I eavesdropped on this conversation between two little
girls who were in the lobby of the local movie theatre today:
Little Girl #1: “Tolkien is the guy who wrote Lord of the Rings.”
Little Girl #2: “I’m NEVER going to see that
movie. It has spiders in it and I’m PETRIFIED of spiders.”
Little Girl #1: (With great assurance) “You don’t have to be afraid. When we go to my Grandma’s house we see the same spider every year. He comes out from underneath her porch.”
LG#2: (Incredulously) “The same spider comes out
from underneath her porch?!”
LG#1: (Calmly) “Yes. Every year. He’s really
LG#2: (Disbelieving) “Every year?”
LG#1: (Confidently) “Yes. We call him Fluffy. He’s
LG#2: (Astonished) “You named the spider?!!”
LG#1: (Compassionately) “Yep — Fluffy. He might
not be there this year. Someone might have sprayed the porch with spider spray.
But he was really nice.”
Does it sound to you like Little Girl#1 just read Charlotte’s Web and is working on a
sequel called Fluffy the Friendly Spider?
Stay tuned for next week’s episode of the continuing
saga of Fluffy’s Porch starring Fluffy the Friendly Spider. (From the
look on her face, I don’t think Little Girl#2 was convinced that spiders are
It was Sunday morning before church when I saw
it. It was resting in midair, between the rose bushes and our neighbors
weathered garden shed. I thought it was an aberration of some kind – a mirage
or a hologram or, God forbid, an hallucination. Perhaps it was a distortion of
a lawn ornament — I was looking through the wire mesh screen of the sun porch,
after all. But no, it was indeed a rainbow, a segment about 2 feet in length
and 18 inches wide, floating in the spray of the neighbor’s lawn sprinkler.
It was breathtaking! I walked out of the sun porch, down the wooden steps, and across the dry grass toward the rainbow. It didn’t move or disappear as I feared it might. I took a short video of it, hardly daring to believe it would actually show up on my phone, but it did. I stared at the rainbow as it hovered. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I marveled and thought, “Look how close God’s promises are to us. They are invisible most of the time but they are as real as this rainbow and as beautiful.”
Eventually, Ron, our neighbor, turned off the sprinkler and the rainbow disappeared. Still, I have the jewel-like image stored on a video clip, which you can see at the bottom of this page, and it is in my memory and in my heart, too.
A dear friend, Tracey Finck, and I have been encouraging each other to look at life with a view to recognizing God’s “holy possibilities,” but the visit of the rainbow brought an additional way to look at our journey here: with the assurance of God’s holy actualities. God’s promises, which are as ancient as the sign of the rainbow, are not simply elegant theological statements, but they are also beautiful, dependable, and mysterious holy actualities.
7 Obstacles to the Important Work of Your Life
House Publishing, 2018)
Good answers always start with good questions. Here,
from author Mark Brouwer, are some good questions that were the basis of his
book Leaving Your Mark Without Losing
“When people are drawn to do important work to
help others, what is it that:
causes them to quit?
diminishes their effectiveness?
prevents them from even starting in the
Drawing on years of personal experience in spiritual
leadership, coaching and recovery group leadership, and insights from mentors
in his field, Brouwer has responded to those questions with solid, valuable
Early on, Brouwer presents this caveat: “Be prepared to read more about problems than solutions. This book is organized around seven roadblocks that prevent or interfere with our engagement with meaningful service. As you read, you’ll likely notice that I spend a lot more time describing each problem, and much less time suggesting remedies…. As Charles Kettering put it: ‘A problem well stated is a problem half-solved.'”
Brouwer does an excellent job of defining the roadblocks to meaningful service in these seven sections: Losing Touch With What You Really Care About; Getting Overwhelmed by the Needs You Encounter; Struggling With Not Having Enough Time; Living With Confusion; Stress Burn Out; Conflicts and Difficult People; and Discouragement. But he also includes plenty of helpful, immediately applicable suggestions for dismantling some barriers, even if you are not in leadership. In Section 6, Brouwer writes about the feelings of discouragement that can arise in a community from frequent conflicts with difficult people. His comments about how to approach conflict and what it means for a community to achieve harmony rather than unity are important, constructive words that can be used in many situations.
