Dona nobis pacem: rest stops

H.W.S. Cleveland was a landscape architect of the 19th century, and as I have been walking through my own neighborhood these past two months, I have come to appreciate how he helped my city develop some beautiful parks.

I live on Happy Hollow Boulevard, part of the system of city streets that were planned to link the Omaha parks together. Happy Hollow winds beautifully along two of the bests parks in Omaha: Elmwood and Memorial. And in my daily steps along the sidewalks and paths, I have come to find rest stops for my journey.


A panoramic view of Memorial Park facing west from the path.


The grotto at Elmwood Park with its natural spring running through the channel.

“He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake…” goes the 23rd Psalm. Beside still waters. Green pastures. All these things are in this amazing section of Omaha that I find myself wandering through.

As I think about my friends in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, or my family in crisis, walking has become a prayer time for me as I put one foot in front of the other, and doing it in green pastures with still waters and carefully planted trees and flower beds, is a reminder that this God who made and loves us all, is there with me at each step.

Between the two parks is my college alma mater, the University of Nebraska – Omaha. As I walk through the campus, I have found other places that also remind me of how God has unique ways of encouraging me on this daily journey as I seek his pace, his peace.

IMG_2007There is the Castle of Perseverance, an outdoor amphitheater designed by Andrew Leicester of Minneapolis. I came upon it one day several weeks back as I chugged uphill from the College of Fine Arts, and the first thing I saw was this: the word peace on a missile-shaped sculpture. I followed the semi-circle around and found justice, mercy and truth to complete the set. “Act justly. Love tenderly. Walk humbly.” My six-word reminder from Micah 6:8 was echoing through my head.

IMG_2011This place also brings Romans chapter 5 to my mind, a scripture shared at my father’s memorial service and one that speaks to my heart about the church in the Middle East that I have been humbled to walk with:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5 NIV)


Suffering, perseverance, character, hope. Steps on the journey of the family of God in Syria, even as I write this. Never have I seen a people who model hope in such times of suffering.

Or walking south through campus as I approach the east side of the soccer stadium I found “Song,” another art piece, many of which are sprinkled around this urban campus. With my earbuds bringing “All to Us” by Chris Tomlin into my head and heart, all I can do is sing aloud, just like the little bird:

Precious cornerstone,
Sure foundation
You are faithful to the end.
We are waiting on you, Jesus
We believe you’re all to us.

sounding stone brokenness

Walking down the hill and into Elmwood Park, past students scurrying up the hill to class, I come up the east side of the park and find the Sounding Stones, which I’ve written about before, Sounding Stones. Brokenness. Humility. Submission. Simplicity. Community. Each of those is part of our journey, my journey. And each one invites a prayer. My prayers for peace – dona nobis pacem – are so centered in that stone of brokenness these days.

St Margaret Mary's PeaceAnd if these special rest stops on the journey don’t invite me into peaceful places (which they do), there is yet another spot I can wander between the two parks. Saint Margaret Mary’s Catholic Church stands facing the university from the north side of Dodge Street, right next to Memorial Park. If the words carved into its entryway aren’t enough to remind me of God’s peace, the sweet statue of my favorite saint, Francis of Assisi, is there, too. And though the words on his statue there are the canticle of Brother Sun, the ones he is speaking to me are, “make me a channel of your peace.”

St Margaret Mary's St FrancisShalom.





Whatever language the word is spoken in, I want to be a conduit of peace. Let my words speak it. Let my actions be its witness. And I am so grateful for these reminders in these rest stops along the way – in green valleys, in still waters, in righteous paths.

Dona nobis pacem.





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.




A Bob Ross kind of day

trees1I miss Bob Ross. I used to watch him paint a new painting in thirty minutes every Saturday on PBS. The list of colors of his paint would scroll across the bottom of the screen: titanium white, phthalo green, phthalo blue, prussian blue, midnight black, dark sienna, Van Dyke brown, alizarin crimson, sap green, cadmium yellow, yellow ochre, Indian yellow, bright red. Such exotic names. Such living colors.

