Healing garden in the rain

A number of years ago, a wonderful family in our church provided funds for the creation of a healing garden on the north side. It’s just a beautiful spot now. The trees and shrubs have matured so well. We have the sweetest gardeners here at West Hills who give such care to our gardens, and they have masterfully kept this one free of weeds. It’s a spot to sit and read, or pray, or contemplate. God always seems so close in a garden. I love to wonder at his creation in this one, and my gardens at home.

God has been good to us in Nebraska this year with rain. Even now, on the last day of September as we should be creeping into the bright colors and then browns of fall, the rain is coming down and everything is as green as that beautiful green of spring. In that healing garden today, it is no different. That beautiful soothing place is like an oasis and even in the rain it beckons me. “Come sit. Come pray. Come share what is on your heart with God. He’ll meet you right here.”

Okay, so it’s raining, so I didn’t go out there. But it didn’t stop me from taking the moment looking out the window to share with him that I am indeed in need of healing.

God bless Sr. Joyce Rupp today! Her devotion in “Fragments of Your Ancient Name” for September 30 reminded me that “I need relief from my burdens.” I need healing from their weight, and I can take that right to my Father:

Alleviate what bothers me
About certain aspects of my life.
Lighten the burdens I carry
In my concern for others’ woe.
Allay my fear of the future
And what it might bring to me.
Smooth the rough edges
That irritate my reckless mind.
Reduce the tension of my troubles
As I place greater trust in you.

She found inspiration for this ten-line prayer from something in the Qu’ran. And the significance of that for me today was something.

In a conversation today at lunch a question came up about one of those worries or burdens that I carry around with me. We were talking about ISIS/ISIL and what they are doing in their rampage through Syria and Iraq. One person wanted to know why we never hear from Muslims in our country speaking out against this perversion of their faith. An Egyptian pastor I know believes their ideology is the real Islam. Yet, he pointed out to me an Iraqi Shia imam who has been arrested in Iran, who preaches something very different from this. Others I have heard from in my travels tell me the same thing: this ideology is NOT the real Islam.

I worry that this ideology is wreaking havoc on people I know and love in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. It’s destroying their homes, their families, their way of life. They are fleeing the lands where their roots go back to the beginning of the church.

And here in this ten-line prayer, inspired by words from a tradition not my own, written by my first grade teacher, who discipled me as a child and inspires my faith even now fifty years later, is a reminder that God is so much bigger than I can imagine.

He sends the rain to reduce the tension of drought. He brings forth the greens of the earth which smooth and soothe the rough edges of my worries and burdens. He carries the weight of my concern for others who are suffering in places so far away. He invites me into that healing garden – even if it’s only a place in my mind because it’s raining outside – and invites my conversation with him.

In days like this, I really need that reminder of healing and where to find it. My heart is broken for a murdered sister. My heart aches with the pain this has brought to my family. And I know that there are countless others in this war torn world that feel this same brokenness in the loss of their family members. And we cry out for justice that is not in our hands, and over which we have no control.

I need to get on my knees and pray. I need to sit in the garden and talk to the healer. And I need to remember that he makes the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous and it is not my job to decide who belongs in which group.

He tells me to love my enemies and to pray for them too.

During Lent in 2013, I spent those forty days with a Facebook group reading through the sermon on the mount every day. So each day I read through the entirety of those amazing words in the gospel of Matthew, chapters five, six and seven. Some days I settled on certain places and a poem was birthed.

Today, in the healing rain, I just wanted to share this one:

Love Your Enemies: Lent Day 35 Mathew 6:43-48

Ten years ago it started
With shock and awe and blood
An unfounded persecution
of a country misunderstood
They told us it was in response
To the terror of Nine Eleven
But the lies have since been exposed
Forgive us, God in heaven.
For by our laws the “they” is “we”
The phrase is “we the people”
And so we all must bear this stain
Of a war that is blatantly evil.

I pray for this forgiveness
And in the praying know
That across nine time zones there are those
Whose prayers arise also
The sun that rose today for me
Shines also in eastern desert
And when it rains from western skies
It can fall in the east as treasure.
They know these verses that we read
In fact, they heard them first!
May they be prompted to love their enemy
“We the people” who caused grievous hurt.

May we each pray for forgiveness from the other, and in the praying find healing for our broken lives and hearts.

Bread Rising

bread risingSteve, Jana and I had dinner last night with two of Jana’s great admirers, Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, and Mike Troutman, our regional organizer for Bread.

Jana’s relationship with Bread for the World goes back to her time as the assistant camp director for Highlands Presbyterian Camp in Allenspark, Colorado. One of her main duties was running the kitchen and feeding the hundreds of campers who came through in the summer and throughout the year. She turned the food program into an educational program for the campers so they could learn about hunger issues in the world.

Bread for the World is a Christian advocacy group, lobbying our Congress on behalf of poor and hungry people in this country and around the world. For forty years they have proclaimed: Have faith. End hunger. Why?

Moved by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we reach out to our neighbors, whether they live in the next house, the next state, or the next continent.

Jana heard this message and responded by using what she learned by reading scripture to teach others. And she led me in this way also.

One of the main things Bread does is advocate; they lobby Congress on behalf of others who have no voice or whose voices have been marginalized. After Jana’s accident in 1983, she lost the ability to communicate clearly by speaking. When God sent her to Washington, D.C., in 1994 to be a voice for the voiceless, she needed an Aaron. Moses’s excuse to God for not leading the people out of Egypt was that he was no public speaker. So God provided his brother, Aaron, to be his voice.

