and soup dinner at Trinity Lutheran Church, and wheeled into the trap --easy to do in a Honda Odyssey with just four inches of free board under carriage. Spinning the wheels stuck me further.
Joshua was the first one out of the van to help. He made a game by running toward the house, turning at the house and running full bore toward the car. Upon contact, he shoved and pushed on the grill. My headlights showed his grimaced face and shoulders above the hood framed by swirling snow. Not a budge. The van heater blew full blast inside the car but there was not blast enough to keep out the wind. My headlights illuminated more snow piling under and around the car. Shammond was out of the van by now, knee deep working with a shovel that made no difference.
Joshua went into the house for more clothes and came out swathed to continue his running start, charge and jump approach to freeing mom. He kept encouraging me. "This will do it," he shouted as he turned to take another run.
The girls bailed out and hustled into the house, leaving their backpacks and mittens on the floor in the back seat. "
"We'll make coco," they promised before they dashed. Shammond diligently shoveled against all odds. Joshua's running shoves didn't quit. I settled in the driver's seat for the duration. My place was behind the wheel, alternately shifting drive, putting on gas, shifting reverse and pressing the pedal again.
Ten degrees below zero. Dark outside. The lights from the house looked welcoming. There was no choice about leaving the car until morning. Snow was blowing so hard and fast that the car would be near buried by dawn.
Managing and leading had no effect right now. I just sat in the driver's seat with my collar turned up, waiting and watching for Joe's headlights to appear. When he returned home, I knew he could set me free.
When Joe arrived I did not even have to ask. He sized the situation, found a rope, backed his truck to my rear bumper, tied his vehicle to my hitch and gave brief instructions. "Remain in reverse, press steady but slight on the gas and put on brakes when I honk."
"Get the boys out of the way, " I open and call from the driver's side door since the van windows are frozen shut. Crunch goes the snow. Whirl goes the engines under load and the van is scooted out with fish tail wiggle.
Being stuck is familiar in my life. I sit at the wheel, notice that I can't get free by myself, see the lights of home ahead, know coco is brewing, wait and watch the redeemer work.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Women Are Coming

The Washington Island Women's Club is scheduled to arrive at 1:00 p.m. A reservation for seventeen women. One would be enough to remind me of the need to sweep under the tables for all crumbs. One woman would be enough to remind me that the silver may not be clean enough. I feel old today, with limited time. Set the tables. Put out flowers. Sweep. Mop. Bake cherry muffins. White Chocolate cookies. Cut fresh for fruit salad. Make pie crush and quiche. Whirl, whirl the blender to create light. Do I have everything needed? Check supplies. Run to the store. Is the furnace keeping the room warm enough for them? Will the coffee be hot? Are the cups clean? Will they see the smudge on the window? Do I have time to clean it? Take away the old Norfolk Island Pine --it looks bedraggled. The women are coming.
Prayer calls me before the cookies go in the oven. I kneel. Light the candle. My prayer shawl is cozy. The women are coming. May they find the tomb empty. And, go to tell.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wooden Spoon

I heard a story about Wynton Marsalis playing trumpet in a club where a cell phone went off during his set. The inane jingle caused the phone owner to jump and run from the room. Wynton kept playing, changed the tune, picked out the phone chorus with his horn and spaced the notes and timing so that the offending phone sound was made beautiful with his touch and breath upon the instrument. He finished the riff by looping back to the conclusion of the song he had been playing before interruption. How did he do that? Without missing a beat.
Driving the children to school this morning, I lived a story of my own in which in which sweet sound was missed. "Who did this?" I accused while driving and held a white ceramic canister with lid in view of all the children. The wooden spoon that nested through a loop on the jar was missing. "I had nothing to do with it," said Korrina. "But, I saw you using one of the spoons to eat cereal yesterday," I countered. "It wasn't cereal," she responded. "Juice, you were drinking juice out of the cup with the wooden spoon," I said. My concern was now tangled in the was-it-cereal-or-juice-as-if-that-made-a-difference, corner. I eyed her in the rear view mirrow.
In the precious time for taking our children to school, in those moments of transition from a wonderful weekend to their work day in the classroom, I bleated sour notes and heard myself say; "I bought three of these canisters this weekend and within one day, I discovered one spoon on the porch floor, one spoon in the living room and now two spoons missing. " Other topics bugged me too. "Steve, I don't begrudge you eating a snack but when you open mandarin oranges and eat, the empty can goes into the recycle bin, not the trash can," I said, remembering my retrieval of yet another misplaced disposable.
We were nearing the school. A hasty litany of good sounded tacked on. "Thank you Shammond for cleaning your room. I'm glad you like your new bed Joshua. Thank you Micala for shepherding your sisters to make a piano recital last night at my birthday party. I love you," and they were gone, departing the car and walking up the school steps.
Sweet sound was not made in my car this morning. Mom rattled the cage until I saw snow on the window shield and knew it would be gone in the warming of the morning sun. I noticed six children's faces in the rear view mirror and took a closer look at the children with whom I have been entrusted. It never works with them as audience and me on stage. We make music together.
The wooden spoon was found another day hid beside the porch outside and stuck in a half-eaten jar of dill relish. Who did it did not matter any more. I placed the glass jar in the recyclable bin and returned the wooden spoon to its place with the white ceramic canister. All three spoons accounted for. "Who do you say that I am?" is is a better question than "Who did it?" and makes a melody that will not be interupted nor quit.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