Remember? He would just take a blank canvas and start brushing color on it. Soon there would be happy clouds, evergreen forests, snow-capped mountains, bubbling streams, wind-tossed waves on lakes or oceans…and over here lives a happy little squirrel.

Week after week, he would create a full landscape, narrating a story about a cabin or a farmhouse, and completely draw you in. It was total entrancement for thirty minutes. It was so peaceful in that world he created. I miss that.

So today I took a thirty-minute walk in my neighborhood on a Bob Ross kind of day. I just needed to stretch my legs and soak in the crispness of a picture perfect autumn day in midtown Omaha. I headed out the door, turned left on Webster Street, walked up the hill and down to J. E. George Blvd., turned south toward Underwood, pushed the button so the light would change and I could cross Underwood safely to walk down the west side of Memorial Park, then turn east to head to Happy Hollow Blvd. and walk by the creek north to home. It was just about thirty minutes.

A sweet yellow Labrador retriever was resting on the phthalo green lawn of a titanium white house behind its midnight black iron fence. He didn’t respond to my “Hi Pup!” or my hand claps, but he seemed happy to be soaking up the sun in his restful position.

On I walked past a neighborhood family of young boys tossing a Van Dyke brown football back and forth with their dad. Perhaps the Huskers should come over to this neighborhood to recruit, because those two caught every pass thrown their way. There was no wind to alter the arc of those effortless passes that dad threw.

Continuing on my journey, I passed a sweet older couple walking a puffball of a dog that could only have been made by a blend of ochre and brown off Bob’s palette. He had the happiest expression on his face and was a size that could have fit in Bob’s shirt pocket like that little ground squirrel he featured once in a while.

Down the walk I went and came across a mom with two little girls whose hair was styled in the bob cut so popular when me and my sisters were young. I couldn’t not comment about how cute they were and it made their mom smile. Ebony was the color of those bob cuts.

I turned off the walk a bit farther down to walk through the grass still green with the rains we have had. I was attracted by the crimson red crabapples on a grove of trees and wondered if they were the ones I needed to make my jelly. Alas, they were not. But as I left their company I came across the neighboring grove of honey locusts whose leaves were changing already to the ochres and Indian yellows of fall.

And walking on through an aromatic stand of evergreens which made me think of Christmas trees, I trailed through the faded glory of cannas already touched by frost. Their guardian ranks of marigolds and salvia were still glorious in the yellows and oranges and reds and violets that carry us through the summer. Soon they will all be gone, but on this day they blazed in the glory of the sun.

And just like Bob could always spin the tale of someone who lived in that wood or on that farm, as I crossed the south end of the park and looked up toward the stark white of the memorial on the top of the hill, I spied a wedding party posing for photos on the curve of the walk up the hill. There was the white of a beautiful dress in the shadow of the trees, surrounded by the dark suits of gentlemen and the dark purple dresses of the ladies. What a beautiful day for a wedding! I think that’s what Bob Ross would have seen as he brushed those colors on the canvas.

And walking back up the trail toward home on Happy Hollow, I listened to the last of the cicada song, much weaker now than the loud symphony they give us in the summer. And I heard the sound of younger and fitter steps coming up behind me so I moved over to let the jogger go by, not changing my pace. I’m sure I saw and heard much more than him as his earbuds were in and his eyes were dead forward. Too bad for him! He missed the young boys who were playing down by the culvert in the creek streaming slowly by down in the hollow. He also missed the bright yellow flowers blooming on the vine that covered the dull green fence that is there to keep us from tumbling down the engineered terraces along the walk. He missed seeing the little holes the squirrels had dug to bury acorns and such other delicacies that get them through the winter.

Just like the thirty minutes I used to spend with Bob Ross, thirty minutes walking in the neighborhood today invited me into a story of beauty in a small space. In a very large world, Omaha is a small place. In the urban sprawl of Omaha, Dundee-Memorial Park is just a corner. But in my corner of the world today was a phthalo blue sky with happy cirrus clouds and Indian yellow leaves and bright red crabapples and every other color on that list.