So I assumed the identity of Aaron, the public speaker.

Being the shy, introverted type, (I’m not joking here. That is who I am. I have had to learn to be otherwise.) this was not an easy task for me. But together, Jana and I lobbied our then Senators Kerry and Exon, and Peter Hoagland, the second district rep in 1994 on the campaign, “Many Neighbors, One Earth.” It was all about sustainable development. We walked the halls of Congress and even got to ride the train underneath the capitol that whisks people back and forth among the congressional buildings.

It was the most amazing experience I ever had. And for the first time as a citizen of the United States, I understood more about our government and my role in it than I ever gained from A.P. U.S. history in high school. I was hooked!

We have been back many times, raising our voices. And though we were not often successful with our legislators, Bread has had a huge impact on these issues in their forty years of work.

How big an impact?

Since 1990, hunger and extreme poverty have been cut in half worldwide. As they put it in a recent publication: “We see this as God moving in our history – a great exodus from hunger in our own time.”

And the ultimate goal? Ending hunger by 2030, sixteen years from now. Possible? Impossible? In the book of Luke, chapter 18, verse 27, Jesus says, “What is impossible for man is possible with God.”

And these men are admirers of my sister Jana because her life is the proof of that statement. God called Jana into place that was impossible for her to go. But walking with him, everything has been possible for Jana. She has put her time and her treasure and her heart into these issues for over thirty years. She can’t walk the halls anymore as her body is so weak. But her fingers are still strong! She is still writing letters and emails, explaining why effecting good policy will change things for the better for everybody.

She is yeast in the dough. Bread rising.

Last night gave me a chance to share about that line in the Lord’s Prayer that is so familiar to all of us:

Give us this day our daily bread.

I shared that while in Basrah, Iraq, this past March, one of my teammates gave me a translation of this line from the original Aramaic:

Give us this day the bread that doesn’t run out.

And that is the mission of Bread for the World. Working together in the act of loving God by loving our neighbor, we can make sure that everyone gets this bread.

We can end hunger by 2030.

Bread rising.

Read more at http://www.bread.org


Not as she died, but as she lived

Cathy with catI shouldn’t have done it, but I did.

An envelope came in the mail today that I asked for. It contains the autopsy on my baby sister Cathy. I asked Sally to send it to me so I could share in the pain and agony that she and Susan already knew: how Cathy died. Sally put a post-it note on the front that said, “Please, don’t read this alone.”

Obstinance. Stubbornness. They run in my family. Crap on that.

I read page two and had to stop.

I don’t want to know anymore until I have to. I don’t want to know this and I’m sorry that Sally and Susan have. One day I will be there in that club with them, but not today.

Today, I want to remember how Cathy lived.

She was the youngest of seven, the last born to George and Jeanne Prescott on December 7, 1964. It was Pearl Harbor Day, but she was a gift to them, not a reason for infamy.

She was always shy, like me. On one of our memorable trips to Ponca State Park for our vacation, she was just a little thing, maybe five. She was afraid to get on a horse, even with Daddy. And I can remember her standing along the trail as the line of horses with all of us except her on one walked by. Jack the wrangler would have none of it. He stopped and scooped her up and put her on the saddle in front of him. I’ll never forget the moment.

Her life was one of torment under our evil stepmother, and it just caused her such emotional damage. Years later she ran away from home. To Ponca. To Jack. He called Daddy to let him know and Daddy drove up there to get her. Ponca was a safe place for her.

She had a lung removed in her twenties. So many bronchial infections over the years had just destroyed it. It wasn’t from smoking or asthma or cancer. Just childhood disease that had taken its toll.

Her many illnesses and hospitalizations gave her a front row view to life as a patient and she didn’t always like what she saw. She worked for a number of years as an aide in hospitals and nursing homes and saw the way an older generation without money or insurance was treated. Doctors didn’t listen to them. Nurses ignored them. Cathy, having been one who suffered that kind of emotional abuse – not being loved by one who should have – took umbrage. She found a calling. She went to nursing school and became a healer herself.

She would never back down when she felt a patient’s voice was not heard. She didn’t make many friends among the ranks of hospital administrators or doctors. But, her patients loved her and she loved them. She was part of their community.

She became part of a traveling nurses’ association and went from Colorado to Hawaii to Wisconsin to Iowa. I thought it was perfect for her: 50 states meant 25 years of employment on six-month contracts. As she ticked off people in one state, she could move to the next, caring for people and being their voice.

She was incapacitated by two strokes that came before her 40th birthday, possibly due to surgical sponges that were left in her body from a previous surgery. The irony is palpable.

So she was disabled and couldn’t work. Aphasia took her ability to communicate clearly but, my oh my, she could still swear when she was mad!

She loved her nephews with a tiger mom’s passion. Let them eat more chips!

She loved her dog, Rebel, and it was a sad day when one day she had to put her down.

She drove to California by herself in her early twenties. In her time with Marriott in Palm Desert, she met celebrities like Sonny Bono who checked into the hotel. She was not impressed.

She loved our dad until the day he died, and he loved her. I am glad he went before her, because this is hard to lose her in this way.

She was Sally’s protector in life, and Sally is her champion in death.

And Sally is my protector now. And I won’t read anymore in that envelope.

I remember Cathy as she lived. And, oh my, how she lived.

Hand in hand

Holding hands on wedding dayThere we are on our wedding day, May 18, 2002. Gosh! We look so young you can’t even tell we are 43 and 44 years old (she said while wearing her rose-colored glasses). I remember that day like it was yesterday!

