Saturday, December 12, 2009

Mary's Boy Child

Christmas is a time for remembering. While driving to a family Christmas party today I heard one of my favorite Christmas songs on the radio - "Mary's Boy Child." Whenever I hear this song it brings me back to my childhood - I am 9 years old again, and at boarding school. As Methodist missionaries' kids in Liberia, West Africa, our best option for a good education was a Lutheran boarding school about an hour away from my home at the Ganta mission station, and my parents made the difficult decision to send my brother and me there at a young age. There were about 30 kids at the "hostel", as we called it, between the ages of 7 and 14, mostly missionaries' kids from around Liberia. We were cared for by our house parents, Uncle Ron and Aunt Elaine, and were bused to a school on a nearby college campus. Every night before bed we would all meet in the common area, a large living room between the girls hall and the boys hall, and have devotions. Sometimes a local teacher would come and tell us stories, and we would hang on her every word, eagerly waiting each night for the next installment of her story. Sometimes we would have music - I remember one night before Christmas vacation a young Peace Corps man came with his guitar and shared his music with us. "Long time ago in Bethlehem so the Holy Bible Say, Mary's boy child Jesus Christ was born on Christmas Day..." I had never heard this song before and I sat transfixed, soaking in the beautiful words and melody. "And man will live forevermore because of Christmas day." Such powerful words, and as young as I was I really felt the power of them that night. Thirty boys and girls, sitting in a circle in their pajamas on a warm African night, with the tropical sounds of frogs and fruit bats outside, quietly listening to a young man share the Christmas story. I will always remember the peace and purity of that moment and each Christmas when I hear "Mary's Boy Child" I am a little girl again, realizing for the first time the true meaning of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Promised Land

"I believe man was made for joy, Some men must find it in pain, some rivers flow in caves beneath the ground, sometimes there's sun in the rain." I recently rediscovered a favorite music group from my childhood - no, it's not a 70's heart throb group (the Partridge Family, anyone?) or a music icon like Michael Jackson or Bruce Springstein - my inspiration comes from a little known group called the Medical Mission Sisters. Yes, they are nuns, okay! Growing up on the mission field exposed me to many out of the ordinary experiences - I don't know what the typical American kid was listening to, but in my house the Medical Mission Sisters were often on the record player and I absorbed Bible stories and trust in God from their folksy, faith-filled music. Recent life changes have made stressful adjustments necessary, and when I needed something to lift my spirits their music came to mind. Listening to it again has been a joyful experience!

Joy is a hard concept for me to grasp. When everything in life is good it's easy to be joyful - it comes naturally - but when the hard times come (and they always do) joy can seem out of reach. It should be easier for me because I have had the best teachers on living a joyful life through serious adversity. Mom and Dad have struggled with the ravages of Dad's Parkinson's disease for over 20 years and they have often been frustrated and discouraged, if not despairing, but through all of their ups and downs (more downs than ups) they have never lost the joy that their faith in God has given them. Their friends and family feel terrible that Dad has been afflicted with this terrible disease, but I don't think anyone has lost sight of Mom in the background as wife, mother, caregiver, advocate, comforter, chauffeur, nurse, secretary, financial planner, personal shopper, family liaison, counselor, you name it, if Dad needs it she does it. What a toll it has taken on her! Her health, energy level, lifestyle, and moods have been drastically effected in spite of all of the positive steps she takes to care for herself. She begins each day with devotions, carefully plans nutritious meals, tries to exercise regularly, visits her doctors and counselor as needed, visits friends and family, participates in church activities, and keeps in touch with her support groups which include her Bible study group and her family. What more can anyone do?

A few weeks ago I reread the story in the Bible of when Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. The priests carried the Arc of the Covenant to the edge of the river and as they stepped in, the waters parted, leaving a huge wall of water on one side and a river flowing away on the other. The priests stood in the middle of the river while all of the Israelites (thousands? hundreds of thousands?) crossed safely to the other side. Of course the priests weren't holding the water back - God was doing that - but he used them to accomplish it and to give the Israelites the confidence to cross. This is a very compelling visual if you think about it, and when I think about it I see Mom. There she is, standing in the middle of the river of her and Dad's life while the waters of disease, stress, and fear pile up on one side of her and life flows away on the other. Meanwhile Dad slowly, laboriously crosses the river towards the promised land - and when he sees the overwhelmingly high wall of water he knows that Mom is there to stand between him and the fear and despair that threaten to engulf him. Mom is not holding the waters back, God is, but he chose her for the difficult job of helping Dad with his daily struggles. It's a life of sacrifice and anguish but she has also filled it with love and joy. People often say I look like my mother and that is a compliment, but it is more important to me to BE like her - to have her dedication and quiet, patient strength. And to somehow find the inner joy that shows through her life. Of course the answer is faith, and trust in God's ultimate plan for us.

