Hazel’s Song

Pauly, my hubby, dabbles as a toy “picker”. Think American Pickers, Mike and Frank, white van, but on a much smaller scale, less budget and a little less cool (sorry Love). He asked me to spend a weekend with him at the end of September in Des Moines. I am not embarrassed to say that I reluctantly agreed – as long as there would be a steak dinner and a nice place to stay. Hey, this girl can’t do her part as Frank Fritz for nothin’. Bravo to Hotel Fort Des Moines – a beautiful historic downtown hotel that was recently renovated. You did not disappoint. 

The downtown area of Des Moines is quaint and clean. Yet still, like so many downtowns, homelessness has heartbreakingly tucked itself into the sides of buildings, and has moved into open alleys. 

The air was chilly and rain brewed when we left our hotel for dinner on Saturday night. 

On our way out of downtown while we were stopped at a red light, we watched a homeless man, who obviously struggled with mental illness, have a difficult time crossing the street. He had very little clothes on and he wore no shoes. He needed a little more time crossing the street. My heart sank as I watched a driver with little patience come dangerously close to him in the intersection. I wished I was someone who saves the world. Some days the world just feels heavier, and it’s harder to witness peoples’ ugliness. Today it was the cold wet pavement under one man’s feet, and the inhumanity of another.

A last minute decision put us in a booth at Johnny’s Steakhouse. The booths are tall and private, just one other couple sat to our left. Casey and Maggie, we would soon come to learn. Mac was our waiter. He has a smile that easily lights up a room. He was also taking care of Casey and Maggie. It was clear just moments after we were seated, that something very cool was unfolding at the booth next to us. 

Maggie apologized for crying at the table – she said that it was so unlike her. She shared that one of their sons had just called and surprised them with the news that he would be coming home from deployment. 

(Okay, so here’s the skinny, I got the inside scoop on how this sweet story unfolded. We heard some of it, but not all of it. That would be creepy. These wonderful people shared with us privately, so if you see Pauly and I seated next to you in a nice restaurant, there’s no need to guard your conversations. I mean your crème brûlée might not be safe, but your conversation will be, well maybe, probably. I digress.)

The three of them continued to chat about family, and Mac told them that he has a little girl, named Hazel. He said people are always saying things like, “Oh, just wait until she’s sixteen”, or “Wait until she turns twenty-one”, but he said that he has every intention of simply enjoying her now. He told them that for now he can wait for moments like the phone call they got today. He just wants to enjoy his daughter while she’s little. 

To that point, the couple said how funny it is that he would say that, because of a conversation they had with a young mother at ALDI today. They said she was in her early twenties, and she had a daughter, who was probably a year old. Her little one was singing away in the store and her mom was trying to quiet her down, and Casey’s response was to please let her sing. He told the young Mom you have no idea how quickly this time goes, that it really is just the blink of an eye and before she knows it she’ll be all grown up. It’s best to just enjoy moments like these.

Mac, having the strangest feeling that these patrons were talking about his little family, pulled out his phone, swiped through some photos and said, “By chance, was this them?” Maggie’s response was a shocked, “Oh my goodness, that’s them!” The couple exchanged glances and Casey said to his wife, humbly, “Don’t tell him, don’t say anything.”, leaving Mac to walk away wondering.

Mac then found missed texts from his fiancée, Lex. The texts were sent less than an hour before, and read “Literally bawling my eyes out” and “Call me when you can.” He assumed the texts had something to do with this humble couple seated in his section. When he returned to their table, he told them about the texts and asked what happened at the store. Maggie, with tears in her eyes, simply said to Mac that he should just ask his fiancée later. From our table, we watched Mac give up. I’m sure he knew it was pointless, but he did ask for selfies. 

Mac stepped away, and called his fiance, Lex. She asked if he had two minutes to talk. He said he was busy but he had 30 seconds. She said, “Nevermind then, I’ll just wait until you get home.” Mac quickly texted her the selfies. Before Mac hung up, he said, “Okay, but do me a favor and please check your phone.” Mac heard her pull away from the phone and start to sob. Once she caught her breath, she told him what had happened, and to please thank them and hug them for her. Mac, too, felt overwhelmed. 

Mac returned to Casey and Maggie’s table, and gave them hugs, and thanked them. They sat in disbelief, and argued with the truth, the way people do. How is it possible that the three of them were now in one another’s company? 

I was so relieved when Mac turned to us and said, “Are you hearing this over here?” Finally we could stop pretending we weren’t, and I said, both as politely and sarcastically as possible, “Well, we’re trying.” and Paul said, bluntly, “Oh we’re listening.”

Mac smiled and said, “Well, this nice couple here met my fiancée and my daughter at AlDI earlier today, and they ended up paying our grocery bill without her knowing. She texted me no more than an hour ago asking me to please call her when I could. She said she was at home ‘literally bawling her eyes out’. I didn’t have any time to text her back, until just now – and somehow, these amazing people are sitting right here, in my section.”

(Des Moines has a population of 215,000 people, and a greater metropolitan area of 709,000 people. We didn’t even leave the parking lot that evening before I felt the need to Google – in case you’re wondering too.)

Casey said that Mac’s little girl reminded them of one of their sons when he was Hazel’s age. They chatted in the store and then Maggie and Casey ended up in front of Lex at the register. Her cart was full of groceries and her hands were full with Hazel. Maggie stepped over and started helping Lex with her groceries. Meanwhile, Casey quickly slid his card in the reader to pay for her groceries, without much thought, and without Lex knowing. 

