Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Hot Flash Flashback

I won't write a lot about this video and simply hope the video speaks for itself. (And that this quirky blogger bug that's been messing with the playing of my videos gets rectified soon.)

I'll simply set it up with this: Two nights ago I awoke with one of my nightly hot flashes at 4:30 a.m. (They are no big deal - nothing that kicking off covers and taking a well-timed walk to the bathroom doesn't cool/cure.) Typically I fall right back to sleep. And I sorta did that on this occasion as well, but not before having the flash of a memory about three mega-monster-mondo hot flashes (or something like them) that I had just prior to learning I was pregnant with Stross. They were so intense and bizarre that I've always remembered the dates they occurred - Aug. 18, Aug. 25, Sept. 14 - sort of keeping those memories like Mary and "pondering them" in my heart.

I wrote about them in Involuntary Joy but felt compelled to tell of them via video as well. I could share even more detail about those dates in 1990, but what I've captured here probably already borders on TMI.

This also is worth saying – not just on the video - but typed here: I've never felt that anything I did caused Stross to be born with birth defects. Sometimes life simply happens. No regrets for me. Only for him - and he continues to live in a state of bliss. He continues to point me to my life's involuntary joys.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dinner and Deep Conversation

One of life's fascinations is how relationships metamorphose with time. That has occurred with our family's relationship with Josh Damm, a man we first knew as the son of our good friends Dave and Sandy Damm.

"Metamorphose" seems like the best word to use, for Josh's life has done more than "evolve" or "transform" in the time we've known him. During the past 16 years, it has changed in colorful ways: It has metamorphosed. But those are his stories to tell. I'm just glad we are privileged to hear the hows and whys of his life experiences, and that he unabashedly fills us in on where he thinks he is headed.

We met Josh when he was 10 years old, and, because of his life choices, he has remained close enough to watch mature – not just through his primary and secondary school years but through his college experience, a brief encounter with law school and the launch of his career. Along the way Josh was a caregiver to our children, a confirmation student, a communications student, a professional colleague and, always, a friend.

This Sunday night Mark and I dined with Josh in his new home. He prepared us a wonderful Italian meal, and we enjoyed wonderful conversation. The only regret I have is this: I spilled not one but two glasses of wine on his cream colored carpet – one white and one red. (Agh! Evidently my bifocals don't do well with dark, nested tables.) Thanks to some wonderful stain remover, the carpet holds no residual hints of my mess.

As Josh says in this vlog, Part 2 of his InJoy Blog (what will be his official alumni vlog) will occur in June after he successfully completes a Half Ironman Triathlon.

Thanks for a wonderful evening, Josh. And forgive me for saying: "When the heck did you grow up?"

God's Divine "Be All You Can Be" Campaign

Third Sunday after Epiphany
- Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
- Psalm 19
- 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
- Luke 4:14-21

"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."

If your house is anything like ours, you probably have at least one thing – or likely even a few things – that are still lying around as remnants of this Christmas past. In our house it’s a basket of Christmas cards (and the basket is still collecting cards!), an ornament that I got this year but forgot to pack with our collection of ornaments from previous years, and a table-top of miniature lighted homes that I can never bear to put away until sometime around the first day of February. Somehow, keeping the lights on in our little snow village helps me feel warmer during these frigid January nights.

I even caught Stross watching a Christmas program on YouTube this week. It seems he has my genetic disposition to hold onto a little piece of Christmas for as long as possible. And, why not? After all, the somber, introspective days of Lent will be upon us soon enough – formally leaving behind all the fun of a baby’s birth and the wonder of a God who loved us enough to share in our human experience.

