Sunday, November 29, 2015


So often when I attempt to write it out certain sentiments elude me in the shadows and I cannot tether them with a word or phrase. 

I have discovered a word to which I gravitate it pulls me to the center of where I should be as I am mulling through how to best capture feelings...liquid mercury cohesing and rolling away; perhaps poisonous. Toxic if I hold it too long? There aren't many metaphysical words. Hello querencia, it so nice to meet you. Now perhaps I can finish that started long ago poem...

Friday, November 6, 2015


Disclaimer: the following is not, on any level, for the faint of heart. You have been warned.
This is how it began. A jagged to the bone gash sustained from a faulty coaching platform at a swim arena. I had no sooner sent my last swimmer off, and I attempted to step off the platform when it snapped and the platform that had once held me up, became a metal jaw chomping at my shin. My advancing foot was already on the wet pool deck and this resulted in my slow motion tumble to the ground, my leg akimbo caught in the clench of the metal teeth. My fellow coaches laughed and said they had never witnessed such a slow and graceful fall. Then they saw my shin and the laughter ceased. I assured them I would be fine. I tried to stop the bleeding, but there wasn't a lot in the way of helpful materials or even paper towel in the washroom. Once we were back at school I took the best care of the wound I could. It looked okay. Until it didn't.

Until it looked like something from WebMD. 

My white cells fought valiantly and I pulled out every, "I am not a doctor, but would love to play one on T.V." stop, and by grace it healed at last. Keeping the wound dry and clean in Vietnam was an interesting and difficult exercise.

Today, just over a year later, it is a faded gray fissure and a funny story about an Amazonian American woman and the Vietnamese platform that wasn't built to hold her.

The scar reminds me. It reminds me of a time when I, very new to a place, wanted to support the community however I could. It reminds me that sometimes we engage with the best intentions and still walk away wounded. It reminds me that even when things seem painful and raw, eventually they heal. I need these reminders. 

I see the scar daily. I field inquiries about its origin frequently. I expect this. It is in a prominent place. It makes me wonder about the scars that cannot easily be spotted? If I thought my wound was difficult to heal, it was simple compared to healing these unseen wounds. 

Inherently scars attest to a certain degree of healing. This healing does not necessarily indicate a lack of sensitivity or letting go of the trauma or feelings the initial wound produced. Scars show a good fight was undertaken, but the reminders linger. Here's to healing...

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Place in the Choir

1 Corinthians 12

"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work." v 4-6

When I was an elementary student many decades ago, Mr. Chapman, my music teacher taught us many a fine tune. One of my favorites we sang was "All God's Creatures Have a Place in the Choir." The chorus was ever so much fun to sing, but what really appealed to my gangly gawky elementary self were the lyrics. That prickly porcupine? Yes, God intended him that way. Every creature had a divinely designated place. Each was meant to be, just the way they were. 

The song evoked a sense of purpose and place within my chest as I sang it. Somewhere between my awkward elementary self belting out that tune in my enthusiastically albeit creaky voice, and here, in middle age, I have lost that assurance. Doubt has crept in like a fog filling once clear places with uncertainty.
Am I supposed to be here? Am I really making an impact? Does my contribution matter? Does my life make a difference?  I think back to one of my favorite movies it's a Wonderful Life in which George Baliey, the main character, gets the "gift" of seeing what the world would be like without him in it after proposing it would, "Be better if I'd have never been born."

After this wish Clarence takes George on an emotionally charged journey through a George-less world. George sees no matter how dire his present circumstances are, a world without him in it is NOT a better outcome. He realizes he is living a "Wonderful Life." Wouldn't it be interesting to glimpse what the world would have been without me in it? I would love to gain that reassurance that the ripples of my life are buoying others positively along. However, this isn't a fictional cinematic feature; I don't have that view into my own story. So what to do when that doubt leeches in zapping the positive vibrancy of life? I find myself in need of frequent reminders as the circumstances of life situations erode away at what I want to believe is true. Remind Me Who I Am. Songs are inspiring, and beyond that action may be the cure for doubt. "Action will remove the doubt that theory cannot solve." Pehyl Hsieh So I act. Like my gawky elementary self I allow my actions to sing, even if they are off-key, and surrender to the assurance that even if I don't FEEL like it I am right where I am supposed to be.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

From Stressed to Steadfast

James 1:2-4 "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."

Dried leaves, blossoms, and buds blanketed in an opaque linen sachet hardly seems remarkable. Enter a delicate bone China cup filled with one of the most common compounds on the planet at lightly rolling boil. Introduce the demure sachet to the cup's contents and let your senses of sight and smell be awed as the clear water becomes jeweled onyx, amber, topaz or jade and the earthy scent of earl grey, chamomile or matcha rises from the heat energy.
This process is the embodiment of eustress. If the satchel is never submersed in the water brimming with heat energy, the full potential of the contents is never released.

Stress gets an overall bad rap. Psychologists tell us humans require a certain amount of challenge and trial to stretch into our full potential. 
The same is true of the physical body. I recently returned to lifting weights. I carefully temper a balance between eustress (good pushing though a few more reps) and distress (causing injury to my arms or legs). I know if I don't press into some tired effort I will see no change into body or endurance. 

