Do You Really Need to Know?


We are at the airport in Auckland, beginning the long trek home. We’ve said our (tearful) goodbyes and look forward to the happy hellos ahead. We’re leaving a sweet grandbaby behind, but looking forward to seeing three fun grandchildren back at home. Kellen has fully recovered from his broken elbow. Oaks is talking a blue streak. And Olive is ready to take off walking any day now.


The last two months have been an exercise in flexibility.

I lived out of a small suitcase, leaving the big ones at Anne and James. I moved eight times, slept in six different beds. I drove four different cars (rented two and borrowed two.) I enjoyed time alone, time with Anne & James, lots of cuddles with Charlee, and then a month with John & Lizi, traveling back and forth from Monavale to the farm.

James led an Adventure Bible School from April 26 through June 3. He was able to take off extra time during the first week to spend time with his new daughter, but by the second week, work was full on. He was gone for a three day kayaking trip and again, for four overnights, tramping. We joined in when we could, and hung out with Anne during the nights away.

The students never knew what was next. The ABS t-shirts ask, “Do you really need to know?” And for the most part, they do not. They’ve heard rumors about different activities, but they don’t know the schedule and they are never sure what is coming next. Often they only knew a part of the day/evening plans, with planned surprises yet to come. They learned to trust the leaders and each other, and hopefully, their trust in God also deepened.

A few days ago, I realized that my two month adventure could be characterized with the same question: Did I really need to know? Could I be flexible about plans, adapting to the needs of others around me? It was easy to adapt to Charlee’s changing need for sleep, feeding, and soothing. As Anne waited for the baby to arrive and then progressed through the recovery period, we were constantly adapting plans to fit the circumstances. When James was busy with ABS, and John and Lizi arrived, there were even more people to consider.

Overall, it was a lovely time. This American Gramma got pretty comfortable in New Zealand, but the challenges that came with so much change have stretched me. I can’t say I always responded gracefully. As I leave to go home, I’m tired and a little weary.

And not sure that I’m really done with this particular trusting adventure. When we get home, we jump right into appointments and surgery for Lizi–and all that might entail. She will stay with us for at least the beginning of her recovery period. We’ll also have to play catch up on yard work and gardening, as well as hurry to get the pool ready. We’re not sure when we’ll actually put our house on the market, but that is a another issue that has put on hold. I will return to work to help cover for two nurses having babies this summer. I also know we will need to help get John2 back on track. And I have a lot of catching up to do with Kellen, Oaks and Olive.

Somehow, I sense God whispering, “Do you really need to know?”

P.S. A few more cute pictures of Charlee.

IMG_1383 IMG_1385


Miss Communicating

This American Gramma is struggling with communication.

Mostly I find the Kiwi vocabulary and accent fascinating. For the first few weeks I was constantly repeating words and phrases in my head, trying to figure out exactly what they were doing to common words like “you” (prolonged, 2-syllable,) “no” (also two syllables);
“seven” (seeven) and so on.

Generally I can understand one-to-one, face-to-face conversations. Sometimes. If two Kiwis are talking to each other and I am simply observing, I probably miss about half of what they are saying. In a group I’m hopeless. I can listen to a lecture or sermon and get most of it, but if a conversation gets lively, I’m lost.

Admittedly, some of the problem may be my hearing. (I’m going to have my hearing checked when I get home.)

There is also a lot of recognizable, though different, vocabulary: Nappies for diapers; cot for crib (crib actually refers to a cottage); pram for buggy; grizzly for cranky; bubs or bubby for baby. Boot for trunk; bonnet for hood; domes for snaps; bench for counters; and so on.

9ff0940551d2fafaaab17ec77e96bb1cTo make matters worse, a lot of place names are Māori (pronounced mo-ri with another rolled “r”.)  Although I am told Māori pronunciation rules are much more predictable than English, I can’t seem to master the rules. I know that “Wh” is pronounced “F” and “Ng” like our “ng”, but how does one say Mt Ngauruhoe? And then there is this town name, 55 letters long:

For that matter, it took me awhile to learn to say Charlotte’s middle name (Aroha) and I still don’t roll the “R” the way I should. Sounds like Are-oh-ha, which is acceptable, but not quite right. The rolled “r” can sound like an L, but not quite. I love that they chose a Maori middle name for their daughter, love its meaning, but I always have to pause and think before attempting to say it.

