Men of Valor

At exactly 9:00 this morning, that phone call came. My mother-in-law was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted from watching her once strong husband, struggle for each breath. My dear sister-in-law, who is a registered nurse, said to my MIL “Why don’t you just tell him it’s okay to go.” My MIL wasn’t sure. But minutes later, after my SIL had stepped out of the room and then returned, my MIL whispered to her that she had done it. She had leaned over close to her husband’s face and told him it was okay to go. About 10-15 minutes later, he gently sent out his last breath and stepped into the arms of Jesus. Blessed be.

The Ohio Veterans Home has a beautiful tradition of sending off one of their own. They call it a “Red, White and Blue Ceremony.” The funeral home comes to retrieve the body. It is rolled out with an American flag draped across the top. Residents who are able, come to the front of the building to give a final salute to their fallen comrade. All is silent, except for the solemn sound of Taps playing in the background. These vets come out in their wheelchairs, on their walkers and any other mode of transportation. It is a truly beautiful tribute to the brotherhood. 

It was one of the most moving things I have seen. 

The staff at the home told us that the last comrade went out at 2:00 a.m. and these WWII heroes insisted on getting out of their beds and coming to the ceremony. One even hobbled on one leg, wanted no assistance and stood at attention while his brother was carried away from his earthly home.

The reason these men take this stand and make this effort is for their brothers but it is also for themselves. They know that they may be the next one being rolled out beneath the mighty flag and hope their brothers take the same stand, literally, for them.

And they will. 

Doctor of Letters

Most universities grant honorary degrees. This morning Yale granted 10. One of them was presented to Marilynne Robinson, novelist and essayist.

Professor Robinson earned her bachelor of arts in 1966 from Pembroke College, the women’s college that merged into Brown University five years later.

She was encouraged by her parents and her older brother, art historian David Summers, to complete a Ph.D. in English at the University of Washington and began to establish her career as a writer.

During her writing career Robinson has received numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005, the 2012 National Humanities Medal, and the 2016 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. In 2016 Robinson was named in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people. 

Robinson is best known for her novels Housekeeping, published in 1980, and Gilead, published in 2004. Her novels are known for thematic depiction of rural life and faith. 

President Obama stated that Robinson is known for her “grace and intelligence in writing.”

For the commencement ceremony today, each honorary degree recipient was asked for a quote, which was printed in the program. Here was Robinson’s:

This is the best advice I was ever given: Be sure to make your mind an interesting companion, because it will be with you every minute of your life.”

Today was the last day of a wonderful long weekend in New Haven. It was full of celebration, commemoration, expectation and incitation.

My mind became more interesting by simply participating, partaking and engaging. It is my companion for life and I definitely want to treat it well. 

Thank you, Marilynne, for the reminder. And congratulations on your honorary degree. You have most certainly earned it.

Serious Sunday

On January 28, 1969, a well drilled by Union Oil Platform A off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew out. More than three million gallons of oil spewed, killing over 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. As a result of this natural disaster, activists mobilized to create environmental regulation, environmental education and eventually, Earth Day. 

Earth Day is an annual event celebrated on April 22. The commemoration was founded by United States Senator Gaylord Nelson (Wisconsin) as an environmental “teach-in” after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill. 

Inspired by the student anti-war movement, Nelson realized that if he could use that energy, combined with an emerging public awareness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national forefront. 

Senator Nelson announced the idea to the national media, persuaded Pete McCloskey, a conservation-minded Republic Congressman, to serve as his co-chair, and recruited Denis (yes, his name is spelled with only one ’n’) Hayes from Harvard as national coordinator. 

Hayes built a national staff of 85 to promote events across the country. April 22, falling between spring break and final exams, was selected as the date. 

On April 22, 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable, environment. There were massive coast to coast rallies. Groups that had been isolated rangers fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values.They finally felt “heard” and supported. 

Senator Nelson was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of his work. 

Worldwide, various events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection. 