Sometimes the growth is gradual, and sometimes it is rapid like being scathed in a rolling boil. As of late I feel like I have been "in hot water" for a while. So while I am steeping I will hold in mind that it is the only way to become steadfast.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Diamonds (or diamantes) in the Transition

             unsure,     unsettled
     scurrying,     wandering,     racing 
cliff,         f  a  l  l         den,          pride,
      securing,     communing,  roaring
              strong,      protected

Friday, July 24, 2015

Coming in Last

My running partner and I always held a similar approach to running races. Sometimes we even uttered it aloud when others would ask about our time goals. "I certainly won't be first, but I won't be last either." When I ran my first full marathon in 2012 my students asked if I planned on winning. I explained just finishing would be winning. I would not break the tape, nor would I shuffle in with the SAG wagon at my heels. From the first time I set foot on a track to run a heat 31 years ago to my first 5k 25 years ago to my most recent marathon I have never come in last place. This July that all changed.

I was engaged in my typical head talk. Should I run my hometown 5k or 10 miler? That was the question. Two weeks earlier I recorded my slowest EVER 5k (although I have not seen the official splits because my running partner is no doubt trying to save me from mental self-berating.) I secured third in my age division scoring a fabulous glass, but shook my head as it was an ugly accolade save the awesome glass and beauty of finishing. 

My running base had dwindled away no doubt as I was coming off a hiatus due to a nasty jaw infection that found me in the hospital on intravenous antibiotics and almost septic. 

So what to do? Which race to run? The 5k would be over (relatively) quickly. The 10miler would hold fewer in the field and would be chocked full of passing hometown haunts. I opted for this 10miler. The course would be a veritable run through my childhood. A mile in I ran past the farmhouse where my grandmother welcomed my father into the world and listened with bated breath to the radio announcer relay events of World War II.Three miles in I ran past my Uncle Phil and Aunt Lorene's house. I could picture their blue prints rolled out on my gram's coffee table when the house was just a dream. Another quarter mile down the road I was running past my Uncle Stan and Aunt Barb's house, skirted by woods in which my cousins and I played countless games of war and tag. Uncle Stan was strolling from his polebarn to the house. I drew a big breath and yelled, "Hey, isn't there a water stop here?!" A query which sent my uncle into stitches. Another half mile down the road was the house I lived in from preschool until third grade. I grinned to see it was still the "Seashell gray" color I had the honor and responsibility to pick decades ago. Just then my Uncle Stan and Aunt Barb drove past me in their pickup truck merrily beeping. They were on their way to meet my parents for the Saturday sibling breakfast. Energized by my own private horn section, I picked up my pace. My phone app announced my time and distance, and I wasn't running too shabbily. I was approaching Fremont Lake, the body of water where I grew up swimming, paddle boarding, tubing and pontoon boating. Turns out it wouldn't just be the water IN the lake that I encountered.

As I made the curve of Lake Drive the sky grew ominously gray. It was like I was running into a wind tunnel. Branches from the canopy of trees above groaned and several broke clean off and whipped into the road. A pair of runners I had been traveling along with peeked back over their shoulders at me to make sure I remained unscathed. Rapidly the gray sky spewed forth its fury with large, cold, raindrops pelting everything beneath them in a frigid spray. I ran on laughing at the joke of myself. As I made my way along the lakeshore the proprietor of Lakeside Swirl offered me sanctuary in his shop. "Thank you, I am alright. I am already wet and only have a few more miles." As I ran past the last water stop. The soggy volunteers cheered me on, "Looking good! You okay?" I laughed and responded, "I live in Vietnam rain is par for the course!"  No sooner had I uttered this than lightening split the sky in a brilliant arc. I ran on chuckling to myself. I heard a low rumbling behind me that was not thunder. It was the SAG wagon. It appeared the minivan had picked up several runners on the course behind me. The driver slowed and rolled down the window. "Lightening has been sighted on the course. Would you like a ride?"
"No sir, thank you. I would like to finish."
The driver smirked, "I kinda thought you may say that."
"I promise I will run faster." 
He laughed. Gave me the thumbs up sign and drove off to eventually scoop up the two runners in front of me.
As I promised I ran my final mile as the fastest. As I crossed the time mat the gentleman overseeing the finish line said, "And you are it! Well done!" He promptly began picking up shop as the rain was coming in sheets and the thunder and lightening was unrelenting. I had finished dead last! 
The race director came over and gave me a hug. "You did it! We picked up quite a section of the field."
"I had to finish, despite the storm. After all I do live in Vietnam."
"Although it was not advisable we figured you ARE an adult of consenting age."
Never say never, right? I was dripping wet and met some incredulous stares from fellow runners who had been plucked off the course, as I re-entered the shelter of race central. I wasn't sure if the stares were offered in admiration or with an air of, "You are a FOOL!" Either way I still found myself chuckling. 
My dry carriage/car, occupied by my kids and parents, arrived to bring me home. "So are you still glad you did it mom?" asked my daughter. "Yes. I am." I went on to relay the highlights of the race. My kids wanted to justify that REALLY their mom did not come in last because others posted a DNF. I boldly clung to my title of "dead last." Coming in last taught me that courage is required to stay the course and finish regardless of in which place one finishes. 
2 Timothy 4:7

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Weaving of a Tale

Spin a yarn, tell a tale, weave a wonder, share a story. As a teacher I have spent much time with students examining narratives. From climbing story mountains to sequence of events, plenty of character analysis, perusals of settings, and tracing the thread themes throughout, I have traversed tales with students. This past school year I was able to teach Ancient Civilizations second period and American History 1860s to contemporary times third period. I was struck by the timeline of humanity's story.  Now a couple of weeks out of session I am presented with an opportunity to consider "Your Story God's Story," from @HollyMueller and #SpiritualJourney Thursday.