"What needs to be said?" I heard the chairperson of the Order of Elders ask. The clergy-packed Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, remained quiet. "What needs to be said?" he repeated and paused as members of the West Michigan Annual Conference found voice and answered.
I don't remember all of our clergy response that evening, but the question "what needs to be said?" resonated with me for years as one of the wisest refrains on earth. Over time, I sensed the need to go beyond talk and wonder about necessart words spoken and heard. My faith tradition says "The word became flesh and lived among us." "Who needs to be known?" is what I'm trying to ask now.
M. Craig Barnes writes in the February 10th, 2009, edition of the Christian Century about pastors as "Poet in residence," subtitle "listening for the sacred subtext." The undercurrent. Barnes writes that "pastors help people explore the mystery of their souls." He opens his piece with an example of Bob and Carol Stratton who come into the church office to complain about the new organist. "Complaining is usually a veiled lament about deeper issues of the soul. Since people are unaccustomed to exploring the mystery of their own souls, they will often work out their spiritual anxieties by attempting to rearrange something external, like a church's music program. but it doesn't matter how many changes they make to the environment around them. They will never succeed in finding peace for the angst of the soul until they attend directly to it. This is why people have pastors."
Pastors are not lynch pins but I am a pastor and I am called to be about the work of exploring undercurrent in my life.
Prayer is one place where I catch glimpses of what happens behind the scenes. For example; at Bread & Water, LLC, the cafe, lodging and kayak tour business I own and operate on Washington Island, Wisconsin, I noticed that the Washington Island School did not have a hot breakfast nor hot lunch program for the students. In spring, 2008, I piggy backed with Student Council Health Week and provided a free hot breakfast trial for the kids -- a universal program where all could eat. Hot old, fashioned oatmeal, golden raisins, fresh frozen fruit, milk and brown sugar is the menu. Fall, 2008, I got a sponsor and permission from the School Board to serve hot breakfast every day. Even today, in a few moments I will turn the water on to boil and begin the ritual of cooking oats, packing, transporting, serving and coming back to the restaurant kitchen sink to wash the dishes and prepare for tomorrow's service. No paper products are used so I count and wash each spoon, each dish, each pot every day.
Each day, the elementary children fairly dance in front of the service cart holding empty bowls and saying "more please." With candle lit in office, prayer shawl warm about my shoulders, just up from the kneeling rail by my desk. Bible still open to Isaiah 34:1 "Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people; let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth of it," I dare to come near, hear, hearken and nose around. This morning in prayer, I remembered the Craig Barnes piece I had read while lying in bed before the sun rose. I remembered that I had a blog site with no blog post. I dared consider (or, was it whispered to me?) that my call to preach is not stilled, but offered new form and function beyond the local church.
Blogging for the first time, I assumed the undercurrent was what I had already guessed -- the reason I am serving oatmeal to the students at Washington Island School is that I have six children of mine in the school and some of them rarely eat breakfast at the kitchen table before they leave in the morning. I thought that my breakfast service at the school was me chasing my children down the street -- even into the halls of the school to make sure that they ate.
But, I sat at the monitor and dared go deeper. In the process of writing, I recognized that I am serving what I know to be communion with students and some teachers who are hungry. The elements are oats, golden raisins, dark brown sugar, fresh frozen fruit, cinnamon and milk. Thanks be to God.