Beyond the physical trappings of a holiday like Christmas, we carry memories of other special holidays with us in profound ways, don’t we? And we are able to bring back memories through things like a favorite smell (baked bread? vanilla candles? Grandpa’s pipe or Grandma’s cologne?) or by examining a treasured object that we hold in our hand as we attempt to connect with another time and place (a pressed flower … dad’s pocket knife … Grandmother’s favorite earrings … a rock that possibly contains a speck of gold). Or perhaps by closing our eyes as we listen to a song (Amazing Grace? Beautiful Savior? REO Speedwagon’s “I Can’t Fight This Feeling”). Well they don’t all have to be churchy. Special memories are special memories and that song just happens to be the one that was playing 26 years ago in February when I knew my night would end with Mark and I sharing our first kiss. What a great song … What a great memory … *sigh*

It seems there’s something healing about this kind of remembering. At least that’s how I feel when I allow myself to engage in something I’ve come to think of as nostalgia therapy. For me it usually involves grabbing an old family photo album, a childhood scrapbook or a yearbook, and then going someplace where I can quietly sit and linger over the pages as long as I like. I examine the expressions of high school or college classmates, and I study the faces of relatives who – like me – don’t look the same as they used to.

The closest I’ve come to understanding why I do this is that I want to remember. I want to feel what it felt like to be me, back when life was – I don’t know … simpler? Less complicated? More mysterious in a good way? … I’m not sure. But each time my nostalgia therapy reconnects me to God, allowing me to keep moving forward with God but in a new way. That’s what I thought about when I first read today’s scripture from Nehemiah.

We are told that it was the first day of the seventh ecclesiastical year, the New Year’s Day of the Jewish civil year. It was a time of great celebration – and Ezra, a priestly scribe who had led about 5,000 Israelite exiles from Babylon back to Jerusalem, was bestowed with the honor of reading the scripture for the Feast of Trumpets.

It was a high honor, indeed, and this practice had often been neglected during the years the Israelites lived in Babylon, a foreign land. So as Ezra read, we are told they were attentive; they were patient (they stood listening from morning to midday); and that they were overcome with a sense of what they were hearing – so much so that they wept.

They were – once again or maybe for the first time – hearing about a God who loved them. A God who had laid out five full books of law to show just how much God cared for them. And life, it seemed, hadn’t really gone the way this chosen people of God had thought it would.

Still, here they stood – returned from exile and celebrating … remembering … and then weeping …

But the weeping didn’t last for long, for the Levite priests who were assisting Erza that day comforted them with these words: “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.”

And so all the people “went their way to eat and drink and to send portions” to those who had nothing “and to make great rejoicing” because they had understood.

So, what exactly had they understood? Why were they able to go on their way renewed?

I don’t think it was just the food and beverage.

I think they got revived through an ancient version of my 21st century nostalgia therapy. I think these people of God – recently returned from exile in a foreign land – were reminded of the special place they held as God’s chosen people. And then they got back to the business of being just that: God’s people, living in community with one another and taking care of those (how did the verse say it?) “for whom nothing had been prepared.”

Everybody it seemed was to be part of the party.

It’s not all that different from what we hear being described in today’s New Testament lesson from the book of 1st Corinthians, is it? Paul’s letter is to a group of people – new followers of Christ – who are attempting to live in community, in a new way. As chapter 12 begins, we hear Paul reminding them that they are no longer a pagan people prone to worship idols. They are a spiritual people of God equipped with a variety of spiritual gifts – no gift more important or special than another. In fact, Paul stresses that God needs all gifts to work together in order for this church to work for God’s glory.

Paul seems to really like this metaphor of the body, for he uses it more than once. He also lists types of spiritual gifts in more than one of his letters to the early churches. But it is difficult to recognize a metaphor in action – to see the words leap off the paper and come to life as something bigger than the literal translation.

And if we get too literal about a metaphor, we might get tripped up. For example, what is someone like me, who has a child born with birth defects, to think when I read: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” Paul could also have asked: “If the whole body were arms, where would the feet be?” And had he written that I would not want my child to feel less simply because his non-functional legs might be considered less by some. After all, in Paul’s day, those who were born malformed or became malformed were considered unclean and not worthy of entrance to the temple. Fortunately, Paul takes great pains to stress that the value of the body lies in way the individual members are able to work together, and he stresses that “the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.” Amen and amen.

No matter who we are or how we identify with Paul’s metaphor, we can envision a physical body – eye, ear, hand, foot, heart and more – all working together. That’s easy. But envisioning the body of Christ functioning together – what does that look like? I mean, really?

Maybe we get stuck wanting to know which part of the body we are? For instance, wouldn’t you love it if we had a special day each year where we all got together and someone walked by us saying something like: “Joy, you have the gift of (fill in the blank). Now, here is your special nametag. Please wear this so we all know that you are the appendix.”