To quote the Medical Mission Sisters: "Is there a song to ease our sorrow, to lead us along into tomorrow, to show us how to live in our now, Father thy will be done, Father thy will be done."

Monday, November 2, 2009


I watched the "Great Pumpkin" Halloween special the other night and I was struck again with how dark those stories really are. Good grief, Charlie Brown is a seriously depressed kid! In this one show he got rocks in his trick-or-treat bag when everyone else got candy, he got a party invitation by mistake - he was really on the "do not invite" list, he was taken in by Lucy's football gag again, and his friend Linus was laughed off the stage by his schoolmates. And yet we continue to watch these holiday specials every year and have a real affection for them - why is that? Maybe Charlie Brown represents something in all of us - our fears, our insecurities, our feelings of isolation, and even our tendency towards depression. If we can watch it on TV or read it in a comic strip then we can laugh at it and those feeling don't seem so terrible anymore.

I never thought much about depression until a few years ago. I had the usual ups and downs of life but nothing too serious or disturbing. My unstable childhood included moving every few years, many different schools, and never being able to maintain friendships (if I didn't move then my friends did), which resulted in shyness and insecurity. But because of my loving family and our Christian faith I was happy through all of the upheaval, and that provided a solid foundation to bring into my adulthood. Life swept me along through college, graduate school, marriage, three children, the ministry for Ed, and library jobs and I thought I was coping with everything pretty well. As the kids got older and moved towards college age the demands on my time multiplied and my ability to keep up started to slip, but how could I complain? I had no more on my plate than anyone else I knew, so I just kept trying to stay on top of everything and the pressure kept building.

Of course I finally reached a breaking point - I woke up one morning with the world spinning and thus began a nightmare of dizziness and exhaustion that lasted for months. I had to let go of everything because I was barely able to function - it was like I had been holding onto a bunch of balloons that got bigger and heavier until I got sick and had to let go of them all. What was left was a useless shell of a person, at least that is how I felt (my family says otherwise). And that is when depression came into my life. Maybe I was depressed before my illness - is being stressed and overwhelmed a kind of depression? I don't know, but it certainly eventually resulted in depression. I went for walks every day during my illness because only when I was walking did my head feel close to normal, but I always knew that I would have to stop walking eventually and the horrible dizziness would be back (I've heard it described as going up and down a spiral staircase under water). No one knew how close I came to stepping in front of a car during those walks - I couldn't bear the constant dizziness and I was sure my family would be better off without me - I was just a burden. That's how out of touch with reality I was because of course it would have been devastating to my family! Three things stopped me: I couldn't bear to do that to the driver of the car, a deep seated survival instinct, and the protective hand of God.

I finally emerged from the dark tunnel of illness and slowly gathered up the pieces of my life but I was not the same as before - I had a new awareness of the dark side of life and of how depression can creep up on us. I didn't want to shy away from the reality of depression, I wanted to look it in the face and acknowledge its existence. I was drawn to the song "Child Psychology" by Black Box Recorder with the line "Life is unfair, kill yourself or get over it" - I had to stop playing it because it was freaking the kids out! On the show Gilmore Girls Rory says she likes the song because it makes her "gloomy" but to me it is more about fighting against despair - the implication is that killing yourself is not an option so get over it.

Another song that struck a chord with me was "Into the Ocean" by Blue October, especially the lyrics in the chorus:
I want to swim away but don't know how
Sometimes it feels just like I'm falling in the ocean
Let the waves up, take me down
Let the hurricane set in motion, yeah
Let the rain of what I feel right now come down
Somehow these words express how I felt before the vertigo hit, and how I still feel sometimes when life is too overwhelming and I'm having difficulty coping. Sometimes it seems like it would be a relief to just let go of all of the stress and worry, and allow myself to be swept away in a wave of feelings. And in a lot of ways that is exactly what I should do. Of course I still have to fulfill my responsibilities to my family, my church, and my career, but I need to let go of the stress and worry and trust my future to God. He says "come to me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest" and that is what we all have to do - rest in the knowledge that God really is in control and does have a plan. In other words "let go and let God!" It sounds too simplistic and it is not easy but it is the only way to keep from falling apart.

