Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Bench

As I’m navigating a life without a partner, I’ve discovered that I can venture out without feedback and it’s OK.

We had the blessing of so much time. Often, we’d discuss a scenario of something that might happen in the future. “What will you do?” he would ask. And he’d wait for me to mull and answer. As we were life partners for 40 years, many of my responses would please him. Once in a while, he’d say, “This is what I’d do.” And then he’d follow closely with, “But I won’t be here so do as you want.”

He knew that we had lined up friends who would/do serve as advisers. So far, so good. Mostly our patterns were set and unified. But I’ve stepped out and made some choices that, together, we might not have made. The planet is still spinning.

The only thing Mike asked me to do: when we walked along The Nickle Plate Trail up north, we came to a resting bench, secured in cement. He said he’d like to have one of those in his memory along the trail so walkers and riders could take a break if they needed to.

After the dust settled on his passing, I kept this one request in mind. However, I found it difficult to find someone connected to the trail who could help me with this. When I marked the one-year date of Mike’s passing, I knew I would be relocating to Texas in the fall and I moved his request to the front of my concerns. So in early summer, I asked my sister-in-law, a runner/biker and general all-around community person to guide me. She suggested a name and I contacted that name through a message on Facebook.

I told him that I wanted to place a bench somewhere along the trail and asked him to direct me further.

I heard nothing for several weeks and then the day before I was coming to Kokomo, I contacted him again.  “You may not remember me but….”

His return jumped off the monitor with enthusiasm. “We’ve been working on this and would like to show you what we have in mind.” Plus directions on meeting up at the city building.  This gentleman is a trail guy; he also knew Mike having met him at The Huddle. He had taken my initial request and met with the city engineering department.

In the months since Mike and I first discussed a bench, the City of Kokomo has undergone a renaissance in the downtown area; this includes the extension of the trails right past the west of the courthouse. Would I like a bench there? Wow.

I smile as I sit here, far away, with the photos: the city has installed a really nice bench along with a plaque right near were Mike practiced law.

I can see his face, nodding and smiling, at how this turned out. Thanks Charley, Terrance, and crew.

Friday, October 3, 2014


I have reasons to spend some time in south Texas. I will miss much of Midwestern autumn, certainly my favorite season. I will miss much of Midwestern winter, not even in the running for favorite season. I’ve been that Midwesterner: the one who says he/she loves the change of season. We even say that as we stand mid-waist in snow drifts, trudging out to the frozen automobile, hopeful that we can escape to a mall, cinema, grocery. Hopeful that the engine turns over after a night out in the garage.

Nope, I’ve heard that in San Antonio, once in a great while, they get a layer of ice on roadways and close down the city:  I’m ready for that. The other day, the temperature dipped into the 60’s. The high 60’s. I slipped on my UGGs and was quite the item wherever I went. “Where did you get those boots? I need those boots.”

So, when you come for a visit, of course we’ll drive downtown to see The Alamo and to stroll along The Riverwalk, both right in the center. San Antonio has, in the verbiage of planning commissions, “exploited their major waterway” for economic gain. It seems that everybody has heard of San Antonio’s Riverwalk. Any and all visitors make sure they have walked along the concrete banks, lined with restaurants, shops and hotels. There’s always live music as you move past other attractions. It’s fun. It’s beautiful. It’s A Place To Be.

As for The Alamo. We’ve all seen iconic images of this famous fortress. When you stroll by, well, you’ll share the communal reaction: That’s IT??? Well, yes. It strikes you as odd that it’s RIGHT THERE, snuggled between parking lots, shops, and hotels. The city grew up around it.

It’s worth the trip and it’s worth the time to enter and explore. It’s just that your first reaction is that, well, yes there it is, right there.

Downtown San Antonio is gorgeous. Park like. Walking trails. Bike sharing stations. Trees and benches. A great place to stop. Nearby you find museums, art galleries, concert stages and live theater venues. And I’m not even a native. I have much to learn.

And then there’s the rest of this place which continues to amaze these Midwestern eyes.