What!?! The appendix?

I’m not sure I like being the appendix. Would you? An appendix is something modern science has basically found a bit unnecessary. I would like to be something a bit more flashy … a bit more important, wouldn’t you? … Or maybe you wouldn’t … Maybe you want to be one of the hidden parts of the body Paul talked about. Or maybe something visible but considered by the unknowing as lessor.

Does it matter? You know, I don’t really think it does, and I think that was Paul’s point. It does not matter what part of the body you are. It just matters that you realize you are part of the body – and an important one and needed one at that.

I think we do understand we are part of something bigger than ourselves – but I’m not sure we always like it … or maybe we’re just not sure what to do about it.

Let’s see: What are the spiritual gifts Paul lists in this passage? Wisdom … knowledge … faith … healing … working of miracles … prophecy … discernment of spirits … speaking in tongues … interpretation of tongues … It can be pretty easy to look at that list and strike several off outright, can’t it? Healing? … me? No way … Prophecy?… yeah, right … Speaking in tongues? … umm … pretty sure not … no, not that one. …
Are you crazy …?

In fact, I remember being in fifth grade and hearing this very scripture read at my church. Oh, it caused me such an overwhelming sense of dread. I heard Paul’s words telling me that each one of us is given gifts for the manifestation of the common good. Based on the list I heard, I didn’t want those gifts. I mean really. How could you go about your daily life performing miracles, prophesying and speaking in tongues without being labeled an absolute freak?

As I sat in the pew that day, I envisioned God reaching down through the vaulted sanctuary ceiling and laying an invisible hand on me that would cause me to involuntarily rise to my feet and begin speaking in tongues – right there in the United Methodist Church of West Union, Iowa. So I did what any self-respecting, God-fearing fifth grader would do. I began to pray: “Dear God, please don’t bless me. Please don’t bless me. You can give me some gifts. But not that one God. Please, please. Dear. God. Please not that one… and not some of the other ones either. I think I’d rather not be a gifted child of God. It seems a bit scary.”

And, you know what? God must have answered my prayer. Well, at least I’ve not ever involuntarily risen to my feet in church to begin speaking in tongues. Must not be how God works.

Seriously, I think I felt in fifth grade what each of us feels at some point in our lives: a fear of what could happen if we fully gave ourselves to God’s work here on earth.
One of my favorite quotes – sometimes mistakenly attributed to Nelson Mandela – is by an author named Marianne Williamson. She wrote:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us – it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Do you hear that? Marianne, the apostle Paul and God all agree. You are incredibly gifted.

What’s more. You need to be who you are as a child of God so that others can be who they are. Each one of us is part of the larger whole. This is HUGE! For my life will be less if you aren’t living as the incredible child of God you were created to be and yours will be less if I’m not living that way as well. Think of it as God’s Divine “Be All You Can Be Campaign.”
You are gifted.
• You don’t need it plastered on a nametag or feared as some supernatural force. You just are.
• And your giftedness is equally important as the giftedness of the person to your left … to your right … in front of you … behind you… walking across the parking lot across the street right now … strolling through Dollar General right now or pushing a cart down the aisles of Bill’s Family Foods or Forest City Foods.
• You are part of the body and belong to a God who will not let you go.

Will you remember this?

You know those ornaments and cards and albums I spoke of earlier? They are tangible reminders for me of moments that hold great meaning. Things I can see that help me connect to things I can’t see anymore.

This is the season of Epiphany – the celebration of God manifested in the person of Jesus Christ – a tangible expression of God’s love for you.

A God who brings good news to the poor … releases captives … gives sight to those who can’t see … and sets oppressed people free.

And you know what? That stuff is happening every day on this kingdom come to earth. This year – this brand new year of 2010 – is the year of the Lord. And you’ll find the Lord busier than ever:
• digging through rubble to lift people to safety,
• picking up a scared child to whisper reassuring words,
• packing food into a box and helping a family carry it to their car,
• clearing a driveway of snow so a woman can drive to work,
• smiling at a guy in line who looks like he could use a smile,
• handing a quarter to a girl at a checkout counter because hers fell behind some shelving,
• saying he’s sorry to his friend because he knows the words hurt,
• mailing a card with a check tucked inside so someone's month will end a little easier.
The list could go on and on and on … and you know why … I know you do: because the members of the body of Christ are equipped with spiritual gifts – each one important – each one necessary – each one needed.