Years ago I spent a summer at a French camp in Quebec and found the experience of not understanding the language (in spite of 11 years of French classes!) very difficult. I could communicate enough to get by, but couldn’t really engage in meaningful conversations and I found that disheartening. I didn’t expect to experience that in English-speaking New Zealand. I’d noticed a bit of it when I visited the first time, but as a tourist, it didn’t bother me. It was more difficult when we spent a month here for Anne & James’ wedding and really wanted to understand all that was going on around us.

I was more prepared for it this time, but am still struggling with communication. In some settings, it doesn’t bother me at all; in others, I find myself close to tears. Mostly, I find a middle ground of catching what I can and guessing at the rest.



Birth Story

By now the news of Charlotte’s birth is on Facebook and pictures of our sweet grand baby have been posted. The text messages that have been flying between here and Chicago are slowing down. It is time for the birth story. Gramma’s birth story.

Image-1Last Sunday night, James, Anne and I hiked to the glow worm cave with a group of campers. I’ve done this hike two times before and knew it was a short though strenuous hike. It required climbing up and down a steep trail, sometimes scrambling over fallen trees, wading through a cold stream to the bottom of a ravine where a waterfall met sky and darkness, and the walls of the “cave” were lit up with glow worms. I also knew that James would take good care of Anne during the hike.

If Anne hoped to start labor by this means, it was a successful endeavor. She was four days past her due date and oh-so-ready for baby to arrive. Contractions started within a few hours, around 1 a.m. I slept through the first several hours, vaguely aware that there was movement in the house and something might be happening.

Anne labored through the morning and talked to her midwife a couple of times. Before noon, they decided to go into town, to a friends’ house, to be closer to the birthing center. On the way, they stopped in at the midwifery clinic to ask a few more questions. There they learned that her water had broken and it was stained with meconium. She was sent to the hospital for monitoring.

I followed them, first to Leamington, and then on to Hamilton. At first, I settled in at a nearby cafe to read and wait for news. After an hour or so, I texted James to see what was being said, and told him that I was in the area. They invited me to come up and visit.

Annie had asked for an epidural so I hung around for the procedure and then returned to the waiting room. In the meantime, they worked at regulating the epidural and started oxytocin to increase the strength of her contractions. Later that afternoon, I went back in, staying longer than I’d planned as I watched the nurses and doctors evaluating her contractions and the baby’s response.

I finally pulled myself away and went to find a nearby hotel room. Just before I left, they mentioned the possibility of a c-section.

I’d settled in and started a bath when James called to say they were going in for a c-section. Another doctor and their midwife had conferred and then discussed it with James and Anne. They were given the option of waiting longer, but told that a c-section was likely. (It wasn’t an emergency yet.)

James asked for a few minutes to pray. They agreed and started filing out of the room, but he told them they were all welcome to stay. They did—doctors and nurses and midwives bowed their heads while James prayed. Peace settled over them and they decided to go ahead.

Anne already had the anesthesia needed for the surgery (epidural) so it wasn’t long before Charlotte entered the world with a good, strong baby cry. She was suctioned (because of the meconium) but was heathy and strong–perfect!

Laura and I had been texting back and forth waiting for news from the hospital. Finally, we both texted James (he was a little busy) for an update and got the word that all was well. I was invited back to the hospital to spend the night with Anne, as James wasn’t allowed to stay overnight on a women’s ward.

I met Charlotte Aroha Bruce in the recovery room—the midwife snuck me in—but didn’t hold her til several hours later. I tried to stay on the edges of things until after James finally pulled himself away. He went and used my hotel room for a few hours of badly needed sleep and I camped out at Anne’s bedside.

Sometime around 3 or 4 in the morning, I asked if I could hold her and sat snuggling with her for the next two hours while Anne dozed in and out of consciousness. When James returned, I went back to the hotel for some sleep, then stopped by for another visit before going home to shower and rest in the sun. I went back late in the evening to do another shift with Anne. This time she was more awake and eager to hold her baby. It was a sweet night.

The next day I went back home and stayed away, resting and doing laundry etc. They moved to a nearby birthing center where they could spend 48 more hours together with support staff on hand. (All this free through socialized medicine!) Others visited throughout the day and their first night was fairly peaceful.