Depression is pretty widespread in our culture, and this is evident by how often we see it in pop culture, which is another way to say I found a third relavent song! A recent song by Rob Thomas addresses depression from a different point of view - that of those effected by the depression of a loved one. "Her Diamonds" expresses the helplessness of watching someone you love struggle with depression, at least that's what I hear in it:

By the light of the moon she rubs her eyes
Sits down on the bed and starts to cry
And there's something less about her
And I don't know what I’m supposed to do
So I sit down and I cry too
And don't let her see

And she says oooh I can't take no more
Her tears like diamonds on the floor
And her diamonds bring me down
Cuz I can't help her now
She’s down in it
She tried her best and now she can't win
It's hard to see them on the ground
Her diamonds falling down

There are a couple of things that struck me with this song. The line "And there's something less about her" is heartbreaking to me, because that is how you feel when you are sad and hopeless - like you are less than you were or you should be, and obviously that is how others see you as well, whether or not they admit it. "Her diamonds bring me down cuz I can't help her now" shows how agonizingly helpless it is to watch someone you love shut themselves into their sad world where you can't reach them to help, and the comparison of diamonds to tears emphasizes the preciousness of our relationships.

When things aren't going our way and our future is uncertain it is easy to wallow in sadness and apathy, but this behavior is a slippery slope that can lead to depression and a point of no return. We have to remember the ripple effect our actions have and focus on the positive things in our life and what we can do to change our situation. In other words don't give in - fight the negative thoughts! We can and must acknowledge the things in our lives that make us sad and stressed, and we can express our feelings in music, art, humor, writing, talking, and whatever else helps take the fear and stigma away. But most importantly we must cling to our family and our God for strength and security, because shutting them out is the worst thing we can to. Let's laugh at Charlie Brown, cry with Rob Thomas, and ride the waves of life knowing that God will always catch us when we fall, if we let him.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Dad doesn't have very many good days. Sometimes it seems like every time we visit we have to witness a new nightmare for him, whether it is mealtime messes, bathroom mishaps, mobility issues, or psychotic symptoms, just to name a few. It's hard to remember that this man was in charge of health care for the country of Liberia, then for the state of New Hampshire, and finally for the state of West Virginia. He needs round the clock care and he doesn't often express gratitude for the care he gets from the nursing home staff or his family - why is that? Maybe it's because after managing a staff of professionals for so many years he expects people to simply do their jobs; maybe it's because it takes so much of his energy to perform day to day functions that he has no energy left for gratitude; or maybe it's because when you need help for every little thing you do, every moment of every day, the burden of gratitude becomes too great, and he can't think about it anymore. Never-the-less I know it is disconcerting for my mother, who has done so much for him on a daily basis for over twenty years.

A few weeks ago Mom and I arrived at the nursing home to find Dad bent over double in his wheelchair, unable to move or call for help. We quickly went to find aides to help him into bed (it takes two people and a lift), and we realized that the medicines he had been given almost an hour ago were still in his mouth - he had been unable to swallow them. We called the nurse who insisted that he HAD swallowed them, while we tried to explain that we had found them in a wad in his mouth - confusion reigned. Until a quiet, authoritative voice from the bed said "what are you going to do about it?" We all paused and looked at the broken, helpless man who had calmly taken control of the situation. There he was, the man who had supervised the opening of clinics all over Liberia, who had worked with Liberian government leaders and New Hampshire and West Virginia governors and legislators, cutting right to the heart of the situation, as he had always done.

The nurse got him more medicine and we settled down for a visit. Dad could hardly move or talk, but when I showed him the candy I had brought him from Granite State Candy Shoppe, his favorite sugar mints, his eyes lighted up. He indicated that he wanted a piece, and opened his mouth as I placed a pink sugary disk on his tongue. He closed his mouth and his eyes and smiled ear to ear, looking completely content. Gratitude? Maybe. I know I was thankful to catch a glimpse of the father I grew up with and who is buried in his disease, and I treasure the memory of his contented face as he enjoyed a simple piece of candy.

Monday, October 12, 2009


I grew up without any understanding of what an American fall was like. My mom used to say that fall was her favorite season and I could never understand why. Wasn't it just cold and gray, with dead leaves falling off the trees? In Liberia we had two seasons, rainy and dry, and it rained often during the rainy season and rarely, if at all, during the dry season. I don't remember the trees changing much from one season to the other - I guess leaves did die and fall off the trees, but I never paid much attention. Our visits to the States didn't help much. We lived in inner city Baltimore when I was seven and in Atlanta when I was eleven, but neither city really highlighted the attributes of fall.

We moved back to the United States when I was fifteen, and settled in New Hampshire. Imagine my amazement that first year when the leaves began to change - wow! I had no idea that trees could have such a variety of vibrant colors - there was hillside after hillside of this beautiful color palate; I couldn't get enough of it. I kept thinking "why didn't anyone tell me about this? How could I have not known?" but of course there are no words to really describe it.

