Prayer and My Questions

At my church, and I assume churches all over the world, there is a time to present the prayers of the people. In my church parishioners raise their hands to ask that we pray for a friend who is having surgery, for a family that has just lost their mother, for a child who has cancer. I sit and wonder if I should raise my hand. But my concerns are too emotional to share, so I pray my silent prayer.

What does it mean to ask people to pray in public, aloud. Does it mean more to God if more than one person is praying for the same gift. Does it mean more if we mention a name. To whom or what or we praying.

Well, I’m not doing very well as a Christian, and yet it doesn’t bother me to admit this, because I am trying. Somewhere along the line I had pastors who led me to believe that it’s okay to always be questioning. It started with Pastor Knobloch and there’s been a long line of men and women in the church who have meant so much to me. Funny but I only recently realized this. If I count on my fingers the people who have made an impact on my life, those pastors would be there.

I have wonderful theological discussions with my pastor-to-be daughter and disturbing discussions with my atheist son. Both stretch me and make me question even more. I don’t often get that at church so why do I continue to go.

A young friend, a pastor who writes on-line about faith questions wrote this week, entitling her blog piece, “Why Church: Casseroles and Communion.” She has the gift. At the end of the essay she says, “Being together matters.” And that’s what I know about church and faith. It’s what I try to convey to my son. Church is a place of togetherness, caring people praying together, sharing a cup of coffee together, walking out of the doors together with a sense of communion.

I wish I had the answers to my questions. Well, maybe not. What if I did not like the answers. Perhaps it isn’t the completeness of answers that we seek but the sharing of questions that can give more comfort, knowing that we are all in this world of suffering and joy together.

As Mihee writes, casseroles and communion: Sharing the bread, sharing what we have, what we can give. These can be our prayers, I think. At least it’s all I really know for now. My questions will not end, and I think my prayers will also be without end. Doing together is probably the best answer I/we can have.







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Highly Recommended Reading: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande


The three siblings were stairsteps as children. Clyde’s birthday was yesterday; he’s 79. Middle sister Jane is 80, and Edie is 81. We had birthday cake in the gazebo that Clyde built this summer. I was on my neighborhood walk and needed to rest my sore foot. Just in time for carrot cake.

I wondered what I would talk about with these three as I saw the ladies carrying the cake tray out. Not that I’m young, but I wondered if we would find a common thread of conversation. Jane had made a small scrapbook for Clyde; looking at those pictures became the focus and offered a little talk and laughter.

They spoke about how the three of them hadn’t been alone like this since they were children. They live in different states, but here they are together celebrating a birthday with their children and grandchildren scattered and spouses having passed on. Each now lives alone, yet they seemed to be truly happy.

Being with them brought to life the book I had just finished reading:  Being Mortal by Dr. Atul Gawande is about the final days, months, and years of life. When our bodies wear out but the desire to make our own life choices is still very much a part of who we are and who we want to be. I told them a little bit about the book, and that carried our conversation to a place that was rewarding for me and I think for them, too, as they were in accord with the author’s message.

Gewande is a surgeon, an award-winning writer, a thoughtful physician. His chapters are lessons in how we should approach aging and death. He has researched the way nursing homes and assisted living homes operate, why some fail and why some succeed. There is hope!

In the book he shares examples of his father’s aging and his patients’ terminal illnesses as well. He charts his own growth as a physician and surgeon. He is well aware of where colleagues are failing their patients by not being honest and realistic. He became aware of his own shortcomings in helping patients make end-of-life decisions. His journey is a part of the book’s story.

We are all mortal. Yet it may seem easier not to think about it. Gawande illustrates how it is much more difficult if we don’t approach our mortality with clear heads, clear instructions, and careful thought.

Bob asked me if the book was depressing. And my answer was not really. There was one chapter whose ending had me silently weeping. The terminally ill patient was so young. On a whole, however, it isn’t a depressing read because I believe as Gawande does: I want to be in control of my own life no matter what my age. I don’t want to approach the next decades of my life with my head buried in some mystical cloud of denial.

I strongly encourage you to buy the book and keep it to read and reread: that’s part of my plan. Gawande paraphrases the philosopher Ronald Dworkin in writing, “Whatever the limits and travails we face, we want to retain the autonomy—the freedom—to be the authors of our lives.” I like that idea and hope to also make it a part of my plan as I approach all of those happy birthdays to come.




