In Thanks for the Garden

Raspberries on the plantThe language of farmer is all through that book
It starts in a garden. Just take a look!
He is the vine, we branch out from him
Beating swords into plowshares,
Making good from what’s grim.

It’s how we’re created
To plant and to grow
Pluck up what is planted
Gather seed and re-sow.

This season for us there’s been rain from above
Our garden’s been watered
Our garden’s been loved.

The cherry tree burst into glorious flower
The fruit it produced, now a jelly jar tower!
The tomatoes we harvested are the colors of dawn
Red, orange and yellow, now jam have become
The raspberries we picked stained our hands berry red
Their stalks full of stickers snagged our arms and they bled
But now cooked with sugar they too line the shelf
Sweet and delicious, I’ll say so myself!

And though we don’t grow them
We think grapes are fine
And we’re thankful for those who do…and make wine!
In the late summer sun
In sweet Sabbath rest
We lift our glasses in gratitude
We are so blessed
To have a creator who loves us this way
Who gave us the garden, who gave us this day.



My poor husband. He is the victim of the random thoughts that go through my head every day. They are only random when they pop out, however. There is definitely a flow of thoughts in my brain that connect together for me. Sometimes, the last one just begs to be spoken aloud.

Last night was just the latest in a long series of those spoken thoughts. “What’s the first word you remember learning?” I asked innocently. I actually have an answer for that. I know I learned many words in my journey of alphabet to words to sentences to reading. We all remember “See Dick run,” right? But the first word I actually remember learning is surprise.

First grade, Christ the King Catholic Church in Omaha, Nebraska. Sr. Mary Amy was my teacher and I have the clearest memory of her writing that out on the chalkboard. (Remember chalkboards? Sorry, random thoughts streaming again…)


I remember I couldn’t read it at first. I tried to sound it out because that is what we did in 1965. And then Sr. Mary Amy read it out loud: surprise! What a great word to have at my fingertips! Who doesn’t like a surprise?

I realize there can be bad surprises, like when you get a call after midnight that wakes up your roommate who angrily comes to your room to say your sister is calling from Colorado and when you get on the phone you hear that two of your other sisters have been hit by a train. That is a bad surprise.

Or when you’re seven years old and everyone is gathered in the kitchen of your house waiting for your dad to come home from the hospital and tell everyone that your mom is not coming home because she just died. Again, a very bad surprise.

First wedded kissBut there are good, even wonderful surprises as well. Like when the handsome man who was the first to hold your hand (at the ripe old age of 42) after taking you on your first date, leans over and gives you your first honest romantic kiss. That one stayed with me for a long time. A good surprise.

Or when that same amazingly wonderful man gets down on his knee on your 43rd birthday seven months later and gives you a ring that comes with a question. I said “yes,” but not until after I made him pinch me and repeat the question. That was a GREAT surprise!

The reason for writing this down today is because of the surprise that blogging brought me just yesterday.

My Aunt Carolyn is a Franciscan nun. I usually call her SAC, which stands for Sr. Aunt Carolyn, as she was a sister before she was my aunt. She reads my blog and encourages me with the most wonderful emails. She even gives me treasures to write about. Well, yesterday she sent me this email:

Julie the other day I was reflecting on a few things important to me and one of them was the blog you had about your First Communion and the Sisters at Christ the King.This Sister Joyce Rupp is a famous author and has written many books (you would love them) and a national speaker. So as I wanted to receive her free newsletter that I just learned about I sent my request as I saw in a book I was reading, etc. and so used that opportunity to ask if she might have been the Sister or one of them from back then. Remember we did have different names, etc and I had always heard that after Jean died the Sisters brought food to your house…the rest was history. I thought you would be interested to learn she remembers you as I had not mentioned your name only the name Prescott…What do you think? Check out her books – Google: Sister Joyce Rupp and you will be surprised….Take care, Love, SAC

Attached to that email was this one from Sr. Joyce to SAC:

Yes, I taught at Christ the King for two years, in the ’60’s.  I recall having Julie Prescott in one of my classes during those two years.  Sr. Louise Genest was the principal then. A fine woman and would have been very kind to George.

Abundant peace, Joyce

So indeed, I went to Sr. Joyce’s website and there was her picture. And here I was, looking into the eyes of my first grade teacher. Fifty years later. Surprise!