When I was in high school, a friend and I decided to take an ecology class. That was in 1975. We were certainly interested in protecting and preserving the earth, but we were much more interested in appearing ‘cool’ and ‘aware’. Hey, we were 17 years old. That mattered. 

It still matters. Often, it feels like the ‘cool’ thing to jump on the bandwagon of caring about government regulation and our environment and our national parks. 

As I have aged, I now understand that it is about so much more than a bandwagon. It is our responsibility and duty.

Several years ago, I wore a t-shirt to church on Earth Day. It is pictured above. On that day, one person called me a hippie and another called me a flower child. A half smile with eye-rolling accompanied those words.

Because I care about the earth that our supreme Lord created, I am a hippie and a flower child? 

Unfortunately, caring about our earth has been linked to bead-wearing, peace symbol-giving, long-haired freaky people*, bare-footed, tunic-wearing, pot-smoking, hippies and flower children. 

I do have long hair. I do occasionally wear beads. I love to go barefoot. I sometimes give a peace symbol to someone speeding past me on the highway. I have an adorable Lilly Pulitzer tunic that I wear in the summer with white jeans. I love flowers and James Taylor and Jackson Browne. I have, however, never smoked pot. No interest whatsoever. 

Christians should be leading the pack to care for our beautiful earth. 

On this day, when walking out of church, bend over and pick up a piece of paper. Smell a flower. Turn off your running water while you brush your teeth. Ride your bike to work tomorrow. Notice the glorious colors of the sunset. Appreciate the tree in your yard that gives you shade and red birds. Visit our national parks. 

And if you are feeling really crazy, put a daisy behind your ear and kick off your shoes. You might like being a flower child. 


*Line from song “Signs”, circa 1971


A Yellow Ribbon

On this date in 1973, the musical group, Tony Orlando and Dawn, had a number one hit with their song: “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree”. 

The yellow ribbon has long been a symbol of support for absent or missing loved ones. There are some who believe that the tradition of the yellow ribbon dates back as far as the Civil War era, when a yellow ribbon worn in a woman’s hair indicated that she was “taken” by a man who was absent due to service in the United States Army Cavalry.

That may be urban legend. 

“Tie a Yellow Ribbon” was a massive international hit, holding a number one spot on the U.S. and the U.K. charts for four consecutive weeks. It earned more than three million radio plays in 1973. 

The song was sung from the perspective of a man returning home after three years in prison. He was looking anxiously for the agreed-upon sign that the woman he loves would welcome his return. 

In January of 1981, the Library of Congress was inundated by press inquiries about the historical roots of the yellow ribbon. What prompted this abundance of interest was the spontaneous appearance all around the country of yellow ribbons welcoming home the U.S. hostages after 444 days in captivity in Iran. 

The library’s research team scrambled around for historical evidence but came up with only myth and folklore. Eventually, the Library of Congress ruled that the most compelling evidence explaining the yellow ribbons was the inspiration of Tony Orlando’s song. 

If you are familiar with the song, you know the last few lines:

Now the whole damn bus is cheerin’

And I can’t believe I see…

A hundred yellow ribbons 

Round the old oak tree

I was 15 years old when that song was a number one hit. I knew nothing of war or prison or any of those things. I knew only of dreams of a life of love. I knew that if I ever wanted to welcome home my love from a long absence, I would surely find a beautiful yellow ribbon and tie it around an oak tree.

I am now 60 years old. I have a love and I have an oak tree. Thankfully, he doesn’t go away for long absences. 

Perhaps on Monday evening when he pulls in the driveway after a long day of ‘doctoring’, I will welcome him home with a yellow ribbon tied around the old oak tree.

Or hey, maybe a hundred.

Presidents’ Day

Today we celebrate Presidents’ Day. For many of us that means a day off of work/school, a day of receiving no bills in the mail and the unavailability of in-person banking.