If you look at San Antonio on a map, the roadways resemble a wagon wheel. The rim is 1604, which circles the city.  (Using a different word picture…a clock…I live at about 1:30, inside the rim.) My daily trek involves a 5 mile stretch along Texas 78, a 4 lane highway with a 5th inside lane, a double yellow on both sides. It’s a curious path, heavily trafficked. Weekly, I maneuver around a fender bender along this route, nothing bloody or airbag deployable, but oh so often.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far: you don’t need to pass any sort of Driver’s Ed. to get an operator’s license in south Texas. That explains a lot. All too often, someone on the other side of that double yellow will decide he must turn left and cross two lanes of traffic and he will DO IT. No warning, no measure of oncoming traffic. He will JUST TURN in front of traffic. One must just be aware of him. He’s often driving an enormous truck, confident, I believe, in the fact that in a collision, he will win.

I am happily driving in the Granny Lane, keeping myself under the non-posted, ever changing speed limit; yesterday, he honked angrily at me as I did not see him and so almost didn’t yield. Amazing, isn’t it, that a honk can express emotion? I get several of these a week, even as I am following driving rules like a monk.

As for the speed limit: long-time readers will understand that I have been speed challenged in a former life. I try to be vigilant in obeying speed limits. Along Texas 78, these change and are not posted. I’m not kidding. It’s 50 and then it’s 30, and then 50 again until it’s 45. My little GPS flashes RED when I exceed the limit….Ms. Garmin knows how fast I can drive, even as Texas tries to keep it a secret.

Then there is that curious double yellow lane. What exactly is its purpose? Some people use it for merging. Some people drive ½ mile or more within its confines. Every once in a while, there are painted turning arrows that…guess what... point you to no place to turn. AND, way too often, there are pedestrians that seem to be just hanging out.

I pulled over next to a traffic officer the other day to ask him. He was vague at best. “Can you just drive along in that lane?” I asked.  “We discourage it but it’s not against the law.”  Oh. “What about the pedestrians?” “THAT’S against the law but we don’t ticket pedestrians.” HMM.

I have ventured out into the lane, trying to merge, as I’ve witnessed others doing. Last time, I got another of those angry honks coupled with the driver taking his hands off his steering wheel and giving me the double palms up, like ‘what are you doing???’  (Did you think he was going to flip me off? Nope, Texas. They may drive like maniacs but there’s a modicum of southern manners, even on the road.)

You also have to watch out for semis. The other day, during the going-home-crazy-traffic, I came upon a truck in my Granny Lane, with his flashers on. It slowed traffic and I couldn’t seem to pass him. Then, I saw him get out, walk into a Taco Bell and come back out with a sack o something. Amazing. At least he had called ahead.

There are some colorful road names that, if streets could tell tales, might have something to say:  Gibbs Sprawl, Showdown, Stubb Pass, and Spit.

I’ve been told that San Antonio’s growth exploded without time or concern for any sort of planning. Try to find a Post Office. They are tucked away in curious corners. The one nearest to me is nestled in a residential neighborhood, without extra parking or even some semblance that it’s not just a house. There’s a flag and a sign but you could miss it. Another one is near a high school. There’s a green sign with an arrow but if you turn there, you’re in a gas station parking lot with no side street. You have to turn at the high school, drive 50 feet, turn in the general direction that the sign would suggest and then there’s a flag and the building.

Also, it’s not uncommon to be driving along a residential street when BOOM, one house is a BBQ restaurant with, again, no extra parking. But there’s fragrant smoke seeping out of the roof, IF the place it open. Some of these are open sometimes.

I’m not quite a resident but I can now get around without Ms. Garmin’s aid most of the time, and it’s a lovely place. Amazing to me is that after a week of 100+ temperatures, we get a reprieve of high 80’s and it’s so refreshing. Unlike my other home, where on a hot day, the day starts hot and stays that way, down here the days begin more temperature and then creep up up up into the afternoon.

I’ve yet to see a scorpion or snake although they are out there, lurking. We DO have those lovely reminders that this is NOT Heaven: the fire ants.  We kill ‘em.

So, yes. Come. Or just freeze up there and envy us.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Adventure Begins

My mission to San Antonio is covert: am not at liberty to discuss in it this public venue. Suffice it to say that I am on an adventure, the next chapter I had asked God to open.  Exciting and new.