For both of us, it was our first – and we have pledged! – only marriage. First time for two folks in early middle age. Steve’s parents were married when his mom was only 19 and Chuck was 25. My mom was 23 and my dear old dad was 27. It seems so young to me!

So there we are, standing in the church for pictures on the big day, and I love this one because we are holding hands. We get teased often at church for our PDAs: public displays of affection. We often hold hands, stand arm in arm, and even exchange kisses. It’s still first love for me. It always will be.

We did meet at church, in Sunday school actually. I sat in the front row with Jana, and Steve sat in the last row. He used to tease us for being “teacher’s pets” and I accused him of flinging arrows at our heads from the back row…figurative arrows. Somehow we were friends who liked to tease each other and then we ended up on the adult education committee together. Our families joined together with other friends after church for lunch on Sundays at Arby’s. Our pastor George and his wife Pam were part of that group. After we got engaged, George shared the story of how he woke up in the middle of the night after having dreamed that Steve and I would be married someday. He woke Pam to tell her, too. Oddly enough, it was before any of the rest of our “keeping company” started. He just had a vision and I have always loved that story.

Anyway, how we eventually ended up going out that first night is another story for another day. It involves a letter from me and then a returned letter from him. It’s not fodder for an HBO mini series, but I am sure there will be a movie about it someday. Steve will be played by Kevin Costner and I will be played by…me.

The first night we went out was exactly one year before that wedding picture: May 18, 2001. We met at Delice, a bakery/bistro in Omaha’s Old Market area. He had a cup of coffee and I had a Diet Coke. We each paid for our own. I had nothing else to compare this to as I told Steve, “This is my first date. With a man. Ever in my life. Did I tell you I was 42?” That was the truth!

After our caffeine intake, we decided to walk a bit farther into the market for dinner at the Upstream Brewery. And that is when it happened: he reached out for my hand. And for the first time at the advanced spinsterly age of 42, for the very first time, (did I stress that enough?) my hand was nestled into the larger hand of a man who was not my father, not my uncle, not my grandpa. And I will never forget the wonder of that feeling. I can close my eyes and see us walking down Howard Street, hand in hand, and thirteen years have melted away. I knew then and there I would marry him someday, so it was funny when George told us of his dream.

I also experienced my first kiss that evening, but this story is not about that either. It’s about holding hands.

At dinner that evening, Steve ordered a burger and I ordered a salad. My whole self was just in shock that I was even there, and I was so enthralled that I just couldn’t eat, so Steve finished mine. But that was the end of the meal. The beginning went something like this. Steve said, “Should we say grace?” And I just nodded, knowing I couldn’t say anything. He reached his hands across the table and took both of mine in his and thanked God for our meal.

And we have never done it any other way.

After that first date (I only use that term because it’s easier. We never considered that we were dating, just keeping company.) the story got out quickly that we were a couple. We tried to keep it just to ourselves for a while because it was new and special, and frankly, I think we were both a bit scared. But once we were discovered, it was wonderful to be so easy with our PDAs, especially holding hands. We started sitting together in church and when it was time for prayer, somehow we just reached for the other’s hand and held them until the “amen.”

And we have never done it any other way.

I think of how many times we have prayed hand in hand like that in the last thirteen years. So many meals. So many church services. Weddings. Funerals. We have prayed for our family members in their joys and sorrows; we have prayed with and for our friends in theirs as well. We pray with our small group when we gather to share lives and learn more about our God. We have prayed on trips to be with the church in Germany, the Czech Republic, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria. We have prayed for peace, over and over again.

I know when we join our hands like that, God meets us right there as we pray.

praying hands in DamascusAnd so this picture means so much to me. We were in Damascus, Syria, in January with The Outreach Foundation. We had traveled to Lebanon to be with the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon along with other global partners of NESSL. Sixteen of us made the short journey to Damascus to be with the church in a country that had been at war for almost three years. They still are, and we continue to pray for them even now with the news of the impending U.S. participation in a plan against ISIS. Oh! How we pray for peace.

While we were in the church service that day, surrounded by the members of the Damascus congregation plus the refugees who had fled other parts of Syria to be there, we bowed our heads in prayer as we have done so many times. And we reached out our hands to each other as we have done so many times. And somehow that caught the eyes of a photographer and this photo was posted on Facebook.

If there is only one picture that you can pick to describe the life you have shared with that one person you know God picked for you personally, this is the photo I would pick to tell the story of Julie and Steve. And they are not the hands of Kevin Costner.

They are Steve’s, and they are mine. Hand in hand.

Tell him what you want

Hiding Place (Psalm 32:7)

Ah, there are those days
When the best place to be
Is hiding out with you
Where stillness is to be found
And perspective from problems.
Where hope can be restored
And peace re-enters the mind.
Where joy waits to be savored
And mourning given her due.
Thank you for being my Hiding Place

Joyce Rupp, Fragments of Your Ancient Name

It was just a couple of weeks ago that I had an amazing life intersection with my first grade teacher, Sr. Mary Amy. She is Sr. Joyce Rupp now, an author, a retreat speaker and the co-director of the Institute of Compassionate Presence. The passage above is from the September 18 entry from a devotional she wrote. And today, it put my own prayer into beautiful form.

Psalm 32:7 says “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverence.”

