My backpack bears heavy countries
   straining a load of sorrows on my shoulders
   carrying this Rwandan mountain road

   curving, twisting hard to safety
   for some survivors who flee
   holding nothing

I collect the senses of Musanze
   visions of a blind Blessing dancing
   and sighted children waving weeds like palm branches
   the scent of dust ground into the souls pounding feet
   throbbing in heart cadence

We walk on rocks like eggshells
Adding gifts of bananas and eggs to our storehouse of wealth
Gifts from a passerby who wants me to help him to study in the West

I've parceled more sorrows at the border
waiting for our visas at dusk
amid the angry stragglers threading through
Flooding and pouring memories
   Ugandan slums
   absent fathers
   orphan children
   mothers breaking rocks
   the imam's haunting call to prayer

Rain soaks my skin
Drops of pain stinging and slapping hard
I pull glimmers of hope and compassion
From the side pocket
Like used tissues

Rivulets of red flow
Mudstained pools
Scars like Christ's bleeding

There are things about the incarnation I do not know
I unzip my faith and unwrap it
What do I carry home?
What do I leave behind?
January 2016


The fatherless find their rest...

We sing this song in church sometimes, and I think of it as my personal prayer to God. It goes something like this: "the fatherless find their rest in your Great Name...Jesus, worthy is the lamb who was slain for us...son of God and man..." So there in a nutshell is my theological belief:  the very personal Jesus who has been my comfort and rest in all of these years of being fatherless.  He is God who entered my world and felt the same pain I feel by being separated from his Father the same as I am temporarily separated from my father. There is something supernatural at play. There is a veil that makes my understanding of Kingdom-life cloudy. Sometimes I get a glimpse of understanding of the strength and power Jesus brings to my life. He has helped me weather some hard times, self doubt, and He has given me a new life of trust and confidence in him, still imperfect, yet evident. Though death is separating us now, my hope is in a future shared with my earthly father and with Jesus. He who will lift the veil of my understanding and give me new eyes to see and ears to hear.

I wonder quite a lot what my father understood about Jesus. I think he had faith in Him. I remember that he took us to church and I remember his preferences in certain preaching. I think he chose churches based on the preaching, perhaps Wesleyan theology,  but wasn't involved (at least later in life) in the administration of the church during my lifetime. I was told that at one time he was a good Sunday school teacher, but I think before I was around. When I was going through some papers I found this scripture in his handwriting:  Proverbs 25:2-3 which says, "it is the glory of God to conceal a matter, to search out a matter is the glory of kings. As the heavens are high and the earth is deep, so the hearts of kings are searchable." This has come to be one of my favorite verses. I wonder if it encapsulates his own belief and how he came to choose it to write down.

I think he modeled the fruits of the spirit: peace, love, joy, goodness, faithfulness, self control (in most areas but not in regards to smoking cigarettes and an occasional cigar) patience, and gentleness. I want to think more about how he reflected these in later posts.


Yesterday I spent the day at the Allen County Public Library researching some genealogy. One of the things I remember about my dad was that he liked history and doing genealogy research. I think he was accepted into the Sons of the American Revolution as a result of his research, but joining selective groups isn't the reason I am interested in family history at all. What interests me are the stories. I have been able to uncover real life stories of people who were born as far back as 1795, finding things I am sure he did not know. Some of the stories I've uncovered aren't heroic or patriotic--although some are-- but rather the opposite. Just as there are people who are selfless and heroic today, there are others whose character is based on selfishness and weakness.  People have the same nature, passions and desires no matter what generation.  I am discovering stories of real people that I want to write about as part of my sabbatical.

But for the blog I am thinking of memories of my dad. I don't think of him as a hero, but I don't think of him as selfish or weak either. If I could use words to describe him they would be balanced and faithful. I think he was faithful to hard work, family, community and he was grounded as a man of Faith. He was balanced because he was interested in a lot of things.  Golf, basketball, current events, Sunday night tv (Ed Sullivan), history, and travel come to mind.