And we are a busy bunch.

Child of God … I am so grateful to be part of the body with you.

You know the story of Christmas. You know the story of Easter. May you also know what it means for a risen Christ to be made manifest in your life – to live and walk and laugh and work and cry and smile with you, with us.

Immanuel, God with us.

Immanuel, may we always remember what it means to serve a God who loved us enough to become one of us – who continues to be with us – and who makes certain that we are never alone.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hemmed In and Invincible

Many Bible passages have a special meaning to me. I’m sure you may be able to say the same. You have likely read or heard a piece of scripture at a certain time in your life when the moment connected deeply – and now you always remember the special significance of that passage. Even though I have ascribed personal meaning to quite a few passages myself only one Bible passage holds this particular distinction: I can remember specific details about where I was when the words grabbed me in an intense, personal way. It was Tuesday, Jan. 12, 1982, and the passage was the 139th chapter of Psalms.

I hope you won’t be disappointed to learn that I wasn’t in need of a dramatic intervention at the time. Or, that there was nothing life-threatening occurring or no situation where I needed to be supplied with dynamic words to share for a specific situation.

I was simply sitting on a twin-sized bed in the home of my host family in Owatonna, Iowa, reflecting on my day.

You see, I had arrived in the city the previous day at about 4 p.m. to join 19 other young women from across the state of Iowa – all seniors in high school – who were competing in the Iowa Junior Miss program. Seventeen of them had arrived at various times that Sunday morning, and two on Sunday afternoon – one who had even arrived by snowmobile. I, who lived four hours north, had been delayed nearly 24-additional hours by a monster blizzard that had closed most major highways in the majority of counties on the eastern part of the state: The Great Blizzard of ’82.

(Hummmmm… a bit like this January it might seem.)

Anyway … I was 48 hours behind them, as all the other young women had already held multiple rehearsals and had gotten a big jump on learning the choreography to the poise and physical fitness routines for the pageant nights.

Now … I think I’d like to pause here a moment to reshape some possible misconceptions. I was in Ottumwa to participate in a scholarship program to earn money for college, not a program that invited others to scrutinize my personal physique – (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the kind of scholarship competitions that require women to walk past judges wearing hardly any fabric) – this just wasn’t one of those deals.

This was a scholarship competition in pageant form with the heaviest scrutiny placed on academic standings and a judge’s interview to learn your personal philosophies and your understanding of current events. The talent portion and other routines were primarily for the show aspect –for the audiences that would be attending at the end of the week. Still, the judges would be watching and scoring those portions, too. I needed to learn the routines as quickly as possible, hoping the others would help me even though we were competitors. I had a lot of catching up to do before the pageant nights on Friday and Saturday.

So on Tuesday night as I sat on the pale, flowered and ruffled twin bed that really belonged to my 7-year-old host sister, I probably was feeling a tad overwhelmed … a little bit lonely … and probably a lotta bit out of my element. But I wasn’t scared. Not at all. My wee-bit-arrogant psyche got energized at times like these – not scared. I wasn’t even apprehensive.

So, what was I?

I was … well … maybe the best word would be: eager. I was eager to see what might be possible.

I wanted to know what was God planning to do with my life, because I was certainly ready! – whatever ready meant.

Now, why did I reach for my Bible that night? To petition God for a good showing later in the week? For a special blessing of success? No. I knew that was a bit silly. Perhaps I grabbed my Bible as a way to quiet for bedtime … or to summon a bit of holiness as I took on the challenges that faced me that week … or maybe it was simply to curb my loneliness. Whatever the reason, that night as I read the words of David, the psalmist king, I felt as if God had asked David write the words so they might speak to me in that moment.

“You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You discern my thoughts from far away. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.”

Right there: Those were the words that shot into my core and then suspended my thoughts in time – a moment that I continue to hold close. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.”

How incredible … How purely horrifying. How … well … How: Wow!