If you are navigating a rough patch in your calling as
a leader right now, pick up a copy of Leaving
Your Mark Without Losing Your Mind: Overcoming 7 Obstacles to the Important
Work of Your Life by Mark Brouwer. You will find this book contains thoughtful
advice for individuals, delivered with sensitivity and a sense of humor. It also
presents help for teams of people in the private or public sector by examining
how systems and organizations work – and don’t work. In addition, Leaving Your Mark offers guidance from
one who lives the busy day-to-day patterns of life in the church and who
maintains the assured viewpoint that, “True community is not efficient – time is the price we pay
for authentic community.”
Mark Brouwer has asked good questions, and through
research and collaboration, he has produced a book that has good answers. These
answers are beneficial on a personal, team and community level. If you have
been harboring questions about your calling, you may find your good questions
answered here, in Leaving Your Mark
Without Losing Your Mind.
I haven’t hung out with three-year old kids for a long time, and I miss it. I didn’t realize this until today. I work at a medical clinic, and every now and then a child who has come in with an adult needs to be cared for while their grown-up has an exam, or x-rays or blood drawn. Today I happened to be available to watch over a three-year-old girl whose real name I never learned. The name she wanted to be called was “Tangled”.
“Tangled?” I asked – twice. She simply nodded. Now if I had been chummy with more three-year-old kids, I would have known that Tangled is the name of a Disney movie, a re-make of the Rapunzel story. But, alas, I have been buddy-ing with people my own age, so I was completely in the dark. Thankfully one of my co-workers enlightened me.
This happy, lively, three-year old had long, straight, brown hair with bangs, fair skin, and blue eyes. The top of her head did not quite reach my hip, so as we walked along the clinic hallway hand in hand, I saw only the top of her head. I began to chat away on subjects that I thought might interest my young companion. Tangled, on the other hand, wasn’t much into conversation. She was scoping the place out, and soon her gaze landed on the clinic’s colorful sticker collection. She said nothing but looked intently up at the wide array of stickers on the display rack.
“Would you like to pick out a sticker or two?” I said. I saw the top of her head bob up and down. “Which ones would you like?” I asked, waving my hand in front of the stickers like Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune. “Farm animals, monkeys, cars?” She shook her head no. “Have you got any ‘Tangled’?” she asked. I searched high and low for the sticker of her choice but came up empty. I offered her everything we had, but she said “No, thank you.” I had forgotten that a three-year old could be so definite about her choices. She had her eyes on the prize and stayed with her decision although the monkey stickers almost won her over.
Her mom hadn’t emerged from the exam room yet, so we went for another stroll around the hallways when I spotted a Kindergarten Eye Exam Chart on the treatment room door. We walked up to the chart and looked at it. One by one, I pointed to the symbols on the chart, and asked her to name them. She got them all – the heart, the star, the cup – and she even correctly identified the ship and the moon. “Very bright three-year old,” I thought to myself. Then I pointed to the flag symbol, not really expecting her to know what it was. “What is this, Tangled? Can you tell me something about this shape?” I asked. She looked at it for a moment and then she glanced up at me and said, “It means my Daddy is gone to fight in the war.” Stunned speechless, I stared down at my little friend.
Her mom came out of the room then, and Tangled ran off to join her. I waved goodbye, and stood in front of the eye chart for a few minutes. What a profound answer that little one had given about the flag symbol on the eye chart. Clear, definite, precise – she couldn’t call the symbol by its specific name, but she knew what it meant to her: Daddy, his absence, his important work. I think she passed her eye exam with flying colors, don’t you?
Went on a lovely drive yesterday. It was a beautiful day — sunny, high clouds, perfect for a road trip to Tallahassee, FL.
One of the things on our “to do” list was to visit Bradley’s Country Store. Just a bit outside of Tallahassee proper, we arrived there by means of a country lane, County Road 27. Portions of this narrow but scenic roadway are crowned with a canopy of tree branches that reach over to each other from both sides of the road and sometimes meet in the middle overhead. The canopy drive is a beautiful thing to behold and delight to experience.
We arrived at Bradley’s early in the afternoon on a Thursday. As you can see from the picture above, the store is small and the parking lot in front of the store is small, also. Even though we visited on a slow business day, there were plenty of cars and customers coming and going at Bradley’s during our short visit.