Presidents’ Day is a federal holiday held on the third Monday of February. The day honors all presidents of the United States. The day specifically honors the birthday of our first president, George Washington. Truth be told, his birthday is February 22, but since that doesn’t always coincide with a three-day weekend, we honor him just a bit early. Sorry, George. We love you and all, but we need a long weekend.

On this Presidents’ Day, I encourage all of us to give our president a break. Can you imagine doing that job? First, I would be constantly scrutinized for wearing yoga pants, sneakers and a baseball cap way too often. I would want to do my own laundry. I would want to take a run on Pennsylvania Avenue by myself. I would tell most reporters and annoying people to get a freakin’ life.

Every president is terrorized. Barrack Obama was criticized for playing too much golf and going on too many vacations and partying too much with Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Yeah, I though so, too. But again, the stress of that job most likely requires great distraction.

President Trump tweets too much and sometimes talks too much. However, he, like all past presidents, is a human, full of frailty and weakness and brokenness. Grace, grace, grace and a little prayer wouldn’t hurt, either.

But back to the birthday boy. The famous claim that George Washington sported a set of wooden teeth is little more than a myth. However, dental issues plagued him for most of his adult life. He began losing teeth as early as his twenties and was eventually forced to wear several sets of unsightly and painful dentures.

Washington’s many false choppers were made out of varying combinations of rare hippopotamus ivory, human teeth, gold wire springs and brass screws. Though his dentures were fashioned by some of the best dentists of the late 18th century, they still left him disfigured and often in pain.

Keeping his teeth looking as white and natural as possible was a constant chore. He often shipped them off to his dentist to keep them in working order. The teeth would easily turn brown and their occasional unsightly appearance may have first started the rumor that they were made from wood.

Worse still, the dentures caused jaw discomfort (I can imagine!) and forced the President’s lips to, as he once wrote “bulge” in an unnatural fashion. This facial disfigurement is somewhat apparent in artist Gilbert Stuart’s famous unfinished painting of George Washington from 1796 – the same portrait that appears on the one dollar bill.

So, today when you pull money from your pocket or purse to pay for your Starbuck’s venti decaf double espresso macchiato with whipped cream, and you see ol’ George’s face on the dollar bill, give him a little grace, too. He was doing his best to smile with his not-wooden teeth.

Sanctity Sunday

We made it to church! It was good to be there and sing the old-fashioned hymns, as well as the newer choruses that are nearly verbatim from scripture. Love that. I held Mama’s hand when we prayed and we ate peppermint lifesavers.

It was also good to watch Mom’s face fill with light when she saw her friends and they hugged her and she became the center of attention. She came to life. For a while.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation designating the third Sunday of January as The Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Churches around the United States use the day to celebrate God’s gift of life and commemorate the many lives lost to abortion. And commit themselves to protecting human life at every stage.

Since the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade in 1973, between 58-60 million babies have been aborted. It saddens me to to think of 45 year olds who could be enjoying life this day; being with family, celebrating a birthday, curing cancer…who knows.

The pastor said: “Whatever God is about is a sacred thing and God is about multiplying life.” He also said that abortion is a spiritual thing. Spot on. EVERYTHING is spiritual.

Driving home from church I was thinking about a day in 1993. I was working full-time as an administrative assistant at a large and thriving orthopedic surgery practice. The office was in Clifton on Auburn Avenue, directly across the street from Planned Parenthood. I vividly remember one late autumn day, protesters marching in front of the building, carrying signs. Though I am 100% pro-life, it did not sit well with me. In fact, I wrote about it in a journal that evening. That was pre-blog.

To understand this, you may need to give me grace. I was away from home 11 hours every day, working to put Mike through medical school. We, of course, already had our three precious boys. Life was challenging. Andrew got onto the school bus, then Christopher, then I dashed Noah to preschool and drove to work, fighting I-71 traffic every morning.

