Family ties

I had a great week with the Pope last week. He was in Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia. And I was home in Omaha. But, oh the magic of television! I watched him speak to Congress and to the United Nations and to school children in Spanish Harlem. I watched him lead masses in all three cities. I prayed the Lord’s Prayer with him – me in English and him in Spanish. I thought of my first communion as he broke the bread and lifted the cup. It was a great week.

He came to the U.S. for his first time for many reasons, but foremost among them was to celebrate the family. And in his celebration, I decided to celebrate mine, too.

My family doesn’t look like the typical family he was celebrating. My family is not the mom-dad-two-kids-and-a-dog kind of family. It is hard to be that when there are seven children and your dad won’t let you have a dog. It’s hard to be that when your mom dies. It’s hard to be that when in his loneliness your dad marries again and three more children come into the household for a total of ten, and then that step-mother turns out to be the evil kind so there is a divorce. It’s hard to be that kind when a now thoroughly wounded dad with seven wounded kids remarries again to another step-mother with three more children.

We’re not the family of Father Knows Best or Ozzie and Harriet, or even The Brady Bunch or The Partridge Family. Although we do love to sing and several of my dad’s cars resembled a bus.

But we are a family, and it has expanded and contracted over the years like every family, through marriages and births and deaths and divorces.

This is my family as it looked on the day I married Steve:

Julie and Steve and family on wedding day

The now great big expansive Prescott-Burgess clan. I love this picture! May 18, 2002. Five of my six siblings, their spouses, my three step-siblings and their spouses, Steve’s brother and sister and their spouses, my dad, my step-mom, Steve’s parents, and our assorted nieces and nephews and one very special aunt, filled the chancel at West Hills Church. This big group was newly tied together as two 43-year olds said “I do” to each other.

Tied together in holy matrimony; two families become one.

In the thirteen and a half years since that picture was taken, there have been shared joys and shared sorrows, additions and subtractions.

All of those nieces and nephews pictured have graduated from high school and/or college. Some have even achieved post-graduate degrees.

There are more members now because four babies have been added.

There have been divorces in that group as well, but there have been weddings, too. And another one coming next February, will add a new brother-in-law.

Death has claimed my dad and Steve’s just one month apart in 2007, and my step-mom died just a few short weeks ago.

I see how straight Jana is standing in that photo, and it makes me sad to know that she can’t stand like that any more. Age and disability have caused her to hunch over and appear much older than her 57 years.

But what I love most about the picture is that it is on the church chancel, right under the cross.

The foot of the cross.

That is where this atypical family finds strength to deal with the loss and the pain and the grief.

The foot of the cross.

That is where this atypical family is tied together in joy when the babies come and the weddings are celebrated.

The foot of the cross.

That is where we go when crisis comes. And crisis does come, as it has this weekend. And in a hospital room we gathered around a bed, in prayer to the One who ties us together, the One who holds us together when forces would pull us apart.

Where two or three or how ever many are there gathered in His name, He is there with us.

And the beauty of technological creation, that same thing that allowed me to be with the Pope last week, allows us to join together in prayer, seeking solace from one another, even when we are spread around the country. Email. Texting. FaceTime. Telephone.

And so today in the midst of family crisis, I am grateful for family ties. And I am grateful for the one who binds us together.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Blest be the tie that binds.

Dancing in church

I have shared a couple of wonderful memories of the summer of Steve, 2001, the summer we began the relationship which continues in a marriage now in its fourteenth year. We spent a lot of time together, and we also spent a lot of time writing to each other. Those notes and cards and emails and letters tell a great love story, and they are all sitting in a basked upstairs that I have found some time to go through.

But our relationship really began with a dance in church. It wasn’t a prom. It wasn’t at a wedding. It wasn’t some gathering for singles, especially older ones. It wasn’t a two-step or a quick step or even a polka. It was a long, slow dance in circles around each other.

It started in Sunday school.

My entry point back into church was because Jana kept bugging me to come with her. So one January, I think it was 1997, I made a New Year’s resolution to go back to church, the one resolution I have ever kept. I went for 9:30 worship and then stayed with Jana for the 11:00 Sunday school class, which I really enjoyed. It was about the scripture texts that were given to Handel to write his great oratorio, Messiah. I loved it!

So I kept going back and by 1999, Jana and I were on the Adult Education Committee, planning Sunday school classes for adults. I went on my first mission trip (to southwest Germany) in 2000, and then finally joined West Hills that fall, when I had come to the conclusion that being a part of the body of Christ WITHIN the body of Christ was better than standing alone, outside.