Mac expressed to us privately how overwhelmed Lex had been by the kindness of these strangers. When she went to pay the girl at the register, the cashier smiled at her, and handed her her very long receipt. She told Lex that the gentleman in front of her paid her bill. She turned around and they were gone. I got the sense from this young proud father that this simple gesture came at just the right moment. We chatted about how incredible it is that they were brought together tonight. 

In the middle of all of this, Mac still took care of us-a smooth old fashioned, a tender steak, and a delicious creme brûlée. 

Another waiter apologized before leaning into our booth to take a picture of Mac, Maggie and Casey. Mac slid in next to Casey and put his arm around him, the way old friends do. Mac’s co-worker, taking the photo, smiled wide as if he was on the other side of the lens – this God moment had the most beautiful rippling effect.

We were blessed that evening to have shared Mac’s side of the lens too. God’s a show off sometimes, and it was just what my soul needed. It’s prettier on that side of the picture… where we stop at an intersection for someone who just needs a moment longer, when we embrace the way old friends do, when we do something kind for a stranger, when we encourage little ones to sing. 

Here’s to Hazel’s sweet little voice, and saving the world – little bits of it anyway. Cheers!

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Fake Pearls

When the world was busy falling apart, it seemed like mine was like… “hey, cue the music” and the floor started to crumble from beneath me.  Poetic I suppose, poetry is the only thing that ever came easy. 

Pain I’ve come to learn is quite powerful, and chronic pain, well that can wear you, etch you in places you haven’t even known before.

My mid morning escape-perhaps meditative, spiritual, maybe it’s even transcending. I climb into my bed, broken, my handful of morning pills do little to sew me back together. In these darkest moments, illness takes over every piece of me. 

I lie there in my dark silent bedroom, with the rest of the world moving along outside my walls. I imagine a missed morning commute, a frosty car window, hot coffee, and the way sunlight bounced off the downtown St. Paul skyline. The faces of my co-workers, missed morning meetings, office gossip, and laughter with patients. That’s what it seemed I was missing the most, impromptu laughter. 

Pain settled deep into each and every joint, while ceaseless nerve pain traveled from my shoulders to my elbows and from my hips to my knees. Creating a highway of seemingly senseless, painful destruction. Lupus you are cruel, uninvited, and unforgiving. 

I forced my defiant body to become heavier and heavier, pushing myself into the depths of my bed, pushing myself further from this illness. Further and further from both the destructive pain, but also from the loss of impromptu laughter and morning skylines. 

Seeking solace, perhaps I have brought myself to this transcending place, or maybe I’ve been led here. It feels like the latter, too rich in immeasurable love for happenstance. I am immensely grateful all the same. 

She is tall and slender and her embrace is soft. She wears fake pearls, full lipstick, and smells of perfume, and Budweiser. Her apartment is there for me too, and I am small, probably seven years old. 

Nine or maybe ten city blocks separate her Grand Avenue apartment and my Downtown St Paul office, where if all was well, I would be in laughter and vocation. Decades separate us too, more than three since her passing, but time and death must be inconsequential, as must the separation of this world and our next. Somehow all of these degrees of detachment have blurred, and her presence is real all the same. 

She leaves this place for me, and I have learned to bring myself back. I return to her when my body defies me.

Another day, sunlight beyond my walls…

After opening my bedroom door and crawling back into my unmade bed, this world moving along without me. I deliver my broken body, pushing it deep through the core of my bed. It seems the heavier my pain, the easier it is to fade away and find my way to her, my grandmother. 

mindy lynn & esther ione ~ circa 1980 something

I make myself small. I climb each rich mahogany stair that leads up to her third floor apartment. My mary janes proudly announce my arrival, echoing in the vastness of the grand staircase. I wear a white ruffled shirt and corduroy pants. My mousy blonde hair is pushed back into sweet barrettes. The pain melts away when I am small.

Once I reach the third floor landing, her apartment is on the left. It has an ornate 1920’s door knob. I reach for it and enter. All of her things are just as they always were. She offers me her warm embrace but says nothing. Her eyes are soft and knowing. Sometimes I hear sounds of the city through her open bedroom window, pleasant and hushed. Childhood memories play briefly in pastels in the corners of her living room, and then they fade away. I curl up on the tightly woven plum colored carpet. I’ve come here to rest. I have no pain, I have no worry. I drift away, in both of our worlds I suspect. 

I’ve found refuge. 

I can’t begin to understand the mysteries of this world or the next… I do know that when I seek solace, He has carved a place for me, and she is there, in pearls, full of love.  

Psalm 91:4 He will cover you with His Feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge. 

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Living Water

There is a place on my patio where the wind circles and lifts the freshly fallen colors of Fall, it’s beautiful and unpredictable, and a back drop to a difficult year. Difficult in all the collective ways of 2020, but also difficult in ways I’ve kept close to my heart. The world, in all its uncertainty continues to spin unpredictably, and we keep moving forward, spinning into each new season.

My Facebook memories continue to appear in spite of my tender heart, and as if our world hasn’t changed. Among these bittersweet memories were photos from our trip last summer to Armenia. As the colors of the season started to fall upon the ground, heartbreaking news came of unrest in Armenia.