And how – ultimately – reassuring.

I don’t know about you. But I’m compulsively candid and sometimes – many times – I say things before thinking about the consequences. I did it in 1982. I do it today. With Facebook, I’m even likely to type things without thinking.

Even when I try not to, I do it anyway. (Paul wrote a great passage about such a problem, but I’ll save that for another time.)

In this passage, David let me know that before a word as on my tongue, God knew it completely. Therefore, despite my human malfunctions, I could be confident God knew my Spirit in spite of my misspeaks and misdeeds. Yet, the words David wrote in the 139th Psalm don’t speak of predestination or forethought – they speak of David’s awareness that God knew him intimately. Verses later we learn that David has enemies – people who had accused him of things. David was being wrongly accused of something – and through the words he pored out in this Psalm, it’s clear David took comfort in the fact that God knew better.

God – David tells – us was acquainted with all David’s ways. And David was so confident that God was pleased with him, he invited God to “search him” and “know his heart” to “test” him and “know his thoughts.” David – we can tell – feels up to the challenge of living as God’s child because he knows God will always be with him.


Sitting on that bed in Ottumwa that January night, I knew God was well acquainted with me too. I knew I could withstand unforeseen challenges – even when I felt out of my element – because I had God as my constant - intimate - life companion.

The divine closeness I felt in that moment was too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain and too vast for me to out flee – not that I wanted to, mind you. I simply felt fantastic knowing I couldn’t escape God if I tried. That sort of relationship can make you invincible. It might even help you lead a nation as one of the most notable kings in history despite your human failings. Surely it could even help a 17-year-old girl learn choreography quickly and make new friends even quicker.

I was tempted to not tell you now I did that week, because it really doesn’t matter. I’d already gained something extremely important that Tuesday night. I did, however, finish as one of the judges' top finalists (2nd runner up) and was voted by the other young women to receive their top Junior Miss honor – the "Spirit of Junior Miss." As you can imagine, that award meant far more to me than anything the judge's presented that night. Perhaps even more interesting: One of the judges that year happened to be the president of Wartburg College (Dr. Robert Vogel) and the scholarships I earned that night helped me pay for the four years I spent on that campus – four wonderful years that have shaped the rest of my life.

Perhaps you can identify with feeling an affinity for such place of learning.

At a minimum I hope you connect with this: the Creator God who formed you in your mothers’ womb continues to hem you in behind and before – don’t try to understand it for its knowledge is too high to attain. And, I guess you can try to flee such a relationship, but know that it won’t work.

God’s hand is holding you fast.

And tonight as you are preparing to lie down for the night, take a moment to sit on your bed and think of God. See if you can’t think a thought that God doesn’t already know as it’s forming in the depths of your being. See if you can imagine a place God won’t already be… I don’t believe it’s possible.

You – fearful and wonderful child of God – Go in peace to love and serve God. You are invincible. Amen.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tomorrow, I Begin

I've started to think of tomorrow as the first day of the next leg of my ongoing journey toward self-actualization. You see, I'm starting a course of studies that should lead to a master's degree as a professional educator. I only say "should" to incubate myself should plans go awry. (See, the word "should" again.) That strategy won't work, of course. Still, saying "should" seems to frame my thoughts better than if I'm claiming a foregone conclusion.

Make no mistake. I intend for the course of study I'm embarking on to lead to a master's degree, yet I'm not fully sure what the degree itself will lead to. I hope it leads to a greater understanding of what I'd like to be when I grow up and then the fulfillment of that discovery. It's my seemingly endless search for the answer to: "Who am I now?"

I also hope I continue to find time to blog/vlog in the coming months. Part of who I am seems to be a compulsive sharer of thoughts about everyday life – a life that's lived in a constant struggle for balance, just like everyone else. I was reminded of that on Friday when I was the guest speaker in a college wellness class. My charge was to share what it's like for a family's life to be shaped by the demands of a person with special needs. To make my contributions as relevant as possible, I shaped my discussion using the same seven components of wellness that the students learn about in their academic degree program: intellectual, emotional, spiritual, social, occupational, physical, environmental.

You'll have to watch the vlog to see what question made me cry in class. (Don't worry, I'd warned them it could happen. A tear alert is included in the disclaimers I offer at the start of any speaking engagement.)

