Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I am not permitted to say those three words out loud (shhhh, I'll whisper them, looking left and right and left again...Back to School...shhh!).

Cassie and Caroline don't like school. Neither do I. We know it's necessary and once it gets going we give it our best. We even enjoy most days, but summer is summer and we love it. We hate to say good-bye to outdoorsy days, barefoot playing, blue sky, gorgeous sunsets, starry skies, gardens bursting with color and produce, short sleeves, and all those carefree, beautiful, easy-living type things.

We none of us like sitting at a table and going over information that someone has declared we need to know.

Little rebels.

BTS - Back to School.


Last night I had my decades-long nightmare again. Seriously, WHEN is it going to stop revisiting and smelling up my peaceful Sleep-Land? I've had this demonic night vision since I was in junior high! Maybe you've had it, too, or some other such horrific version of your own?

It goes like this. It's the first day of school in September and I'm sitting at a desk in a classroom when the screeching bell blares (I cringe at the very thought of that sound). I'm out of my seat, everyone is laughing, filing down the halls in good order, I am caught in the rush, but I don't know which class is next. Where am I supposed to go? Oh no....think, Cherie, think! I search through my denim binder: new pencils and erasers in my plastic-zipped pouch, plenty of binder paper, pastel-colored separators, no class schedule. Anywhere. But I find my locker number.

Three minutes have passed. The You'd Better Be in Your Classroom or ELSE! second bell blares. I'M NOT IN MY CLASSROOM! Panic!! The halls are empty, their emptiness makes a sickening, echoing sound somehow. Cold metal lockers. Shiny white tile floors. Buff-colored walls. Too-bright, merciless fluorescent lights in a row overhead burning into the top of my skull, "Get to class! Get to class! Get to class!! You're late late late!" Uh. Uh. For lack of anywhere else to try, I head for my locker. Yes, yes, here it is. Number 326. Okay, Good. Open it and find your class schedule.

But WHAT'S THE COMBINATION??!!?? I have no clue. Think. Think. Think. Blank. Blank. Blank. More panic. More screaming overhead lights, metal coldness, aloneness, failure, stupid, what-am-I-going-to-do?

To the office I head. Where's the office? Flushed cheeks, and sweaty-palms. Aren't you glad you use Dial? Don't you wish every body did? I wander around trying to hold back my tears. Finally, the office door appears in front of me. I walk up to the high, dark wood counter and stand behind kids and adults who are happy. Laughing. Oblivious to my presence. I speak. No sound. I am invisible. I search my binder again. Panic seizes me hard, I gasp for air, I can't breathe, the 'others' look at me, point at me, and laugh louder, harder. Tears pour out of my eyes and drip onto the hard white tile. No one cares......I can't get out of the office, the door is gone, I can't remember my locker number, what class am I supposed to be in, laughing pointing people...........

And I wake up, sobbing, gasping for air, clutching my throat, sitting straight up in bed, tears are on my cheeks, sweat is plastering my hair to my forehead, and my pillow is damp.

"Can't remember your locker combination again?" Tom murmurs.

"Yeah. Yeah. That's it," I answer acting brave for I really am terribly upset. My emotions don't know that the nightmare is a poser.

"Stupid school."

Friday, August 24, 2007


One Thanksgiving when I was nineteen I volunteered to stay home and take care of the cattle, the chickens, the pets, and the house for my parents and sister as they were joining out-of-state family for the holiday. Greedily I looked ahead to solitude, the absence of people, the removal of noise, human conversation, and eyes watching my every move. Space. Sweet, relaxed space.

As I regularly fed the woodstove, life took on a sweet, easy routine. Dad’s cattle behaved, staying in the boundaries of their fences. The chickens rewarded me with eggs for breakfast each morning. The dogs and cats were tail-waggingly, purr-liciously grateful for the food, water, and treats I gave them. I kept the television off because the sound of silence was enchanting, delightful. My mind was energized by the environment around me, I was encouraged to pinch at life’s tangled tapestry of strings in order to begin unraveling a few more mysteries.

Obviously my folks live out in the country where plentiful stars shine, generous evergreens scent the air, nocturnal creatures dominant the darkness, and silence fills in the gaps. Nature dictates the rhythm when one lives in the country. I find it easy to join the steps of nature’s march through time. For me it is difficult to march to the staccato rhythm of city life, a rhythm that seems to be determined by no one and nothing at all, just a hypnotized stampeding towards an unknown destiny fueled by expectations, greed, peer pressure, and denial.