I wrote her an email – surprise! – to be sure it was Sr. Mary Amy, and she wrote me back. Indeed, it was her:

I read your recent blog on your first communion and it touched my heart. Isn’t memory a marvelous gift? How you can go back to a moment that reached into your heart and remains there to bless you even now.

And I discovered that she is a woman of words, of poetry, of compassion, of a deep spiritual walk. She is a woman of God who was an example and teacher to me fifty years ago, and will be even now. Her poetry is beautiful. You can read a piece here:

I am so grateful for a God who would surprise us by joining our human journey, invite us to the table of grace and forgiveness, suffer for our brokenness, give us memory as a marvelous gift. It is a blessing.

And the thing about that table is that he meets us there in the bread and the cup. “My body, broken for you. My blood, shed for you.” In communion with all the saints and all the sinners who show up at that invitation, he meets us.

From my mother, through Sr. Mary Amy and the other Servants of Mary at Christ the King, by and through my wonderful Sr. Aunt Carolyn, and with and through my best friend and husband Steve, I am reminded over and over again that I am loved by an amazing God. We are in communion, all of us, together.

And that is no surprise.



The Tree

The hole in the maple tree, framed by the window of the addition, August, 2014.

The hole in the maple tree, framed by the window of the addition, August, 2014.

President Gerald Ford died December 26, 2006. One of the things my dad and I agreed on in the realm of presidential politics was that we both had great respect for this man. I wasn’t old enough to vote for him in the 1976 election because I didn’t turn 18 until December that year. And at that time I would have doubled my dad’s vote by voting for Gerald Ford. (For the sake of honesty and self-reflection, four years later I voted for Ronald Reagan over Jimmy Carter and have always regretted it. I beg forgiveness to this day from my liberal friends. What did I know? My dad thought Reagan was the guy and that was good enough for me.)

But I digress. I remember that date because my dad and I reminisced about his presidency in those days after Christmas and the way he served humbly in that office after the resignation of Nixon and the scandal of Watergate. He was a good man, born in Omaha, a veteran, and just a quiet servant. He and my dad shared that same story. We both wanted to watch the funeral services that were carried on the national media in the days after his death.

I also remember those last days of 2006 because of the tree. We had a large double- or split-trunk pine tree that grew right outside of our family room on Happy Hollow. It must have been 75 feet tall. It was majestic. It shaded that portion of our patio and house. It used to have a twin right next to it that split in two during a summer storm in 2003, which we had to take down after that. But this magnificent tree stood in that spot until December 31, 2006.

Steve standing by the root system of the pine tree, January 1, 2007.

Steve standing by the root system of the pine tree, January 1, 2007.

It had been a very wet end of the year, mostly rain, and I’m sure the ground was not frozen. Sometime during the night or early morning as the calendar page turned to a new year, there was a large crashing noise outside. Due to the darkness, we couldn’t see a thing so we went back to bed. The rain had turned to snow overnight and in the morning, the pine tree was stretched out its full length to the south. It must have had enough extra weight in its boughs and branches – so many drenched needles! – that gravity just said, “You can’t stand here anymore.” Gravity being a law and all, the tree obeyed. Uprooted. The path of its fall was toward another pine in the corner of the yard, and the two trunks of the large tree lined up on either side of the smaller tree and took off all its branches…and also took out part of the neighbor’s fence.

The uprooted pine, the stripped pine and to the left of the tip of the tree, the neighbor's damaged fence. January 1, 2007.

The uprooted pine, the stripped pine and to the left of the tip of the tree, the neighbor’s damaged fence. January 1, 2007.

A fence can be fixed, and we did repair it. The trees are another story. I weep at the thought of a tree that large that had probably seen years back to the administration of Warren G. Harding. It had stood through storms that had lashed it and pulled off branches, distributing pine needles and pinecones all around. But that night of continued rain-turned-to snow and small winds had finished it.

Jana and I watched Gerald Ford’s funeral services on January 2, 2007, as a local contractor cut up the tree and hauled it away. Such sadness on two counts, I called my dad and we shared our sorrow.