I was thinking of one memory when he signed me up to be a page in the Indiana Legislature in Indianapolis. He was working in Indianapolis at the time, so I went with a girlfriend and it was her father who drove us to Indianapolis for the day. I was about 10 or 11 years old at the time, just beginning to become aware of things outside my narrow Royerton Road window. On that day we went to Block's Department store for lunch and then on to the Genealogy Department of the Indiana State Library. That small event must have made an impression on me because later I would work in that very Division as my first job as a librarian. One day when I was working there I dug out the daily registers hidden in the dark recesses of the storage area. I found the January 31 entry to see his name as he had inscribed it there. There is a memory in that. Years after he had passed away that signature gave me something physical to remember him by.  

I inherited the research and papers that my father had collected and then some more. I've probably quadrupled the amount of information, a benefit of the ease of access to online resources and a few skills I learned in the profession.  So that day, just one moment in time, ended up being a significant force in my future. Little did know at the time. I have come to love to research. I love it more than writing, although writing is what my sabbatical is about.

I hope this blog will prime me for writing about those stories. I have heard time after time that to be a writer you have to write. So this blog is my warm up exercise. I don't think what I say is profound or deep but it is personal. Writing that is personal is risky and cuts open deep gashes of the past. In that writing I hope it will heal those gashes.


Father's Day Reflections

I created "The Readster" for the purpose of reviewing books and movies, but I shunned the notion of sharing anything deep and certainly nothing overtly personal. I had thought ---and still think---there is too much blatant self-promotion and indiscriminate self-disclosure on social media. I suppose I contribute a bit of that on Facebook. I have a Twitter account that I don't use. And I rarely blog.  This post turns all that on its head.  As I am trying to write for publication (my sabbatical project is an article/novel after all. ) I began to think that all writing is, in some form, self-disclosure. So I am going to try my hand at writing reflectively in this post. It is for all the world to see--or at least the world that happens on to it. This post is great departure from my use of social media so a toe in the water, so to speak. We'll see how it goes. It might be the last or it might be the start of a new day. That remains to be seen.

Father's Day is fast approaching. Honestly, I haven't thought much about Father's Day since I was a teenager because my father died when I was 15. For the record, I think Mother's Day, Father's Day and Valentine's Day are Hallmark holidays, vastly overrated, and consumer driven. I generally do not celebrate them or in the case of Mother's Day try to keep it pretty low key. I take my mother out for dinner at Red Lobster or Seasons 54 and that's about it.

For some reason just recently I started thinking more intentionally about my father, or what I remember of him. The trigger might have been the fact that I ran into one of my fellow professors and his wife the other day while getting ice cream at Ivanhoe's. A few years ago that colleague spent his sabbatical project discovering and researching his mother who had died when he was a boy. His project report was emotionally moving and touched me in a way I haven't forgotten.

We share some of the same scars, although I have some snippets of memory of my own father that he did not have of his mother. It is probably a truism to suggest that we tend to venerate parents who have been gone for a long time. Time has a way of magnifying the saintly characteristics while diminishing the human or less honorable ones. I have tried hard not to do that in my thoughts of him. I have tried to recreate the memories in my mind realistically. But time has a way of playing with our memory. I want to keep my thoughts and writings of him in balance.

The fact is that while our culture reveres holidays like Father's Day, I have paid little mind to it. Over the years I would say Father's Day has passed by more often than not without thought of my father. Maybe because memories are still a little painful and raw. Maybe my feelings are still unresolved. Or maybe I have focused on those people who immediately surround my life.