Along the historical time line my students and I noted how geography and location were critical to ancient civilizations decisions and success. We observed how 19th, 20th, and 21st century historical figures often had to be "in the right place at the right time." One thing about history is the phenomenon that hindsight is 20/20. How many of these peoples of the past fully grasped their part in history in the moment? It is easier to see "the big picture" now.

Now I find myself focused on setting again. Within my own tale I typically tend to focus on character development and motivation. However setting is also an important element of my narrative. I found myself in an altogether different life chapter and setting this past year. There were plenty of times where I questioned if I was in the right place for this time. There were many darker threads along with the silver and gold. Ultimately I am trusting the omniscient author to develop His character until--The End.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Letting Laughter Live

Years ago in my early teaching days, this plaque possessed a place of prominence on my desk.
I picked it up at my local Hallmark store. I appreciated the carved hewn effect. I liked how the artist had represented the image of Jesus by incorporating important events into his face. My favorite part though was the combination of an eye twinkle and hint of a smile. This was an aspect of Jesus to which I could relate. This facet fascinated me. Years later I so enjoyed reading Eldrige's book about the personality of Jesus.
     While growing up it seemed like I was well acquainted with solemn and serious Jesus. The divine nature of Jesus abounds throughout scripture, but I remained curious about the layer of humanity He had while on Earth. Created in His image I wanted to capitalize on the divine within me. My ears perked at each happening to which I could connect.
    "Jesus wept." (John 11:35) This shortest verse in the Bible is rich with inferential understandings. His sorrow for the pain of Martha and Mary at the death of their brother. The empathy of Jesus mourning the fact humans chose death instead of the Father's plan for eternal life. Life serves up several helpings of sorrow.
     His anger at the temple over the selling and money changers. "Jesus went into the Temple, threw out everyone who was selling and buying in the Temple, and overturned the moneychangers' tables and the chairs of those who sold doves."
(Matthew 21:12 ISV) Righteous indignation for tarnishing what should have been a pure worship experience. Things within the world not as they should be. Sorrow and anger, these are emotions to which I can relate. 
Where is the joy and laughter? Getting lost in a good guffaw is glorious too, right? 
    Matthew 19:14, Mark 10:14 and Luke 18:16 all relay the story of Jesus prioritizing children. "Let the little children come to me. Do not hinder them for to such belong the kingdom of heaven." All three of the synoptic gospel writers relay this event. Loud and clear Jesus is letting the self-important adults know that the little ones get it. The children understand. The kingdom belongs to them. I can relate to the desire of Jesus to spend time with children; the epitome of unabashed spontaneous joy. My children evoke the most joy and laughter from me. 
They purely exist in the moment while still possessing a straightforward philosophical clarity about people and life situations. There is no pretense. Their laughter is contagious. I believe children highlight an important aspect of the divine. The aspect not so mired in the heaviness of the world. Children live the lightness of laughter.
     According to Mayo Clinic in "Stress Relief from Laughter: It's No Joke," laughing provides several short and long term benefits from improved immune system, pain relief, tension alleviation demonstrative in actual physical bodily responses. Sounds like divine design to me. Here's to letting laughter live!

Ecclesiasties 3:4 "
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;"

Friday, June 5, 2015

Leaving a Legacy

"I don't mind if you've got something nice to say about me
And I enjoy an accolade like the rest
And you could take my picture and hang it in a gallery
Of all the who's who's and so-and-so
That used to be the best at such and such
It wouldn't matter much

I won't lie, it feels alright to see your name in lights
We all need an 'Atta Boy' or 'Atta Girl'
In the end I'd like to hang my hat on more besides
The temporary trappings of this world

I want to leave a legacy, how will they remember me?
Did I choose to love? Did I point to you enough
To make a mark on things? I want to leave an offering
A child of mercy and grace who blessed your name
Unapologetically and leave that kind of legacy."

Nichole Nordman

The first time I enjoyed this song was at an eighth grade banquet, as my students prepared to graduate and advance to high school. I am currently working out words for my current advancing grade eight students. I felt honored they asked me to speak at their graduation. However there is so much I want to say to them; so much I hope they already know. Swirling about these sentiments is a fair amount of personal grieving. I am excited to move to grade four next year, but as I mentioned in a prior blog there is something amazingly special about sharing time and learning with grades six through nine. Have I left seeds for a legacy? How will they remember me? 