I AM at liberty to discuss my relocation to this southern city. We took to the road, Ivy and I, a week ago. We’ve done this drive before. Our preferred route, via interstate highways, takes us to Lonoke, Arkansas on the first day. That little city is about 20 miles east of Little Rock and is just over half way to the final destination. Right as you turn off, there are 4 nice dog-friendly hotels that serve a warm breakfast to its human guests so, as in the past, we planned to arrive before dark, get a good night’s sleep, rise and eat, and then hit the road again.

That part went by flawlessly…even in Illinois, the driver did not get stopped for speeding. When we commenced on day two, after I had filled up my tank, I started to click away on Ms. Garmin, GPS, when she began to flash something. What? I don’t know what. I had on sunglasses, not readers. I could make out a middle area that might have said CANCEL. Not sure. But after several punches, she settled down to show my route back on to the interstate so we were off.

STILL not positive what the GPS was saying but I am pretty sure she asked me if I’d prefer to avoid interstates and instead travel on picturesque little roads that wound through east Texas. I believe I nodded that message to Ms. Garmin as electronics are only as smart as those who operate them. And that was my second day drive. As I did not have any other map (!), I didn’t think it wise to freelance. There’s a lot of open space down in Texas. Plus snakes and scorpions if you get lost and venture on foot. I knew that Ms. Garmin had the final address and she also told me when I’d arrive, which was acceptable so I obeyed her as we traveled through Tyler, Plano, and quite a few ‘population 900’ little towns. At one point, I was on the NORTHERN LOOP….Houston? Dallas? Sumpin else?  Don’t know but stayed the course.

I discovered The Texas Pass, a neat little habit down here when you’re driving on 2 lane roads, as I was most of the day. Every so often, a right lane appears and slower vehicles --- trucks and such --- pull to the right, not slowing down, so you can pass. We could use that in Indiana during planting/harvesting seasons.

I discovered lot of traffic lights and when stopped, I could see that many pedestrians wear their weapons on their belts.

When I stopped for gas, I got Yes ma’amed a lot; in the adjacent convenience store, there it was, the 20 foot trough filled with ice and beer, the bottle tops just barely showing. It’s a common sight as you travel into Texas.

And for my long-time readers, I DID get stopped for speeding. He clocked me at 73 in a 70.  Yeah. I think he wanted to check out my car. He certainly wanted a closer look at my license plate. “What state is that from, Ma’am?” (Got a Warning)

Oh, and in fairness to the driver, the speed limits change often and not just in and out of small towns. And the posting signs are few and far between. Further south, you can opt for a toll road and cruise along at 85. I paid that toll.

We arrived, tired and hot, and were greeted by all sorts of special folks. Then a quick night’s sleep and on to the adventure.

I know I said this to several friends: I felt a bit uneasy, uprooting from my cottage for an indeterminate time period. I tried to pack up all that I would need; I had arranged a backup doctor, dentist, hair person, and car repair shop, trying to prepare for all necessities. But I couldn’t really place this nagging feeling until I recognized it from a past time.

When my dad dropped me off at Wheaton College in the fall 0f 1969 (!), he drove away and as I turned to enter my dorm, I realized that for the first time in my life, I was alone. I knew no one. I had no refuge, no friendly face to greet me. It was uncomfortable and it didn’t last: I’ve never been accused of being shy. However, it WAS a new emotion. I felt much the same way as I drove to south Texas.

I have family here but no other acquaintances, certainly no friends. So what? Well, here’s something I discovered this summer. I had spent my entire life, that brief Wheaton moment to the contrary, surrounded by friends. I could find someone to talk to, ride bikes with, walk the path toward, always someone. And I have friends in Winona but what I lacked and knew that I missed: my Christian sisters with whom I could pray and talk and share and learn. Such a simply thing and oh so sweet. A few days before I left Indiana, I was pulling out of my driveway when next door, three young ladies were saying their goodbyes. They formed a circle, held hands and prayed. It surprised me how it made my heart ache. I was tempted to stop the car, get out and join them. Yes, I know it would have been OK, but although I was/am a sister, I was/am a stranger: these were intimate Christian friends.