That day in 1993 when I looked across the street and saw women my age in their cute jeans and stylish boots and warm fall jackets proudly hoisting their signs like badges of honor, I felt anger. For starters, it made me angry because I was jealous that these women had the time and freedom to do their two hour stint of sign holding, while I was working hard to simply feed my boys. But for another reason it felt too easy for happily married thirty-somethings from Hyde Park to be “doing the right thing.” I remember writing that perhaps doing the right thing would have been to go inside and talk to one of those young women, take her out for coffee, help her care for the three other little ones at home. Make an effort to understand what some of those broken, confused women may have been going through.

It sickens me to think of sweet babies snuffed away forever. Two days ago I blogged about the new ruling in Switzerland, forbidding the unkindness to lobsters by putting them into boiling water. How that ridiculously pales in significance when we consider the unkindness shown to 60 million babies. God have mercy on us.

Mama and I did enjoy church. And I am reminded on this day, that a commitment to protect human life at every stage certainly includes my nearly 90 year old mother. Her life must be honored. All human life must be honored, whether or not they have a voice.


Birthday and Life Remembered

Today we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. He was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement.

He would have been 89 years old today. Fifty years ago (this April 4), MLK was struck down by a coward’s bullet, while standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. That is now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum.

A few great MLK quotes:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“The time is always right to do what is right.”

Fifty years ago, MLK said these things. What an affirmation of truth always being truth. These quotes fit beautifully and perfectly in what is still going on in our world. These truths not only apply to racism, but also to politics and nearly every socioeconomic situation, including church and family.

MLK had plenty of quotes. Look up more of them yourself. I think you will see how apropos they were and are. For now, read these five about 10 more times and see how you can apply them, first and foremost, start with yourself.


National Argyle Day

Apparently there is a National Argyle Day. Had I known this at 6AM, I would have insisted my husband wear his argyle socks to the office. Hopefully, at least one patient would have discovered his cranberry/taupe argyle socks when he sat on the stool and began to get their story. Maybe, just maybe, one would have noticed and it would be worth it all.

Today I will drink coffee from my argyle mug. I saw this little gem about a year ago and thought it was super cozy for hot coffee on a morning like, well, like this one; icy, cold, school closures-kind-of-day. Who knew that a year later I would be choosing it for my morning coffee on this National Argyle Day? Ah, ain’t fate a beautiful thing. (My tongue is in my cheek.)

Argyle most commonly refers to the overall pattern of diamonds or lozenges (wait, I thought those were for sore throats.) Layers of overlapping motifs add a sense of three-dimensionality and texture. Argyle popularity was created by the Duke of Windsor. He summoned the design of Pringle of Scotland, a luxury knitwear manufacturer and maker of the potato chip. Just kidding about the potato chip. The Duke, like many others, used the argyle design pattern for golf clothing on both vests and long socks that were needed for the baggy knickers fashion of the time.

PGA champion, Payne Stewart (1957-1999) was known and loved by his fans for his bright and flashy outfits of tams, knickerbockers and argyle socks.

On October 25, 1999, a chartered Learjet 35 was scheduled to fly from Orlando to Dallas. Early in the flight, the aircraft, which was climbing to its assigned altitude on autopilot, quickly lost cabin pressure and all on board were incapacitated, due to hypoxia – a lack of oxygen.

The aircraft continued climbing then failed to make the westward turn toward Dallas, flying over the southern and midwestern United States for almost four hours and 1,500 miles. The plane ran out of fuel over South Dakota and crashed into a field near Aberdeen. The four passengers on board; Payne, his two agents and a golf architect perished, along with the captain and first officer.

Tragic. That incident is often spoken of as “The Ghost Plane”. It soared across the country in silence. Here is the bright part. Payne, as well his three friends and the pilot, had been, of recent, adamantly seeking God’s heart and often met together in study groups. Little is known of the first officer except the she was a young, energetic woman who loved flying, loved adventure and was fearless.

That plane may have been dubbed “The Ghost Plane”, but I am confident that Payne, in his argyle socks, and the others, were in the presence of a ghost that was indeed Holy.

