Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hope Does Not Disappoint - New Year's Eve!

The end of a year invites retrospection, while the beginning of a new one brings introspection, doesn't it?

It's nearly impossible to avoid wondering what might happen in a new year: more good than bad, good tempered by unfathomable bad, or an even mix of life. (Note that I, even as an optimist, cannot bring myself to list an option of only good, believing it an impossibility.)

This year I hope for more highs than what occurred 2009 but to have the highs accented by appropriate times of stress - the kind of stress that helps you appreciate life's moments of bliss and motivates you to keep moving forward – because forward is the only acceptable direction to move, isn't it?

Now for a vlog warning:
I couldn't resist capturing the raw emotion I feel today; I hope I don't regret sharing it with you.

I continue to believe there is value in sharing the perspective of someone living an altered existence: life as the parent of a child living with disabilities. It's not how I am defined (at least I sure hope not), but it's often the most dominant piece of my life's puzzle. I offer today's perspective as a token of solidarity (if you also live such an existence) or as a petition for understanding (if you've ever wondered what it might feel like). I don't think there's a middle position.

As for what you'll see on screen: My sentences are often incomplete. It's pretty much how my thoughts are these days. They are what they are, just as my life today is what it is.

Happy New Year! May you carry hope that does not disappoint into each day of your 2010.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve: Welcome to Our World

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of presenting a program of music for the annual Garner Presbyterian Women's Christmas Dinner, an event that one of the attendees remembers occurring every year since at least the mid-1970s. The night was shaped by a charmingly unsophisticated beauty: a delicious potluck salad supper with a chicken casserole entree; glittering holiday table decor; thematic, hand-crafted table favors; bow-tied male servers; and holiday-attired female party guests connected to each other within three or four degrees of separation. If a woman whose life had only extended into the 1970s had been granted the opportunity to revisit such a night - much like Thornton Wilder's Emily – I believe she would have had a difficult time understanding just how much time had passed on this earth.

In some ways the activities of the evening seemed an intentional preservation of celebrations past. And that night, in addition to enjoying a wonderful, traditional church supper, I relished how the event revived memories of childhood that connected me to what felt like simpler times – shopping festooned downtown streets while Christmas music played on loudspeakers, delighting in the magic of nighttime snow while hurrying from one family-owned store to the next, trusting your mom and dad to take good care of you no matter the driving conditions, and anticipating the joy you believed each carefully chosen gift would bring.

My memories were so easily relieved that night, in part, because of my hostess, a former member of my hometown church who watched me grow up and heard me sing some of my first church solos. That night she had sealed the aura of yesteryear for me by inviting my sister to the event as well. Jill, forever my little sister and only sibling, is the sole person who also knows what it means to be known as "one of the Bowden girls" – something we were called several times that evening, even though neither of us has literally held that status for more than two decades.

Interlocked lives. Powerful impressions. Steadfast faith in a future, fully realized.

As I stood before those women, sharing stories mixed with musical messages, I remembered what it meant to be young and what it meant to grow up. Welcomed back into the wondrous world of my youth, I felt the story of God come to earth once again and witnessed how its power joins lives in a hope that does not disappoint.

Welcome to our world, Messiah. Come into our lives and show us what it means for the kingdom to come to us - Immanuel. Then help us live the message every day. May it indeed be so this Christmas and into the coming year.
*Yes, there is sound in the vlog below, a song even, but not right at the beginning.*


God bless us, every one.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Blizzard a Comin'

Well, the weather's threatening to give the phrase "home for the holidays" a whole new meaning. I need a word for equal parts excitement and anxiety to describe what I'm feeling. My anxiety isn't about the weather, either. It's about the need to reschedule and reorganize because of the weather.

Tonight, I guess I'll attempt to focus on getting our stack of cards ready for mailing. Tomorrow is my new goal. (I obviously missed today.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chase is Home

One of the best aspects of teaching has to be the privilege of watching how a young person's passion carries him (or her) into a rewarding life.

Our family has known Chase Chisholm ever since we moved to town 16 years ago. Chase grew up in Forest City, keeping busy with ability-stretching activities like musicals, cross country, and student council. I had the privilege of being Chase's confirmation teacher during his ninth grade year, a role that gave me insight into his compassionate nature and creative thought process.