Philippians 4:19  “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus,” I know this is true. Right now, my needs involve spiritual nurture. I purposed to find a church. It made sense.

San Antonio is flush with churches. Like so many other things in Texas, most are huge. And though I’m not intimidated by bigness, I wanted…needed…to find one close enough to me that would begin to nurture my heart. I prayed about it and I tell about it here because I know that there are plenty of friends who pray for me.

On Thursday, walking 5 doors down to my place, I saw a man scrubbing an RV. I introduced myself to Frank and his wife Lynn. A quick conversation and I learned that he was newly retired from the chaplain corps so I asked him where they went to church. Smiling, they handed me a card with their churches services. On Sunday, I attended and learned about how we should test the veracity of scripture. I was reminded that the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed a document from 900 AD with 95% accuracy….the 5% involved spelling and punctuation.  Even back then!

Long story short: God has led me to a church. And soon, a new Christian family.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Party on the Island 2014

5 years ago, my friends on Winona Lake gathered at our cottage. We celebrated my husband's birthday.

Earlier in the year, doctors had offered us no hope that Mike would still be around at the end of summer. But God showed up with His miracle moves and we had that party. It was glorious but tinged with a bittersweet scent. We certainly believed that this would be Mike's last party.

But no. 2010 and 2011: each lake season ended with a birthday celebration. And then, in 2012, Mike's long time buddy and his ever-energetic wife offered to move the party outside and open it to any and all who showed up.

So, in 2012, we roasted a hog and invited the town. People just kept coming, everybody pitching in some goodies, and the party grew.

Last year, the 2nd Annual Island Party was even bigger and much more fun, even as Mike did not get to attend. We DID send some Sky Lanterns into the darkening sky, in case he was checking in.

Out my window, right now, there's a big barrel in which some pork is roasting. Soon, a team of ladies will gather around my dining room table and begin to pull the pork and place it in trays. There will be a kettle of sauce simmering on the stove.

The band will set up by 6 and the party will commence. I get to spend one more night with my special friends here at the lake.

Tomorrow I head out for a 2 day drive to my next adventure. But for tonight, the party is ON!

Monday, August 11, 2014

The FIVE --- not the TV Show

My home church began a project at the start of this year. B  L  E  S  S, each letter a prompt for some intentional living. I was in the service but I was not paying enough attention. I drifted after B which is  BEGIN THE DAY WITH PRAYER. No matter what else we should do, that’s got to be a great way to start the day. 

So I purposed to do just that, each and every day. And because I need a little structure (note: not ‘little structure’), I chose to make a mental list of 5 things I would mention to the Creator of the Universe. I also decided that, this time, I would present my list without my suggestions as to how He could meet those needs and requests.

Among the life lessons I’ve been filing: God has a much bigger imagination than I have. I think I know how things are going and how things should go and how things will go, as what makes sense to me. And time after time, He blows me away with something completely different. And so much better.  In fact, pretty close to perfect.  Yeah...well...perfect.

So my daily discipline is to roll over, one stretch, and then my  BEGIN. First and foremost, it connects me with my Father. We know that He delights in our prayers so I’m all about delighting Him. And from my church background, I know I can be as casual and conversational as I choose. “Hi, God. Good morning and here’s what I want to bring before you….”

For all of you who are champions of faith, for all of you who have already discovered this, please enjoy and be refreshed that God’s lessons can be learned at a later date, far down the road of life.
I’ve seen answers. I’ve seen miracles. I’ve had my metaphoric socks blown off my metaphorically sock-clad tootsies. A recap:

Three of God’s children who were looking for a job:  JOBS

Two of God’s children who needed a house and who had hit the wall multiple times with offers lost:  HOUSES

Several of God’s children who were stressing over a test in a difficult course: tests NAILED! (When they asked for prayer, understanding that I’m a teacher and all, they promised that they were doing their part)

Several of God’s children, facing hard life choices, sought clarity.  God supplied.

Several of God’s children, walking the path to the cemetery, asked for comfort. I don’t even need a report on this one: God supplies.

Plus, there are some long-term requests that He's taking His time to address. In His time.