It’s not lost on me that I hadn’t yet placed memories from our trip on this page. I can still recall the flowers in the fields, the warm sun on my face, and the crispness of what felt like living water from the well of an orchard field. The beauty in our experience had been overwhelming and the thought of trying to illustrate it into words seemed too daunting. Perhaps my stalling was for good reason. Reflecting now on the beauty of Armenia, hoping my words are enough, for such a time as this.

We had two long flights behind us, and we were headed to the crossroads of Europe and Asia. With our passports in hand, and in the dense midnight humidity of Qatar, we climbed the stairs to board our journey’s last flight. My husband has a way of tucking my heart inside of his. He is my high school sweetheart, and I would have followed him to the end of the earth. Little did I know that someday I practically would. After nearly thirty hours of travel, my husband and children had made it home.

This trip was a gift from my father-in-law. The Armenian Genocide which started in 1915 changed the course of his life and that of his children and grandchildren. This was a pilgrimage of sorts, a homecoming, and a testament to the tenacity of his people.

His grandfather was taken in shackles from his home never to return. His grandmother was forced to separate her young children, in hopes that they would survive. She would endure weeks of a death march through the Syrian desert with an infant in her arms. She found refuge in Aleppo, Syria, which would later be my husband’s birthplace. Her surviving children were raised in a Catholic orphanage as she had no means to care for them. She never returned to Armenia, and the sound of her husband’s shackles dragging along the cobblestone street would haunt her for the rest of her life. Her story was well told, tragically all of my husband’s great-grandparents faced similar fates.

We landed in the sleeping capitol city of Yerevan, and spent the ride to our hotel taking in the sights of arriving on the other side of the world. Yerevan is older than Rome. It has a beautiful eclectic blend of Soviet and European influences. The streets near our hotel were filled with quaint shops and sidewalk cafes. The architecture in Yerevan is ornate, and the city is rich in history, art and music. Signs of poverty are certainly there too, interlaced within the beauty.

We shared our pilgrimage with other families who are also part of the Armenian diaspora. Americans, Middle Easterners, a sweet couple from Portugal; they were lovely and warm and enriched our experience. Father Tadeos, an Armenian Priest serving the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, graciously led our group. He was born and raised in Armenia, and now lives with his wife and children in Minnesota. He serves his St. Paul congregation, the only Armenian church in Minnesota.

The evening of our first day in Armenia, Father Tadeos welcomed us into his childhood village home. Young women dressed in traditional clothing stood just inside the home’s gate, and offered us bread and fruit as we entered. A customary sign of peace, breaking bread signifies peace amongst one another, and protection against mistrust. 

We sat around a long table within the home’s courtyard. With an abundance of delicious food, fresh dishes with cilantro and dill, and kabobs cooked within a tonir (a deep round stone oven built into the ground), we learned more about one another. Stories of resilience were shared about where families found refuge following the genocide and where new lives for their children and grandchildren were built.

We spent nearly two weeks captivated by the beauty of Armenia, some moments of which will never leave my mind’s eye… our feet upon the stone floors of an early monastery, beautiful song filling the holy space, traditional dance in the city center, the terrace of a village restaurant nestled high upon a hill, local wine at the base of a waterfall, watching my children pick tart cherries from a tree, climbing the tall stone stairs of a 6,000 year old pagan temple, a beam of sunlight streaming through an ornate ceiling of a church creating a rainbow that fell at my daughters feet, rolling fields covered with purple wildflowers and bright orange poppies…

Tsitsernakaberd, the Armenian Genocide Memorial, is built on a hill overlooking Yerevan. The site was once an Iron Age fortress, and remnants of a castle remain. The memorial includes twelve stone slabs positioned in a circle, with an eternal flame at its center. There is an adjacent towering stone spire. The stones represent the twelve lost provinces of Armenia, and the flame is dedicated to the 1.5 million Armenians murdered during the genocide. The towering stone spire represents the national rebirth of Armenia.

Jameleh, with her Surviving Children
April 17, 1927 Aleppo Syria

With the morning sun upon our faces and fresh flowers in hand, we walked towards the circular monument and descended the stairs. Facing the circle near the eternal flame were two elderly men upon their knees, their arms stretched towards the flame. The men called out and wept, and although not in English, their weeping needed no translation. My Father-In-law paced around the circle’s perimeter confessing to God that he couldn’t bring himself to forgive those who had murdered nineteen members of his family. Sometimes grief is angry.

My children placed flowers at the circle. The energy was transcending in this place, sacred energy that I am certain I have no words for. Perhaps it’s from the grief that people leave here. Maybe it rises from the eternal flame, from the souls of those who endured unimaginable suffering. Perhaps it comes from a powerful place of redemption, as generations return, changed, but thriving nonetheless. I ran my fingers across the cool stone as we climbed the stairs to leave.

Armenia has an indescribable way of pulling you in close… We spent an evening at an apricot orchard in a village outside of Yerevan. Father Tadeos’ childhood friend, Norayr, graciously opened his family’s orchard to us. The orchard had been in his family for generations. Norayr left his village to attend University, and lived and worked in Russia. He returned to run the orchard following his father’s death. The land there was picturesque, with Mount Ararat as a backdrop to the green lush fields. The home was simple and rustic.

We took our place at a long table set under the cover of apricot trees. The table was dressed in white lace and pretty mismatched serving pieces. We enjoyed homemade apricot wine and vodka alongside traditional village food. Norayr climbed a ladder and picked fruit directly from his trees placing apricots into our hands. He welcomed us back to Armenia, insinuating that Armenia was also our home. He shared an Armenian saying that translates, “Let your feet bring luck to this home”. We sang at the table, and danced on the simple stone terrace that separated their home from their gardens.