I watched him struggle with his decision about where to go to college. He was attracted to Waldorf College's outstanding communications program but itched to bust out of his small hometown to see the world. In fact, he nearly made it into the Paris "Real World" cast - a road not taken that would have surely altered his life in ways that will forever remain unknown. Instead, this Bill's Family Foods grocery checker committed to stay small-town for three years - long enough to earn an accelerated BA (with a summer studying in Europe) - and I'm so glad he did. Both Mark and I thoroughly enjoyed his contributions in our courses and other ways he simply shared life.

Chase left a large imprint on the Waldorf College campus, evident by his selection as the college's President's Award recipient in 2005. Since then he's worked as a graphic artist, a broadcaster, and a waiter in Sioux Falls, S.D.; sang with a Lutheran Youth Encounter team during its appointment to Hong Kong; assisted with the branding of an organization for persons with disabilities; and helped launch a website for a magazine of the ELCA.

In the spring of 2008 our family bid Chase farewell as he prepared to serve two years with the Peace Corps in Georgetown, Guyana, with an assignment to teach technology to students at Open Doors Centre for Persons with Disabilities. Their need and his passion match beautifully, something easily witnessed even half a world away through the wonder of Facebook. His photography and notes about daily life convey the essence of who he is at the core, a man who misses little of life because no detail is deemed insignificant. It's clear that those he teaches eagerly drink the life he pours in large portions.

I've always thought of Chase as a bit of a pied-piper. Everyone who encounters him is attracted to his open, caring spirit and would likely follow him anywhere. You get a strong sense that he can help you find the fun while appreciating everything that might cross your path. So you can imagine our family's joy this afternoon as we got to share life with Chase in person again. Such a privilege. I hope you enjoy a few minutes with us too.

.P.S.- Chase, send me this photo so I can make it bigger!! :-)

Monday, December 14, 2009

How to Know You're Home

It's finals week, and college students are eager to take exams, if for no other reason than to go home. Freshmen may return in January having discovered something a bit surprising–even unsettling. They may discover they now have two homes: one where the people they think of as immediate family reside and one where they live daily with new friends.

I discovered that phenomena sometime during my freshman year at Wartburg College. I felt at home with Mom, Dad and Jill; and I felt equally at home on campus. In fact the closer I got to graduation, my definition of "home" got quite broad–broad enough for me to feel at home with Mark (whom I married five days after earning my college degree) whenever and wherever we were together. In fact, we had no dwelling to share as our own for about the first month of married life. Truly, if we were together, we were home.

I've had few occasions to ponder the meaning of home since. In nearly 24 years of marriage, Mark and I have spent only a few nights apart and only two nights together while apart from our children. On that weekend outing 12 years ago, it took us nearly a day to feel comfortable without Stross or Skye–especially in a location that wasn't our home.

Well, last week I discovered something delightful: Home is also a way of being.

I hope you enjoy listening to what happened when I, a worst-case scenario planner, spent the first overnight of my married life in the home of my childhood without my husband and children along, and how my parents aided my plan to travel to a speaking engagement just after a nighttime snowfall but before a 24-hour blizzard.

Best of luck to all you taking finals. May you fully enjoy every minute back home–wherever that may be and whatever that may mean.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


Stross was born without the ability to feel his feet. Not his toes, pads, heels, ankles - nothing. That's why I'm fascinated that one of his favorite playful things to do with family members - me, Mark, Skye - is to tickle our feet. We often hang out together in our Great Room, watching TV or YouTube videos while attempting to complete household chores. (You can guess which family members are busy with what.)

Here's the scene: While busy with whatever compels us, we remain basically within reach of each other; and if someone has a bare foot close to Stross, he'll reach out at some point to tickle it. He's consistent. He always approaches the foot with a sneaky gesture and a grin of anticipation. Plus - always - his tickling persists with a smiling, sing-song line of questioning: "Does it tickle? Huh? Are you ticklish?"

We always respond "yes." No matter what, and he always chuckles his incredible, deep-bellied Stross chuckle (a borderline laugh), as we smile. No matter what.

Stross might not know what it feels like to have his feet tickled, but we sure know the delight of having him tickle ours.

And based on his visible joy, I think he enjoys the deepest pleasure.