The truth is I have this gaping and vacuous hole when I start to think about my dad. The conversation I have with myself often begins:  "I wonder what he would have thought about...x or y or z." And I wonder what kinds of conversations we would have had as adults. I wonder what kind of person I would have become had he lived to influence my choices: college, boyfriends, books, political persuasion, philosophy of life, or theological beliefs. Would I spar with him intellectually? Would we have respectful conversations? Would I have been a rebel and challenge him or would we have similar ideas? I always seem to think of these questions when I am in the car.    (One of my strongest memories is that he loved to drive. Or maybe he was like me and enjoyed the fresh air and the momentum of going and returning. Did I get my love of travel and adventure from him? ) I can get quite a bit of mileage out of those questions. When I get lost in my reverie of imaginary conversations with my father time speeds. Before long I realize I have traveled from Upland to Chicago or Grand Rapids or wherever I am going.

I guess this is long enough for this post. If you have read this far I welcome your feedback. I have been thinking about reflective writing as I prepare to lead a workshop on Writing As Healing. In then next few days and weeks I hope this post puts into practice the very thing I am going to talk about. So here is my first stab at it. So let me know what you think.


The Crazed by Ha Jin

The Crazed by Ha Jin is a masterful book. Engaging. Carefully detailed. Excellent characterization. Well plotted. The setting is China at the time of the Tiananmen Square movement in 1989.

Briefly, it is about a college professor, Mr. Yang, who after suffering a stroke, is cared for by his star student and soon-to-be son-in-law, Jian Wan. On his sickbed, Mr. Yang recalls things from his past in a rambling disjointed way. At times he is lucid and at times, not. As Yang reveals secrets from his past, Jian Wan, the narrator, begins to see Yang's life in a new and different light, realizing that this is not a life he wants to follow.

I loved how Jian Wan's growth is revealed. As he comes to new realizations, he seeks and discovers what is true and important and what is not. He discovers his true passions do not lie in academia; he learns of the "tricks of the academic game." As he questions his life to that point, the reader begins to see shifts in his ideology and a transformed purpose. Jian Wan's awakening is the story of his generation and his coming of age story parallels that of China's.

In a discussion with Mr. Yang, Jian Wan's true thoughts begin to unfold:

"Have you read Dante?" he asked me in a nasal voice...
"No, I haven't." Unable to say yes, I was somewhat embarrassed. "You should read The Divine Comedy. After you finish it, you will look at the world differently."
So I borrowed all three books of the poem from the library and went through them in two weeks, but I didn't enjoy the poem and felt the world remained the same." (p. 71)

I loved this quote:
Yang recalling his experience as a scholar in the West says this: "Oh, you should have seen the libraries at Berkeley, absolutely magnificent. You can go to the stacks directly, see what's on them, and can even check out some rare books. Frankly, I would die happy if I could work as a librarian in a place like that all my life." (p. 105)

The tension that Jian Wan feels is revealed when another professor asks Yang: "Why should we look down on ourselves so? We're both intellectuals, aren't we?" Yang replies, "No, we're not. Who is an intellectual in China? Ridiculous, anyone with a college education is called an intellectual. The truth is that all people in the humanities are clerks and all people in the sciences are technicians. Tell me, who is a really independent intellectual, has original ideas and speaks the truth? None that I know of. We're all dumb laborers kept by the state--a retrograde species." (p. 153) While this is a conversation between another professor and Yang, Jian Wan takes it to heart and acts on it.

The final quote from the book is this: "Ever since I boarded the train back, a terrible vision had tormented me. I saw China in the form of an old hag so decrepit and brainsick that she would devour her children to sustain herself. Insatiable, she had eaten many tender lives before, was gobbling new flesh and blood now, and would surely swallow more." (p. 315)

A worthy read. One of the best books I've read this year.

photos of Czech Republic


I promised I would include some photos of Czech Republic. So here are a few.
Top: Linda and Czech friends having tea.
Middle: Linda and Verka
Bottom: Joanie and Ondra. I love their smiles and laughter.



I've been thinking of how miraculous it is that the God of the universe desires a relationship with his human creatures. That faith, my faith, is tied to destiny. My destiny is secure. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We are promised this in Scripture. And God's love is for everyone. I really don't understand it. I don't understand the God, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit relationship. But I believe it in faith. My little brain and my small human logic doesn't really get it.