I visited the next afternoon, along with more visitors, and headed home to await their arrival the next day. But that night didn’t go so well, so they asked me to come back in the morning and hold Charlotte while they slept. Oh, yeah.

Gradually, we packed up stuff, took a walk, and then I left, planning to be there to welcome them home. I took a detour to find a baby store and then decided to find a helium balloon for the gate or mailbox. They ended up beating me home by a few minutes and were happy to find the house clean and warm. (I hadn’t been able to figure out how to turn the heat down before I left so it was toasty warm.)

They were still feeling sleep deprived and unsure what the night ahead would hold so they asked me to hold Charlotte while they tried to sleep a few times during the day and evening. The ABS staff came by to greet Charlotte and then we had dinner. I got in one more cuddle session with Charlotte while they rested and then left to stay in town, so they can have time alone as a family.

Anne is loving being a mum, adapting well to all the challenges. It has been sweet watching her blossom as a mama.












Charlotte is a happy and well-loved baby.









James is over the moon.








And Gramma is blissfully content.











Every once in a while, I get to gather up the tangled ends of life and actually finish a few things all at once. This is one of those weeks.

I snipped off all the excess threads on my tartan, the final step in an eight week weaving process. I completed my class last week, cut the piece off the frame and had a quick lesson in how to make fringe out of the ends.

When I tried it at home, it didn’t go so well. That night I recalled seeing another weaver work with a tool so I googled “weaving tools fringe” and found images and U-tube videos on making fringe. The next day I called Michelle, a new weaving friend, to see if she had the tools (yes, many) and would show me how to use them. A few evenings later she stopped by with the tools, the know-how, and a backpack full of some of her completed projects.

IMG_0410I finished the fringe the next morning with my favorite fringe winder, this one with sheep:

The next day I hand washed the tartan and laid it out to dry. And finally, yesterday, snipped off all those excess threads. Ta-da!

I’ll post a good picture of the finished product later.


I am declaring “finished!” for my part (at least) of two home improvement projects recommended by the realtors: an updated bath and kitchen. In the bathroom, we stripped wallpaper, painted, took out our countertop (that covered the tub) and put in a new floor and vanity. In the kitchen, we painted the cabinets, making the whole kitchen lighter and brighter. A new countertop is next. It’s been a crazy-lot of work, but it is nice to have it done. We probably won’t actually put our house on the market til July or August, but it’s nice to have these things completed.

Lastly, I am ready to put the final touches on the baby quilt for Anne & James’ little girl. I was able to finish the top and take it to Longarm Bob who “got it done” for me in record time. I sewed the binding in place and will hand stitch it in place while traveling. I’ll post pictures of this later too, after Anne sees it.

As I write, I am sitting at LAX awaiting my flight to New Zealand. I’m done with months of preparations and now embarking on a TWO-MONTH visit with Anne & James. Baby girl is due in a week, though they are hoping she comes early.

James starts an ABS* session at the end of the month, two weeks after the due date. That is the reason they were hoping and praying for an early birth and also the reason for my extended stay. John and Lizi will be joining me for the second month.

A lot of finishes this week–and a new beginning!

Can’t wait!

*ABS is a six-week Adventure Bible School associated with Capernwray Bible School, New Zealand. There are three sessions per year, spring, summer and fall. This will be the fall session. The students tramp, kayak, abseil, bike, swim, run and surf and James is their program director. During an average session he is gone for 13 nights and pretty busy the rest of the session.


Tangled at Home Too!

For the past six weeks, I have been trying to write/edit/manage a post about my “Triple Tangled Tartan.” My pictures kept coming out blurry and I was unable to figure out how to fix the problem so I set it aside, time and time again.

In the meantime, we’ve been focused on our house, trying to get it ready to put on the market. We met twice with realtors and started working on some of the projects they recommended: the fireplace screen, a new bathroom floor and vanity; stripping the last vestiges of wallpaper in our house, repairing and repainting walls and ceilings.

At the same time, John has been working through financial issues related to retirement, insurance and taxes. I have been working 2-3 days a week, with an occasional week off. I also have been cleaning, packing and purging, little by little. We had hoped to list the house in April, but have recently decided to wait until we return from New Zealand.

But every Thursday, I set aside most of the day to visit The Chicago Weaving School, where I am getting close to completing my tartan weaving project. Class time is four hours and the commute is almost an hour each way, so it is a full-day endeavor.