The dance with Steve started in one of those classes that we put on, a year-long study of the Old Testament. Steve sat in the back. Jana and I sat in the front. He would tease me about always knowing the answers and being the teacher’s pet. I called it flinging arrows at my back from the rear. There we were, learning about God’s word together while circling around one another.

That fall, after I came back from Germany and took our new members class, Steve was the enabler, or facilitator, of my small group. Part of the process was to learn each other’s story and so our dance continued, bit by bit, no one leading, but the circle spiraling in.

That OT class led to another on the parables of Jesus and Steve and I found ourselves in the same small discussion group. And for some reason one week the discussion led to me asking this question: “If I asked you to jump off a cliff, would you?” It was a snarky, silly comment, and yet somehow the answer came back. Yes. He said, yes. And all of a sudden the dancers were face to face.

Never having been in this position before, I was overwhelmed. One hot night, I wrote a letter and sealed it in five envelopes. And somehow, the next day I found the courage to put a stamp on it and mail it. And that letter and its response are the first two things in that basket of memories I have thought about while walking these last weeks.

IMG_2047Dear Steve,

Would you please STOP! It’s 4:30 in the morning and I have a busy day ahead and I need to sleep! Just stop. It’s hard enough that it’s hot and I refuse to break my June 1 rule about the a/c, but you won’t leave me alone. Steve, Steve, Steve… You’re like the wind blowing right now — it’s noisy but welcome because it’s cool. The worst part is you’re probably totally unaware that you’re making so much noise! When you said you’d jump off a cliff if I asked you to, the reality is, you pushed me over. I’m falling and I can’t get up, but there’s that wonderful feeling like the down cycle of a ferris wheel. Over and over and over… Steve, Steve, Steve. Cut it out! I’m sealing this in all these envelopes to muffle the noise. Sorry if this rambles, but it’s 4:30. A.M.! So, I will now make one more attempt to sleep. Good morning to you.

Sincerely, but sleepily, Julie

P.S. See you Sunday at 8!

It was a small, brave step forward in our dance…and it scared me. Two days later, this arrived:

IMG_2048Dear Julie,

You’ve been making a lot of noise in my head also. I don’t know what to say! I’ve been trying to get to know you better as carefully and secretly as possible. But now you’ve flushed me out into the open. Your first card [an Easter card sent earlier in the spring – JPB] was the first clue I had of your possible interest, but I didn’t want to misread anything, nor was I ready to say anything. For that matter I’m still not sure I’m ready. But here I am! Talk about falling off a cliff, your second card was wonderful! Whatever comes next, I will treasure it always.

So what does come next? I’ve been thinking about asking you out for some time now, but the very word “dating” makes me cringe. Maybe we can start figuring this out this weekend. Call me when you get this card.

Truly yours, Steve

P.S. Your handwriting is atrocious! You didn’t really expect this correspondence to go by without at least one gibe did you?

I called. We went to dinner. We started, not dating, but keeping coming. I went to Cameroon five days later, came back, and the dance continued. It continues still, now in the wonderful and miraculous state of wedded bliss.

I never went to the prom or the homecoming dance. But it’s okay. I danced in church,  and my card was – and is – filled.


More walking memories

Walking is good! Walking is good for me! That is my mantra as I head out of the house, trying to find the cool of a warm Omaha day. It continues as heat builds up in the air and in my body as I take another step. And another. And another.

Today it was shorter because I headed out later in the day. 2.3 miles up to St. Margaret Mary’s where the kids were out for recess in their green and plaid uniforms, running and tossing a frisbee on this bright, sunny day.

I remember recess, and I even remember having it while wearing the brown plaid uniform of Christ the King school. And that is one of the things I thought about while walking this afternoon.

Of course, I can take those long-good-for-me walks because I am kind of living in a recess right now, although I prefer to think of it as a sabbatical. It’s not a permanent recess from work, because eventually I will do that again, even as I try the waters of grad school. Providing they let me in. Creighton? Anyone?

And those memories that come up as I take each of those steps in a 2.3 or 3.5 mile walk just flood in. The other day they took me back to the summer of 2001, or as I like to think of it, “The Summer of Steve,” the grand romance of intrigue and dating and love that led to our marriage. I learned so much that summer about Steve and about myself, and I continue to learn as we live out these days together.

What I've learnedAnd so today I am going back into that basket of written memories to share another. I actually made a list of what I learned that summer. It is a bit shredded and worn now (I must have referred to it a lot!), but they were good lessons and it was a gift to find it and read it and to share it with Steve. He has been a great teacher.