Established in 1927, Bradley’s is known for stone ground corn grits and homemade sausage, which is what attracted us to their place of business. On entering the wood A-frame structure, we caught the delicious fragrance of sausage being cooked — a fragrance that draws you to the back of the old wood building, back behind the jar filled and product-laden shelves to the meat market where customers line up for a sausage link on a bun. Irresistible! It was obvious by the earnest faces of those in line that purchasing this item was the reason for their visit to the Bradley’s. There was plenty of foot traffic moving from the front to the back of the store, and we filed right in with the throngs of lunch-seeking pilgrims. That sausage dog was quite a treat!
The store’s board walls are lined with old painted-metal trade signs and advertising images. One large section of wall is covered from floor to ceiling with plaques, most of which are printed with black lettering on distressed wood panels. These are obviously new but fit the old-timey atmosphere of Bradley’s Country Store. A small square plaque on the wall said, “CALL YOUR MOMMA.” That item almost came home with me.
You can see in the picture that Bradley’s has a nice front porch with wooden rockers available for use. Inside, this inviting old building has well used, uneven floorboards,(watch your step), numerous shelves of home canned pickles, peppers, salsa, and sauces, and plenty of other nostalgia-inducing (and I didn’t even grow up in the South!) goodies. There are several Southern cuisine cookbooks to browse, homemade lavender soaps to admire, and of course, Bradley’s homemade sausage and stone ground grits. The staff was cordial, helpful, and knowledgeable.
We happily purchased some of Bradley’s Country Store’s most famous foodstuffs that day (you can order online as well) which we plan to share with family and friends soon. Cheese grits, anyone?
In Other Words is the fifth book by Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri. This 2016 publication (Vintage, 2016 – English translation) was translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. That’s right. Lahiri, who is a native English speaker, fell in love with Italian, learned to speak and write in Italian, then wrote In Other Words – which is about the life-altering experience – in Italian. Lahiri could have translated the work herself but for many reasons, which she catalogs in her book, she chose to use a translator.
In Other Words is a story about language, identity, and writing. It is also an autobiography of sorts. Perhaps one could call it a work of non-fiction that features the author as one major character and language as another. In Other Words is a fascinating book for anyone who loves languages and appreciates learning about how one’s language affects the process of writing.
Lahiri is a beautiful writer. Her writing manifests story like a gifted singer’s voice embodies song. On entering the story, the reader becomes happily enticed and wholeheartedly entangled in her prose. And there is plenty of insight as well. In an early chapter, Lahiri writes this as she begins to describe her journey into the Italian language:
“I think of two-faced Janus. Two faces that look at the past and the future at once. The ancient god of the threshold, of beginnings and endings. He represents a moment of transition. He watches over gates, over doors, a God who is only Roman, who protects the city. A remarkable image that I am about to meet everywhere.”
Lahiri does indeed encounter the spirit of Janus, metaphorically and in semi-actuality, in her pursuit of a new language. Among the author’s tales of the joys and predicaments involved in her quest to possess Italian, she recounts a story of her family’s move from the US to Italy during Rome’s mid-August holiday, a time when the entire city goes on vacation. In the process, her family practically meets itself coming and going when they lock themselves out of their apartment:
“There is no one in the building but us. We have no papers, are still without a functioning telephone, without any Roman friend or acquaintance. I ask for help at the hotel across the street from our building, but two Hotel employees can’t open the door, either. Our landlords are on vacation in Calabria. My children, upset, hungry, are crying, saying that they want to go back to America immediately.”
The traumatic moment passes, and the family begins their transition to living in the Eternal City; Janus has granted them entry.
One negative of In Other Words is the amount of time Lahiri gives to writing about her inner struggle with choosing Italian over English or Bengali – her parents language – as the language with which she identifies. I grew tired of Lahiri’s self-analysis about three-quarters of the way through but continued reading because this is not a long book. The book is designed so that the left-hand page contains the Italian by Lahiri. The right-hand page is Goldstein’s translation of Lahiri’s work, so though the total number of pages is in the book is 230, the English language portion is 115 pages.
The decision to read the book in its entirety paid off, to my way of thinking, anyway, with Lahiri’s mention of the Hungarian writer Agota Kristof in the last section of the book. Kristof arrived in Switzerland as a refugee at the age of twenty-one and began learning French when she was twenty-six so that she could write to a receptive French audience. Despite the fact that Kristof’s motivation to learn French was far different from Lahiri’s inducement to be proficient in Italian, Kristof and Lahiri share some of the same struggles and insights about what it means to truly learn, speak and write in a language that is not one’s native tongue.