I was reminded of this awesome discovery the other day. We recently moved from just outside of Pittsburgh to rural Pennsylvania, and instead of being surrounded by parking lots and businesses we see woods, fields and rolling hills out of our windows. It has been hard to adjust to the isolation but the beauty of the area sure does compensate! I am loving watching the leaves change all around us, but when I took a ride on route 8 from Franklin to Barkeyville the other day I was awestruck! Mile after mile of colorful hillsides greeted us, and around every bend was a new discovery. I remember hearing a sermon by Bishop George Bashore years ago, in which he described driving on the Kangamangus Highway in New Hampshire one fall day, a route that is famous for its beautiful fall foliage. He said they would go around a bend and say "wow!" then go around another bend and say "wow!" as the scenery continued to be more and more beautiful. I can't remember the point of the illustration (sadly), but I imagine it had something to do with God's majesty. Since then I have wanted to take a ride on the Kangamangus Highway during the peak of the fall foliage, but now I don't need to - it can't possibly be more beautiful than that stretch on route 8! It is with a sense of wonder that I watch God's autumnal fireworks this fall - what a gift. All I can say is WOW!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The New Kid

I had forgotten how hard it is to be the new kid in school. I certainly have had a lot of experience with it after seven schools in twelve years. It's something you struggle through when you have to and block out as soon as you can. Watching my eighth grade son experience being the new kid for the first time has brought back a flood of memories, and you'd think with all of my experience I could say or do something to help. But that's not possible - each person has to figure it out alone - and I do mean alone, because no matter how friendly and welcoming kids are (or aren't), you are still the only person going through this particular adjustment and no one can possibly understand what makes it so hard.

We recently got a GPS and have had fun using it. When we take a route unfamiliar to or not recommended by "Garmin" she says "recalculating...recalculating...recalculating..." until we are back on track. Being in a new school is a constant series of recalculations - walking down the halls where every face is unfamiliar, sitting in a classroom where groups of friends are chatting - except you, going to lunch in the hopes that there will be someone to sit with, riding a bus through unfamiliar roads with rowdy and unfriendly kids...etc. It's exhausting! You can never relax during your day because every conversation and action takes extra effort to "fit in" and not draw attention to your differences. The end of every day is a relief and you think "that wasn't so bad, I did pretty well today" but when Mom says "tell me about your day" you don't even want to think about it, you just want to forget it, and it feels harder to do it again the next day. It's not one specific thing it's the constant readjustments, small and large, that wear you down. Like Chinese water torture.

Of course time makes everything better. Things become easier in small, almost unnoticeable increments, and suddenly you can look back and remember how much harder it was those first few months. Eventually (if you are lucky and stay long enough, which I never did) you feel like you belong and this is your school. And the memory of those first few month or years fades until years later when you have to helplessly stand by and watch your own child fight his own lonely battle. But I am wrong, we can help - we can make home a sanctuary to come back to, we can resist underestimating how hard everything is for them (because we really don't want to relive it ourselves), and we can make sure our children know that Jesus walks with them wherever they go, and no one understands loneliness better than him.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Class of 1979

My 30th high school reunion is this weekend (am I really that old?)  A few classmates have contacted me on facebook, the event is being held at one of my favorite restaurants, and it sounds like fun - but there is no way I will go to this or any high school reunion! High school was not a happy time for me - in fact, it was horrible!  This is not a reflection on my school or classmates - it was a small town school (my graduating class was about 75), the kids were nice enough, and a few of them really tried to be friendly and include me. The problem was definitely and exclusively me. 

I know I am not the only person who has bad memories of high school - it's so common it's cliche, and we all have different reasons for this.  My problem was culture shock. Up until 10th grade I had lived most of my life in Liberia, West Africa, as a missionaries' kid. My schooling consisted of a mixture of homeschooling, Liberian school, boarding school with other missionaries' kids, and an American school with embassy kids, "army brats", wealthy Liberians, and a variety of kids from other cultures. None of this in any way prepared me for high school in a small New England community - I was a fish out of  water! I often wonder if it would have been easier if I had been a different color or had an accent. On the outside I looked and sounded like everyone else, but really I was clueless - I had no idea how to relate to the people around me. I didn't know how to dress and I could barely have a conversation with the other kids - not only was I painfully shy, but I had no frame of reference to draw from for conversation. I just didn't know what to say or how to say it. Everything I said sounded awkward, inappropriate, irrelevant, or just plain stupid to me, and I often felt like people were looking at me like I had two heads (in actuality they probably weren't paying much attention - we're all pretty self-involved in high school). 