The experience reminded me of how challenging (but necessary!) it is to live a balanced life and how the challenge will be exponentially harder in my new version of normal. Tonight's vlog is about those conflicting feelings. As I watched it during editing, I sensed my anxiety mingled with excitement - probably a good balance to have as I prepare for what will start tomorrow.

Not my best conclusion to a blog, but I need to quit writing so I can get to bed. I need a good night's sleep to help me find the balance I know I need.

It's after midnight now, anyway. Today has become tomorrow, and so, I begin.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wild Bill (Bill Middeke, that is...), Class of 2000

I'm pleased to offer you yet another in my ongoing series of alumni talk vlogs. (These are soooo fun!) This time it's Bill Middeke.

Bill was known by some as Wild Bill when he walked the hallowed halls of Waldorf College as one of the class of 2000. Today he's an award-winning broadcast journalist who can boast he's earned an Edward R. Murrow Award, a national award given to broadcast news journalists and organizations by the Radio-Television News Directors Association in honor of the revered journalist - noted for honesty and integrity - who is its namesake. (Sorry, probably pushing run-on sentence status, but I'm gonna leave it.)

As for Bill, the "wild" in his nickname had more to do with his college wrestling career than his academic or social endeavors. Today, there's nothing wild about the way this dedicated journalist - now married to a wonderful veterinary assistant named Kari - chooses to spend his afternoon off each week. In fact, I'd describe it as far more extraordinary than wild. You see, for the past six years, Bill has driven to campus from either Des Moines or Minneapolis/St. Paul (and some weeks through crazy Midwest weather) to help Mark bring his broadcast journalism classes to life for the fortunate students enrolled in those extremely hands-on courses.

Bill is currently a photojournalist for KARE 11 (Minneapolis/St. Paul). I leave it to him to fill you in on the high points of his career during the vlog.

Bill, please accept a personal thank you from me for this very unselfish act. You live an example of service to our students. I know that Mark deeply enjoys having you as part of the classroom experience (and as a cohort on his not-so-clandestine trips to Hardees for the famous "Mark's onion burger" lunches).

Hey, former broadcast students, you'll love the opening of this video. I promise. It's one of those rare (ok, not-so-rare) Mark and Joy moments caught on tape.



Sunday, January 10, 2010

More Dot Connecting - and on a Sunday!

It's how my blog works, I guess.

I don't know when I'll be moved to post something, or even what it will be about until something - or really some things - happen and my mind starts ascribing meaning to the individual events as they lead to some bigger picture.

That's what happened today with these events:
• hearing a comment made by a broadcast journalist on a Sunday morning talk show,
• wearing an animal print sweater that Stross gave me for Christmas (chosen, purchased and wrapped himself),
• wearing a bracelet my parents gave me for Christmas (purchased because of a car accident and chosen because it looked like me),
• receiving a comment (compliment?) made by a gentleman who greeted me in church, and
• having a conversation with Skye about such comment and other things it brought to mind.

Do other people connect such dots or is it just me?

I can't seem to help it, and, once again, the assembling of the dots into my personal Rorschach drawing seem to keep me musing about my basic life question: "Who am I now?"

Since that's my question to answer, I'd love to hear what you believe your life question is. And how are you being led to answer it?


Friday, January 8, 2010

A Visit with Alex Duffey

I think I'm up to the fifth in a series of who knows how many alumni vlogs. In the past few months, I've had the privilege of taping interviews with Tali (Salberg) Paulson, Ryan Daniel, Chase Chisholm, Kris Schlieper, and now, Alex Duffey, class of 2008. In today's vlog we touch on (among other things) iMovie, Flip, FinalCut Pro and Portland.

It's always so good to reconnect with men and women who have been former students no matter how many years have passed. And what a great use of technology, huh? As I say in my conversation with Alex, this is part of the future of public relations. Count on it! That's why I'm proud our public relations graduates must take electronic courses to learn the basics. You gotta be an integrated communicator these days. (And probably good to avoid posting words like "gotta.")