We walked out into the field where Norayr filled the orchard’s trough style well. Cold water rushed from somewhere within the soil’s core, filling the well. We placed our hands into what felt like living water. I can’t begin to understand the essence of this place, the pull it has on your soul. Again, perhaps it’s redemption as my children place their feet upon the soil.

It wasn’t all mystical. Jesus help me I’m not sure how we survived the taxi rides. New York cabbies have nothing on the Armenians. The ride may start out innocently enough, and just like that your driver turns into Jason Bourne. Even the pedestrians are fearless. Cars stop after people step directly into the road. It’s a hot mess. Armenia, I’m no fan of your spy movie high speed chase situation, and as long as I’m being honest, I don’t like your hamburgers either. But I’ve made peace with it, your delicious wine and world-famous brandy seem to be a fair enough trade off.

…and then, a ghapama dinner, followed by an image of humanity that is difficult to express. Ghapama is a traditional stuffed pumpkin dish prepared with rice, apricot, dried fruits, almonds, and dates. It’s often prepared for Christmas and special occasions. It alone might be worth the 30 hours of travel. We enjoyed our dinner in an eclectic bohemian loft restaurant with turquoise plates, boisterous laughter and large open windows. An Armenian girl, the daughter of the travel company’s owner, joined us for dinner that evening.

In the midst of the laughter we were invited to dance. I watched from a distance as this sweet girl with sparse eyebrows and lashes, her head covered with a knit hat, reached to take the hand of an Armenian American Oncologist. They danced with a brightly colored rug under their feet. The joining of their hands, paired with the joy on their faces brought me to a place of humanity that is difficult to express. The world had never felt smaller, nor more beautiful.

Armenia, you are tucked inside my heart, and from its place, on the world’s flip side, my humble prayer is this…

“In spite of the uncertainty that consumes us, may the world see you. May it see your rolling fields, and your majestic mountains, your battered churches and your tired masses, your living water and your faithful people, may the world see and know your history, may it recognize your unwavering resolve to hold fast to Christ even as doing so threatens your very existence. Lord, may you shield this small, gracious, resilient country. May you cover its beautiful people in your peace and strength. Lord, shield what remains of Armenia.”

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Early every morning since my unemployment, since the world started spinning, in the quiet of my still darkened bedroom, I’ve reached for my phone. With a reluctant heart, I scan the headlines, looking at the number of deaths. My heart is especially heavy for the people of Italy. There is a moment in the quiet, when I’m hopeful that maybe I’ll find nothing of Covid-19, maybe the last few days have been a dream.

While each day the spinning continues.


We’ve been encouraged to stay HOME, to do our part, to flatten the curve. Home is my refuge anyway.

Early last Saturday morning, in the quiet, amongst the Covid-19 updates, was the news that Kenny Rogers had died. I read the headline twice. Kenny Rogers, my very favorite singer of all time, had died. He had been my favorite for as long as I can remember. He was 81 years old. He died of natural causes surrounded by his family in his Georgia home, and so I layered this upon my already heavy heart and brought it into my day.

With a vintage Monopoly game laid out on my kitchen table, my family graciously let me listen to Kenny as long as I needed. We had a dance party during snack breaks. My husband shamelessly put hotels on all of his skid row properties and instructed my kids to make sure I didn’t end up with all four of the Railroads. Kenny crooned “Love Will Turn You Around” and the worry, of the last few days fell upon my cheeks.

While each day the spinning continues.

…we’ve spent time cooking together and baking together and snuggling on the couch. We’ve watched The Office and This Is Us. I’ve spent uninterrupted time on the phone, checking in with friends and family. We’ve taken walks and tried to process a bit of disappointment. I’ve stood in our hallway immensely grateful for our church family, listening to my Daughter connect online with our youth group. We’ve spent time in prayer.

Our sweet little dog whimpers for what seems to be no reason at all, his eyes looking right through ours. I’m certain he too feels the spinning.

… we’ve eaten pancakes, lots of pancakes (ok it’s mostly me) I sent a text to my co-workers asking for help. I can’t seem to stop with the pancakes. I received a reply suggesting I switch to waffles. Thanks for understanding me Amanda, because it’s true, we are all in this together.

While each day the spinning continues.

Yesterday, I scrolled through my Facebook feed and came across a friend’s updated profile picture. Lyndsey and I worked together when she was newly married. Now, a handful of years later her and her husband were excepting their first child. There, in my news feed, was a picture of a new little family of three. The photo was taken in an OR, because things don’t always go the way we plan. Lyndsey, still on oxygen, had the most beautiful smile. Her husband was in surgical gear, his eyes full of emotion, as he held their beautiful, perfect baby girl.  Their image overwhelmed me, and again the worry of these past days streamed down my cheeks.

Welcome to this beautiful broken spinning world sweet Lena, we are so glad you’re here.

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Old Westerns On the Flip Side

IMG_2445I lost my dad on Friday. Nearly all the things that can happen to someone fighting Type II Diabetes had been put upon his plate. “Respiratory Failure” I suspect will be the official cause of death. The moment I lost him, that moment stole my breath away.

Paul and I went to see him just a few weeks ago. We had a late flight, and found a hotel near the airport. We left for the three-hour drive through rural East Texas the following morning, pointing out the insanely large trucks and SUV’s along the way. It’s all bigger in Texas. Thankfully, a mixup at the car rental lot left us in an SUV of our own-albeit not the size of most.