I've come a long way since high school; I had a great college experience where I made good friends and met my future husband. I have spent the last 30 years raising a wonderful family and gaining confidence in my career as a reference librarian. I love my family, I love my career, I love my church, and I'm very happy with the person that I have become. So why would I have a problem with going to my high school reunion? Because for some reason whenever I encounter anyone from my high school days I immediately revert to the tongue-tied colorless person that I saw myself as back then. I haven't actually seen very many of my former classmates over the years, but the few times that I have I invariably say something idiotic - in other words, everything comes out in "moron"! What's up with that? What on earth makes me instantly regress to 30 years ago? I don't know and I can't seem to stop it from happening. It would be interesting to see everyone and hear about how their lives turned out - I would love to be a "fly on the wall" and watch and listen. But there is no way that I will be there - I'm just not strong enough to get beyond my high school hang-ups. I hope they have a great time catching up and celebrating together, and I hope they take lots of pictures and post them on their facebook pages, but as for me I will keep a safe distance!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Slipping Through My Fingers

We watch her walk away, laughing and chatting with her travel companions, and her father and I marvel at our beautiful daughter's relaxed confidence as she approaches the airport security area. She is setting off on a European adventure, spending the fall semester at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands. We have been planning and preparing for months - dealing with all of the confusing aspects of going to a foreign country.   Tensions were high during the last week as we shopped for last minute items (a good umbrella, neck pillow, toiletries etc.),  and packed and repacked her two suitcases and two carry-ons. Does she have the right converters and adapters? How many Euros will she need to start with? How can she get minutes for her international phone? (This turned out to be much more complicated than we thought it would be.) In the end we just had to take our best educated guesses, zip up the suitcases, drive her to the airport, send her off, and leave the airport feeling very empty and helpless. It's hard to let go.

But isn't that what parenting is all about? We have to start the process of letting go as soon as our children are born. Remember how hard it was to even let someone else hold our first child? This is quickly followed by leaving them with a babysitter for the first time, the church nursery, preschool, and then the school years.  Each year they gain more and more independence, and we have to back off and let them develop their own personalities while keeping a careful watch for problems.  In middle school, suddenly they are embarrassed to be seen with us and constantly frustrated by our lack of understanding.  In high school their busy lives leave us far behind and we have less and less knowledge and control of their activities. But through it all we have to be available to them for sympathy and advice (whether or not they take it).

 As they venture out into a sometimes unsympathetic world we must be the pillar they can hold on to, the sanctuary they can return to.  They are our most important purpose in life, but they are not ours to keep.  God gave them to us for a little while to nurture and care for, but most importantly to let them go to find their place in this world. In the end they belong to God, and they have to find out what his purpose is for them, regardless of what we want.

We know that Megan will have a great experience, meeting new types of people, seeing a different way of life, and visiting wonderful places.  There will be difficulties but she is so capable and determined that we know she will figure it all out, and will be stronger because she did it herself.  And a different person will come back to us four months later - a little more mature, a little more independent, and with a different view of the world, but when we look at her we will still see our little girl.


Thursday, August 6, 2009


“Standing calmly at the crossroads, no desire to run. There’s no hurry anymore when all is said and done.”  I’m an ABBA geek, I can’t help it.  I loved them in the 1970‘s when they were moderately popular in the U.S. and phenomenally popular in Europe. I bought  as many of their albums as I could get my hands on and knew all of their songs; when our turntable died I bought a greatest hits CD and for many years had to be satisfied with the few songs (20?) on this one disc.  Imagine how thrilled I was when Mamma Mia became a musical - finally this wonderful music was getting the appreciation that it deserved!  I loved both the broadway show and the movie (although I did question some of the casting decisions for the movie - Pierce Brosnan singing?) I was reintroduced to ABBA songs that I hadn’t heard for years, but the one that resonated the most with me came near the end of the movie - “When All Is Said and Done”.  

Our family is at a crossroads in our lives.  Ed has a new and challenging church with different needs and expectations, I am searching for a way to continue in my career after having left what I thought was the perfect job, and the kids all have adjustments to make as well.  But after 25 years of marriage Ed and I can find the strength to meet these new challenges together.  When we started dating our friends were incredulous - it didn’t make sense to them, we just didn’t fit together! I was quiet and studious with a little bit of feminist spunk thrown in, and Ed was a country boy (and proud of it) and a reluctant student marking time until he could get into an art school.  We met through Christian organizations that we both participated in, and I was initially attracted to his laid back nature and his sense of fun, but as I got to know him better it was his strong integrity that impressed me the most. We dated though most of college and married as soon as Ed graduated.  