Yesterday my students presented their passion projects. Nine weeks of research, reading, creating, making decisions, and I was in awe of what they shared. Subject matter about which they care deeply, combined with their talents. They already possess the power to "leave a mark on things; leave an offering." So as I share these last four and a half days of the journey with them I will choose to love and pray my actions point to Him.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Tribute to Donald Norman Morrison

I lost my last remaining grandparent this weekend. Don't get me wrong, I know I am among a rare few fortunate at my age who still have a grandparent. Being half-way around the world only added to my deflated heart. At Christmas time when I got to celebrate his 95th birthday with him, my dear Grandfather told me to "Stay in Hanoi if anything should happen to me." I was having nothing to do with this non-sense conversation. I told him I planned on him living past 100 so we need not have this talk. When my idea was nipped five years short my heart was torn asunder. I had amazing visits with my grandfather over Christmas holiday. We always signed off our visits with a kiss, hug and "I love you." No regrets there. However these times of grief are for the living and I wish I were there for my mom. (Maybe even more a bit of vice-versa as I grieve alone an ocean away). My parents reiterated my grandfather's sentiment that I "do not need to come home." Even my 11 year old gave me a firm chat ending with, "Mom it would be redundant to go home now when we fly out in a few weeks." My son was more empathetic. "Mom, look at the glass half full...okay, I got nothing. Papa Morrison being gone totally stinks!" He made me laugh, but also displayed keen empathy. It would be easy to say things like, "He was 95!" "He lived a full life." "It is just better." While these statements may be true, they do not appease the pain and sorrow I was and am feeling. It is difficult...for me. Another difficulty was capturing just how much this man means to me and who I am becoming. I agonized over choosing the right words and wasn't sure I was even close to hitting the mark until I Skyped with my cousin, who is like my big brother, and we wept our way through it. Me reading and him listening to my tribute to grandpa...

When I think of my grandfather I think of the word patriarch. He was the spiritual backbone of our clan. A staunch Scots-Irishman who tread lightly and thought deeply. Somewhere in my brain each story, laugh, and walk becomes a memory. As I wade through the river of his legacy I find myself faultily scooping water only to have it trickle through my fingers barely captured. My tears adding to the surge and rush threatening to pull me under.

My grandfather was a gardner.

It may have been his farm boy roots, agricultural studies at Michigan State, or it may have been his proclivity towards a green thumb, but his work in the garden yielded vegetables that my grandmother would turn into delectable culinary delights.

Gardening with him taught me that patience and care yields plentiful returns.

My grandfather was a Detroit Tigers fan. He cheered on Ty Cobb, the G-men (Gehringer, Greenberg & Goslin). He respected Al Kaline and Sparky Anderson. From Trammell to Fielder; to Cabrera and Verlander, he followed the team through ups and downs, triumphs and upsets, victories and defeats. Watching the Tigers with my grandfather taught me loyalty and grit during difficulty, and grace in defeat.

My grandfather was an explorer.

In my early youth we would set out meandering down the rural roads of Reeman, perhaps winding our way to the railroad tracks to place a penny on the rails to check later.

As we would amble along grandpa would be scoping out the just right size disk of a stone. When he would make the discovery he’d then pluck it from the gravel on the side of the road. The paradox of his rough gnarled and smooth hands would then nimbly flip the rock about between his palm and fingers, because “it was good for circulation.” We would talk and trek.

Walking with my grandfather taught me that moving stirs my imagination.

My grandfather was an ornithologist; a kindred spirit to John James Audubon.

Possessing tomes of birding books as well as field experiences on song, feather hues, flight patterns and migration tendencies. We would scope out the trees and skies as we would walk and he would readily share his knowledge with me. When last year from deep within the wooded heartlands of Michigan I brought back photos of a beautiful cerulean bird with a russet chest, we poured over his books to rule out the Indigo Bunting and discover the Eastern Bluebird. Birding with my grandfather taught me to observe the world around me and ask questions to seek the answers.

My grandfather was a story-teller. He could spin a tale like no one I’ve ever been blessed to meet. Typically he’d begin a yarn by folding his arms across his body, nodding his silver topped head with a twinkle in his eye. I would lean in knowing there was a tale to follow. His narratives would be punctuated with intermittent resonant bass belly laugh that I, or anyone else listening, could not help but chuckle along with him. Listening to my grandfather’s stories taught me about the fabric of character and the warmth humor can bring to any situation.

My grandfather was a tender caregiver. He held to his vows of “in sickness and health.” He was the perennial gentleman with my grandmother. For all their healthy years together whether it was a drive about town or a trip to Florida he made sure he provided what she needed. In her months of sickness he was vigilant at her side ensuring she was as comfortable as possible. Watching my grandparents together taught me the meaning of commitment.

My grandfather was a Biblical scholar. When I would bring to him my struggles with all the sorrow in the world, church decisions, or personal trials he would listen as a captive audience of one. Instead of offering any quick fix advice, or “chin up” adages he would say, “I want you to go read…”and would share a specific Bible passage. Don’t read it once or twice. Read it at least three times then we will talk again.” Confiding in my grandfather taught me that the good Lord provided inspired Scriptures, and blessed me with a brain to think and a spirit to love.

Because of these reasons, and a hundred more, my Grandfather, patriarch Donald Norman Morrison leaves a legacy of love. I may still wade about in the current of sorrow, but I won’t stay there. I won’t stay there because my grandfather was also a man of faith. He knew the struggles only last for a season compared with the glory that awaits; and THAT is the most important lesson he leaves me-- and all of us. Saying "goodbye" to this earth just means a phenomenal "hello" to heaven.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

My Origami Heart

"Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins. We parry and fend the approach of our fellow-man by compliments, by gossip, by amusements, by affairs. We cover up our thought from him under a hundred folds." "Friendship" Essays by Raplh Waldo Emerson

This year, one of my students taught our class how to make an origami hanbok for her multiple intelligence presentation. The paper yielded beautifully beneath her graceful fingers as she demonstrated the technique. I intently followed along, and at the conclusion of her instruction I held a beautiful work of art.