My stepmom called with news that my dad was taken by ambulance that morning from their small-town hospital to a larger facility. They were on their way to dialysis, when he started having trouble breathing. We arrived at the hospital in Tyler just as my dad was being admitted into intensive care. That’s where I had my last visit with him, deep inside the hospital, beyond heavy mechanical doors.

My parents divorced when I was five, and there had almost always been miles between us. Miles, but never distance. He was easy. He was easy to please, easy to love, and the only thing he ever wanted for me was happiness.

He played the accordion as a boy. He joined the Navy during the Vietnam War-perhaps contributing to his later lung damage. He was a Mama’s boy. He loved motorcycles and Mustangs. He could play the guitar by ear. He loved blue grass music. He’d been known to have a pretty epic handle-bar mustache from time to time. He loved nice jewelry and had a ring for every finger. He worked hard but always worked to live, he never lived to work. He once told Paul that if he wanted something than he should find a way to go out and get it, because you only live once.

I spent summers with him in Texas, until I became a teenager and decided that I couldn’t possibly leave my friends. When I got my driver’s license he bought me a Chrysler Laser and drove it from Texas to Minnesota for me. The hood had sun damage from the hot Texas Sun, I kept the Texas plates as long as I could-it was the coolest used car on the planet.

During our Groom’s dinner, the night before my wedding, he pulled me aside quietly to give me a gift. It was a ring he had designed using stones from a ring my Grandmother had.

I walked into his hospital room relieved, as a part of me had worried that we might not make it in time. He had lost more than 100 pounds, and he had somehow aged decades over the course of two years. It took me a moment to find him, to see him in this frail man. Thankfully, his eyes had remained unchanged, expressive and tender as ever.

I spent time holding his hand, telling him about his grandkids and making sure he knew how much I loved him. I recognized how devoted my stepmom had been to him, and how much he needed her. I watched my oldest brother lean into him and apologize for words they had shared months ago. The ventilator took his ability to speak, and so my father reached out to him and instead held his face in the palm of his hand. I watched my uncle work to catch his own breath after seeing his brother. He endearingly called him “big brother”, and told him he loved him. I watched my uncle and brother tenderly shave his face, they worked carefully around the ventilator’s tubing and the straps on the side of his face.

We had to IMG_2331leave the room for hours at a time, as kidney dialysis nurses pushed in their equipment to filter the toxins from his blood. I spent time lying across a bench under a grand southern magnolia tree in he hospital courtyard. I closed my eyes and let the sun warm my face while I talked to God.My last evening with him we stayed as long as we could. He had been heavily sedated and still I left the old western he had been watching on for him. Just Paul and I sat with him, Paul allowing space, while I sat at his side. I tried my best to etch his image into my memory, while time in the room slipped away. I reached down to kiss him-my heart tangled in grief. With all that I had, knowing it would be my last moment with him, I walked away. Paul held my hand and walked beside me. He pushed the button for the heavy mechanical doors to open and then close behind us.

Almost two months had passed, and we’ve remained more than a thousand miles away. He had only been home for a handful of days before being helicoptered back to Tyler. I was home alone on Friday, I had just called to check on him a half hour before, and was excepting a call any moment. When the time came, somehow it was as if I hadn’t prepared at all, as if he’d been stolen without warning

I set my phone down on my kitchen counter, and I turned and searched for a chair in the front room of my home. Full sunlight poured in through the picture windows. I pressed the palm of my hand over my mouth and then my other hand tightly over the first, instinctively as if I felt that all of me might somehow spill out with the crying and the rocking.

“Sorry for your loss.” It’s what we say, and I heard it differently than I ever had before. The word “loss” now weighing on a tender piece of my heart that will never be quite the same.

Sharing the first Paragraph of my book, Embracing Charlie; it seems different now.

I Love you Dad, and I take comfort knowing that you’ve been made whole again, I’m sorry it was such a long road. See you on the flip side.

“Maybe I’m three years old, or perhaps I’m four. I’ve fallen asleep during an evening car ride home, or maybe I gave in to heavy eyelids as I snuggled up watching TV on the living room couch. It’s all the same once I’ve been scooped up. I’m only slightly roused. My body is limp and heavy. I recognize his scent. It’s masculine, but never over-powering. I open my eyes to catch the pattern of his shirt and the soft edge of his collar. Closing my eyes once more, I let my head drape heavily over his shoulder. Part of the magic comes from the sense of floating above the ground. His legs are strong and steady under us. His strength moves us forward. I’m just along for the ride. It’s the safest place in the world, the embrace of my father…”

In Loving Memory ~ Rodney Dwayne Constant, January 17th, 1949 ~ May 18th, 2018

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Pumpkin Spice

59b14a8f42d9c.image Two months have passed, pumpkin spice is everywhere, and just like that, my kids are well into a new school year. All things considered, it turns out, I’m ok. I got this.

It wasn’t pretty there for a moment or two last year, oh the feels… oh the feels of last year…

We said goodbye to our amazing little neighborhood school. We spent ten years there. Ten years of watching our kids grow, ten years of music programs, school picnics and fundraisers. Ten Pumpkin Spice Falls.