My Thanksgiving was bliss that nineteenth year of my life. I love my family, and traditions are dear to my heart, but that last teenage year I needed time and space to reflect, though I wasn’t sure what it was which coaxed my attention. The days passed, each one settling me more, calming my restless spirit, teaching me through daily chores and fending for myself that I had grown up a bit, I had become competent enough to care for other living things, for property, and for myself.

The lesson I remember most vividly was taught on the Saturday of that four-day weekend when a strange nighttime noise prickled the hairs on my neck, froze my breathing, and mercilessly squeezed my stomach. In the fear generated from that sound whose cause I could not discern I realized that I had nothing to be afraid of from the animal kingdom, for the house was quite secure. I had nothing to dread from nature, Oregon doesn’t have horrific storms and this November was particularly kind, though chilly. The machinery of the house was well-known to me so that, should something misbehave, I felt confident I could deal with it.

No, no, what I feared in that wide-eyed, all-senses-alert moment was Man; other humans outside of their boundaries and into mine. THEY could hurt me. They could kill me.

It was then that I realized that sin, man’s disobedience to the ways of God, is the most dangerous thing in the world. I realized this intellectually and viscerally in that moment of trepidation. It wasn’t human beings living in the light of God’s goodness who scared me, it was those who may be rebelling against it at the time, about to do unspeakable things to me, or just rob my parents’ house and encounter ME in the process. That scared me. And why, I wondered did that scare me more than a tree falling, or a roof-snatching storm? Perhaps, I pondered, it was because nature is impersonal, it’s not out to get ME, it has no malice or agenda, it is not evil.

Sin is.

The idea of being harmed or killed by nature didn’t upset me so much as the idea of another human being selecting me for harm or death. I guess it’s that the violence of nature has no mind. The violence of mankind, though, is fueled by evil.

Another thought followed this realization. I have evil in me, too. And that scared me most of all.

It was in that moment of clarity that I firmly understood the gift of love which God offers, his way out which Christians call salvation from sin, the cleansing provided for anyone who is aware of the resident evil within and desperately desires to be rid of it.

I live with the knowledge that the terror of sin remains in our world right alongside goodness and will remain until all objective reality is replaced with an unbroken world. The hope that does not disappoint is that, for those who realize their brokenness and come to understand what God is about, there is a day where sin will fall away like chains from a freed prisoner, and the pure goodness that we crave will be ours at last when we exist with the one who is True Goodness.

In the meantime, I think we should refuse to give in to evil, even when we ourselves are the cause. To slump down and let it steamroll over us and out of us, would be a tragedy. To fight it within and without, to give goodness its rightful honor, to nurture what is right and pure in the world and in ourselves is to state clearly that we have hope, that we believe in and follow One who is Good.

It's a worthy battle.

The noise that Thanksgiving? I never DID figure out what it was.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Sky is Falling

Yesterday morning it rained. Gently. For the first time in weeks.

Silently, in awe, as if for the first time, we watched a gray sky shower cool water all over our green and brown lawns, fruitful tomato plants, faithful flowers, dusty trees and shrubs, cars, houses, and on the months-long hot and tarry street outside.

I noticed Caroline sitting in the rocking chair, in her jammies, with a look of contented bliss spreading across her sweet face.

"You look happy, Caroline," I softly mentioned.

Her close-lipped smiled widened. Her eyes shut lightly as she experienced deep awareness. She exhaled through her nose as if in relief and whispered, "I.....actually.......feel.....cold."

A fresh new season hints of its imminent arrival.

And we are glad.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Illusions Begone

"In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength..." (Isaiah 30:15)

"There's nothing wrong with quiet."
(Robert Redford in 'Jeremiah Johnson')

My mentor and I were talking the other day about life's illusions and how alarmingly easy it is to become transfixed by them, to lose sight of priority. We discussed how to avoid this and came to the conclusion that it's impossible to completely steer clear of distractions, that sadly, it's human to be bamboozled.

Illusions can take us on a Magic Carpet Ride through all sorts of mysterious lands, through vapors and views that seem solid, worthwhile, beneficial, yet an outstretched hand discovers they are vapid fog which have tantalized our vision, tickled itching ears, Sirens which have lured us into danger. Tuning into the voice inside which gently, patiently implores us to stick out our hands and test our surroundings is the hard part. Beguiling vistas, enticing words, arousing or soothing pleasures, these hold us spellbound, deaf to the Voice of Truth, the Wisdom of Reality which steadfastly warns, "This path is not level. Make level paths for your feet. You are swapping the truth for lies."