I told her the fact she could teach me to create a lovely semblance of her model, despite my fumbling fingers and general ineptitude of folding a straight line (or cutting, waking, running, writing or drawing a straight line for that matter), warrented her earning an "A." I am not gifted at creating paper origami creations. There is however, another realm in which I excel at creating folds. I have a hundred fold heart. 

Matthew 7:1-5 is in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus lays out an avalanche of advice for Christians to walk the talk. The words of Jesus in these specific verses is focused on judgement, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." 

Do not judge. Judge not. Pretty clear. If that imperative doesn't quite sink in Jesus adds a qualifier. If one is judging, they too shall be judged. The standard one uses to judge others will be applied to that one. Jesus leaves the audience with a call to self-examination prior to even considering the life or behavior of a brother, sister or community member. 

I possess critical acumen when self-reflecting. I am brutally honest with myself, within myself. I am aware of my multiple "planks." I am thoroughly occupied by my own life's two by fours, thick and long enough to suffice for any pirate ship. Therefore I don't have the occasion to consider "specks" that may be present around me. I wonder where is the place for accountability in my life then? I am a hypocrite by definition. My folding away of my heart creates a facade that becomes the epitome of mendacity. 

There are very few with whom I share the whole of my heart. There may be glimpses among the folds for those around me, but no complete revelation. I wonder though if this makes me a bit disingenuous. I think Emerson would say these folds impede true relationship or friendship. I want to argue with him a bit. Not every individual with whom I come in contact needs to be my closest confidant surely? That surface level chatting, exchanging pleasantries is just part of human interaction right? Are those exchanges worthwhile? Then I wonder if this is another part of my struggle to "make small talk." I was just telling a friend the other day that I believe I prefer sincere cold indifference to feigned warm interest. Perhaps Emerson is positing that it is impossible to be genuine when their are two individuals involved. Can one only be authentic within oneself? What if each one were to be honest within a community of trust and each encourage the other to be a truer walk of faith? 

This week's focus left me with more questions than answers as to how to unfold my origami heart.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


"Take chances, make mistakes, get messy." 

I believe in Miss Frizzle's philosophy. I encourage my kids and students to "give it a go." I adhere to the power, potential, and promise of YET...

At least I am really good at allowing that grace growth to other people, to my children, my students, my friends and acquaintances. However when it comes to self reflection, my allowance seems to dry up. In the de jure of my heart I abide by "messy" living, but when it comes to de facto I never cease to berate myself for falling short of where I had set out to be. I want to "get it right."

In the seventies I recall many shirts, bumper stickers and posters that stated, "Be patient, God isn't finished with me yet." The implication is that our lives and developing into who we are to be is a process. It's more than a kitschy adage. "Be sure that He who began a good work in you will see it through to completion until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6) 

I think this reminder could be lived out in a community of trust. Perhaps the disconnect is not having a community niche where one feels it is safe to be authentic. A place where encouragement could be given and received when honest struggle is encountered. The students in Miss Frizzle's class all live out their personality and dispositions within the group. Arnold is always the uncertain tentative one offering words of caution. Carlos is a bit of a punny jokester who buffers stressful situations with humor. Wanda is an adventurous encourager. Tim is a keen observer noting important details along the way. Phoebe provides context and background knowledge for any situation (it is usually referenced to her "old school" yet still helpful). Keesha is the level-headed pragmatic one who offers a clear problem shooting method. Dorothy Ann is a research phenom who always has extra information to see the journey through. Ralphie is the daydreamer of the group offering the "What if" possibilities. Transported by the magic bus, and accompanied by Liz and "The Frizz," the class is questioned and guided through journies to discovery. They are kind with one another foibles and listen. There are always plenty of challenges, but they see one another through. We need to each consider how we may be that open, listening, non-judgemental person "keeping it real" within our families and communities because life, like Miss Frizzle's field trips, is messy.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Be still...and know...

"In a city of so much noise I need to find my quiet." 

I journaled the beginning of this poem about three months after moving to Hanoi, Vietnam. In this bustling city finding a pocket of serenity is a rare and beautiful thing. I wondered throughout my entry how I, a quiet country girl at heart, could adjust to living in a city where every moment seemed saturated with people and noisy bustle.

Years ago I recall hearing a parable-like almost Screwtape Letters-esque story about the Devil calling his legions together and strategizing how best to undermine the advancement of God's kingdom. After entertaining many suggestions from the legions of demons, the Devil finally says THE answer is to keep humans busy. Convince people that there are many very important tasks needing their attention. This way humans will have so many things distracting and occupying them the result will be that with their attentions divided, humans would be rendered unable to completely focus on the still small voice of God. The acronym then stands that humans being BUSY is (Being Under Satan's Yoke). We humans were created to work diligently and serve as stewards. Additionally we humans were created in God's image to seek and embrace a sabbath or rest. The Creator modeled this balance of diligent work and spiritual rest in Genesis chapters 1-2. Chapter one outlines a flourish of creative genius and chapter two shows us how the Creator punctuated His work. "Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done." (Genesis 2:1-3) 
    This past weekend I took a rest from my last nine months of diligent work. My family and I took our first ever spring break holiday together to Da Nang and then Hoi An. We took a boat out to Cham Island. Serenity and quiet abounded. We leisurely snorkeled, swam about, and napped on the beach after lunch. Our surroundings made it much easier for me to BE still and to be quiet inside my mind. 