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Sometimes It Is a Piece Of Thread



What keeps us going when times are bad, when days are bleak.

I will always remember a sermon given by Rev. Cotter in Flanders. He spoke of that universal truth that things may be going very well, but then a bad day comes and everything seems to change. It is when our faith is tested.

So what keeps us going and looking with hope to the future for better days ahead. A prayer. A hug. A gesture from a neighbor that says I care so much about you.

Recently in a Bible study group, the speaker on the DVD said that we need to strive to show more kindness than is necessary. Wow. What if everyone followed that advice. Show more kindness than is necessary. Think how good our days would be.

In the meantime, until that day of kindness comes, what keeps us moving forward when all seems lost, when you are so sad and discouraged that all that seems to cleanse is a flood of tears.

Maybe it’s a call to that neighbor to ask how he is doing. Maybe it’s a call to Mom to see how her day is going. Maybe it’s a call to your child who has drifted away. Or maybe it’s a trip to the hairdresser—whatever works, that’s what does it.

For me, tomorrow, it will be a spool of thread. A trip to town to look for that perfect amber color that will be stitched into a top that will make its way in a package to Berkeley and be opened by my sweet girl.


I love this poem by William Carlos Williams:

so much depends upon

a red wheel barrow

glazed with rain water

beside the white chickens

It is reported that Williams, a physician, was watching over a patient, a sick child, who he wasn’t sure would make it through the night. He looked outside and saw the wheel barrow and the chickens. A splash of color, a bit of life. What would make the difference, what would make the little one live. He didn’t know, but he sought answers as we all do.

Is it a prayer or a hug or a new morning of hope, getting into the truck and driving to town to buy a spool of amber thread. We wake each morning with the new sun and know that the possibilities are there. In a quiet prayer we feel new hope and see new colors in the sky. And tonight that is my thought for all.

A good morning and good days of sunshine and hope.





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imagesnotavailableShe wore a long black wool coat. It hung loosely on her body, hiding her size and figure. Her black hair was also long and a bit wild and matted, tinged in grey. I didn’t capture a complete image to bring home with me. Maybe that’s why I love to take pictures. I’m pretty terrible at remembering facial features. (I would be terrible as a witness to a crime.) If I had only had a Rolleiflex camera, I could have looked down into the glass and made one click to capture the beauty of her face.

The homeless. Her dirty backpack, which looked stuffed with her belongings, spoke of her homelessness. Bob noticed her first and asked if we should offer to buy her a beverage. Of course, easy to do as she was sitting at the table next to ours at Starbucks, a bit out of the baristas’ sight, feeling comfortable enough as a non-paying visitor that she took off her snow boots and slipped her feet into soft house slippers. Just a little respite from the cold.

She accepted my offer and requested iced tea. Twenty-five degrees outside and she wanted a cold drink: “Wouldn’t you like something hot?” I offered. “No, just iced tea please.”

She wasn’t surprised that we got her a drink and immediately broke out into conversation, one that I could barely understand. I understood every fourth word she said; later Bob said he got more of it. Children and grandchildren scattered, she hadn’t seen them for over eight years. Now I think of that and wonder if she has their phone numbers. I think of my unlimited calling plan and wonder if she could have used my phone there in Starbucks while I drank my hot mocha.

But I wanted her to have a hot drink.

We think we know what the needy, the homeless and poor need.We certainly think that we know what they need. But there are many reading this who have done mission work and have learned it doesn’t work that way.

She talked quite a lot, but her voice was a problem for me. An accent, years of smoking, an impediment. I couldn’t decipher much of the conversation. I wanted to get going as I was uncomfortable to not be able to respond to much of what she said. Only that she seemed positive about the New Year and said she hoped the last days of this year would also be good. I don’t always feel that hope, and there she was giving it to us in her gravelly, broken voice.

We walked away but I will remember her.

They all have voices. The ones we walk by and turn away from. The ones with signs, begging for change. The Denver homeless even have a newspaper that individuals sell on the 16th Street Mall for two dollars, entitled The Voice. That same day we were in the city I bought one as I always do, but I don’t always take time to read it. I might have even left it behind at one of our other stops.