I work mostly on my own now, weaving back and forth, and frequently changing my colors to follow the sett or pattern. I can catch mistakes more quickly now, and fix them with relative ease. I’ve figured out some of the idiosyncrasies of my loom and learned how to work around them. Each week I inch closer to the end of my warp, closer to the finish line.

Maybe all that neatness or order is helping me cope with the tangled life at home, helping me envision the day when all will be set right and we will be ready to move on to the next home, next season of our lives.


Tripled Tangled Tartan (Part III)

After all that, I was able to begin weaving. We started with a header in plain weave and then moved on to a twill, the characteristic weave of tartans.

I thought twill was a simple pattern of two-over and two-under, but it is more complicated than that. There are four treadles and I have to lift two of them at a time (1 & 2, 2 & 3, 3 & 4, and then 1 & 4) to achieve the twill pattern. Each time I press the various treadles, a different “shed” is formed and I slip the shuttle through the shed from one side to another. This is how it looked at the end of session two:


By my third session, I was ready to start following the tartan pattern, or sett, in my weft. When I dressed the loom, I set up the warp according to my sett. When I do the actual weaving, I am adding the weft or horizontal pattern, still following the sett.

IMG_0266Now it is starting to really look like a tartan!

This week I spent the whole session weaving, making real progress on my tartan. When I was almost at the end of my session, I discovered a mistake in the warp, an extra small green and red stripe in the pattern. I’d already fixed a few mistakes in the weft, by un-weaving, but this wasn’t fix-able.

I don’t know if you know this about quilters, but we like to point out our mistakes, even when we know that no one else (except maybe another quilter) notices or cares. We also live with our mistakes when we can’t do anything about them. Sometimes we do rip things out and fix them, but often enough we just have to leave them alone.

Amish quilters supposedly add an intentional mistake because it would be presumptuous and prideful to make something perfect. This was called a “humility block.” It’s a good story, but probably not true. The fact is, mistakes happen and quilts (and tartan cloths) are still beautiful, perfect or not.

Kind of like people, a little tangled.


I distinctly remember the moment I let go of my plan for a family trip to New Zealand.

One of Anne’s requests while home last summer was to have lobster, so we decided to take them to one of our favorite restaurants on a Wednesday night when they have $13 lobsters. We decided to invite Taylor and Laura to join us.

That afternoon Anne planned to tell Laura that she was pregnant. She hadn’t quite figured out a good way to share her good news, but when they were discussing dinner out she wondered aloud if it was okay for her to eat lobster. Laura immediately caught on and they rejoiced together. Dinner felt like a celebratory event.

Soon after we sat down, I brought up the planned trip for January 2016. How was that going to fit with an April baby? I wanted to go in April and I already had a ticket for late October so it seemed obvious that I needed to change my plans. Anne wanted Laura and Taylor to come “when I’m feeling good” so that she would be up for showing them around her new home and country.

It was right then that I gave up the idea of all of us going together. I was a little sad not to share in the event, but I knew it was the best way of handling the new circumstances. We ended up deciding to send the Birkey’s on their own. I would go in April and John and Lizi would come in May. (Johnny gets to go whenever he gets his act together!)

The months went by and gradually plans started to shape up. I still felt a little sad about not sharing the experience with the Birkey’s (and not being able to help with the travel part of it) but I knew that this was the way it had to be.

Tickets were purchased and details worked out when John learned of his “early retirement” plans. I offered to send him with the Birkey’s for an after-retirement trip, kind of hoping that he wouldn’t take me up on the offer. He didn’t jump at the offer and even when I encouraged him and Laura found reasonable tickets, he hesitated to add “one more person” to the mix. He knew he could help with the travel, but he was afraid that one more person would complicate so many other things Then, he was too busy finishing up his last projects to think about anything at all. He told me I could go ahead and plan a trip south, but he couldn’t even think about it.

They left and we left a few days later. We texted and sent pictures back and forth between our two vacations, agonizing through the tough travel and rejoicing when things went well. Two extra seats for the Honolulu-Auckland trip. A missed flight. A broken stroller. An Auckland Angel that helped them in the airport.

Annie, of course, was beyond excited to welcome Taylor, Laura, Kellen, Oaks and Olive to her home country. Though Laura and Taylor were happy to be with James and Anne in New Zealand, I think it took them much of the first week to get over the trauma of the trip. Laura did a Periscope on Day 3, telling her friends about a past dream to go on a lot of adventures. As a mom, she was finding this adventure more stressful than she imagined. She couldn’t call this a “vacation”–too much stress.