On April 23, 2007, my dad George passed away, with six of his children by his side. We sat with him for his final thirty hours on this earth, listening to every breath until there was only one more and then it was done. He passed quietly in the early morning hours. There was no crashing sound like the tree had made. Just no more breathing and he was gone.

We had a wonderful memorial service for him three days later and I had the privilege of sharing about his life. I had great notes in front of me, but I improvised the beginning a bit to stop myself from crying too hard. I told a joke we had shared with him over and over during those thirty hours. “Where do you find a turtle with no legs?” And I shared about our mutual respect for Gerald Ford who had died just those three and a half months previously. It was a wonderful farewell for the best dad ever.

And then we planted a tree, a maple, in that spot where the pine had stood. In seven short years it has grown into a majestic forty-foot tall giant that provides that same shade to the patio and family room. It seems impossible that it could have grown so big and tall in seven short years, but it has.

Two years ago, another summer storm came barreling through. The rain poured, thunder crashed, lightning flashed, and the winds blew cruelly. A huge crash in the early evening took us to the window. Oh, the horror! A huge limb had cleft from the trunk of this memorial maple and was draped across the fence. I just cried. “My dad’s tree!”

That's the maple. The hole is on the other side and there is not enough room between the tree and the addition.

That’s the maple. The hole is on the other side and there is not enough room between the tree and the addition.

Now, two years later, it seems that we have to take the tree down. It’s too close to an addition we are adding on for Jana. Where that branch came off – even though it appears to be healing itself – there is a hole where insects and rot have started to kill it from the inside. At some point in time, gravity will call it down from the weight of its beautiful, full top. I know I will weep again at such a loss and remember my dad and how we remembered Gerald Ford together.

But I know both of those men are in a better place, telling stories of their younger years together. Mr. Ford is probably saying to my dad, “Couldn’t you have kept that girl as a registered ‘R’? Why did you let her drift so far to the left? Tree hugger…” My dad will probably just smile and say, “That’s the irony. We raise them to make their own choices…and they do. But she did like you!”

And then I will think, “Where do you find a turtle with no legs?” And I will answer, “Right where you left him.” Tell the joke. FInd the laugh. Memories bring smiles. Life goes on. Storms will continue to rage, literally and metaphorically.

And we will plant another tree.

Wholeness & Healing

Renewal. Healing. Prayer.

Pastor Michael Moore's Blog


I took the above picture during a week-long contemplative retreat at St Bernard’s Monastery in Cullman, Alabama.

The reason for the title? Besides the fact that we will be having a service for wholeness Sunday night at the church I serve? Besides headlines from Ferguson, MO and places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia? Besides the vitriol I see too often on the pages of Social Media?

Listening to the speech that Martin Luther King, Jr delivered on this day 51 years ago made me think about a lot of things.

The years pass and yet the dream is still out of reach… Hopeless?
The fact that the dream is still alive in growing pockets around the world… Hopeful!

When I need to renew… When I need to be in God’s healing place despite the messiness of life… I go…

To woods and trails such as the one pictured above…

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Watching the news

Micah 6 8We started the day here in Omaha with news from overnight. There was an attempted robbery at a Wendy’s not far from our home. The police responded and fired at the suspect because he had a gun and he shot first. (I am not finding any fault here with the police. I believe they were firing in self-defense.) The suspect was killed. His name was Cortez Washington.

Another man was also killed. The sound man from the television “Cops,” which has been riding along with our police department, was the victim of a police bullet as well. It was totally accidental and everyone is devastated by this, including the police officers who had come to think of him as their friend as they spent the summer together. His name was Bryce Dion.

Both deaths break my heart today, as I am sure they break the heart of God. There are so many deaths due to gunshots in our community and in our country. It just doesn’t happen like this in other places. So many lives lost, so many families with empty places at their tables and empty spaces in their hearts.

The other thing that makes me so sad is that we even have shows like “Cops.” Why is the reality of every day law enforcement considered entertainment? These are not documentaries. Our police chief said he agreed to this because he wanted the citizens of Omaha to have access to how our department does their job in a professional manner. Transparency. This is how it happens in real time. We have nothing to hide. And that is all well and good; it is good public relations to let citizens see how hard our police officers work and the dangers they face. They should be protected and respected as they protect and serve.