A bright early June morning…before the Pumpkin, when it wasn’t pretty…

We pulled away from home, my Charlie and I. It was his last day of fifth grade. I turned onto the school property like I’d done hundreds of times before, only this time it was my last. We made our way up the half circle drive to the top of the hill. The school was built on a former sheep farm. Sheep, like for sheering and making cozy sweaters. It was sunny and bright, with billowy clouds on the horizon, the school on top of a rolling hill. Norman Rockwell rolling hills and the ghosts of wiry sheep-I mean come on-like that helps. *sigh*

I thought I had it. I had given myself a hard core, “don’t be a baby Mindy” pep talk. Just keep your feels shoved in, you got this… I took a deep breath before walking in with Charlie. I needed my “Last Day Picture” with his teacher, and a moment to thank her for a great year. (Truth be told, I needed a moment too.)

Charlie’s teacher wrapped her arms around him warmly, the way you do when you love a child. I took their picture and then confessed to her that this was a hard day for me, being that it was our last day at Shannon Park. She smiled softly at me, and just like that, her eyes overflowed with emotion, escaping softly onto her cheeks. Great… and there goes that pep-talk. There was no way out now…my feels. For just a moment they pressed upon my chest, and then began to fall onto my cheeks. I didn’t have it.

I wasn’t alone in the “bitter sweet end of an era” thing. I’m pretty sure it was a crowded room. You see, it was also the Principle’s last day, which I’m certain accounted for much of the lovely Mrs. Larson’s emotion. Mr. Guthrie, after decades of amazing leadership, was retiring. There had been rumors, the last couple of years, to which I always thought, Please, let it be after Charlie is in middle school.

IMG_2366He knew hundreds of kids by their first names. He stood outside the entrance every morning greeting students as they started their day. If there was rain he stood with a wide umbrella and a smile. If the morning was bitter cold, he rocked a furry Elmer Fudd hat, same big smile. Sometimes, I would stay a moment before pulling away so I could watch Charlie and him chat.

Every year he sang during the Kindergarten music program. I don’t mean he participated, I mean there he was, full production, his signature suit and tie, go big or go home microphone solo.

He listened to concerns, he personally returned emails and phone calls. At the start of every school year he would take time to come into classrooms during orientation. He praised the teachers skill and dedication publicly. I watched him seek out new families in the community, welcoming them to the school.

He allowed students to dunk him in an old-fashion dunk tank during annual school picnics. At the same picnic, microphone in hand, he would personally man the last few moments of the annual silent auction. He’d heckle families in the softest way possible, encouraging them to invest in this school that he loved so much.

Ten years or so ago… (Regressing here, it’s really a piece of cake for cry-baby Mindy.)

I can still see my girl in a sweet short ruffled skirt and soft purple tee. She was five and confidently leading the way through her Kindergarten orientation. Her teacher, Ms. Franzen, seemed lovely. She asked each family to introduce themselves, giving the task to the little ones, if they would be so brave. My Sophie, my oldest, my sweet baby that couldn’t possibly be starting school, introduced us proudly.

Somewhere in the middle of introductions, Mr. Guthrie made his orientation appearance. I’m not sure what I noticed first, his gravely voice, or his beaming persona.

He took command of the room quickly in the most authentic, unassuming way. He welcomed the children first, with his boisterous signature “Well hello Boys and Girls!”. He introduced his “finger wave”, bending his pointer finger up and down. A quick scan of the room, and I noticed that returning families beamed, while these Kindergartners and first time parents, looked at him questionably, suspiciously like, is this guy for real?

Then he turned his attention to the parents, saying, “I know what you’re thinking, how on earth am I going to send my baby off to school, *insert long dramatic pause* we understand how hard it is to let them go, *insert dramatic body language here* But what I promise is that we are going to love your children, we are going to care for them, as if they were our very own. They are in the very best of hands.”

Ten years later, a promise made was a promise kept. They had loved on my kids, they had cared for them, as if they were their very own, they had been in the very best hands.

So that final day, as I walked away from Charlie’s classroom I took the long way out. I passed by the tiny chairs at each computer in the school library. I looked at the little bit of art work that remained hung on the walls. I tried to take in the “smallness” of it all, while recognizing, as hard as it was, that my kids just didn’t fit in those tiny chairs any longer.

I walked out the front doors to find Mr. Guthrie in his normal greeting spot. With children surrounding him, I shamelessly grabbed his attention ahead of the little ones waiting. He wore a multi colored patchwork plaid jacket. Let that just sit with you a moment…multi colored, patchwork, plaid suit jacket. Just like his vocation, the suit jacket was suited perfectly for him. I asked him for a hug, and I thanked him and wished him well. It all seemed silly really. My words, my hug both seemed silly and small.

IMG_1318It was just all so poetic, I think that’s why I was so squishy inside. My little family it seemed had just fallen into this sweet little place in the world, all sheep farm cozy and safe.

Little blessings, they seem to just weave themselves in, right into the tapestry of all the rest. This amazing school, Mr. Guthrie, his jacket, this sweet moment, blessings just woven into the fabric of this simple, beautiful life. Sometimes its just too much. Thank you Jesus for simply too much. 

Here’s to Pumpkin Spice…and the feels. You got this cry-baby Mindy.

Mindy’s book Embracing Charlie was honored with a Finalist Title in the Christian Inspirational Category of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards.

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Jelly Sandals

I wore brightly colored plastic barrettes to pin back my mousy stick straight hair. I loved Michael Jackson, Star Search and The Golden Girls. I wore girly rompers and jelly sandals. I was in awe with Shel Silverstein’s, Where the Sidewalk Ends. Somehow he knew how to use all the best words, and then piece them together. It seemed like magic. I dreamed of becoming a dancer.