If you are intrigued by languages, curious about how language brings people together as well as drives people apart; if you have wondered about the inscrutable process of learning a new language works and what effect that might have on your life if you were to choose a new language to inhabit; if you want to acquire some guidance for your writing life, this intriguing book by Jhumpa Lahiri, In Other Words, is meant for you.
I read In Other Words in a paperback edition, but it is available in e-book and audio formats, also. I think it would be fascinating to hear an audio version of the book because in the English translation there are numerous Italian words, and I think it would add a lot to hear them read aloud by someone who can speak Italian. Requesting an audiobook version of In Other Words from your local public library is a good (read that as “free”) way to experience the audio production of Lahiri’s book.
Friends, I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life is a visually beautiful book which is also a thoughtful and endearing memoir written
by one who is completely in love with books. Author Anne Bogel, moderator of a terrific website called Modern Mrs. Darcy https://modernmrsdarcy.com/ and who gives us the thoroughly convivial podcast “What Should I Read Next?”, has produced a volume that is completely irresistible to book enthusiasts. It is 100% book-nip. The first chapter, “Confess Your Literary Sins,” siphons you directly into its pages by revealing the reading indiscretions of bookworms both professional and amateur. This chapter is very, very funny, and makes one’s own reading foibles much more bearable.
Another excellent chapter is “Keep Reading.” This section is about the acknowledgments which are at the end of most books and which many (most?) readers skip entirely. I think that after you read this chapter your interest in a book’s acknowledgments pages will be heightened considerably.
In the chapter “The Books Next Door,” Bogle describes what it meant to her and her very young family to live adjacent to a library. Anne describes their deep attachment to the library, its people, books, and services, with so much heart that if I ever move again I am going to make it a requirement for my new home to be walking distance from a library.
There is plenty to enjoy about “I’d Rather Be Reading,” but what I appreciate most is that, in some C.S. Lewis-ian way, it gives us bibliophiles who are a little shy about our life-long obsession permission to admit that we, like Anne Bogel, are incurably smitten with books.
It was on an August evening in the 1990’s that our family was leaving the grounds of the Minnesota State Fair after a full, EPIC day there. We had participated in all the events that were of interest to us, eaten Fair food until we could eat no more, and admired scores of award-winning projects, plants, animals, and performances. Our exit route from the Fair would take us past the Lea and Rose Warner Coliseum, a 5,000 seat edifice where farm animal exhibitions and competitions took place.
Dusk was falling as we turned the corner toward the Coliseum — and it was there our exit was totally blocked by a procession of eight stunningly beautiful pure white horses. Our family came to a halt, and we stared in amazement as the superb horses and their liveried riders strode before us. The impressive cavalcade was quietly and steadily moving in a perfect single file arrangement from the horse barn to the Coliseum, about five-hundred feet away. Every step of the horses, every nod of their proud heads, was perfectly synchronized without any apparent instruction from their riders. It was obvious that the riders and horses were cooperating fully with each other. We watched in wonder as the column moved gracefully into the huge, brightly lit riding arena of the Coliseum and we continued to gaze after the horses until the last one disappeared from view. “Mom! What kind of horses were those?” the kids asked. “Lipizzaner,” I said, not really believing what we had just seen. “Lipizzaner from Austria.”
Instead of continuing on our way to the Fair’s exit, we raced around to the front gate of the Coliseum to get tickets for the Royal Lipizzaner performance. Unfortunately, the tickets were sold out for that night, and for the duration of the Austrian riding troupe’s stay in Minnesota. Lesson learned. If you want to see the Royal Lipizzaner up close and personal in the performance ring rather than by happenstance on the Fair backstreets, get your tickets early.
With this memory making a racket in my brain, I picked up the book, The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts.
Letts has a double mission in her book, The Perfect Horse: The Daring Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazi’s (Ballantine Books, 2016). The first is to inform the reader about the history and special qualities of the breed of horses known as the royal Lipizzaner; the second is to relate the harrowing events of the U.S. military’s involvement in efforts to rescue and protect the Lipizzaner from the Nazi’s toward the end of WWII. Letts has achieved both of these goals, producing a book that is not only well researched, winning the PEN USA Literary Award 2017 for Research Non-Fiction, but also presenting a rich story of the relationships that can develop between humans and animals and how each can offer the other trust, companionship, and love under the harshest of conditions.