I want a picture of her to share on this blog page, but I don’t have it. Yet I know the next time you’re in the city, any city, you will see her or him. I want to remember to take time to hear her voice again. Next time I know that I want to be different, be better.

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When I started typing tonight, I wrote “Friends,” because I have reasons to be thinking of friends and what they mean to me. And that word quickly turned into “Friendship.”

It sounds right: friends on a ship. I have a few friends on ships right now.

Tom called today. Our spouses were at a church meeting and maybe he was feeling alone. I sat outside in the warm winter Colorado sun to talk and listen. He talked about a possible move to be closer to his twin brother. We talked about how sad that would be for those of us who would miss him and Ann, but still he said what I was thinking, “It’s another adventure.”

Another couple from our church left Grand Lake in October. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. Maybe it was too painful for them to have a goodbye party. I think their ship, too, is taking them closer to family. And there’s Judy who I met soon after we arrived in this valley. As it turns out, we went to the same high school in Illinois. Our paths met here in the mountains, far from where we grew up. She’s gone now to be near her children.

I’ve met Cathy from high school days in the same way. We met at an Obama celebration party at our house. I asked her where she was from, and within minutes we learned that we were just a class year apart, perhaps even in a club together. Serendipity. And I met Fred at the same party. He was at Eastern Illinois University the same time I was there. We danced that night for gosh sakes! I think of that and it’s just unbelievable that two college kids would meet in their sixties, nine hundred miles from “home” and dance as if time had never passed.

And then there are friends waiting for a grandbaby to arrive. That feels like smooth sailing to me, waiting for a baby, knowing their hearts will be brimming with joy next spring.

Finally, I think of best friends who have sold their ranch and are on their way to new adventures. Of course, they are the reason for my thinking and writing about friendship. There’s a real emptiness in my soul lately, and I know it will be there for quite some time. I drive past their gate nearly every day, and it feels like a home place that is no longer open to me. I think they are going to love traveling, and I can truly imagine some of the adventures they will have. But I’m here. Not sailing toward anything new.

Yet maybe something new is coming. Maybe my next adventure is just around the bend. I will meet new people who are beginning retirement. I’ll meet the people who have bought my friends’ ranch and I will pretend to be happy for them. But if I’m lucky, maybe I will like them and feel true happiness that they are in the neighborhood.

Being open to new experiences, new happenings, new life, new people who step into our lives. Who knows who will step off of the boat next. And if we are willing to greet them and let them in, well, let the adventures begin.

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I Draw the Line At Pork Butt


We live in a culture of food as king. The NYTimes Magazine just published an entire issue on food and kids, what to feed them. And last week I met a young man who is studying natural medicine. He said that our bodies begin in a perfect state, and if we only put the right things into them, there would be no disease, ailments, syndromes, etc. Well, I’m paraphrasing.

During my junior and senior year of high school I got an allowance every week for lunch. I don’t remember ever going through the cafeteria line to see what the hot meal of the day was. I lived on white milk (probably whole fat) and a wonderful chocolate cake with a white cream filling, rectangular shaped, sold in a cellophane package. Did I know what I was putting in my body? I didn’t think about it. I was saving my daily allowance to shop at Toppers. I was thinking about what to put on my teenaged body. Clothes were certainly more important than food for most of my young life.

Well, until the past several years. Now I think I am a foodie. I had the best quinoa salad yesterday, at the mall for gosh sakes! I bought organic pumpkin flax cereal at the market and naan, my new go-to base for pizza. And a couple of weeks ago I was at a good, not great, restaurant in Grand Lake where they were offering the Friday night special, all-the-shrimp-you-can-eat. I asked the young waiter, who certainly had been putting nicotine into his body, as I was almost put under by his breath, where the shrimp came from.

“You probably don’t know, but where is the shrimp from? I realize you probably don’t have this information,” I asked in an apologetic tone. And he humbly answered, “Well, it comes in a bag.”

Yes, a bag. But it is real, unprocessed food and the shrimp probably don’t cry out when they are scooped up out of their Vietnamese waters. Still, I try to stay away from Asian shrimp. I looked the menu over and thought about pasta. But watching my calories as I perpetually am, I decided on the tuna burger. Delicious. Only now as I write this morning do I realize that I didn’t think of that tuna’s origin. I didn’t even ask. But I bet it came in a bag.