I wish I could remember more about her, more about my little third grade self.

imagesWhen my Charlie was in the third grade he brought home a paper with a classmate’s name across the title and his name in the byline. It was an interview he had done with a boy named Carter, it was typed and consisted of about fifteen lines or so. Carter had big plans for himself, and from the sound of it, he was pretty darn happy with his third grade self too. It was pretty impressive. Somewhere In the middle, Charlie snuck in the line, Charlie is awesome, I guess “birds of a feather…”.

I asked Charlie about the assignment. He didn’t know where the paper was with his name in the title. Months later I came across it, crumpled and shoved in the back of a cabinet. Each line was worth the wait.

A few of my favorites…

  • Charlie was born in the…U-S-A.
  • He has lived in the U-S-A his entire life.
  • He likes to ride in his Dad’s 1972 Volkswagen Bug.
  • He does not like homework.
  • He hates tomatoes.
  • He hates potatoes.
  • When he is 25 he will either be a spy or design Matchbox Cars.
  • He is an expert on Volkswagen history and he is really good at kickball.

His assignment stuck with me. It was so authentic and unapologetic. I can’t think of an age when we are more authentic. He was fearfully and wonderfully made. I’ve seen the kid actually gag on potatoes, and he really does know an impressive amount about Volkswagens.

It made me think about what my list might have looked like. What did I think I might become, better yet, what did I expect to become when I was twenty five? …and would that little girl recognize me now?

It seems it doesn’t take long for the world to take hold-for our list to start to look more realistic, more responsible. It doesn’t even take long before we might choke down that potato because we think we’re supposed too.

“I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:14

No worries, I’m not giving up my scrubs for a tutu, Lord knows that would serve no one. But I’ve given some thought to some things I could do. Dance parties. I could easily have more kitchen dance parties. I could also spend more time writing. More time trying to find the right words and piece them together until they seem magical. I think that would make her smile, the little one with hazel eyes and jelly sandals.

cfd90d2dbb5c432aa77097d4e5122ab2-2… and for my own little girl who is now in High School, It’s on my heart to remind her of who she was in the third grade.

Sophia, you were a lover of all things girly. You were both sweet and sassy. You still had that heavenly awareness that we never could make sense of. You spent hours and hours in our basement, “arting”. You left paints, beads, sequins, glitter, permanently and beautifully engrained into the wood tabletop of your workspace. You were, and remain, hopelessly messy.

A bit about your Violin, in case you’ve forgotten. We were at church one Sunday morning, Pastor Sarah had incorporated her Violin into her sermon. When she began to play your precious face lit up with admiration. You turned to your Daddy and whispered in amazement, “I want to do that.” As if there were pieces of you made… fearfully, wonderfully, for the beauty of the wood and bow. The psalmist David, said it beautifully, with all the best words pieced together,  “…And my soul knows it very well.”

I think I could use an episode of The Golden Girls, I miss Rose.

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A Letter for Jacob

Light at Night.I left our porch light on for you last night. You’ve finally made your way home. I walked out onto my driveway before bed. It was a beautiful night-a welcomed hint of  the crispness of Fall. My heart was tender. I looked up and down our street to see other porch lights lit-other homes like mine, where young boys play. You see Jacob, my eleven year old son has the kind of childhood you dream of for your kids. He gets on his bike and sets out to find some kind of neighborhood game anytime he wishes.

Last night he and his older sister watched Mrs. Doubtfire up the street from our house. It was outdoor movie night. Robin Williams in drag up on a big screen, set up between where backyards meet, kids sprawled out on blankets under the stars. I’m told this time there was cake instead of popcorn.

I sent the two of them, eleven and fourteen together, each of them with a cell phone in their pocket and with instructions to walk home together after the movie. It’s the way I parent. I do my best to let them be kids. But if I’m honest, all the while, there remains this tiny bit of fearful unrest knowing that I can’t protect them from all things.

I was fourteen that October you went missing. Your story seemed to captivate the public. We all wanted you to find your way home. For months your disappearance dominated the evening news-leaving your school picture etched forever in my memory. Parents started to parent differently. Gone was the age of “come home for dinner”.  And just as life happens, time just slipped away.  We started to remember your lost smile in years gone by.

Your name, your picture, your amazing mother, the anniversaries, lit porch lights, false leads, all of these sadly seemed to expose that same bit of fearful unrest. That place of fear for the unimaginable, not just for what happened to you Jacob, but for all the worst kinds of evil.

As I share my life with my own eleven year old boy, I know that you were more. You were more than how your life ended, and who you were is what I wondered about as I drifted to sleep.

I spent time this morning reading about your case in my newsfeed. I was hoping to learn more, more about who you were on October 21st, 1989.

This is what I learned; you had a giant smile, you had sandy colored hair and blue eyes, you loved your family, you liked sports and riding your bike, you played the trombone, you were the goalie on your school’s hockey team and you dreamed of becoming a professional football player some day.

These  are the things I’m going to try to think of now when I see your image, either on a screen or in my mind’s eye. The trombone, hockey, and your big smile.

Somehow to say “rest in peace” doesn’t quite seem to fit. The darkness that this life can sometimes bring leads me to concentrate on the next. So Jacob, may you play on and so will we.  We will enjoy neighborhood games, riding bikes, bonfires and movies under the stars. We will play on so that evil doesn’t win.