When I was a very little girl and I was sad or scared I had a hiding place that I never told anyone about. (Well, I told Steve recently. I tell him everything. Poor man…) I was scared of the dark when I was young. When it was time for lights out at the end of the night I always wanted Daddy to leave the hall light on and our bedroom door cracked open a bit so I could still see the light. That’s when I could fall asleep. It seems funny to me now. I saw the light. I closed my eyes and it was dark. I went to sleep. But it worked.

In the middle of the night if I woke up and got scared, I went to my hiding place. I got up very quietly so as not to wake up Susan and Jana, crept quietly down the hall so I didn’t wake up Sally and Cathy across from us or Heather and Heidi next to us, made my way stealthily through the kitchen and over to my dad’s room. Then I gently opened his bedroom door, and breathing as silently as I could, closed it behind me…and crawled under the bed. Not in the bed. Under the bed, with the box springs just brushing my face, I would lie there and wait for my heart to stop pounding and just rest knowing that my father was right there. Nothing could harm me or get me. I was protected from trouble, just like the psalmist says.

There is not a lot that scares me anymore. In that I mean I don’t feel afraid for myself. I feel fear for those I love – known and unknown to me – like Jana, the folks in Iraq and Syria and Lebanon, the children at a school where a gunman shows up, journalists and relief workers being held and killed by ISIS.

But I am not afraid of the dark.

I am afraid of darkness, however, like the darkness that has come into our family through the murder of our little sister Cathy. I am afraid that this man has not only killed Cathy but has brought the darkness of what he did to her into our minds and our dreams. What if he gets out? What if he does this again to someone else’s sister or daughter or mother? What if? The light in the hallway is out and even though I remember the way to my dad’s room, he is not there anymore and I can’t crawl under the bed. Even if I could, I’m 55 years old for crying out loud and it hurts to get down that low.

But there it is in Psalm 32 verse 7 and brought back to me by Sr. Joyce this morning. My hiding place is not under a bed. It’s in the arms of my Father God. It’s in the midst of my prayers to him and the songs I sing for him and his arms as Steve holds me and tells me we will get through this together. All of us. He is under my bed and over my bed and beside my bed and he even crawls in there with me.

And he hears my prayers. He speaks with me. He answers. He calms. He offers his peace.

And here is where another intersection/intercession came for me this morning.

On Facebook this morning there was this lovely gift of a song, “Jesus on the Mainline.”

Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want
Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want
Jesus on the main line, tell Him what you want
You can call Him up and tell Him what you want

You can call Him up, call Him up and tell Him what you want
You can call Him up, call Him up and tell Him what you want
Call Him up, call Him up and tell Him what you want
Go on, call Him up and tell Him what you want

His line ain’t never busy, tell Him what you want
His line ain’t never busy, tell Him what you want
His line ain’t never busy, tell Him what you want
Go on, call Him up and tell Him what you want

It was being sung by one of those people I love but I’ve never met, Tripp Hudgins, a pastor and doctoral student who blogs at anglobaptist.org. I first read one of his posts at sojo.net several years ago. I was totally blown away by his biography and his writing. He’s a Baptist pastor, serving then at an Episcopal church and writing about a Catholic saint. I printed out the post and shared it with George, my pastor at the time, because it was so ecumenical. I found him on Facebook, and God bless him, he accepted my friend request.

Tripp is a musician along with everything else he is and does. He regularly posts videos of his playing one of the stringed instruments he is such a master of. And he sings in this ocean-deep bass voice that can touch the high notes as well. He lives in California and apparently he gets up very early, as the video of this wonderful song was posted at 7:00 a.m. my time, which is Central, two hours later than his.

And he sang these words of the God who is my hiding place: His line ain’t never busy, tell him what you want. And so I did. “Please Father, send your peace. Send it to my family in the midst of the darkness of justice which is playing hide-and-seek for our sister. Send it to my brothers and sisters in the Middle East where the darkness of ISIS stalks and storms. Send it to a world that needs your light. Bring us out from under the bed into your arms of love.”

In your hiding place, in the dark, or in the sweet light of the sun, tell him what you want.


Steve is the head chef at our house and I am always pleased to serve as his sous chef. In that capacity, one of my main duties is to shred. I shred cucumbers and cheese. I grate lemon rind and ginger. Whatever needs to be moved up and down that four-sided, multi-gauged tin instrument, I do it.

You take that block of cheese, hard or soft, it doesn’t matter, and in a couple of minutes you have rendered it into a pile of shreds. You can’t put it back together. Same thing with a lemon. Use the smaller gauge on the shredder and once you have moved that bright yellow lemon up and down and up and down, you’ve changed its appearance and it will never be the beautiful Sunkist fruit anymore. It’s just an odd-looking piece of citrus with no skin, except that white pulpy stuff. Then you squeeze the juice out for something else and all that’s left is the shredded, hanging pulp of the fruit. There is just nothing left to it.

Yesterday I wrote about how my brothers and sisters and I are finding comfort in the midst of our pursuit of justice for our baby sister Cathy. And I do believe that not only have we found comfort, but comfort has found us. That is what I said. I still hold on to it and am grateful for the gift it is.

But today, we aren’t in control of the grater. We are the ones grated into a pile of shreds. We are the lemon that has not only had its skin shredded off slowly, but the juice has been squeezed out too. Right now I feel like the substance-less pulp of the sunny yellow lemon that is no more.