So I’m not a perfect foodie. I love to cook and miss that part of my routine when I’m here in Illinois visiting Mom. Not always easy to maintain my standards in any part of my world, but more difficult here without an equipped kitchen and a husband to share a meal with. Each meal becomes a bit of a challenge.

I’m set for lunch, however. Just called an old high school friend and we’re going to the Cardinal café. Did they win last night? I don’t even know, but he will. We get along well and have lots to talk about it seems though I know when I was eating my devil’s food cake in the high school cafeteria, we didn’t often give each other the time of day.

The Red-Bird, Fred-Bird restaurant filled with all of its Cardinal memorabilia will be serving fried chicken, un-organic, and roast beef, not free-range, with mashed potatoes and gravy, iced tea and pie. Lots of choices. I’ll order without a twinge of guilt because I’m a survivor.

I’ll eat something with Mom at her place tomorrow—maybe. Today they are serving pork butt at lunch. I do have to draw the line somewhere: I draw it at pork butt.

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IMG_4586A few weeks ago one of the guests at Spirit Mountain Ranch asked if we still have llamas at the ranch. “We saw llamas on your website. Do you still have them?” Well, she obviously doesn’t know the difference between a llama and an alpaca, and of course, I don’t have the scientific information, but I do know that when you are traveling down a county road here in the West, you might see a herd of alpacas and one bigger, taller creature among the group. That taller guy is a llama, and he can do a lot of damage to an invading coyote or mountain lion that might want to feast on one of the smaller alpacas.

I had my first experience with the animals four years ago at Lonesome Stone. Linda and Marv are wonderful people who own an alpaca ranch. I always take our out-of-state visitors to their place. The wool in their shop is beautiful and the animals are very photogenic. Very sweet it seems.

Well, looks are deceiving, let me tell you.

After serving breakfast to the guests one morning at the b & b, I was ready to take water to the five alpacas, all boys, who are now residents in the front pasture, taking a holiday at the ranch having munched their way through too much grass at Lonesome Stone.

Bob helped, but in the end really didn’t. Due to his lack of agricultural training and a misunderstanding about the water container, we had to enter the pasture, lift the heavy bin into the field of five wild ones. Within seconds the tallest guy was chasing me. Did he think that I was a female alpaca with my short yellow/white hair?!

I screamed, “Bob, get him off of me.” This animal was six inches away from me the entire time that I was running and screaming toward the gate. Now where were the guests who wanted to see sweet alpacas?

Since then the alpacas have become celebrities in the pasture. Everyone who drives by enjoys seeing them. One of the recent wedding guests called them cute. And the little children at the wedding enjoyed talking to them. I don’t like the big one, obviously, so I warned the kids about him. Mozart is the name. An adult asked it they spit and I answered that they can.

And yes they do.

This morning at eight a.m. a call from Beth. She and Sandy are in Denver where they received a call that the black alpaca was out of the fenced pasture, in the driveway.

Bob and I threw on our jeans, grabbed a bucket to fill with food pellets so we could coax him back into his home. Drove to the ranch and easily got him back into the larger field. But we had to discover his escape route or the others would have eventually found their way out as well. Bob found it but had no tools to repair the break. The only solution was to move them all into the front part of the pasture. This was not a big problem, but the key in the operation was to prevent Mozart from going after me, no redo for me, please!

Of course, you know the inevitable happened. Bob got the food scattered, the boys were eager to get to it. Just as I reached for the holding gate to open it, Mozart made a throat-clearing noise and promptly spit and hissed his stuff onto the side of my face.

A couple of screams from me, the guys made their way to the food, and pronto we were on our way back home.

My first stop was the bathroom and when I looked in the mirror my most distinctive feature was my bed-head hair. I finally understood Mozart’s point of view. My hair, out of shape and certainly out of style, resembled his! I looked a bit like Mozart’s sister! Or a possible wife?!

Too much. Enough of the alpacas. No more trips inside the pasture for me. Cute? I don’t think so.   Maybe you, too, now have a new understanding of these animals.  And BTW these five are for sale. You can find the phone number to call on the little red sign just outside the front pasture at Spirit Mountain Ranch. It’s County Road 41; call for directions and hey, I think you can get them for a good price.


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