I hope the classmates of those I've posted have enjoyed seeing the conversations and hearing what's happening in the lives of those they hung out with in the multimedia lab for ___ (should the word be hours, days, weeks, months, years?). We recorded today's vlog in a local student (and alumni) hot spot. In fact, this fine establishment is celebrating it's 10th anniversary this year. Incredible. I'm confident you'll recognize it.

Please continue to touch base with us when you come to town – or via Facebook, email, occasional cell calls, etc. I know you've probably held onto our numbers; we probably still have you in our phones too. (Well, Mark did terminally drop his phone recently. Not good. So sad.)

Don't be surprised if I try to coax you into a vlog when you're here. Wouldn't it be fun if the number I'm able to record hits triple digits one day? We've had plenty of alumni go through the hallowed halls of Waldorf College to accomplish that. May you know that your greatest passion is fulfilling some of the world's deepest needs.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Kingdom Living

*Find a quiet time, a quiet place for the 7 minutes you'll spend listening to the video. You won't regret it.


I see myself as a dot connector.

It's as if certain moments in life are tabbed as memories worthy of future reference: dots, if you will, that – when linked to events I'm living in current time – help create contours that deepen and enrich my existence.

The moment I realized I was falling in love with Mark is such a dot.

I let him know this way: "I'm in love with your voice."

It was December 1984 during downtime in a Christmas performance of our singing waiters' group – two months before we would dare to share our first kiss. Letting him know I loved his voice seemed a safe start. Loving all of him seemed too scary, too real.

I didn't want to find my life partner yet. Still, I think I knew that I had started to fall in love with a higher percentage of him that what his voice represented. Somehow, his voice was my safe entrance to a relationship that had the potential to last our shared lifetimes.

His voice was most vibrant when singing; what I loved about his singing was the way he interpreted music. For Mark, singing was a full-bodied experience, and if the music had a happy theme, his broad, toothy smile couldn't be contained no matter the complexity of lyrics and rhythm.

But his transparent spirituality is what ultimately captured me, promising to challenge my notion of faith as long as my heart had ears to hear.

Mark's faith was fearless, a youthful arrogance tempered by a willing inquisitiveness. My brain found the mix annoying, even challenging; yet as a matter of the heart, it intoxicated me. I was arrogant; I was inquisitive too.

Imagine my drunken delight upon hearing him sing a song that spoke to my soul's passion: justice for life's least of these, a category of people I knew of intellectually yet kept at an emotional distance.

I liked the idea of the least being greatest among us – of the poor regarded as rich and the downtrodden lifted up. The life I saw laid out before my 20-year-old eyes had me claiming a role as one of the fortunate people who could understand the power of such paradoxes without having to live them. I could, I believed, share their truth without sharing in their heartache. I could be one of the good rich ones, couldn't I, because I already got it.

Less than two years later while listening to Mark sing lyrics about God's kingdom come to earth, I felt ready to assume my adult role with him at my side. We were soul mates bonded by an understanding that our lives were to be used for good. We would marry. We would minister together as we saw need, and surely, we would be rewarded for our efforts.

Imagine my wonder 25 years later upon realizing my life's richest moments have come as one of the least of these – as one who identifies with the poor, the lame, the powerless. A weary woman with an often tired spirit who feels she can do nothing more than profess that God's kingdom truly does exists – not on a mountain, but in the messy, dirty streets.

My life's dots continue to lead me into the murkiness of life – into the kingdom of the streets.

Thank you, Mark, for capturing my heart with your voice, and for continuing to remain fearless even when harboring fears about our future. I promise to keep walking with you down the darkest streets; and as we walk, I can tell you quite a story, and you can sing me quite a song. Let's keep dreaming about tomorrow in the darkness of our nights.

* In memory of our dear friend Beth DeBerg, our first and most fervent accompanist. We miss you, Beth. You've been gone for so long now, but we still remember; we will never forget. Thank you, also, to Ken Medema, for an unbelievably beautiful song. Incredible.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Day for Doctors

We drove to Des Moines on Monday for appointments with two doctors we've known for more than 18 years. In one case it was the last time we'll see that physician, as it's time for Stross to leave her pediatric practice. In the other circumstance, we have reasons to continue being followed by that particular physician regardless of his pediatric specialty. For us, the emphasis is on what he does, not the age range of the patients he usually sees.