Our wait will be longer. Word came to us today that the man who murdered and raped and tortured our little sister Cathy is not competent to stand trial for the crime. He won’t even have a hearing to state that he is incompetent. As far as we understand – and it is so hard to comprehend! – he will simply be declared incompetent and moved to a facility to rehabilitate him…for what we do not know. For a trial eventually? That’s our hope and our desire, but we don’t know if that is what will happen. He has been down this road before. After being rehabilitated, he was released as someone considered “not dangerous” to society. And that is how he crossed paths with Cathy, shredding the life out of her.

Here is how we read about it in the Press Enterprise of Riverside County, California, in March, 2013:


This is what we have been living with for the past eighteen months, every day another day of waiting for justice. Every day another day of seeking and finding comfort. And some days, like today, we feel like we have been moved up and down and up and down over the sharp edges of a grater. It feels like being a pile of something that was once a person, but today is just pieces. And the shredding hurts. And we feel helpless to do anything. Even if there is something we can do, we don’t know what it is.

But I got a great hug from my pastor today. That felt like a healing balm where healing is hard to come by. Rich came into my life and the life of my church last July, 2013, as our interim. He has been with me and Jana through most of the stages of this crime and aftermath. He will be moving along soon as we call a permanent pastor and hopefully we will be able to carry on our journey with this new shepherd. I hope he gives as good of a hug as Rich does! But those hugs really do help pull the pieces back together, making me somewhat whole and able to carry on through the day.

We are reading the book of Revelation in staff prayer these days and I just want to hurry forward to chapter 21 where I know this passage awaits me:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Vs. 3-4)

I love that image. It’s a parent pulling out the kleenex or the dishtowel and just smearing the tears out of a child’s eyes and off the face. Maybe that mom or dad just puts their hand of the side of the face and wipes them off with their thumb. The intimacy of that kind of comfort, the in-your-face embrace of it, that is how I think of God the father. Such love…

But this is my favorite part: no more death! No more crying! (That one is hard to imagine for me, but wouldn’t it be amazing?!) No more mourning or pain or shredding or wringing out of our insides. For he has wiped it all away. And we will all be there together and he will be right there with us. And there will be hugs for Cathy and for Sally and Mike and Susan and Jana and George and for me. Our shredded family will be whole, shining like the sun…or a sun-kissed lemon.

Back in one piece, from many.

Sometimes the wait is long

“Boy! How many hearings will there be before one that really counts??? I thought ‘your trial’ was a pre-trial hearing?”

That was Jana’s email response to me when I told her Sally’s answer about the hearing scheduled for the man sitting in jail for murdering our little sister Cathy. I told her the hearing would be rescheduled at a hearing on Wednesday. It’s confusing to me and to Jana with her brain racked by multiple injuries and seizures, it is simply impossible to comprehend.

In age order from front to back, left to right: George Jr., Jana, Julie, Susan, Mike, Sally. This picture reminds us we once were seven.

In age order from front to back, left to right: George Jr., Jana, Julie, Susan, Mike, Sally. This picture reminds us we once were seven.

We have been preparing as a family to attend this competency hearing in Riverside, California, for many, many months. It’s been scheduled, postponed, rescheduled, postponed again and again…and again. We all have airline tickets on Southwest because, bless their hearts, they will let us change them or cancel them without penalty. We all continue to juggle our schedules and pray that we can all be there to support each other. Sally has classes to teach, Susan works in a veterinary ER clinic that needs to be staffed, Mike has the print shop to run, I am heading to the Middle East in November. I hesitate to schedule doctor or dentist appointments for me or for Jana because I am trying to keep the schedule clear so we can go. When they tell us. This time. Or the next time. The wait is long.

Cathy was murdered on March 24, 2013. I don’t think any of us will ever forget the date, and not just because it is there on the marker where we interred her ashes.Cathy's headstone It’s one of those things that just stays with you. She is the only one of the seven Prescott siblings who didn’t get to celebrate the big fiftieth birthday. She was only 48. I waited for each of us to get past the 34th birthday, and one at a time we each did. That’s the one our mom never got to celebrate because ulcerative colitis took her at 33. We all made that one! And we were each breezing through the big 5-0 as well. But then the worst happened.

So it has been a long wait. It’s hard to find closure when the horizon it sits on keeps moving away from us.

But here’s the thing. I am grateful there is a process based in the law. There is a process that we go through to make sure we get it right. We don’t always get it right as there are people on death row right now who might be exonerated in future years because new evidence is found proving their innocence. But we don’t rely on frontier justice where we hang someone and ask questions later. We don’t parade “infidel criminals” in front of cameras and then exact justice for their alleged crimes by cutting off their heads so their families can feel the pain. Our system is better than that. And yes, our system makes us wait…and sometimes the wait is long, like it is for our family now.

Sojo.net gave me this word today:

Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed — with no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power — with no one to comfort them. – Ecclesiastes 4:1 

Our family has cried rivers of tears in the last eighteen months, but I believe we have found comfort: in friends, in each other, in those places where we rest our hearts. I think George, our river rat, finds it when he is working in his garden or out on the marsh. Mike found some at the Burning Man Festival in their temple when he left a memento of Cathy there. I believe Sally finds it when she rides her horse on the eastern plains of Colorado or drives her Mini MO ZA across the Mackinac bridge in Michigan. I think Susan feels the wind rushing into her face when she runs or rides her bike and there is comfort there. I have found it by hearing God’s word through Sojourners or in singing that song that has just the perfect lyrics like this Sunday when the choir sang Thomas Dorsey’s Precious Lord:

Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, help me stand. I am tired. I am weak. I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light. Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.

There can be comfort in just living the days as they come, one by one.