But Bryce was just doing his job too, and that’s the part I don’t understand, because in the end this was a commercial show being recorded for entertainment purposes. It would be edited, broadcast with commercial breaks (probably for some drug we should ask our doctor about or beer or some new movie), and then we would turn off the television and forget about it until next week’s exciting episode.

I think that is how we watch the news these days too. The horrors of war and earthquakes and Ebola epidemics capture our attention for the briefest of moments and then we move on. Or we get a twisted picture of all people of a place (like Syria or Iraq) based on the very small part of a much larger story that we get fed to us. It scares us. We overreact. We want to build our own arsenals because ISIS IS COMING! Right?

The other communication I had first thing this morning was an email from my sister. I love my sister and she loves me too. That was the point of her email. She is worried and scared for me and Steve to return to Lebanon and Syria this November.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about writing these thoughts down and sending them your direction. I love you, you’re my sister, but I fear more and more for your safety in your travels abroad. I respect your passion in your beliefs and am proud of you and the things you do. But the part of the world to which you are going in November is increasingly SO dangerous, I felt the need to express my overwhelming fear for your safety and that of Steve and everyone with which you travel.  You are an intelligent and compassionate person, and I need to know that you realize the danger in which you place yourself. I need to know that precautions are taken for your safety, and that you have considered the possible consequences.  They take Americans hostage, they detest Christians and kill them. I know I can’t stop you and Steve from going, but please know that we are all afraid while you are gone. I don’t know what to do if something happens. I pray that nothing happens, but the people committing crimes against humanity aren’t going to pay attention to prayers.

I need you to know that I’m afraid, and I love you.

They take Americans hostage. Yes, they have, but many more hostages are people who look and speak just like them. I am still praying for the release of two Syrian archbishops, His Grace Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and His Grace Boulos Yazigi of the Green Orthodox Church. They were kidnapped April 24, 2013, near Aleppo and have not been heard from since.

They detest Christians and kill them. Yes, some do, but they really hate anyone who doesn’t follow their twisted ideology including their own Sunni brethren. More Muslims have been killed in these wars than any other group of people. And the vast majority of Muslims love their Christian neighbors. They have lived side by side for centuries in peace.

But this is what we understand from the news. We watch it. We get disturbed by it. We turn it off. Hey! Football starts Saturday!

I am so grateful for a police department that protects and serves. I pray for them in the situations they find themselves in, standing between me and my family and those who would hurt us.

I am grateful for news reporters who work hard to get the whole story and present it fairly. I mourn when their lives are taken in the pursuit of bringing that story to me.

I love my sister and am so grateful that all my family worries for what Steve and I are doing. I am also thankful that at some level they understand the call, the passion, the will and desire to go.

I am grateful for my brothers and sisters in the Middle East who are steadfast in their faith, with hearts of great courage. As Marilyn says, their courage makes us brave.

Today from Sojourners came the Verse and Voice blog via email later in the day after the news story and the email from my sister, and as usual, it was what seemed to draw these words of mine together for this day:

Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in [God’s] ways. You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you. – Psalm 128:1-2

“Every day there are people in our world that do absolutely amazing things. People of all ages are very capable of doing tremendous, courageous things in spite of their fear.” -Mairead Corrigan

Steadfast God, perhaps one of the greatest mysteries is why you continue to entrust the work of your kingdom into our clumsy hands. But we are forever grateful that you do not want to change the world without us. May we become the church you dream of. Amen. – From Common Prayer

I want to walk in God’s ways every day and I look forward to walking with his people in Lebanon and Syria in November. Oh! The fruit of that labor is indescribable!

I don’t think of what we do by traveling this way is an amazing thing, but if Susan thinks so, awesome! Our friends there make us brave.

My hands are clumsy, but God has formed them and calls me to use them for his purposes. I want to be a part of his kingdom come…which is a world changer.


Heart for healing, heart for peace

Heart for the Middle EastIt sits in a small box on my desk, nested in shreds of paper. It’s called the “inner spirit rattle” and it was a gift from a co-worker, a sister, a woman of generous heart and deep feeling. She gave it to me because when she saw it in the gift shop it reminded her of me.

That makes me smile. With it came this little card with a quote from Billy Joel:

I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.