It does have something to do with humility. Humility is from the Holy Spirit. He makes us who we are and gives us the mind of Christ, a true, right view of self. Our character is produced by the Holy Spirit. Our lives manifest the fruits of the Spirit. Christ bought us with a price and we can live in the moment of today resting in faith. Praise be to God for His unspeakable gifts.


I'm Inspired to write

The Festival of Faith and Writing has inspired me. On the trip home I was dreaming of plots for future writing. I envisioned a short story here and a novel there. The trouble is I never act on it. I think I have great ideas in my head, but those ideas never seem to get on paper. So I'm going to try to do a new thing. I'm going to blog some random thoughts. Just snippets of unfinished ideas. Fiction. Non-fiction. Truth and Error. Inspired or uninspired. So here's my first paragraph.

Why do Christians judge other people?

I was thinking of a time when I was younger (but still old enough to know better.) I once thought that making fun of people's idiosyncratic behaviors as fodder for my sad and pathetic humor; I thought it was funny. I did make fun of people. I did (and still do) judge people. I confess it, and it shames me.

Mostly I'm thinking of times when my sister and I spoke unkindly of our aunt (and some other relatives.) My memory has faded as to what specific quirky things she said or did that we felt were so amusing. But I'm left with feelings of remorse for making fun of her behind her back. She really was a hospitable and generous person, undeserving of those words. Although she is gone now, I find that I miss her quite a lot. I wish I could enjoy those idiosyncracies today that at one time I thought were so funny.

The reality is that we are all quirky people. We all have those characteristics or behaviors that, while they seem funny to other people, are really sometime endearing when we turn them a little bit, looking at them from another angle. Our quirkiness is what makes us who we are. But if we are authentic, if we are human, we need to embrace a love wide enough to accept others with their all of their quirks and flaws, just as we ourselves want to be accepted for our own.

The trouble with backbiting is we are far to pious and clever to mock people to their faces. Wouldn't speaking directly to them be more honest? But backbiters never do. By hiding behind spaces and distance, heartless comments can never be defended. How cowardly this backbiting is. And arrogant. How is it that we think we are better than another? How unbecoming is this kind of posturing and pride. This unkindness is not love. It isn't living out the Golden Rule. I am shamed by it.

I wonder sometimes if those behaviors come back to haunt us. For example, I've wondered if children exhibit the behaviors of their parents. So, for parents who speak unkindly, backbite or mock others, do their children model this? For example, do my nieces and nephew think of me, their aunt, in the same unkind terms that my sister and I spoke of ours? I don't know my nieces and nephews well enough to say. But I would want for them a deeper conviction to live their Christian faith with a wider, more generous view of others, and to be able to understand humility in the face of other people. None of us has anything to stand on based on our own actions or worth. How is humility and a gracious spirit learned if not from those mentors and models around us?

I was just thinking about a legacy I might live for them. I would like them to know me not for my behaviors but for my heart. A heart of compassion and humility. I hope I've learned something about enlarging my heart toward accepting other people and I hope to share this idea some how.

The message in church today was: "Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Matthew 7: 1-2.

These are some of Jesus' words that I don't like very much. I don't like this passage in light of my past. And sometimes even my present. This passage seems to imply that if I continued to live a life of mockery, I might also be mocked. If I continue to backbite about others, others will talk badly about me. I have been thinking about opening my heart to a wider acceptance of people.

Oh, I know that God forgives us because Jesus' action on the cross on our behalf.

I just don't have it all resolved. This is a paragraph in the making just as my actions are.


Broken For You by Stephanie Kallos

I just returned from the 2010 Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin. Oh, it was wonderful. I am inspired to write more and read more. I'm reading Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos who was one of the presenters. I love the sense of place--Seattle and the lively characters. Without giving away the plot there is a lot of brokenness in ways I didn't expect.
So here's a brief entry. Keep looking for more.