By the second week, up on the North Island, they settled in and started to really enjoy their time. They stayed home and only took day trips. They went to church with James and Anne and met their friends and family. They saw the Wedding Tree, beaches on both sides of the Island, glow worms, and the lots of good cafes. Anne and Laura went together for nose piercings (Whaaatt?)

Here are some of the Instagram and Viber messages that we enjoyed:


Anne: “My heart is so full these days!             (and seriously, that face.)








Anne: Baby looks good on you!









Laura: Deeply thankful for these days of exploring my sister’s home and the life she has made here. That and 4 coffee lovers traveling the country…and we have no arguments about how to spend our time.






Anne: Went to Raglan with the cutest hippie around. (Raglan is kind of a hippie surf town.)







Laura: Best quote of the trip: While on a walk, Kellen says to me, “Mom, you’re so precious to me. Walking with you is just like walking with Jesus.”






Taylor’s photo/Laura’s comment:

It’s gorgeous! Can’t believe all the sweet places that are so close.







Anne: James and I are soaking in these special moments with our nephew and niece.







Laura: And just like that, the sun sets on our New Zealand Adventure. Kellen is excited to go home to his toys, but I, for one, am hanging on to the rays of light our time here has brought: Sweet time with my sister, growing as friends and (almost) mamas was the best souvenir. Watching her as a wife and homemaker was the best of the scenery. And this view from her backyard? So thankful for it all.


What mama’s heart wouldn’t glow with a report like that? Mine certainly did! I am so thankful that the plans I set aside made room for something even sweeter: Two sisters (and their husbands) enjoying a unique time together and growing as friends.

P.S. I have to add a few more pictures just because they are so beautiful. If you are reading this on your phone, keep scrolling all the way to the comments. It’s so difficult to get pictures to behave in WordPress 🙁

IMG_0052 IMG_0046 IMG_0047 IMG_0044



















































And last, but not least:


Anne:  And they’re off!                                           Sending them your way mum and dad.

Though I wish they’d been able to stay longer, it’s kind of nice to have them home :-).






My Son John

Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John.

Went to bed with his stockings on.

One shoe off and one shoe on.

Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John.


This refrain keeps going through my head today.

(Thirty-four years ago we gave birth to a son and I became a mother. There is a joke going around Facebook where a six year old is asked how old his father is. He replies “6” and the inquirer is a bit appalled until the youngster clues him in to the fact that his dad became a father six years ago, when he, the child, was born. That makes me 34 right?)

Other than the fact that I am spending the day focused on making a birthday gift for John, I am pondering. Years ago, as a new mother, I identified with Mary who “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” There is nothing quite like being a first-time mom and I’m pretty sure every mother does the same thing: going over and over her birth story; being amazed by the miracle of life; feeling flooded with love for this child, this babe. Treasuring. Pondering.

Johnny was a fun kid. He was bright, interesting, curious, and fairly easy-going. He loved being read to and asked a lot of questions. By the time he was 3 or 4, he had developed a pretty impressive imagination, an imaginary friend named Jack. By 4 or 5, we started teasing him about “being on Mulberry Street” when he insisted that his wild stories were true.

When he was five, we considered sending him to a Lutheran school since our neighborhood schools were a little rough. The kindergarten teacher came out to meet us and a week later we got a letter in the mail saying the school didn’t have room for him. He accepted this with a shrug and went along with Plan B, which was to homeschool. Years later he asked me if I remembered when he “tried to get into Kindergarten and had failed.’ Oh dear.

He bravely went off to first grade in Elmhurst, but was disappointed that school wasn’t that fun place he’d imagined. He fought us tooth-and-nail for a week before resigning himself to his new reality. He struggled a bit socially, a big surprise to us because up to this point he’d spent his life surrounded by church and family friends and never seemed one bit shy. He finished first grade but we opted to homeschool 2nd and 3rd grade before returning him to the public school system for the duration. Fourth and fifth grade went well, as did his transition to junior high. And high school, for that matter.

But sometime around the middle of 7th grade, Johnny seemed to be struggling. He hit puberty and developed a good sense of humor, but also struggled with homework. He was well behaved so teachers never complained about him. He just seemed to slip through the cracks.