I can testify: this is a great way to build up your faith and to remind you that God IS the one who sees the big picture.

No coincidence: God led me to Psalm 37 yesterday. As Mike was winding down, the one thing he really wanted was to finish his semester at IVY Tech. He lived to meet that goal.

PSALM 37: 3-5

3 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. 4 Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. 5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:

Thank you, Father for this. And for all answers to prayer.  Including those whose answer is WAIT or  NO, TRUST ME.  

I've grown a little protective of my FIVE. It seems that each time one request gets scratched off the list, another surfaces. If not, I can always insert my own needs but I prefer praying for others.

BTW:  somebody got a job....there's a vacancy on The FIVE.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

King David and the Tomato

This morning’s sermon took 2 Samuel 12 as its text. Here is reported the climactic scene in the story of David and Bathsheba. King David had taken another man’s wife into his bed. This man was the King’s champion, serving on the battlefield. Bathsheba became pregnant, the king tried to cover, the plan failed. So, David sent a note to the front, carried by his champion, that this soldier should be placed in the thick of the battle, assuming he would be killed. Assumption correct. David married the widow and the baby was born.

And David went on kinging and all. Yeah, he was God’s man and yeah, this was messy, even sinful, but now it was over and on we go. Except that’s not the way God works and so the prophet Nathan was tasked with the job of calling out the King. That had to be an interesting exchange between the Almighty and His human voice. You want me to do WHAT??? The prophet had to know that with one flick of his wrist, David could call for his death.

Nathan showed up and told David about a guy in the kingdom who had killed his neighbor’s pet ewe for a party dinner instead of taking one of his own...and he had a bunch. David seethed, but not for long. He proclaimed that this sheep killer should die. And then Nathan made the metaphoric leap:  You are that man.

BAM! David heard the word and felt the judgment. David sought forgiveness and Nathan kept his head. However, and this was the point, David’s sin, though forgiven, still carried penalties. In this case, Nathan told him that the child would die; and there were a few more consequences that, if you believe in biblical history, affected the nation of Israel to the present day.

And then after church, several congregants gathered around a kitchen table and held discussions about guilt and forgiveness in today’s world. One erudite observer opined that it seems that the uttering of “I’m sorry” is seen as a wipe-the-slate kind of thing. Like there should be no consequences. If parental/school/employment punishment is advanced, the rule breaker will whine “But I SAID I was sorry.” Like that should erase any consequences for bad actions. We discussed how things were when “we” were little and how nobody worried about our self-esteem when we screwed up. We also, all of us, have vivid memories of choosing badly, experiencing the consequences and then never repeating the wrong. Folks used to call that good learning.

So, feeling a bit smug…those Things Were Different/Better discussions will do that…I place my hand around a perfect, round tomato on the table. 

Big Eyes: WHERE did you GET that???

Well, as I was strolling through the neighbor’s garden, I spied this beauty, deep, deep, deep inside the tomato plants. Plural as in dozens. You almost couldn’t see it as it was hidden by the lush greenery. But I spied it, slid my hand into the bush and plucked it. It took no effort. It was ready to fall. And this is a friend’s garden. I just figured No Big Deal.
However, apparently at least one at our confab had suffered some distress when she plucked a similar fruit. She had been told she was NOT to do that. “But, it’s ok that you did. In fact, it’s a relief,” she said.

Ok. I don’t know what all that drama was about but I guess it’s purloined spoils but  it’s not like you can put it back.  I also knew that 1) there are so many, so so many tomatoes ready and more coming and 2) it’s not like I was stealing: I’ve been given carte blanche in the same garden for raspberries and blackberries. Although another sermon note is that when we sin or screw up (whatever term you choose), we look for ways to justify what we have done so this is my illustration of that very good point. 

I guess I could apologize but, honestly, it would be insincere.
All of this gave me pause until I walked home, sliced up that beauty and lay it across green beans from some else’s garden. I had a very good lunch. And then, I remembered a poem, which embraces in the taking of fruit, and fake regret.