None of this brings Cathy back to us. And though ripped from our lives as she has been, no one can rip the memories and the love we have for her out of our hearts or minds. She is our sister still and no one has changed or can change that.

So we wait for justice, but not for comfort. Comfort has found us.


So Jesus walked into church…again

Matthew 25I need to start this somewhere, so I’m starting it with our Tuesday staff retreat.

As part of our all day staff gathering, we took turns affirming each other in the gifts that we see in each other. It can be humbling to listen without responding when others say really nice things about you. In my case, I wonder if it’s me they’re talking about or some other Julie I have never met. But this is not about me!

We didn’t get around to everyone – we’ll finish that at another staff meeting next week – but we did get to Nancy. And what I wanted to affirm to everyone else about Nancy is that she has never met a stranger. Friday afternoons here at West Hills Church can be very quiet, but I can almost guarantee that Jesus will walk in the door in those quiet times and find Nancy. And she always recognizes him and strikes up a conversation. You should see this. It’s amazing!

Today being Friday, and quiet, well…Jesus walked in again.

The phone had just rung and Nancy answered it at her desk just as the doorbell rang, so she hit the key button on the door security system and let him in. This time, he was a she and her name was Rebecca.

She needed help. She wasn’t hungry or in need of clothing or a drink of water, and being as how she was now in the church building, she didn’t need a visit in prison either. Those are things we read about in Matthew 25. “When did I see you, Lord?” The sheep, the goats…you know the story.

She did need help in another way. She needed $86 to make up the difference between what she had in her hand and what it was going to cost to register her car at the DMV. And here was Nancy, listening to Rebecca, and seeing her own daughter sitting there.

Rebecca lives by herself, with just her dog for company. Her only income is from Social Security, just like Nancy’s daughter. Such a little bit, $721 per month (just like Nancy’s daughter), to take care of rent, food, heat, car payment. And Rebecca showed Nancy the paperwork on all this to make her point. She had $69 in her hand and she needed $86 more to make up the $155 needed at the DMV. Her car was her lifeline and she just couldn’t lose it or be without it. So she did what she needed to do: in her humanity and humility she reached out in need to the one place her heart told her she would find what she needed and that happened to be our church and there was Nancy to listen.

Nancy sat down and listened to her story and then gave her the $26 she had in purse. (When did I do this for you Lord? “I tell you the truth, whenever you did this for one of the least of my family, you did it for me.”)

And then I happened by and honestly, I was going to walk right by. But then another image flashed through my brain: Katie.

Katie is Katie Davis and about three years ago our staff read her book, “Kisses from Katie.” It tells the story of Katie going to Uganda on a summer mission trip and having her heart completely consumed by the orphans who live there in uncountable numbers. Katie went back, adopted more than a dozen as her own children while still under the age of 21 herself, and founded Amazima Ministries. It’s a great story. You can read more about it here:


The big lesson I learned from Katie in that book was this: you can’t love everyone who needs to be loved. But you can love the one in front of you at any given moment with the love of Christ. When did I see you hungry? I was right in front of you. And my name is Rebecca.

So Nancy introduced me to Rebecca and I heard her story, too. And now she had $95 in her hand. I did the math quickly in my head (love numbers!) and deduced that she still needed $60. I had $60 in my wallet today that I did not have yesterday. And now I know why it was there. It was there for Jesus/Rebecca. When did I see you needed to register your car? (That’s the Matthew 25 paraphrase.)

Open your hands. Release what’s there. I will guarantee you that as fast as you think you are emptying them, they will be refilled in ways you can’t imagine. You will get the privilege of holding Jesus in your arms, praying for a safe journey to the DMV and knowing that at least for this day, you loved him in the only way he asked of you.

And if it’s a quiet Friday afternoon, you might just get to meet him with Nancy, who has never met a stranger because she knows them all by name.

September 11

Peace hands worldI can’t help but remember what happened that day because in this land between two protective oceans no one will let you forget. Nor should we forget the deaths of innocents caused by combatants. Their lives are just snuffed out. No more songs come from their lips. No more breath fills their lungs. Their arms will hug no more children or grandchildren or family. Their last kiss from loving spouse came that morning. We don’t forget. The hole in our hearts is too big and nothing fills it, because like putting a square peg in a round hole, nothing else was designed for that space in the heart.

2,977. That’s how many died on that day in our land between two great oceans. In the park on my way home from work there is an American flag for each one of them. It’s Memorial Park and this is a memorial placed there by a woman whose brother was killed as he worked on the 105th floor of the north tower, one of the 2,977.

2,977. I looked the number up on the web today, as it is not a number that I remember exactly. I just remember the day, the planes, the falling towers, the first responders, the horror and the loss.

I looked up some other numbers, too. In response to these deaths in our land between two great oceans, we sent out our own young men and women in planes and ships across one of those oceans to achieve some sort of justice for these 2,977. In Afghanistan, since 2001, 2,229 of those young men and women have died and 18,675 have been wounded. In Iraq, since 2003, 4,488 have been killed and 32,222 have been wounded. I am sure there are memorials to them as well, in other parks in other towns and cities. Each probably has a regular placement of an American flag on their place of final rest. But for them, no more songs, no more breaths, no more hugs or kisses. And there are big holes left in the hearts of those who knew and loved them.

But as 2,977 of our innocents were taken on that day, other innocents in other lands not protected by two great oceans have been taken as well. These statistics are not as easy to find and these numbers seem low to me, but they are “official” whatever that means: 137,000 Iraqi civilians and 21,000 Arghanis are no longer with their families. No more songs, no more breaths, no more hugs or kisses. Big holes in hearts of people we will never know, just like they will never know us either.