The 12th Day of Christmas

Christmas is now officially over. Yes, you are welcome. I guess I now have to begin the process of de-decorating my home; take down the tree, remove the lighted garland from the fireplace mantle, put away my lovely glass boxes of white lights, pack up my cinnamon and spruce Christmas candles, delicately wrap 40 years worth of precious ornaments, do something with my beautiful poinsettias…sigh. I guess it also means I should not mail the Christmas cards I began on December 20th and now sit in a stack on my desk, or make those three recipes of Christmas cookies for my neighbors. Intentions of the heart are often noble.

January 5 is known as Epiphany Eve. Epiphany, or the 12th day of Christmas, falls on January 6 and marks the official end to the festive Christmas season. This day marks a visit to the baby Jesus by three kings. The word ‘epiphany’ comes from Greek and means to show, referring to Jesus being revealed to the world.

The English dictionary meaning of epiphany is this: A moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you. In every day lingo, it is when the light bulb comes on.

As this Christmas season ends, my hope is to be open to epiphanies. I want to understand. I want to be more aware of large and small miracles. I want more light bulbs. That is my hope for you, as well.

Twelve drummers drumming symbolize the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostles Creed. The Apostles Creed, though not written by the apostles, is the oldest creed of the Christian church. In its oldest form, the Apostles Creed goes back to 140 A.D. Many of the early church leaders summed up their beliefs as they had an opportunity to stand for their faith. These statements then developed into a more standard form. It is not scripture, but it is a simple list of the great doctrines of the faith.

My youngest son, Noah, is a drummer. I have memories of him tapping around on my pots and pans and table top as a little boy. In junior high school, he played percussion in the band. My husband wanted to purchase a drum set for Noah. I remember saying to him: “Are we sure we want to do that?” I was thinking noise level. My doubts were momentary. I knew, as did my husband, that this would be a lifelong love of Noah’s.

When he was a teenager, I am grateful for the opportunity he had to play in the praise band at church. It was a completely wonderful way to hone his skills. As an adult, he is now an integral part of the worship team at Crossroads Church. He has become a valued musician, now playing piano and guitar, as well. To see your child using his disciplined talents and watch him mouth the words, “You have no rival, You have no equal, now and forever our God reigns” is a moment of humble gratitude.

I do not want twelve drummers drumming in my house, but one dearly loved one is a joyful noise.


Day #10 of Twelve

January 3 marks the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. This remembers when Jesus was officially ‘named’ in the Jewish Temple. A day to remember indeed. How sweet is that name. I have called upon it many times in gratitude and in despair. It is a beautiful name to keep upon your lips.

The ten lords a-leaping are the helpful memory connection to the Ten Commandments, according to legend.

When I was a little girl in vacation bible school, I was eager to learn the Ten Commandments. However, I believe I was more eager to acquire the reward of chocolate candy for having memorized them. At that time, the 10 C’s felt a bit like rules of the game that you read over when you open Monopoly.

As I got older, I came to understand that the ‘commandments’ (that word has a negative connotation), were, in reality, truths to help me have a grand life. I prefer the word precepts over commandments. . A precept is defined as a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought. Thought and behavior aligned with God’s heart equals protection and provision.

The thought of ten lords a-leaping is just not all that appealing. But a life of protection and provision from God by adhering to the Ten Commandments…now that is something I can sink my teeth into.

Speaking of teeth, my dear mama has been with me for a few days. This morning, she walked into the kitchen carrying her upper denture in her hand. When she takes out her teeth, she looks like my Grandma Hall. She said to me: “Are these your teeth?” I said: “No Mama, I have real teeth and they stay in my mouth at all times.” She seemed quite certain that the denture was mine or Mike’s or Noah’s or maybe teeth that a visitor from Christmas had left at my house, but definitely not hers. After a bit of coaxing, she shrugged her shoulders and said: “Well, I guess I will just use them since I need to eat breakfast.” We feasted (in honor of this day) on English muffins with blackberry jam and thanked the Holy Name of Jesus.