Together we have weathered graduate school for me, seminary then a doctoral program for him, three children (I was pregnant on our first anniversary), a miscarriage, illnesses, estrangement, and death within our extended family, and serious health issues within our immediate family, career changes, and always strained finances. We haven’t always been very patient with each other through all of this, but when one of us really needs the other the strength of our love for each other kicks in.  I will never forget how well Ed took care of me when I was so sick with an endlessly long and terrifying bout with vertigo. He shouldered all of my responsibilities as well as his own, and tirelessly took me to every doctor’s appointment while confidently reassuring me that I would get better. He was my rock then, and when I struggle with the residual effects of this illness I can still draw strength from him.

"Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls" Jeremiah 6:16  We are standing at a crossroads together, but we have the God-given strength of more than 28 love-filled years together to stand on, and holding tightly to each other and to our God, we can go into an unknown future unafraid. 

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Ode to Libraries

I dreamed about the library again last night.  I was at the reference desk trying to answer questions, but everything was different and I couldn't find what I needed.  My former colleagues were there but they didn't pay much attention to me, didn't really care if I was there or not. I woke up and went through most of the day with a cloud of sadness over me.  It's been two months since I left my job and I am surprised at how much I still miss it. The dream made me stop and think about why I loved my job so much and can't seem to let it go and move on.  

To start with, I love the atmosphere of libraries - there is a feeling of quiet efficiency in the air that enables staff and patrons alike to work diligently and creatively.  And all around us is an abundance of entertaining and informational books and other media - old favorites and new interests mixed together - a true democratic institution. There is something for everyone and in the current economic climate this is especially important.  The last few months that I worked at the library we were busier than I remember us ever being in the previous 11 years.  Consumer health information, career guidance, financial advice, self-help materials, computers with internet, and, of course, free entertainment is available to anyone who comes through the doors.  And if someone needs help finding materials or information there is always a reference librarian to assist.  I loved working the reference desk, which is strange since I am an introvert and not always comfortable meeting new people.  But when I am behind the reference desk I have no problem dealing with the public. Maybe it is the "know it all" coming out in me, but I love helping people to find what they need or solve a problem, and I always made sure that my answer was never "no we don't have that" or "I can't help you."  If we didn't have something I either tried to get it from another source or looked for something else that might help the situation.  Too many times we encounter people in doctor's offices, government agencies, or businesses who seem to take satisfaction in informing us that they can't help us, and I always wanted to appear friendly and helpful, never obstructive. Fortunately I worked with a group of people that felt the same way, which made all of our jobs so much easier. Where else can you go where the primary purpose of the staff is to help you and serve you, asking nothing in return (except a very small percentage of your taxes)?  

Which brings me to the real reason that I miss the library so much: the people I worked with.  The library had (still has, minus me) a kind and friendly staff who worked hard to meet the needs of the community and were a source of support and fun for each other. The library became the place in my life (besides home) where I was the most comfortable and confident - it became an important part of my identity, who I was and who I was striving to be.  So I guess that is really why I miss it so much - I left part of myself there and I feel a little lost without it.  I am job hunting and hopefully there is great job out there waiting for me that will replace some of what I lost. I know I will be better equipped to handle it because of the people I worked with and the experiences I had at the Upper St. Clair Township Library.

Monday, July 13, 2009


"Is it over yet?
Can I open my eyes?
Is this as hard as it gets...?"

These lines from Kelly Clarkson's new song "Cry" keep running through my mind.  We've been in the new house for over a month, the boxes are mostly unpacked and even the pictures are up.  So the hard part is over, right? Wrong! We painfully pulled up our roots from our old home and are trying to transplant ourselves into our new surroundings.  This can be an exciting time, discovering new places and friends, tackling new challenges - but mostly it is just exhausting to create new routines and find all of the necessary services, especially for those of us who have no sense of direction! 

Being a minister's wife adds a whole new dimension to this experience.  We have left behind a whole church family and are expected to keep our distance to give the new minister a chance to build relationships, which leaves us feeling cut off from our friends and guilty about abandoning them. Our new church family is wonderfully warm and welcoming, but we don't know them - many of them will be our friends and I know that we will eventually feel like part of the "family", but right now we are outsiders.   This is especially hard for me since I am an extreme introvert - when we walk into church on Sunday morning I know that all eyes are on us as the new minister's family, and I cringe. I awkwardly try to talk to people after church and strive to remember as many names and faces as possible so I don't offend someone by forgetting them next week! And in my darkest and most depressed moments I think "which of these outwardly friendly faces will turn against us first?" We have served two other churches and I know that this happens in every church - each minister has strengths and weaknesses, each church member has certain expectations, and these do not always match. Inevitably someone gets upset or critical, starts complaining or leaves the church, and to me this is always ugly and I take it personally. But I do understand that the church is full of imperfect people (that's why we are there) and we all have to work together to support each other in spite of behavior that is not always Christ-like. 