In Psalm 46:10a God gives the imperatives, "Be still and know that I am God." First, "Be still." Readers generally take this to mean silence or quiet. If one will quiet the mind and surroundings, one is half way there. In the Hebrew rapah or rapa means, "let down, drop faint, slacken, to cease." Some scholars say the term carries the connotation of a soldier battling on and then just dropping the weapons, ceasing to engage in the war. This metaphor intrigues me. Often I feel like I am fighting and engaging on many fronts and losing battles left and right. However then the second imperative enters AND, "Know that I am God." See it is not until I stop flailing about by my own volition and let God be who He is in my life, that I have any hope of winning the battle or the war. Like my peaceful holiday, few and far between are the times I am still and aware. Like Hanoi, my life will not quiet anytime soon. I must be more intentional about seeking out opportunities to disengage and BE STILL, otherwise how will I KNOW? 

Thursday, April 23, 2015


A colleague of mine and his wife are expecting their first baby. The other morning over a hallway cup of coffee we were chatting about what a shift that is for a couple when "we" becomes "three." Being a parent has taught me more deeply about the nature of God.
   I never knew the depth and breadth to which I could rejoice, feel sadness, experience pain, or love with abandon until each of my children entered my life.
   When I was just shy of three months pregnant with my second child I was rear-ended by an SUV (suburban assault vehicle as I took to calling it) while I was driving my little Honda Civic. After being rushed to the hospital via ambulance I was told I would, "Just have to wait and see if the baby makes it." These are not words an expectant mother wants to hear. I urgently persued a better answer, "Well if the pre-term labor continues what can you do?!" I did not like the response, "Nothing. Your baby won't be viable for several weeks." 
VIABLE? This was not a business option or a piece of real estate this was my CHILD! I tried to calm myself, went home and hoped for the best. Time crept on, and after the next OBGYN appointment I was told if I wanted this baby to have a chance I would need to schedule surgery and move from "taking it easy" to full on bed rest. I resigned myself to the reality. On the way home I stopped at the mall for a frozen Coke and soft pretzel (a couple of the very few things I could actually keep down) and as I was strolling out to leave, a piece of jewelry caught my eye. I meandered over to the case to get a closer look. I really liked it, but there were four figures on the pendant. What if my future family only maintained the present three? After a brief inner monologue and an unspoken prayer I decided I would buy the piece as a representation of this covenant I desired. If God would see my little family through this and bring this baby into our world, I would press into Him and strive to be 
    I printed off a calendar, used a stamp of baby feet to tick off each day. I laid about, read, feasted on food from friends, hit 202 pounds on the scale generously gestating.
     Last week in church the sermon was in John 15:1-4 The speaker offered so many things to ponder. When he said that sometimes life has a way of stripping our concerns down to what really matters; to the essential. I immediately thought of the chapter of my life when I was on bedrest. "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." There are many scriptural similes to describe God. Here the Father is a gardener. He collects and cuts. He provides and prunes. These pairs seem so juxtaposed. God parents us with tough and tender hands.
    So I purchased the pendant above. I did not wear it until April 7th, 2005 (only a week early) when we brought our almost 10 pound hefty and healthy baby boy home. I learned much about myself as a person and parent during my bedrest sentence. Eventually it became less of a sentence of body and more of a sanctuary of mind. The experience peeled back another layer of what it means to be family.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Living in Friday; Anticipating Sunday

Now we call it Good Friday, but for those closest to Jesus then it probably seemed far removed from "good."

I spent a portion of this Good Friday in an assembly reflecting on sacrifice and anticipation. 

Then the Saturday night after Good Friday the disciples gathered together. To mourn, commiserate, and grasp on to one another to stumble through this discomforting Jesus-less existence. Questions and wondering hung in the air like a dense fog.

This post-Good Friday-Saturday night I spent solo exploring Ho Chi Minh City. I ventured out and found a great local restaurant, and some unique shops. I walked all around district 3 & district 1 before heading back by taxi to my district 7 hotel. I let my thoughts come out to play; for better or worse.

This Easter Sunday I woke early morning to loud announcements akin to Monster Truck rallies. I rolled out from the bed grateful to be 100 meters from my morning destination, and wondering what the journey may entail.

The view from my Easter Sunday early morn:
I texted my running partner in the States, "Worshipping the risen Savior by standing in this que and then tackling the Dragon Dash obstacle course."