The secret to prevailing, we decided, is in vigilance.

My sagely friend said, "Sometimes life gets away from you in the form of illusions and distractions. You need to regularly sit down, get quiet, listen to your heartbeat, listen to your breath, contemplate what you know is true, pray. The illusions dissipate sooner or later. Foundational things come into view. God makes himself known."

As one who has long defended the benefits of solitude and self- reflection, I find her words ring true. I shall ponder them next time my mind is quiet while I'm loading the dishwasher, or folding the laundry, or weeding the garden, or scooping doggie poo, or sitting down and listening to my body beat and breathe.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Joe, Joey, Joseph

August, 1984, contractions began at six in the morning.

"Here we go!"

Two weeks before the due date. Yes!

We were a family of three at this point, Tom, Ben, and me. Ben had been talking to his 'brother' for many months and was looking forward to sharing his room with him.

"What should we name the baby?" Tom asked Ben one night while playing with Lincoln Logs.


Thankfully he didn't say Big Bird or Mr. Rogers or Grandpa! Joseph was a name we'd thought about and particularly liked, so we decided that Joey it would be.

Visits to the doctor's office found 3 year old Benny conversing with Dr. Nash about how things had been and what they'd each been doing. Dr. Nash had been told, by Ben, that Joey was Joey, but he didn't buy it.

"You'd better think about Josephine, Ben. It's going to be a sister," he'd chide the little kid.

Ben would sort of smirk and reply, "No. It's Joey."

That morning in August, when Joe began to knock on the door to be let out of his ever tightening quarters and into the wide wide world, we were all excited to meet him.

He took his time.

I walked around the neighborhood. Twice. We waited. I concentrated, trying to will the contractions to get a move on. No such luck.

"They've stopped, Mom. Can we come up to your place for awhile?" I asked my mom over the phone. She invited us to Sunday lunch.

Dad kept looking at me as though I would explode all over the place. Then he told me I looked like one of his cows before they gave birth, shuffling around, looking uneasy, with that look in their eyes.

"A cow. Ya know, Dad, not the best thing to call a woman in my condition."

He smiled. He knew I would have Joey and soon, but I didn't believe it.

Lunch over. Nothing.

"Let's go cut some firewood, Tom," Dad suggested. Tom jumped up and was out the door in no time, stopping at Dad's shop for a chainsaw and then to the truck which Dad drove out of sight down the hill.

Mom and I did the dishes and listened to the noisy saw while we talked and played two-handed pinochle. Ben helped hold my cards and played with Hoagie, the dog.

Tick Tock.

5:00 rolled around. Mom, Ben, Hoagie, and I decided to walk down the hill to watch the boys cut wood for awhile. No contractions since before noon, and I'd decided the moment had passed.

The walk down the winding gravel road was pleasant, the air cool, smelling of dry grasses. We arrived at the bottom, pushed the lower gate open, and walked into the woods where the boys were stacking wood into the truck. Hmmmm......uh oh. Oooo, ouch, geez, that was a big one, hoo hoo hoo I breathed.

Dad grinned and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. "Uhhh Huh!" he proclaimed victoriously. "Ben," he added, "looks like you're going to be spending the night with Grandpa tonight. Whoopee!"

Mom got a little nervous as I started back up the hill. Tom offered to drive me up. I declined, thinking the walk would help move things along. I was right. Poor Mom! Sticking by my side, she told me later that she was afraid I would tip over and have the baby right there by the side of the road. She was astounded that I had the gumption to climb all the way back up the steep driveway, even though I stopped several times to breathe through contractions. She was not comfortable with this 'natural childbirth' stuff, but still was a very comforting help to me on that long, determined climb.

Tom and Dad passed us in the wood-laden truck, looking nervous. I assured them that I was..huff huff..fine.

Up at the top of the hill those three adults and little, excited Benny gently escorted me to our car, and Tom took off. Contractions are magnified when a crazy man is at the wheel going over rocks and ruts that feel like boulders and canyons.

"Yee ouch! THOMAS!!"

Joe was born an hour later.

I can still remember the doctor's face when he saw our little baby for the first time. He grinned from ear to ear and said, "Benny was right! It's Joey! Hi, Joey!"