What I’ve learned about Steve:

  • His height: 6’3″
  • His weight: 215 lbs
  • Eye color: brown
  • Phone number, address, birthday (Jan 13)
  • Where he gets his hair cut: Dundee Barber
  • His tickle spot is on the bottom of his feet
  • He has strength, size and balance and therefore wins all wrestling tournaments
  • How he almost lost his toe
  • His appreciation for art and detail
  • His knowledge of history, vocabulary, literature and the Bible
  • He is patient, kind, funny, caring, passionate, easy to talk to, quick to laugh, playful, inquisitive, doesn’t agree just to agree
  • He makes me think and think long and hard and be able to explain why I think what I think

What I’ve learned about myself

  • I can’t drink more than two glasses of wine
  • I enjoy A Prairie Home Companion
  • Wrestling is fun and I can’t win
  • I am funny but have more to share than jokes
  • I can laugh at myself, but don’t have to put myself down
  • I need to work harder at developing the arguments I make to explain my positions
  • I can formulate thoughts and put them into words coherently; I can pray out loud!
  • Love isn’t experienced secondhand in books and movies…it’s real now for me and I feel it for Steve
  • I’m pretty sure I’m not going to die alone
  • I’ll never be too old to learn something new
  • God is definitely in control and loves me and shows me by leading me places I would never go and showing me that not only is it okay to go there, I’m supposed to.

I wrote that at the ripe old age of 43. “I’ll never be too old to learn something new.” I’m 56 now and still learning.

Still learning what it means to love and be loved by someone like Steve. It’s a gift every day that I gladly receive.

Still learning to take in information and wanting to learn about complicated things like Middle East politics.

Still experiencing the joy and the power of praying, even out loud when necessary.

Still following God in the journey he has taken me on to Lebanon and Syria and Iraq and knowing it is where I am supposed to be.

Yes, I still know that I will never win a wrestling match with Steve. But I am reminded as I walk in this recess of my life, I am so glad that we still do. We wrestle with what it means to use the resources God provides to serve him. We wrestle with the news of the world and how we treat each other in such horrible ways. We wrestle with why families who look just like us in every aspect of our lives can be suffering the atrocities of extremist ideologies. We wrestle.

But we also pray, out loud, with each other every day, because in the wrestling matches of this life, we are knocked to our knees.

So, yes, walking is good for me. And today, I remember how much I love and how much I have learned. And I think about my teacher, my husband, my Steve.

Remembering while I walk

Norden chuteI’ve got a lot of time on my hands these days. I left my job two months ago, and my Monday through Friday daytime hours are now my own. Even as I think about the next thing, which is probably grad school at Creighton, I need to fill my hours.

I wash the morning dishes. I check in on Facebook to see what is going on in the world of my friends. I pay bills. I balance the checkbook.

And I walk.

I am rediscovering the beauty of my neighborhood as I put one foot in front of the other. I live in a walking neighborhood and many people are out there with me.

I listen to the music that comes through my earbuds and helps me to keep my feet moving.

And I think.

I think of family and friends still on this earth and those who have gone home.

And I remember.

And these days, I am looking back to the first days of my love of Steve and the beginning steps we took together. So today, I came home and brought down the basket of letters and notes we shared with each other, and continue to do even in these days.

Today, I found this prayer which I wrote one sleepless night with his new found love changing my life day by day.

A Prayer

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Help me, help me, help me.

It’s not a cliff, it’s a waterfall. I fly without wings, downward amidst the water droplets of mist; a river exploded, suspended in air. Floating down, ever down, to where it collects itself again into a moving, roaring force. Only now I am in the flood – not with it, not part of it – fighting to get out.

It’s baptism by flood. Don’t fight; give in and relax and soon I am lifted out and he leads me beside the still waters, not bouncing in the rapids, bruised and battered, but beside the now tender, quiet flow. My spirit is stilled by your spirit, Father.

My skin is cooled and cleansed, but my throat and heart are parched and dry. Quench my thirst with the lovely coolness of your water. My cup overflows with your mercy and grace. I am safe. I am loved.

Help me to love with the force of the waterfall, to explode into mist, to gather together, to tumble over rocks, to still, to cool, to quench. Let me be loved the same way.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Steve had shared Anne Lamott’s book with me where I learned her three prayers: Help. Thanks. Wow. Those three prayers are still mine as well.

And today, walking has helped me to remember that my hours are not just mine. They are shared with a man who loves me and whom I love, and who has encouraged me in this sabbath until the next thing.

I love. I am loved. I am grateful.