Families who have a family member with disabilities know that doctor days are more tolerable if they are approached as a day for adventure. Pleasant moments are found during the car rides, while waiting in lounges or exam rooms, or when enjoying a meal or shopping outing that you claim as a reward for your day.

Because this day had us heading back to the city of Stross' birth, our time felt familiar. We knew the roads to take, the lots to park in, the doors to enter, and the elevators to ride. We even found familiar faces at the registration desks. Of course, the doctors, who have observed our family tackle moments of mundane monotony as well as severe stress, were quite familiar too. In fact, in some highly important ways, they know more about us than our closest friends.

I wish I could capture what it's like to see the city we called home nearly two decades ago through the eyes we claim today. Des Moines still feels like home - but a home we once knew in a land far, far away.

We are back home with a to-do list of follow-up activities related to what happened because of our appointments. Good things will result, but only after lots of details are sorted through, paperwork completed and funding assured. Such is our life now and always will be. And, oh, when you hear me talk about "doing Stross' cares," that's something that occurs every four hours of every day regardless of where we are at the time. As a result, we've gotten pretty good at making sure we are near a bathroom with the appropriate supplies as the four-hour mark hits.

I didn't capture everything about the day we experienced on Monday, but I think you'll get the gist of it.


Monday, January 4, 2010

A Conversation with Kris Schlieper, Class of '99

I'm not sure there is a word for the blessing you experience when a former student comes back to update you on his or her life. "Honored" is perhaps the most comprehensive, for it is indeed an honor to share someone's life - both the accomplishments and the adversities. And I love trying to touch on a portion of all of it, especially discussions about all the murkiness we live through in the middle.

Sunday night we had fun reconnecting with Kris Schlieper, Waldorf College class of 1999, and his wife, Angela. Over the course of five to six hours, we had fun recounting the stuff of life as we've lived it recently: frustrations, sorrows, discoveries, delights, fascinations. All wonderful stuff.

Kris allowed me to capture a bit of our night to share with you (another honor), thinking it will be especially fun to to share it with any former classmates who may check it out. FYI: Kris doubts this will happen, so if you watch this, be sure to post a hello to him in the blog comments.

All the best to you, Mr. Schlieper, as you continue to put that master's degree to work at Microsoft and continue to work toward a doctorate. Just keep on changing the world you encounter for the better.

Life: Sharing it is the best!


Friday, January 1, 2010

With Family on New Year's Eve

No better place to be than with those I love most as one year passes into another.

'Twas a pretty traditional celebration for us this year. Well ... our appetizers are usually a degree fancier – and more plentiful. (O.k, the miniature pigs-in-a-blanket are standard fare.) And with three of the four of us sporting medical instructions to reduce our weight in 2010, perhaps having only two fat-laden delicacies was just right.

A New York City midnight toast using 8 oz. Coke bottles is traditional for our family too. Imagine our angst when we still hadn't located any just days before Christmas. We're grateful to friends who - via Facebook and after my failed attempt to get assistance through Coca Cola's Altanta headquarters - helped some arrive via special delivery. With a day to spare!

We always use the New York City Times Square Celebration to guide our evening's activities with a second toast occurring at midnight central time. However, we have to rely on our own countdown for that one.

Oh, a family game and a family movie are part of the package too. This year it was Beatles Rock Band (sorry, no video of that) and Wayne's World.

As I said in my last blog/vlog: I can't remember beginning a new year with such a long list of unresolved issues: unemployment (me), new employment (me), health coverage (Stross), surgical plans (Stross), KZOW (Mark), Youth Gathering aftermath (our family) and more. Skye seems the only one who can boast a sense of balance right now, for his life truly seems uncomplicated. And as long as Mark and I responsibly work to resolve Stross' and our issues, both our sons will get to remain in an uncomplicated place.

But everything is connected isn't it? Even one issue resolved unsatisfactorily or left unresolved can throw off the others. So, the best strategy appears to be this: maintain an optimistic outlook while diligently giving the best of ourselves to the process of resolution.

Here's to a less complicated year in 2010 - for all of us.

Can you hear the little Coke bottles clinking?

Amen. May it indeed be so!