“…an explosive expression of humanity.” What a great visual of the power of music! It meshes with my great manifesto of peace through music. (Someday that billion voice flash mob of a choir will happen. Talk about an explosive expression of humanity…can you imagine the explosive peace? I can.)

So I keep this musical heart rattle next to me on my desk and it brings me comfort and joy because of the giver and reminds me always of how we can encourage one another in this life. There is the sweet tinkle of bells and the soft rattle of its inner stones when I shake it. It’s a quiet music I can make right here in my office anytime.

There is another little card that came with it that says…

American Indians have long used rattles during ceremonies to ensure blessings upon their crops. Use this rattle to help rattle some rain into your life, some rain out of your life, to help rattle your worries away…

I use it to remind me to pray for the people I know represented by the world map just above my head to the left. I pray that peace would rain down like the deluge that came into our yard again last night. That those who have lived as neighbors for centuries in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt and other parts of this globe will be able to live that way again soon. That their children would grow up to see tomorrow and the tomorrow after that. That together they will sing songs and make music that is an explosive expression of humanity. That the other kinds of explosions which have destroyed their communities, their homes, their lives, would be forever silenced. Such a rain of peace would be life-giving and life-sustaining.

The prayers that arise from my heart when I look at this beautiful little gift of a rattle are for healing and peace.

I found these words today from Pope Francis, and though they are about Syria specifically, I offer them on behalf of the entire region as I hold my ceramic heart in my hand, and the prayers pulse out with each beat.

A reading from an Angelus homily of Pope Francis

Today, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to add my voice
to the cry which rises up with increasing anguish from every part of the world…
from the one great family which is humanity.
It is the cry for peace!
It is a cry which declares with force:
We want a peaceful world; we want to be men and women of peace …
and we want in our society, torn apart by divisions and conflict,
that peace break out!
There are so many conflicts in this world which cause me great suffering and worry, but in these days my heart is deeply wounded by what is happening in Syria and by the dramatic developments which are looming.
I appeal strongly for peace …
How much suffering, how much devastation,
how much pain has the use of arms carried in its wake …
I think of many children who will not see the light of the future!
With utmost firmness I condemn the use of chemical weapons.
There is a judgment of God and of history upon our actions which is inescapable!
Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake.
War begets war; violence begets violence.
What can we do to make peace in the world?
As Pope John said, it pertains to each individual to establish new relationships in human society under the mastery and guidance of justice and love.
All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace.
I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sister who do not believe:
Peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs to all of humanity.
I repeat forcefully:
It is neither a culture of confrontation nor a culture of conflict which builds harmony with and between peoples, but it is a culture of encounter and a culture of dialogue;
This is the only way to peace.
May the plea for peace rise up and touch the hearts of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and let themselves be led by the desire for peace.


Sweet bounty

Goodness from the garden ready to take us through the fall and winter...and give as gifts.

Goodness from the garden ready to take us through the fall and winter…and give as gifts.

We have a really big yard that we love to work in. Steve is outside right now weeding the lavender bed. We had such a dry winter that about half of our lavender plants didn’t survive. We had a hearty few that did, plus a number of volunteers that are filling out the space. And we added a few new ones to get the bed going again.

We’ve got flowers and green plants taking the places now of what were hundreds of volunteer trees when we moved in. It took us three years to pull all the maple, sumac and mulberry trees that had been allowed to take over this yard. But in the twelve years we’ve lived here, it has become our oasis. We like to say that we live in a park by a park.

Like my brothers and sisters, we also enjoy growing some backyard crops. My brother George, though, is the one who really inherited Grandma Piskac’s green thumb. He can grow it. He can pickle or can it. (He makes the best dill pickles!) He can cook it. My brother Mike has also discovered gardening, which is funny because about the only vegetables he will eat are green beans and sweet corn. Interesting, that is what he grows in his backyard! Actually, Barb planted cantaloupe too. (We are looking forward to that harvest so we can wrap some prosciutto around it and enjoy it with a nice prosecco.) Sally lives on a farm now and she sends us regular updates through snapchat photos of the produce from her garden.