God knew them then and he knows them now, and I take comfort in that and I hope their families do as well.

Basrah church family Nov 2011In November, 2011, I was in Basra, Iraq, as part of a group of Presbyterians visiting with the Presbyterians there. It was an amazing trip. We were gathered into the arms of the church there as American brothers and sisters. And though the results of the war brought to them by our country were evident in burned and bombed buildings and piles of rubble and should have kept us cool to one another, we weren’t. We were family, most of us meeting for the first time. And as family, we had an opportunity to take a day trip with them to see the historic Ziggurat of Ur. Most of them had never been to this ancient site. Some of them were young people who had known only war for the past 30 years and holidays at the ziggurat were not a part of their life experience.

But on that November day we had a marvelous time. We walked to the top, making sure there were commemorative photos to remember the day. We shared sandwiches and fruit and soft drinks as we returned. It was a beautiful day for a family holiday excursion.

Driving back that day on a very deserted highway, we came across a convoy of American military vehicles leaving this land after eight and a half years of war, a war that we brought them because of 2,977 deaths they had no part in, and which caused the deaths of 137,000 of their own. And this was in my journal from that day:

Lamentation on an Exodus

An exodus of military vehicles, going back from whence they came. “How does that make you feel Zuhair?” I asked. “It is good that they are going and bad. Good because they never should have come. But bad because now they are the only organized and disciplined security that is here.”

There are miles and miles of sand here, and under it all is oil. Is that why we came and disrupted so much of life here? Is it going with us as we leave? Where is the benefit received by anyone for the billions spent, the untold thousands dead and wounded, the millions of refugees? One dictator dead; is there better to take his place? Is this how we build up, by first tearing down?

The Ziggurat of Ur has been there for 4,000 years and has seen the sands shift so many times. Do its weeping holes shed God’s tears when it rains? Why do my eyes weep like a monsoon has passed? Where is the end? Where is the hope? Does the sun really come up tomorrow? Is there a bright golden haze on the meadow here? No. It’s the haze of gas burning off the oil that we bring to the surface that causes all the trouble. These gas flames are not the light in the darkness that we came seeking. These oily fires are blinding the eyes of my heart today.

There is an exodus of tanks.

Let my people go, says Moses.

137,000 official deaths brought to them in a war of justice for 2,977. Walter Wink, rest his soul, tells us there is no such thing as redemptive violence. It’s a myth, and yet it is how we pursue justice. The deaths of 137,000 do not make up for 2,977 or the countless others before that in every permutation of these continuing wars or the ones about to happen again because the spawn of this war on terror has a new name – ISIS – and it must be contained, stopped, obliterated.

There are more numbers to come. More empty hearts, more hugs and kisses that will never happen. Songs stilled forever. Who knows the number?

But I will hope and pray because in the word of God I find reason to. The next morning after my lamentation I wrote this psalm:

New day’s redemptive Psalm

A reading from the book of Isaiah, chapter 2, verse 4: He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

The word of the Lord.

They drove down the highway with all of their tanks.
Leaving this country, rank upon rank.
Their guns were now silent, yet still able to cause fear
An exodus home from this place over here.

Oh what will they do with the weapons of war?
What can they become?
What can they be for?

Most will return, although some cannot
Their families will smile. They’ll hug them: a lot!
They’ll take off their armor, when they get back home.
Their tanks and their guns, shelved one by one.

Oh what will they do with the weapons of war?
What can they become?
What can they be for?

Back to the world of the normal and neat,
Back to the yard with grass under their feet.
They march now to work, and to play, and to bed.
They sleep with this thought that will come to their head:

Oh what will they do with the weapons of war?
What can they become?
What can they be for?

A dream begins forming, thoughts from a reading long ago,
words that were given to a prophet you know.
“Beat them to plowshares, to hooks that will prune.
Use them to harvest, use them for good.”

That tank can be flattened, he saw in his dream,
can be flattened and rebuilt to a plowing machine.
The fuel inside of its bombs and its missiles
can power the tractor to plow out the thistles!
And if we took all of the rifles we held,
and melted them down into metals to meld,
we could make ovens for the baking of bread!
And from the bread we could share with our neighbor.
We can transform our training to life-giving labor.

We heard from this prophet, whose name is Isaiah,
that He who made us and loves us, now wants to train us.
He wants us to walk in the light of his love.
He wants to make much of his people because
it shows off His work, it reflects His glory.
He is after all, the point of the story.

The soldier awakes to a new day at dawn.
He opens his eyes and goes for a run.
Not running away now, but running toward
a plan to bring peace where once there was war.

That’s what they’ll do with the weapons of war.
That’s what they’ll become.
That’s what they’ll be for.
Nor will they train for war anymore. Amen.

And for this September 11, the numbers I will think about, dream about, pray about will be these: zero weapons of war. Zero deaths due to war. And I will pray for an uncountable number of plowshares and pruning hooks to grow enough food to feed all those who hunger. I will dream of one melodious symphony composed of the sounds of infinite deep breaths and songs and hugs and kisses.

I will believe that we can wage peace. And let it begin with me.




The Christmas Card

The Christmas Tree by Alan Beck

Jana's Christmas card 1976You’ll remember me as I look tonight –
In my Christmas dress, shimmering with tinsel,
Gay with brightness,
A star at my head and presents at my feet.
Through the window pane my gaiety is a bit of Christmas Spirit
even for the passer-by.
You’ll remember me in my Christmas dress.