For the last 22 years of my life, Easter has involved family gathering, multiple church worship services, a huge meal and much conversation with and around life and children. Needless to say this Easter Sunday, like my life in general of late, was radically different. 

met up with my five other teammates near the start line. The sun was already raging down a balmy 96 degree Fahrenheit day, but we were itching to get started. A couple miles in I was commiserating with one of my team members about not being a strong or joyful "hot weather" runner (she from Colorado and I a Michigan girl). We ran on, sweaty, slightly cut, a bit tired from the many obstacles we had already conquered, and wondering about some of the mystery challenges yet to come. Suddenly into my head popped an image of Christ's trek to Calvary. This was closely followed by an echo of something my gram used to say, "That is sputton!" I mentally for a moment berated myself for thinking a potentially sacrilegious thought connecting my obstacle course run to the Saviour's suffering. However a slight breeze picked up, and the potential of it being an irreverent thought was ushered out of my mind by this song:

I reconsidered and decided I was worshipping (albeit unconventionally). Some would argue my experience lacked sacrament and corporate worship. While I did not partake of the Lord's Supper, there was still a communing of spirits. In spurring one another on, encouraging, and sometimes quite literally/physically boosting and supporting each other over obstacles (teammates and strangers alike). We were the embodiment of community, and my heart was blessed. 

This made me ponder bigger questions. Am I now living my disciple life like Friday then, full of and focused on sacrifice and death? Or is my discipleship currently in Saturday's season of fear, wondering & confusion? To what degree am I steeped in and expressively living Sunday's joyful redemption? Unlike the disciples in those moments then, we know now the conclusion of the story. So now in which day do you find yourself?

Thursday, March 26, 2015


"EXERCISE" Mary Hill's OLW
1 Corinthians 12:21-26
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

"What exactly does fit physical condition mean Mrs. Winterstein? I am not really sure I am fit." 

This question was posed to me several weeks ago as my seventh and eighth graders and I were preparing for this week's interim trip. The verb "trekking" seemed a bit daunting to some of my students. 

"Is that like hiking? It sounds a bit more scary than walking!"

I reassured them that the longest (12km) trek, as well as the smaller (5-7km) treks, were well within their capabilities. I also made it mandatory that each student bring in their boots or shoes for inspection. Additionally students should wear new footgear to school, and a bit on the weekends for break in and to check for rubs and proper fit. I wanted to do the best to equip students from a dual prong approach of both gear and mindset.*

So now we have spent this week up on the mountains of Sapa, Vietnam. We didn't trek as high as Fanispan (Phan-Xi-P«éng), but to reach our homestay family's house we climbed about 1800 meters up the side of the mountainous area and trekked many rocky terrains, paved and unpaved surfaces and steps and terraces along the way.
There were some students who were sure-footed and others who the guide or I leant a helping hand of balance to, or a boost to keep moving forward on our journey. A couple students voiced uncertainties in their own energy levels to reach our destination. To these students I offered the encouragement that it's okay we each travel at our own pace while being sure to take in the beauty all around us. 
When we arrived at our destination we all agreed that we had exercised muscles that perhaps we don't consistently call upon as urgently in our day to day traipsing about. (This teacher's calves are still a bit fatigued today). It wasn't just the amazingly beautiful biodiversity and tribal diversity that struck me as we trekked along. The wonderful diversity among the students in my group, their willingness to exercise their gifts (and what may also be outside their comfortable daily life) was as equally breathtaking to behold. On the trail some sang, offered advice to one another, shared extra ponchos, stopped to capture the experience via photographs. They flexed who they were by helping with dinner,
and singing to and playing with the sweet baby boy of our family when he got fussy.
They asked important questions about culture and what it means to be human.

The students encouraged those who felt a bit homesick, they shared meals and conversations while making memories. One of the grade eight students captured it best when she declared, "We always come away from these trips so much closer!"
That is the thing with exercising, whether it is a 12km trek or flexing with flourish who one is at the core; it strengthens. Everyday I am mindful of the unique individual each of my students are intellectually, spiritually, personally. Each has so much potential to do powerfully impactful things in the world. Every time they engage in "working out" these gifts they strengthen who they are and can be. Hearts can be exercised on a cardiovascular level, but also on a soul level. This week my group of middle school students and I were blessed with the opportunity to do both.

18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be?20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 1 Corinthians 12:18-20

*God equips us by creating us who we are. Everyday we choose our mindset as well as option to exercise that gift or sit on the sidelines. What will you choose?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Becoming Brave

 "I love those who can smile in trouble, gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection." -Thomas Paine

Writing IS risky.
Soul stiring emotion evoking 
words wielded and penned 
expose us
Make us vulnerable.
We are left with ink
Bleeding feeling 
Across the page.

While I agree with Paine, sometimes writing pains me. I am well into the thoroughs of middle age and still find allowing my words, my thinking and musings on paper and pixeled on a screen, out into the wide world, a bit of a daunting task. There are pages upon pages tucked away in tomes that no one will read until I have departed the confines of this earth. Additionally there are thoughts and ideas swirling around my mind like clouds in the sky. Sometimes the clouds gain Numbistratus bulk and my words rain out on the page. Other times they feather out like Cirrus clouds suspended in time.

The great Maya Angelou claimed, "There is no greater burden than bearing within you an untold story." 

Sarah Barilles concurs in her song Brave "You can be amazing You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug You can be the backlash of somebody's lack of love. Or you can start speaking up...Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out Honestly I wanna see you be brave!"

Braving the storm of one's own emotions stirred up by circumstances around us, and either the gentle renewing sprinkling of kind words or the maelstrom of thoughtless needles of cold rain pelting  can be risky. It requires a degree of courage and a dose of bravery to give birth to one's story. 