Steve and I have our beautiful cherry tree, given to us as a wedding gift from my dad and stepmom. We have our tomato square (four plants planted new this year, and four volunteers Steve couldn’t bear to rip out). We also have another square that contains a rugged patch of untamed raspberry plants. It started out as two, but now it is an actual tangled briar of lots! We were out picking them just yesterday. We also have our scattered chives and oregano in the back which have spread from potted plants, plus our patio tomato and two basil plants. Inside we’ve got our rosemaries where they can grow all year. That’s our food garden.

Somehow, the Prescott siblings have found pleasure in the garden. Nothing is better than fresh vegetables – especially those homegrown tomatoes! I think Grandma Piskac would be proud of all of us.

The other great thing that some of us have rediscovered is canning. When we were little we used to watch our mom make jelly. The one I remember is crabapple. She saved all the odd glass jars that used to go through a kitchen and those would become jars of crabapple jelly, each sealed with a dollop of paraffin on the top before the lid went on. I don’t think we ever had grape jelly on our pb&js when we were little. It was always crabapple but oh my! it tasted so good.

After our mom died, we sisters still made crabapple jelly. The neighbors had three crabapple trees in the yard next door and we became experts on which tree made the best jelly. At some point, we just stopped.

Jana and I rediscovered the joy of making jelly when we moved into our Chicago Street house and it came with a cherry tree in the front yard. Picking the fruit, cooking it down and squeezing out the juice, it all came back. And the kitchen is just filled with that beautiful smell of cooking fruit! After ladling it into hot jars and putting it through the hot water bath, we labeled the jars and we were ready for the fall and winter, and we had plenty of homemade jelly for Christmas gifts.

I am married to a man who enjoys this process with me. Already this summer we have cooked up 42 cups of cherry jelly and have shared it with friends. There is more to share! Next week we will be making a nice batch of raspberry, and I will work really hard to sieve out all the seeds. I’ve got some friends in Atlanta who need some more. (I even transported some carefully to Iraq in March to give to special people there.)

Bubbling tomato jamToday the kitchen smells like Thanksgiving. We are working on our second batch of tomato jam. Seasoned with ginger, clove and cinnamon, it smells like pie. It’s cooking down right now, thickening up with each minute that ticks by. In about half an hour I will ladle it into those jars and then immerse the jars into the hot water bath. Then it’s ready, ready to be enjoyed. And we know there are more tomatoes out there!

Thanks Grandma. Thanks Mom. These are good lessons that are still paying off.

Renewing Strength

Jana in her new roomIsaiah 40:31 says “…but 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.” That is Jana’s favorite verse in the bible.

Today was one of those days with her when the waiting didn’t seem to be happening. There was no mounting up with wings, no running, no strength. What she had was dragging feet, a terrible feeling of “life sucks” and me nagging at her. “Get mad! You pick it up when you’re mad.”

But we made it through this day and we will make it through the next. Tomorrow is the sabbath. We will go to church. We will sing hymns and songs of praise. We will worship and experience the community of our church family.

Hopefully, we will pick up our feet and at least…walk.

We will wait upon the Lord and live in the promise of renewed strength.

Models of Faith

arabic letter n

Today, the voice from Sojourners Verse and Voice blog:

“If nothing else, prayer was the glue that enabled my freedom, an inner freedom first and later the miracle of being released during a war in which the regime had no real incentive to free us. It didn’t make sense, but faith did.” – James Foley, journalist who was executed by Islamic State jihadists this week, on his captivity in Libya in 2011, as written in Marquette Magazine

Again, the prayers of the faithful remind me that when nothing else makes sense, walking with God in faith frees and heals. I will remember James Foley, not for how he died, but for the memory of his life and his witness in a very dark place. May his parents, family and friends find comfort knowing he is in the arms of a loving God. Those left behind who shared space, indeed were shackled, with him tell stories to us of a man of God, a man who encouraged them even as he was singled out for the most harsh treatment.

I never had the chance to meet James Foley, and now I never will. There is another man of God whom I know only through the stories told by others. I will never meet him either, although I hope to walk in the city where he walked and is buried in November.