It was a Bob Ross kind of day and for thirty minutes, there was peace and it was mine.


A walk in the dark

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I need to clear my mind of the jumbled thoughts that cram it up at times, I go for a walk. I can look back in the past fifteen years especially and remember some of those times and those walks.

I remember one I took on the evening of May 17, 2001. I had come home to find a letter in the mail to me from one Steve Burgess. Presumably it was an answer to one I had sent him three days before. Instead of ripping it open to read in that moment of anticipation and wonder, I set out on an hour’s walk to clear my mind of the worst possibilities. I took the dogs with me for company and just walked and walked through the neighborhood, down to Elmwood Park, up through UNO and back. Upon returning home, I took a deep breath and opened the letter. The end of it said something like, “Why don’t you call me when you finish this.” I did. It was life-changing as the next night I went on my first date. Ever.

About seven months later, I took another long walk. It was the morning of December 22, a Saturday. I headed out the door with a mind so full of joy and amazement that I needed to expend the energy. I could have easily driven the eighteen blocks to my dad’s apartment to tell him that his daughter said “yes” to Steve’s proposal, but I walked instead. Actually, I’m not sure my feet really touched the ground, but that’s love, isn’t it?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASteve and I went to the Czech Republic twice to be with the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren in 2007 and again in 2008. We had a great experience getting to know about our brothers and sisters there in the reformed church, whose beginnings go back to Jan Hus, a reformer 100 years before Martin Luther. At a beautiful church property in the Krkonoše mountains near the Polish border, we had a hike with our team. As we hiked through the forest and along a tumbling stream, I couldn’t help but think of Jana. Jana’s home and heart were in the Colorado mountains and she had walked paths like this so many times. My heart just broke for the fact that her life wasn’t there any more. She was back in Omaha dealing with the reality that her life had gotten smaller due to the seizures which had struck her and sent her back for more emergency neurosurgery. She could no longer hike the mountain paths along tumbling streams as the wind’s song through tall conifers played above and around her. I stopped by that stream and just wept. I found walking by myself away from the group was the only way I could find communion with Jana in her loss and try to absorb this moment for her.

I took another one of those head clearing walks last night. Some days communicating with Jana is hard. Her logic is not our logic. In trying to help her to simplify ordinary tasks, Steve and I have a tendency to push her places she doesn’t want to go. Nor should she have to, but we push anyway. We sometimes push her to the point of tears and it tears my heart apart to see this once headstrong, confident, stubborn woman, broken to this point.

My way to deal with it last night was to put my shoes on and walk. No, I didn’t want Steve to come. No, I didn’t have the company of two four-footed friends as we don’t currently have any. I just went, trying to dump the pain and the hurt by walking.

I noticed a small American flag kicked to the curb in a puddle. It lay there in stark contrast to the one flying high on the flagpole at Memorial Park.

I walked by our next-door neighbor church on my way up to the park. It’s a hurting place now, with both pastors gone. On my way back home, there was an ambulance and fire engine stopped in front, lights flashing. I hope whoever needed them at a meeting that was going on there last evening is fine this morning. But I couldn’t help but think of the irony of emergency vehicles in front of this church in need of rescue and healing.

I noticed that in the dark of seven o’clock in Omaha’s early fall evening I couldn’t tell what colors were blooming in the rose garden of the park. I had just walked there a few days before in the afternoon, and all the colors stood out. But not at night. They all just blended together into a dullness that looked like my heart felt.

It was more of a walk of lamentation.

I came home after that. I’m not sure my mind was cleared of anything. It was just empty. And maybe that was what I was after. Emptiness for just a few moments before I could sleep.

I woke up this morning like every morning. Steve kissed me good-bye. Jana said “good morning.” We had our breakfast together and I took her to the print shop. Normal life returned. A clear mind to start the day. No worries. No drama. No tears. A fresh start.

And it is kind of funny that the verse that comes to mind on a morning like this after an evening like that is from the book of Lamentations:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (3:22-24)

Truth. Truth. Truth. That’s where I’m walking today.