High school started well. But six weeks in, things started to fall apart. We still joke that it was because John & I took a business trip to Disney World and didn’t invite him. It was a rough year, but we made it through. Around the fourth quarter, our doctor gave him a trial of Ritalin and his grades immediately went from Cs and Ds to As and Bs. Problem solved. He soared through his sophomore year with little effort and good grades, becoming active in Young Life. We hosted an early morning Bible Study for a couple years.

That spring, he was introduced to marijuana, though we did not discover it for a few months. By the early weeks of his junior year, we were in full battle mode, trying to figure out how to handle a drug problem. Eventually, we signed him up for an outpatient program. When that failed, we sent him to a Survival Rehab program in Utah for 68 days the following summer. He came home with new skills and interests, but not totally convinced that his lifestyle needed to change. He spent the first semester of his senior year at the community college (gaining college credits) and returned to high school in the spring to finish his credits for graduation. We celebrated the end of high school with a trip to Alaska, his birthplace.

He was quite interested in philosophy at this point, so we dangled Switzerland in front of him, offering him a semester at L’Abri. (We came of age in the 60s and couldn’t think of anything cooler than getting to study in the mountains, asking questions, and living in community.) Looking back, we realize that he wasn’t ready for that and in the end, he crashed. Folks at L’Abri housed and nursed him for a couple weeks and then sent him home on Easter Sunday. Two weeks later he was diagnosed with bipolar II.

That was 15 years ago. It’s been a long journey of ups and downs, highs (joking) and lows. Two steps forward and four backwards. In college he met up with some high school acquaintances that led him further into the world of drugs. A three month stay at a farm-based rehab facility brought hope, and then distress and disappointment. Tough love tactics precipitated an arrest and two years connected to a court-appointed program for the mentally ill. When he turned 30, I tried a “tools not toys” campaign to encourage him to grow up. He ended up in the hospital.

So, here we are at 34.

Earlier this year, John (Dad) called me on my way home from my class, saying Johnny was having a problem. I couldn’t do anything but pray as I made my way home. I prayed aloud for a few minutes and then decided to be quiet before the Lord. I listened to worship music and pondered. An image came to mind of John (son) as a fully mature man. I told the Lord that it was my desire to see John grow to full maturity before the year was done. I knew it would require a miracle, but I figured that if God can grow a baby in nine months, He could do this as well. And I just rested in that. When I got home, things had calmed down.

As the year progressed, I kept praying, kept hoping. Little things happened along the way that gave me hope, though I knew it was a long shot. From October on, I simply asked God to give Johnny the desire to grow and be mature. Because in the end, he has to want it. I actually believe that God has been planting that seed in him, although we’ve seen little evidence of it these last few weeks. He told me to go easy on him because this time of year is so hard for him, from Thanksgiving through his birthday. He says things usually get better after that, and then he will deal with some of the hard things he knows he needs to face.

Granted, I’ve heard that before. But hope springs eternal and I’m watching for those small sprouts of new life. Watching and praying.

My son John.

IMG_3795P.S. The birthday project is a kilt. His request.

My son John has an endless list of interests and hobbies. This is is somehow related to his rugby team. I made it following a variety of instructions I found on the Internet.




The Big Hole and Taj Mahal


I made these Roman shades for my east-facing, back-room window following a tutorial on Google.


There are three windows in my sunny back room and for most of the time we’ve lived here, we haven’t bothered with shades or curtains. We had a large hedge providing all the privacy we needed. Until Labor Day weekend.




That’s when the developer that bought the house next door started ripping out the bushes that were on his property. Since then he has dug a big hole. This is the view from my window, which is why I decided to make the shades.



The house is beginning to go up–which has me worried on several different scores. I believe it is going to be quite large, most likely cutting off most of our morning sun and dwarfing the bungalows on either side. I’m also worried that it will turn our house into a teardown, which is both financially and emotionally disturbing. We’re ready to move on, but that doesn’t mean we want to see our house ripped down and replaced by a McMansion. Sigh.

I do like the smell of fresh cut wood and I would enjoy watching the building process if they were only building a smaller house that fit the narrow lot. I love our bungalows: they don’t look very big on the outside but have a lot of space, a lot of rooms inside. True, they have crappy kitchens and no open floor plan, but there are so many interesting cubbyholes, niches and nooks, so much character.