Father Frans van der Lugt was a Dutch priest, a Jesuit, who lived nearly fifty years in Syria, serving Christians and Muslims alike. He first came to my attention when I heard about him in May, 2013. The Christian community of Homs, Syria, which numbered in the tens of thousands before the war began in 2011, had been decimated. Many had been killed and many, many more had fled. About 75 remained and Fr. van der Lugt stayed with them. None of them were Catholics, but that did not matter to Fr. Frans. He stayed with them through all the days that Homs was under siege: through bombardment, through lack of utilities, through the hunger that ensued. I saw a video of him pleading to the world in Arabic to remember that they were still there. He was a shepherd, caring for his flock, and they knew his voice.

He stayed with them until he was abruptly called home to Jesus on April 7, 2014. He was killed by extremists, the same kind that took James Foley’s life in the middle of the desert this week. It was not the same group, not the same manner, but it was the same hatred, the same lack of humanity. And I know the grief of God above was the same, too.

I don’t know if my faith will ever be tested this way. I pray that it never is. But if it ever is, I want to be found encouraging those with me. I want to be found sharing what I have with those who have less. I want to be raising my voice so others will hear and respond. I want to be a witness to my God, father and creator, savior and redeemer, counselor and guide. I want to be found faithful, faithful as James Foley and Fr. Frans van der Lugt.

There are other models of faith to me in those places, still serving like Fr. Frans: Assis Mikhael in Sidon; Preacher Rula in Tripoli; Assis Ramsey in Zahle; Assis Hadi in Minyara; Joseph, Adeeb, George and Fadi, all pastors in Beirut; Najla and Mary, preachers in Beirut; Assis Boutros in Damascus; Assis Maan in Mahardeh; Assis Saoud in Hesekeh; Assis Firas in Kamischli; Assis Mofid in Homs; Assis Haitham, Assis Magdy, Elder Zuhair, Assis Farouk, Assis Magid, His Grace Patriarch Louis Sako, Saidna Habib, Msgr. Emad, Father Aram, Father Turkum, all in Iraq. These are the ones I know and have worshiped with. These are the models I pray for regularly. They are my friends, my brothers and sisters, my heroes of faith.

My friend Assis Salam Hanna at the grave of Fr. Frans van der Lugt in Homs, Syria, May, 2014.

My friend Assis Salam Hanna at the grave of Fr. Frans van der Lugt in Homs, Syria, May, 2014.

Several weeks after Fr. Frans was murdered, the two-year siege of Homs was lifted. My friend Assis (Rev.) Salam Hanna posted this picture at his grave. He also posted a video of the church bell being rung at the Evangelical (Presbyterian) Church of Homs, where his father Samuel had served as pastor for decades. Salam and Samuel were fellow ministers with Fr. Frans in Homs.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Homs, Syria, May, 2014.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Homs, Syria, May, 2014.

That church building, like many others in Homs, suffered damage during the siege, but the church body had returned to start repairing it even before their own homes. With God’s blessing Steve and I will walk in that place in November when we return to Syria with a team of fellow sojourners.

And this will be my prayer (thanks again to Sojourners) that I will pray at Fr. Frans’ grave:

O God our deliverer, we thank you that you have not left us alone. Thank you for the Spirit who intercedes for us. Give us wisdom beyond ourselves that we might see the path you have set before us. Grant us words that bring life to the broken, the suffering, the addicted, the lonely, and those who long for the fulfillment of your kingdom. Amen.– From Common Prayer

And I would add “those who long for the fulfillment of your kingdom, like your faithful sons James and Frans.”




Generations of prayer


1962. My Aunt Carolyn Thirtle (still a Franciscan nun, she was known as Sr. Edith Ann here), my grandmother Bea Thirtle and my mom, Jeanne Marie Thirtle Prescott.

1962. My Aunt Carolyn Thirtle (still a Franciscan nun, she was known as Sr. Edith Ann here), my grandmother Bea Thirtle and my mom, Jeanne Marie Thirtle Prescott.

It’s dated April 14, 1961, and it came in the mail yesterday with other treasure from the past. It’s a letter that my great uncle Martin Chicoine wrote to his aunt, Leona, sometime after his mother, my great-grandma Cora Chicoine died. It’s four full pages of typewritten narrative by a talented man I never knew. (He died about four months after he wrote this.) He spent his career as a journalist, partly with the Voice of America. I have been to his grave at Arlington National Cemetery and made a rubbing of the headstone. But in this letter (and there will have to be another post about it!) Uncle Martin explained something to me about myself.