But I’m remembering last Christmas.
From the North came a sifting of snowflakes
for my holiday decoration.
A red fox paused near my feet, sniffing the cold,
Then hurried on across the white meadow.
My presents, a pair of finches huddling close in my branches.
For a carol, only the hooting of an owl.
And overhead a million stars to light my Christmas night.

The card was homemade, with a silkscreen graphic of a simple Christmas tree. It was done in two layers: the green tree on a blue card stock, and the red ornaments, tree stand and yellow star on onionskin attached and overlaid on the blue. It has a handwritten note on the right and back panels next to where this poem is neatly printed and attached separately. It is dated December 8, 1976. It is a Christmas note from Jana to Aunt Sr. Carolyn when she was home for the winter break during her sophomore year at Iowa State.

It reads like this:

Dear Sr. Carolyn,

It may have taken me a while, but I am at last answering your letter!

I ended up with an “A” in my physics class, which I still don’t quite believe, but I’m nonetheless proud of it.

I changed my major to Leisure Services (alias Recreation) at the beginning of this quarter. Hopefully it won’t change again before I graduate!

Not much exciting is going on around here. While I was home I got my driver’s license – finally! My first “solo” driving job came about 3 hours after I got it! Some nerd hit our dog with their car and didn’t bother to stop. Since no one else was home, I had to run him to the vet. He was really lucky. He only had to have part of his tail amputated, and his foot bandaged for a while. That’s all the major news from the front!

Take care and have a super Christmas!

Love, Sprout

It came to me in another envelope of memories from Aunt Carolyn this week. There is another longer letter Jana wrote to her in 1982 that I will share at another time, but I wanted to share this one because of the memories it jogs for me, and the question it begs from me.

It is so Jana! Handmade. Silkscreened. In her time at ISU (1975-1980) she silkscreened so many pieces like this. She belonged to something called the Hawkeye Recreatory and every year the cover of their annual looked something like this card. It was a craft she learned in Girl Scouts and always loved. She had made her own silkscreen frame, so she could make her own cards and stationery. She’s a printer’s daughter after all!

The poem she quoted about the Christmas tree reminds me of a story we learned years later called “Alfie, the Christmas Tree.” John Denver wrote that story and you can just picture the tree in a glorious winter life on the mountain or in the meadow, offering its own worship to the creator who made it, in celebration of his incarnation at Christmas. Oh how Jana loved – and still loves! – the mountains and the meadows. That’s what drew her to Colorado.

The quick note in her neat handwriting brings back that fall and winter of 1976. Jana had refused to take driver’s education in high school and so was forbidden by our dad from getting her driver’s license and driving the family car. “It’s stupid!” she declared in her sure-of-everything Jana way. Somehow it wasn’t so stupid once she went to Ames for college. She took it there and thought it was great, worthwhile even. I was drafted to drive the car out to her one day when I had a day off of high school here in Omaha so she could take her driving test and get her license in Ames. (I didn’t think driver’s ed was stupid. I took it in the summer before my sophomore year and passed, enabling me to get my driver’s license in 1974! I could drive Jana when she was a senior in high school, but she couldn’t drive me.) Through a series of Three Stooges-like events, our car didn’t pass the inspection in Iowa. We got the problem taken care of (headlight was out!) and by the time we got Jana back to the testing station, it was closed. My trip to Ames went for nought and Jana was, let me say, not amused. But several weeks after that, Jana borrowed a friend’s car, took the test and passed.

That must have happened right before she came back to Omaha on a quick trip. She probably got a ride into Omaha from a friend, and so her first solo ride was in our VW squareback with the Road Runner sticker on the back. We all took turns driving that car, including Mike, who I have said before was driving it before any of us…and he wasn’t doing it with license or parental permission at his tender age of 13.

But I digress!

The dog I remember well: Tiny, our little chihuahua/terrier mix. I remember him making his way home in terrible condition, his foot in tatters and his tail hanging by a thread. I didn’t remember that Jana took him to the vet, but obviously she did from this note written at the time. He was bandaged up and had just a stump of a tail after that. He still wagged it just as hard when any of us came home. He was such a good dog. He paid the price for our lack of pet responsibility seven Christmases later when he was hit by another car on Christmas Eve. That was when Jana was back living at home, ten months after the train hit her. And we were all devastated.

Even through the sad images this card conjures up in my brain, I look at it and smile. Jana was always good about writing to SAC and keeping her in tune with what was happening in her life. Ames wasn’t that far from Dubuque where SAC lived, and Jana took many trips that way during her five years at ISU.

And the card is just so…Jana. The writing is neat. Her humor in telling a story is there. Her blunt honesty (nerd!) shines through. She doesn’t hold back. She has found her calling in leisure services, a way to live in the mountains and meadows and make a life from it.

There is also something that is not in the card: an expression of the faith that Jana came to call on sometime in her years at ISU. Sometime after this Christmas of 1976, Jana discovered that she did love God, and he loved her. I don’t know when, or how, or through whom, but someday I hope to learn. Because ultimately it was Jana who gave that gift back to me.

And so here on a day in September, I am experiencing a little out-of-season Christmas. Jana is sitting right here in the room with me and through Sr. Carolyn’s intermediary powers, has given me this gift from across the years.

And in the irony and happenstance of life, I am the one driving her once again. It’s the least I can do in response to the greater gift she has given me.

Merry Christmas!