Elmhurst (in my opinion, though nobody asked me) needs more moderate sized houses for average families. It has been a good place to raise our family and our end-of-the-street home bordered by the high school and the baseball fields has been a godsend in many ways. But it is time to move on.

Today is John’s last day of work. We are going to take a retirement trip to Florida and then start packing and patching and whatever we need to do to sell our house. We plan to move out near Laura and Taylor and the grandkids, renting and gradually downsizing until we find our Goldilocks home–not too big, not too little, just right.

IMG_3759God knows the plans he has for us, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11.) It is good to trust that He does know all the details ahead of us, even as we feel dwarfed by Taj Mahal and uncertain about what is ahead.



A year ago today, I sat and listened to my father pray for his family, an old man talking freely with his God. We probably prayed again the next day when I left to drive home, but this is the one that sticks in my mind and was likely the last time I heard him pray.

Several times during his prayer he reminded God that he really wanted to “go home” and God answered that prayer a week later, early Sunday morning, December 28th.

In the weeks following his funeral, I went through his many prayer journals, simple lists of the numerous people he prayed for on a daily basis. Not long before he died he told my sister-in-law that he needed to go home because his prayer lists were getting too long.

And so, sometime in January or February, I decided to carry the mantle of prayer for my family. I committed myself to praying daily for not only my family, but all the Marshalls who had been so dear to Dad’s heart. There are 6 in my generation; 17 in our children’s generation; and 13 great-grandchildren.

It takes awhile to pray for 37 people! There have been many nights when I fell asleep praying, only to wake up through the night remembering where I left off, and continuing. Sometimes several times. (Lately, the hot tub has become my favorite place to pray as I feel comfortable talking out loud alone in my backyard. My other favorite place is during the longish commutes to Laura’s house in Aurora.)

But what I am noticing now, is that it can also be a bit discouraging. Every once in awhile there are glimmers of answered prayer, but for the most part, I am left in the dark as to how God is actually working through prayer.

People I love are still struggling; my long list of family and friends who seem to have “left the faith” still seem far away; and my daily prayer for four young men who can’t seem to manage life well, haven’t made much (if any) progress.

Once, long ago, I engaged in a prayer walk around York High school, walking around the school that is next door to me, praying for students, administrators, teachers and even for the issue of substance abuse. (The first day when I set off from my front door there was a group of students smoking just off school property in front of my house. By the end of seven weeks, I’d learned that my son was one of those substance abusers.)  I continued to pray, but after seven weeks, I found that I couldn’t make it around the school without dissolving into tears and finally, I gave up.

I don’t know how much that experience colored the next several years of my life and how much the circumstances of life weighed me down, but it was almost ten years before I dared to be really engaged in my relationship with God again. I went through the motions and maintained the tenets of my faith, but I kept God at an emotional arms-length.

I’m not quite that discouraged at this point (and hope I never get to that point again) but I am feeling disheartened. The thing about prayer is that it makes us aware of the desires of our hearts, of the needs of others around us. Prayer feels hopeful at the beginning, but wears thin after repeated requests.

I wrote the above this morning and then went to church. The scripture reading and children’s lesson were centered on Mary and Elizabeth, and Mary’s Magnificat. I’ve read and copied these verses several times in the course of Advent so they were immediately familiar.

Pastor Mike focused on the expectations of Mary and Elizabeth–and on their rejoicing. He asked us to evaluate our own expectations. I immediately thought of my prayers and hoped-for answers to prayer as the expectations or hopes that were now discouraging me.

The crazy thing about the gospel is that it asks us to set the bar high–at a level of faith that asks us to anticipate the unexpected.

Prayer increases my expectations. I want “more” for me and for the people I love. I don’t want to settle for vague prayers for God to bless them. I want to see them following hard after God, being changed and renewed by their faith. I want to see them set free from fear, anxiety, destructive emotions and patterns. I want to see the fruit of the Spirit blossoming in their lives. (And all these things in my life too.)

For so many years I’ve been advised to “lower my expectations.” Someone called expectations “planned disappointment.” I get how that works negatively in relationships, but I don’t know how to live life without expectations. I don’t know how to pray without increasing expectation. So, I think I will dare to keep praying, keep hoping, keep expecting God to do more than I think or ask–exceedingly, abundantly.

 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,  to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.