What a welcome, huh! First name basis, wanted, loved, cheered by everyone in the delivery room. Tom gave me a big kiss as together we held our second son, awestruck to think we were the parents of two little boys!

Joe is a remarkable son, brother, grandson. I could list all the things I love about Joe, his sense of humor, his insightfulness, his consideration and kindness, his boisterous laugh, and much more. But the thing about Joe that really gets to me is that though he, unlike me, is not an emotional person he can tell when something is bothering any one of us and he gets to the root of it even when we are evasive. He wants to help, and no one can soothe a soul as Joe can. He understands. The idea that he would take the time to comfort us when he has so much going on, makes me teary-eyed grateful. I feel safe when he's around, and I know his sisters feel safe, for he is a fierce protector of all that is us.

As a sophomore, Joe's leaving home to live on campus at Gutenberg College, just a few miles from here. He's lived on his own before so this is not traumatic for any of us. Though I'll miss having our tall, opinionated son around on a day-to-day basis I couldn't be happier for him in this new adventure into which he is heading.

"Happy 23rd Birthday, Joe! You bring joy to my heart every day. I am eternally glad that you were born, and that God entrusted you to Dad and me. We are known by our choices, and you have proven to be wise, understanding, compassionate, honorable, and faithful. You are an outstanding man and a wonderful son. I love you."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Doug, Hi-Blade, and Soren

One of my favorite 'book children' (for clarification see My Profile under Favorite Books) is Doug Lindstrand's Alaskan Sketchbook, which, after being purchased during a summer spent in Alaska, hitched a ride in Tom's dusty, overstuffed backpack in 1980.

For some reason (unimportant to the moral of the story) this poetic journal entry from Doug's book keeps coming to mind causing me to smile.

Scribbled in Goose Creek and dated March 16, 1976, it goes like this:

"Hi-Blade Johnson (a now deceased friend of mine, who was, too, a man of constant dreams and far-fetched notions) wrote when he was in his 70's a poem that pretty well sums up the whole picture of material possessions. It goes thusly:

I'm a slave, I'm a slave, I'm a slave to my home
I'm a slave to every darn thing that I own
When I own a home I can live at my ease
But when I leave the place the plumbing will freeze
Who'll feed the dog? Who'll feed the cat?
I'm stuck with the chores like a mouse in a trap
I'd like a boat and a home by the sea
But if I get these things I'll never be free
I'm a slave to women, I'm a slave to my booze
As there's no way of winning I'm certain to lose
I don't learn my lessons, I'm not very bright
Tho the sun's shining brightly I can't see the light
When I get my paycheck I rush straight to town
To buy some more chains to tie myself down
I'm a prisoner indeed in my very own home
The prison bars are the things that I own
I'm caught like a fox with his hand in a noose
I'll never be free until death turns me loose."

Ah, the joys of home improvement which bring such literature to mind.

Had no electricity for 8 hours today, part of home improvement. We could still run errands, water the yard, and keep an orthodontist appointment. After that, though electrically disoriented, we found other occupations. The kids pulled out the Monopoly board. Me? I picked up good old Soren and began my readings. Nothing like Kierkegaard to put the finishing touches on an already 99% fried brain!

Surprisingly enough, SK was good medicine for me!

I'm thirsty for more...


Sunday, August 05, 2007


"To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not, rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common--this is my symphony." ~~~ WILLIAM HENRY CHANNING

Friday, August 03, 2007

One, Two, Three Months of Summer




Green gives way to brown

Forest fires, smokey skies


Tan lines on feet

Sleepy dogs lying on their backs

Blackberries, the kind you eat

Fading plastic blow-up pools

Cold beer, iced tea, gallons of water

Warm, salty, trickling sweat

Relaxed tired laughter

Road and building construction

Ice cream bars

Grilled this 'n that

S l o w i n g down

Swear words: "Back to school"

Starry skies, meteor showers

Family gatherings, campfires, s'mores

RV's everywhere

Sandy beaches

Old ladies in straw hats snip flowers

Old men bent over hoes hack weeds

Lush gardens

Tomatoes on the vine

Farmers' Markets overflowing

Lounging teens

Working teens


Dusty cars


Open windows, scant breeze

Scents of yestersummer

Projects, noise, one more trip to the store

Community fairs and festivals

Humans in rivers, lakes, creeks, livestock tanks

One third of summer remains

We sqeeze every delicious drop.