I am cognizant of this as I blog, but even more so when I have the honor of reading my students' writing. I am grateful they count me a safe place to share their thinking. They allow me to nudge and encourage them to think and write deeply. This is a gift. I too am a student who has received that gift from my PLN and trusted friends who listens as I brave new life territory trying to BE brave and "let the words spill out..."

Joshua 1:9 (ESV) "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


"For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." 
1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV

Hazy grays and shadow black
Sounds muffled
Scuttling and scooting about. 
Their world is contained within the cushioned oval of the dog bed.
The terrain is plush save for the occasional bat of a paw to the head in the scramble to nurse.
Their mother, sisters, and bed comprise the borders of their they know it.

The fab five have no awareness there are families eagerly receiving their pictures and video clips. Individuals who are preparing for them by purchasing bowls, toys, leads, beds, and so much more. Families ready to know them each better.

Their current home is comfortable, for the most part. Yet oh, the discoveries in which they will revel when their eyes open at last and their worlds exponentially increase in vastness of terrain and love! There will be walks with a buffet of scents and experiences. There shall be cuddles, belly rubs, and scratches behind the ears awaiting, along with a multitude of other discoveries. 

My family is eager to meet our puppy, Harper, to fully introduce her to the wonders of our world. Moreover, we wait with eager anticipation as Someone is also loving us from beyond, and preparing for our homecoming. We wait for our eyes to open. What discoveries there will be THEN!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Monday Morning

Silver gray threads weaving 
The tender brush of the back of 
your knuckles across my cheek.
Tumbling d
                      n  the rabbit hole
without a sound.
Extracting meters and meters of raven black string, 
a chord from deep 
within my flesh 
All at once shredding and relieving 
my nerves from within.
Frog amicable amphibian 
Morphing into a hag cackling beside me
In the backseat of the '68 Oldsmobile.
Loosened and lost teeth
Gaping chasms 


Walking among gram's prize roses 
Her adept hands pruning, dusting, appearing and disappearing 
A hint of her chartreuse sweater taunting me from behind the shrub only
To vanish when I rush round the roses

Foghorning into the cotton muffled corners of my mind 
Rendering the delicate 
silver gray threads asunder.
Unraveling my stories
Nuclear meltdown siren
Harshly ejecting me
Thrusting me from the once lulling tumultuous waves of sleep 
the dawn.
the alarm...

"There is nothing more boring than other people's dreams." Quentin Jacobsen in John Green's Paper Towns

"The dream is the liberation of the spirit from the pressure of external nature, a detachment of the soul from the fetters of matter." Sigmund Freud 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Adventure Awaits

Proverbs 16:9 (NIV) "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps."

"Come on! It will be an adventure!" 

This is a mom sentence I have uttered many times throughout my children's lives. When the children were quite young, about preschool age, we frequently took nature walks. The walks began as excursions around our neighborhood and evolved into hikes at the various metro-parks around the Toledo area where we lived. We would stop and take notice of small creatures and nature items. In order to leave everything undisturbed we would open our sketch books from quaillanepress, and draw and label what we observed. We decided this would be the kindest way to "collect"our findings. The walks took on a life of their own and my daughter decided we would be known as the Nature Explorers. Like any respectable club we decided we needed some mark of membership. The rings pictured above are our Nature explorer membership rings thanks to the Etsy artist YOUgNeek. (2 orange for the girls and the black and green for our sole male member.)

One day as we were walking my daughter made the observation that the needle in her ring could "not POSSIBLY be right" because the needle spun all around even though she was walking in a steady direction. I had to break it to her that the rings were more symbolic and a metaphor than practical functioning pieces to help us out of a directional mix-up.

A GPS may be more reliable, right? However we found this may not always be the case deep in the heart of Texas. Our summer trips to Texas were another time I excitedly effused my, "Come on! It will be an ADVENTURE!" mom imperative. When we would travel with my husband for business we would drop him off at his meetings set the GPS and take the car on adventures for the day. One such sweltering Texas July day we did just that and set out to find a small family owned kolache bakery. 17 minutes was the estimated arrival time, but an hour later we were still driving around. (Unbeknownst to me at the time, in more rural areas Texas may have "old county" "business" and "highway" listed with the same number yet marking different roads, which makes finding the exact location a bit trickier if one has not the most updated GPS maps package.) The sun was starting to set, my daughter had to use the facilities, and my son was whining in general. I pulled off on one of the service roads gas station. My daughter found relief, my son found a bonafide bull whip (only in the heart of Texas at a convenience station), and I found a renewed sense of adventure as I paid the man for the bull whip, inquired about the bakery location and we headed back to the car. With the service station attendant's directions we located the bakery in seven minutes, kolaches were acquired and all was well in our worlds.

When our family decided to move to Vietnam the phrase was uttered once again, "It will be an adventure!" To which my daughter replied, "So mom will get lost and Henry will get a dangerous weapon." 

I joked back, "Perhaps, and don't forget the sweet kolache possibilities!" So what have I, as a mom adventurer, learned from these escapades?

1. Pay attention, take note, or in the excitement of the daring you may just miss the quiet amazing.

2. Set and prepare your guiding instruments to be true and accurate. Psalm 119:105

3. When you feel like abandoning the whole venture of adventure persist, ask for assistance, and keep going. You never know how close you are to sweet success.