That tickles me beyond what anyone can know.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The December 2009 Blizzard

Let's hope we have only one blizzard of December '09, if for no other reason than to avoid having to know how to name the second one.

There's nothing like a good blizzard, though. Good, for me, means that it occurs at a time when most people will be home safe without a need to travel (i.e., no roads, no airports involved). Good also means our refrigerator is full and that the blizzard has disrupted my workweek - not my weekend. (I guess if someone's job requires him or her to work weekends, a good blizzard would be timed on a Saturday or a Sunday.)

The best part of a blizzard: The universal acceptance that nothing is required of life other than to be. And you get to "be" with those you love most in life - if it is, indeed, a good blizzard according to the criteria above.

This is a good blizzard. Today I'm simply doing whatever I'd like: catching up on grading papers, baking some cookies I promised for upcoming school events, watching my full soap opera for the first time in more than a year, studying for the class I'm taking, and blogging/vlogging. I might even begin writing our annual Christmas card.

And my family is here with me through all of it, grabbing my attention from time to time to listen to a piano lesson, watch a funny YouTube clip, move the laundry around, talk about the holidays and cook.

If you aren't enjoying your own blizzard day today - wherever you are - I hope you get to have something a lot like it very soon.

BTW: Mark did help the neighbor blow out his massive drift. And he and Skye also helped blow out a 10' drift for another neighbor (a widow).

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Hometown Holiday Memories

One of the wonderful parts of parenthood is reliving hometown memories through your children's eyes. Sometimes you get to make new hometown memories while your children are with you.

That's what happened last weekend when we visited the recently built West Union Recreation Center, beautifully decorated for the holiday season. Grandpa and Grandma were along, too. Perhaps we've begun a new tradition on the solid foundation of three generations.

Many blessings to you and yours as you enjoy your family's holiday traditions.


Community Tree Lighting

This week's snow certainly beckons the Christmas season. Following so closely after our community tree lighting ceremony, I don't think anyone in Forest City can deny the yuletide season is here.

Candles, caroling, Christmas tree, a choir - a community event for children of all ages. Our 21st century version of Norman Rockwell Americana.

Blessings to you and yours as you finish a fascinating 2009. May your coming year be full of promise and a hope that will not disappoint.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Farewell Open House

I believe in marking moments that comprise the fullness of life. Always have.

Today I'm grateful for the way my colleagues - especially my friend Heather - helped me mark my most recent tour of service at Waldorf: friends stopping by to share holiday munchies and well-wishes before sending me on my way with a scrapbook full of gratitude.

I learned I wouldn't be moving forward with the college on August 6. That month moved quickly, thanks to the energy of students arriving back on campus and start-of-the-year activities. Basically, I was too busy to contemplate the personal transformation this professional change would bring.

But a week after Labor Day - after my birthday - my emotions began to jumble, threatening to mess with my identity by deflating my sense of self. That's such a "Joy thing." Fortunately I know what to do. I took charge. I looked at the brightly-colored "Happy Birthday from All of Us" balloon that Heather and Molly had given me a week earlier and decided to give myself the same type of uplifting missive whenever my mood decided.

I began to mark time in balloons – my way of keeping my spirits high while the current of engagement shifted from me to others. And it worked. I bought three additional balloons from the bookstore before the month of November began, or about one every two weeks. Each time a new message balloon joined the bouquet (the message was only fully understood by me), either Karla or Terri would re-inflate the others.

I no longer needed my four-balloon bouquet in November. It's how I knew my emotional separation was nearly complete. I threw away the whole deflated bunch as I left for Thanksgiving, five calendar days before I returned for my last day in the office.

I've hardly looked at my "You'll Be Missed" balloon today, but I have read my Ode to Joy scrapbook more than once and enjoyed putting together the few video clips I took for this vlog. I realized that I stopped taking video at some point so I could simply enjoy the day. That's good. That's healthy. Still, I'm glad I have a bit of yesterday's moments captured in time in case I get caught in an emotionally rainy day.

And, Zach, you get your own vlog. Thanks for enjoying my balloons nearly as much as I have these past few months.

P.S. Not enough time has passed for me to adequately describe what those of us who are Waldorf have been living through - actually continue to be living through. Maybe in time. Until then, I've been given the gift of reflection, something that can only happen with time.