Letter from Uncle MartinYou didn’t read about any airplane crashes, so you know we landed safely. I know Mother must still be praying (it was a habit she couldn’t break—even if the Lord told her to stop and take it easy, I’m sure she’d slip behind a cloud, recite a couple on the sly).

I must tell you something amusing. When we got back to Omaha and went through her pictures and prayer cards, Lorraine found a little book. It contained her various prayer cards which she recited every night for her children, relatives, friends and, I suspect, quite a few strangers including some colored ones. (Please excuse this 50-year old observation from someone of a past generation. jpb) Lorraine was flipping through this list and she said, “I wonder who’s going to pray for ALL these people now?”

Bea was sitting slumped in a chair and after a long time, she mumbled: “I guess I’ll have to.”

Lorraine and Bea were Martin’s sisters. I spent a wonderful week with great aunt Lorraine in her New York City apartment when I was young. It was magical! She and great uncle Bill took me to their daughter’s wedding at West Point, where Kathy and Terry processed out of the chapel under the crossed swords of academy cadets. They even cut the wedding cake with Uncle Bill’s saber! My third-grade self was totally entranced.

Bea was my grandmother; we called her Grandma Thirtle when we were younger. It was always an amazing treat to get to spend the night or the weekend with her. My favorite place that she lived in my growing up years was in an apartment just off 33rd and Cuming here in Omaha, right across the street from what was then Omaha Technical High School. She had the most amazing collection of salt and pepper shakers, and she would let us take them out of the cupboard to dust them or play very carefully with them. I still have one very special set in my possession.

Grandma was a very devout Roman Catholic and I know she always hoped all of her children and grandchildren would be, too. When she lived in those Nottingham Apartments we would walk to church, up the hill to St. Cecilia’s Cathedral, one of the most beautiful churches in Omaha. To hear a high mass done there with all the music echoing off the stone walls is a heavenly experience that I still get to have once in a while and it always takes me back to being there with Grandma.

But what I learned about myself in this letter from Uncle Martin was about praying over those cards. On those nights I spent with Grandma at her apartment, and what she modeled for me when she eventually came to live with us, was that deep prayer life. Her mother had prayed every night over those cards and other tokens that Uncle Martin and Aunt Lorraine found in her things. It was important to Cora Chicoine to lift her family, her friends and even people whom she hardly knew, up to God almighty. She prayed for their health, their joy, their protection, their souls. If she was like her daughter Bea, my grandmother, she must have done it every night and her family noticed.

Who would do it now that she was gone? (I think my favorite part about this letter is Uncle Martin’s thought that his mother was still praying for them from heaven!) And my grandmother, her daughter, said, “I guess I’ll have to.” And whether or not she felt that it was a burden or that she was the only one who would possibly assume this mantle, she did. And I noticed. I remember Grandma’s prayer book that would sit on the table by her chair. Every night after she turned off the television, she would pick up that prayer book and go all the way through it. Those cards that were her mother’s plus the ones she had added to it over the years were stuck between all the pages. She would read a prayer from the book and then pray over the card that was there. Every page. Every card. Every night. Before she went to bed. The pages were worn from the use.

After she came to live with us in the house on 105th Street, she had another card that she added. It was the one from her own daughter’s funeral, the one for my mom.

I have never thought about my nightly prayers in terms of “I guess I’ll have to.” But I love knowing that they continue in my heart from my grandma’s and from her mother’s before that. It’s a privilege to pray for family. For friends. For those I have yet to meet. For those suffering in places many time zones from me. Every night, even though some nights there are so many I fall asleep in the middle of one. I am glad when the Lord tells me to take a break now and then.

It explains to me why it is so important to me to have the touchstones of paper memories: photos, articles, prayers in Aramaic, this letter from Uncle Martin, the things my travel journal is stuffed with. Each of them evokes a person or a place that I pray for. I believe God honors each of them and so I don’t stop. They will be as worn as the pages of Grandma’s prayer book some day.

Grandma Thirtle had a difficult life. She worked hard for her children after her husband left her. She didn’t have many things, other than those salt and pepper shakers. She didn’t get to travel. She buried two children. But she walked a journey with God that inspires me still and I am grateful to Uncle Martin today for showing me how I am like her.