If only I could find a wormhole (I'm married to a Trekkie) and get to six months from now immediately! The hard work of adjusting would be over, and we would be in a comfortable routine.  But life doesn't work that way.  I never saw the movie "Click" but I understand that fast-forwarding through time didn't work very well for Adam Sandler's character, and I guess it wouldn't work for me either.  So I need to take it one day at a time, one person at a time and create relationships, and although it is hard I know it will be worthwhile.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Brave Heart

As I walk towards the door of the nursing home I feel a mixture of apprehension and anticipation. How will my father be today? Will he be able to greet me and participate in the conversation? Will he be in bed, so still and stiff that only his eyes move and he can barely form words? Will he be bent over in his wheelchair, drooling and shaking, unable to move and temporarily forgotten by the busy staff? Twenty-three years of Parkinson's disease has taken its toll, leaving him with very little dignity or quality of life, and I foolishly continue to ask "why?" 

Nobody deserves this fate, and I'm biased enough to think that my father deserves it least of all.  A United Methodist minister's son, who lost his mother when he was 12, he  chose to go to medical school with the goal of becoming a medical missionary, and as soon as his training was complete he and my mother packed up the family and moved to Liberia for 11 years. He devoted his time to learning the local language, working at the small, rustic hospital, and traveling days into the rain forest by foot to reach those who couldn't come to him. His passion became public health and he strove to prevent diseases and conditions that were avoidable with proper care and education. Upon returning to the United States he worked in state public health and eventually became Director of Public Health of New Hampshire, then Commissioner of Public Health of West Virginia. And through it all he was focused on making the lives of others better by making health care available and sharing his faith.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease at age 50, and he and my mother have fought this terrible disease ever since. The disease will not kill you but it will slowly, cruelly, take all function away, leaving a shell of a person, sometimes with complete awareness, sometimes with dementia, sometimes with hallucinations and psychosis. And yet I still see joy and strong faith in him - when he is functioning well he can still laugh and crack jokes, share poems he wrote in his healthier days, serve the nursing home residence council, and share Bible study with other residents. He considers his time in the nursing home as a ministry and his faith has never wavered. He is still the strong pillar of our family that he was when I was a child, and although his body is fragile and wasting away he bravely continues to model his faith and show us how to meet adversity through faith. His name is William Wallace and he truly has and is a "Brave Heart".

Friday, June 12, 2009


I've never been very good at waiting.  Amusement park lines seem pointless to me - the ride is never worth the wait (or course I ride very few rides, but that is another story).  Waiting for a table at a restaurant, getting caught in a traffic jam, and waiting for a slow internet link all drive me crazy.  I can't sit still or stand still, I fidget and pace.  Maybe that's why this move has been so difficult - it has been an exercise in patience.  Since we have moved in there has been a long list of things we are waiting for including but not limited to: a water conditioner (we have rust and sulphur in our well water), long distance, internet, cable, and the second bathroom to be finished.  All of these things seem trivial when you look at the big picture but, like raindrops, they add up to a flood of frustration. Who needs a second bathroom, right?  True, but when you have come from three it is a major adjustment.  We should all be able to live without TV for a short time, if not for good.  But when everything in your life is new and different it is nice to be able to escape into familiar shows, even if it is just House Hunters or a rerun of The Big Bang Theory. And how can we be missing the tragic drama of Jon and Kate Plus Eight? As for the internet, yes, I admit it, I am addicted. Between Facebook, email, several favorite sites, and now my blog, I hate to be without it for more than a few days. As for the other issues, there's always bottled water and cell phones (oh yeah, no cell phone reception at the new house!) So we're in a holding pattern and, you know what, it's not so bad. We spend more time together as a family, and being temporarily cut off from the world has been kind of peaceful, restful for the nervous system. Slowly things are getting done and soon we will be back in the world with schedules and busy days. Maybe waiting isn't so bad. In fact, I have it on the greatest authority that "those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Heartbreak comes in many forms.  For us, it came when I found our 13 year old son curled up on the floor of his empty room in our empty house.  We were doing our last walk through the house before leaving for good, and he locked himself in his room and said he wasn't leaving!  He wouldn't let me hold him, and nothing I said made any difference to him.  As a parent we expect to be able to fix our children's problems, but this was beyond me - a very helpless feeling.  All I could do was tell him that he had a right to feel that way and and sympathize with him - I couldn't change the situation at all.  So we called his father and they had a "man to man" talk - then our son slowly and resolutely walked through every room of the house, around the yard, around the church, and then quietly got into the car.  He grew up a little that day; there was nothing Mom or Dad could do to help him - he had to cope by himself and he did.  Fifteen minutes into the trip he was already joking about his "meltdown", and he has coped with the move amazingly well ever since. We are so proud of him, and we will never forget his despair and how he rose above it.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Music Therapy