For your parents, whom have worked tirelessly to bring you home and have worked to be a voice for all missing and exploited children, may God wrap them in His arms. May He overwhelm them with His peace, which surpasses all understanding. May He allow them to feel a glimpse of the fearless place where you play on. Godspeed little man.

Mindy’s book Embracing Charlie was honored with a Finalist Title in the Christian Inspirational Category of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards.

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Some thoughts chase me. Healing, restoration…these have been trailing me lately. Pastor Kris’s recent sermon “Peter Heals” was the catalyst this time. It was beautiful.

During her message she shared how her brother was injured in an auto accident when he was 22 years old. A senior at West Point Academy, Bobby no doubt was a young man with nothing but promise ahead of him. A single moment of time changed the direction of his life, forever. He flew through the windshield of a car. He was left a quadriplegic with significant brain damage. He needed a-round-the clock care for the remaining 26 years of his life.

Kris shared that after his death his caregiver of many years, a deeply spiritual women, called her to tell her that she had a dream the night before. In her dream Bobby was in heaven, and that he had been restored, completely, restored. But the thing that struck her is that he remained in his wheelchair.

Remained in his chair, yet completely, perhaps most importantly, spiritually restored…

Kris shared how she never thought about healing quite the same way again. Maybe I won’t either.

I settled into a yoga class that following Tuesday morning. At the start of class my instructor sat upon her mat, faced her students and asked for Grace. With a heavy sigh she explained that one of her children, a Son who has struggled with drug addiction since his teens, had called her over the weekend asking for help. He was high and combative, and was likely to lose his place to live. In the process of trying to help him, he physically assaulted her.

She was brokenhearted. She shared a bit about her family’s seven year struggle. She asked for prayer.

Upon my mat, staring up at the ceiling I prayed for her family. I prayed for healing, for restoration. I thought about her Son, wondering if he’ll break free from his addiction. I prayed for healing for her brokenness, and for his. I thought about Pastor Kris’s brother Bobby.

Restored in his chair…maybe life altering adversity doesn’t have to cripple our spiritual wholeness.

Pastor Kris suggested that perhaps we assign worldly expectation to what we feel healing should look like, and in doing so maybe we limit God.

And so I’m left with this swirling about…

file000539488754Perhaps healing, the miraculous, crazy crisp, soul cleansing, blanketing kind, the kind that only He can offer, maybe that is best obtained by letting go of our own expectations, remove that which may hinder our renewal, and instead allow Him in. We might never be the same. Maybe we still carry with us the scars of this world. But, He shines them up, restoring us to more than we once were.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 New Living Translation (NLT) 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

Restoration was originally posted for Easter Praise. Mindy’s book Embracing Charlie was honored with a Finalist Title in the Christian Inspirational Category of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards.

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Chocolate Atonement

The one and only time I gave up something for Lent was more than, ahem… a dozen or so years ago.

I wasn’t raised in a Christian home-I was in my twenties and passionately navigating my faith walk. As this particular Lenten season approached, I announced quite stoically to my husband that I would be giving up Chocolate for Lent. It would be my Grand sacrifice for Christ. I give in big ways (sarcasm intended).

Well… it felt like an epic failure-a Dove chocolate dipped creamy vanilla ice-cream kind-of failure to be exact.

file000555426934Jesus spent forty days in the Judaean Desert. Forty. He fasted, like-he didn’t eat anything. Oh, and there was that whole thing with the devil showing up. Scripture says that he was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit-a time of preparation and deep spiritual reflection for what lay before him.

Back to my delicious failure. As it turned out this first sacrificial Lent experience of mine just so happened to line up with my first trip to the Happiest Place on Earth, no not the Coach Outlet Store in Eagan (remember this was 2002) no, The Happiest Place on Earth… DisneyWorld with its shiny castle and perfectly placed billowy clouds.

Our trip to The Magic Kingdom was about ten days before Easter Sunday. Up until that point I held true to my no chocolate vow. More importantly, I understood the value in giving something up. Each time I would normally reach for chocolate, I instead took pause and thought about the incredible, unfathomable, ultimate sacrifice on the cross.

Enter Dove Chocolate… Ugh. It was a short trip, my Hubby and I were there four days. We visited each park, all four of which had those little treat carts every twenty steps or so. The first three days I watched with envy as attendants reached into their portable deep freezers to pull out the Disney Signature Treat-Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream Bar. Imagine a vanilla ice cream bar, on a stick, in the shape of Mickey’s head, and then covered in a thick hardened layer of rich chocolate. Each time I saw one I wrestled with the notion of breaking my Lenten promise.

On our last day, Mickey won… and truthfully it was as good as I had imagined it to be. I am so impossibly human. Jesus in the desert, fasting for forty days, forty.

The beautiful thing is that in Christ each day is new. Jesus, The Son of God, atoned for my sin, he atoned for your sin. His atonement leaves us fresh and clean. Nothing can separate us, not even our perceived failures, chocolate sized or otherwise.

I continue my faith Journey-and these years later I understand more deeply that it will always be just that, a journey. I’ll always be a work in progress, an impossibly human work in progress.

Come Lord Jesus, more of you Lord.  And with that, a beautifully impossibly human  ~  Amen.

Mindy’s book Embracing Charlie was honored with a Finalist Title in the Christian Inspirational Category of the 2014 USA Best Book Awards.

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