This Is Just to Say
by William Carlos Williams
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold 

Hmmmm. Time to ponder.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Vacation Bible School

When I was a kiddie, summer meant  VBS at my home church. It was a 2-week affair, daily from 9 until noon. Mom would load up the station wagon with her own plus a few neighborhood kids and we would drive to First Baptist Church in Lincoln Park. Mom drifted off to help while the kids found their places in their various classes.

It was carefully planned and I can still recall the schedule: 9:00 Opening. All the kids and teachers met in the sanctuary. Then at 9:15, we would dismiss to our various age-appropriate classes. Once there, we'd get a story plus a memory verse; we were encouraged to memorize for the next day for a prize. We'd practice that verse until about 9:45 when we moved to crafts.

Over the years, I discovered all sorts of things you can make with Popsicle sticks, string, and clay. The craft projects would spread over the entire 2 weeks, being ready to take home on the second Thursday.

There was game time outside; there was a real missionary who told his/her story throughout the week. We took a daily offering for this missionary.

And, of course, there was snack time. My church was big on some sort of red fruit juice (Hawaiian Punch?) Whatever it was, we never got it at home so that made Bible School even more special. Plus there were real, made-by-a-mom oatmeal cookies.

By 11:30, the entire group moved back into the sanctuary to decompress and recall what we had learned, and once again, we recited the memory verse and the Bible School song, and then we were sent on our way until the next morning. Second Thursday night was the program for the parents. And we repeated it on Sunday for the home folks.

Mom continued the schedule: we would load up the car and drive home. Then, it was tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Bible School filled the first two weeks of summer vacation. Every year. Did I memorize some scripture? Sure. For a bright, shining moment, I could recite and win the prize. Was I able to recite those verses in the months that followed? Well, no, not so much.

So had I 'hidden the word' in my heart? I guess that could be up for discussion. What I DO know is that any such training...any effort to learn the promises of not wasted. Somehow, somewhere in those brain ganglia, the Spirit planted seeds. And when the need came, those seeds had sprouted and taken root.

That's the way it goes when it comes to teaching children the truths of scripture and the promises of God.

This week, it was my privilege to serve at a local VBS. I asked to be a helper, to be used wherever they could use me: it landed me in the 6 - 8 year-old class with a gifted teacher and another helper. This VBS was for one week, from 6 until 8:30.

From the director to her teachers and helpers, you could see their sense of purpose. They knew that they were doing God's work with these little ones. I was also reminded that where many an adult finds it tough to memorize scripture, brains young and agile can soak like a sponge. How great is it that this little group soaked up such truths as  "God will supply all my needs."

The memory verses were set to music and fleshed out with videos. The kiddos smiled as they sang and worked the motions. And they learned.

The church's pastor was 1/3 of the skit team, playing an important role in teaching about character. What I did not know, until today, is that the pastor had to summon a lot of strength for the week. Monday night, after he had locked up the church, he took a different route home only to be stopped by some sort of traffic blockage. It took little time for him to see that there had been an accident up ahead. He told us that he donned his CHAPLAIN vest, left his car and walked up the road. He came upon a tragic scene.

A 10-year-old boy, riding his bike, had be struck by a car and lay in the road. The boy had been near his home: his mother had heard the crunch and had run to the a scene. She was kneeling by her son who was drifting in and out. She was telling him to stay with her. She was praying. He closed his eyes and left her and us.

And God had purposed that our pastor be on the scene to be large for these people.

A tale told over and over: no alcohol, no rain, no reason: a young life ended right there by the side of the road. The boy was a believer. His family is active in a local church, as is the driver. And we're all left with why oh why oh why?

It's probably impossible to find a reason. As one friend said, "It's hard to realize that this was God's plan for this boy. That he was not going to graduate from high school. That he was not going to go to church this morning." And we are left wounded, bruised and aching.

I'll leave it for the nonbeliever to find his answer. For those of us to whom God is real, it's times like this that we much cling to the truths of scripture, to those things that we know are true. God is good. God loves us (him). God has a plan and it is perfect.

That doesn't erase the pain. Or the very human longing for a different plan. It WILL bring peace eventually as we await reunion.  Our God will supply all our needs.  Phillippians 4:19.

Please pray for the family of Kurt Allen Engler.