"out of the mouths of Babes." Isn't that what they say? Well, my baby is 13, and I'm always getting wisdom from him (or wise guy comments). He's the one who has dreaded the day when we would have to move. As a Methodist pastor's son he knew it was inevidable but hoped it wouldn't happen anyway. We had a good run - 14 years in one place, his whole life so far. When we got the news he was very angry, and started off with "I hate this", "this is stupid", "you can't make me move" etc. But he quickly adjusted to the idea and has had a pretty laid back reaction to the months of chaos and transition, typical of his cheerful, mellow disposition. We didn't realize what was going on in his mind until he told us what song he wanted playing while we drove away for the last time: "Let's See How Far We've Come" by Matchbox 20. An upbeat song with a pretty positive message, we thought, until we listened to it again. So here's what he's really thinking:

I'm waking up at the start of the end of the world,
But its feeling just like every other morning before,
Now i wonder what my life is going to mean if it's gone,
The cars are moving like a half a mile an hour if that
And I started staring at the passengers who're waving goodbye
Can you tell me what was ever really special about me all this time?

But i believe the world is burning to the ground
Oh well i guess we're gonna find out
Let's see how far we've come Let's see how far we've come
Well I, believe, it all, is coming to an end
Oh well, i guess, we're gonna pretend,
Let's see how far we've come Let's see how far we've come

I think it turned ten o'clock but i don't really know
Then i can't remember caring for an hour or so
Started crying and i couldn't stop myself
I started running but there's no where to run to
I sat down on the street and took a look at myself
Said where you going man you know the world is headed for hell
Say your goodbyes if you've got someone you can say goodbye to

I believe the world is burning to the ground
Oh well i guess we're gonna find out
Let's see how far we've come Let's see how far we've come
Well I, believe, it all, is coming to an end
Oh well, i guess, we're gonna pretend,
Let's see how far we've come Let's see how far we've come

Its gone gone baby its all gone
There is no one on the corner and there's no one at home
It was cool cool, it was just all cool
Now it's over for me and it's over for you

But i believe the world is burning to the ground
Oh well i guess we're gonna find out
Let's see how far we've comeLet's see how far we've come
Well I, believe, it all, is coming to an end
Oh well, i guess, we're gonna pretend,
Let's see how far we've come [X9]

So we will blast this song as we are driving out of town, and we'll listen to Rob Thomas sing the grief and fear that we can't express. And then maybe we will play praise songs the rest of the way as we drive into the future that God has prepared for us.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Less than a week before the moving truck comes. Are we on track for being packed up and ready? It's hard to know without some kind of systems analysis, a flow chart... actually it just seems like chaos right now. The "staging area" is filled with boxes - some packed and stacked neatly, the others empty and lying haphazardly, surrounded by packing paper and bubble wrap. The cats find new hiding places everyday, and when we're looking for just the right size box we often see a furry head looking sleepily up at us. I walk from room to room - what should be packed next? The living room is completely packed, except of course for the all important TV, with random books, magazines, and newspapers strewn around. The kitchen is virtually untouched. Is this because its contents are so necessary or because it is completely overwhelming to contemplate emptying the cupboards? We're in limbo right now, between two lives. I'd rather just go to work but there is no turning back now. We'd better get it in gear because when we get to the new place we will have to hit the ground running. New church, new jobs, new schools, new libraries... no time to waste.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


What can I say about moving? This is my 17th move in my 47 years, and it never gets any easier - in fact it gets harder. Those who move a lot have no illusions about what we are leaving behind. It's easy to say "lets keep in touch", "I'll visit often", "we'll email", "I'll see you on Facebook", etc. But what you leave behind is gone forever, with only remnants left. This is why those who have moved a lot have trouble creating emotional attachments - self preservation.

But that is only the negative side. We are always moving toward something, learning new things, meeting new and interesting people, and discovering exciting challenges. Everything we didn't like about our old situation can be left behind! We can make a new start and recreate whatever we don't like about ourselves. We have a blank page to write on, and we can learn from old mistakes.

Although I am heartsick about leaving my friends and colleagues, I am excited about new places and people. And there are always libraries - big or small, public or academic, they will sustain me.