Category: Friendship

Getting it Right , Eventually


I have always envied the people who seemed  to “get it right” the first time, whatever it was.

I always wished I could be one of those people.

I remember learning multiplication in third grade. Everyone seemed to get their multiplication tables faster than I. God knows kids got the hang of driving a car faster than I. Oh, and being able to sing, and learn how to tap a Time Step, and how to type, play Chopin, and learn Hebrew (Lord in your Mercy, that was hard), and figure out how to Relevé en point, and write a good paper, and run, and work a sewing machine (gave up on that one)  and read (and understand) Karl Barth, and the list goes on…..

I assumed, as I looked over the proverbial fence, that everyone was catching on faster than I. I assumed that because I had to work at it, revise it, redo it, and struggle with it, that I wasn’t good at it.. and therefore that I was less than.

I also assumed that it was a race to catch on – that somehow the kids that caught on before I did were smarter than I, and that I was smarter than the one or two kids that were still figuring it out after me.  This of course, is untrue.

I have never been a person who has gotten it right the first time, and I think in truth none of us are. We live in a world that values the finished product: the winner of the violin contest, the art on display in the museum, the performance on stage, the published book.  What we don’t see, nor can we fully appreciate, are the hours of practice, discipline, drafts, and retakes it requires to get it right.  Furthermore, is it ever really right?     There is always one more word choice, one more touch up.

If it is true art, even finished products are never finished.

My oldest daughter is about to start high school, and let’s just say I’m an emotional basket case over this.  A. I’m too young to have a high school student. B. That went WAY too fast. C. High School is when everything starts “counting.”  D. What if she doesn’t get it right? E. What if we don’t get it right?   Slow down there, sister. High school is but a heartbeat in the scheme of life.

Here is the thing: life is not about getting it right the first, fifth, or 100th time. Life is about the practice of living. It is the exploration of the self.  There is no right. There is only the practice of living.

What we practice at, whether it be the practice of being a good parent, a good friend, a good leader, a good student, a good athlete, a good citizen, these are things that shape our lives and make us who we are, but we never get them right.  We just keep at them, shaping them revising, breaking them down and starting over, working at them until we…. well that’s it isn’t it?   There is no end to the practice of life, until there is no life.

Our vision of what it means to achieve, excel, or accomplish is far too short-sighted.  We need to take the longer view and change our expectations of ourselves and others.  Everyone is working on and practicing living life.  What if we acknowledged that in each other?  What if we valued the work in progress, instead of the final product?

What if we could see that each of us are ultimately a living piece of art?








That I Somehow Made a Difference

All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small.

The beginning of  my faith life was formed out of music.  The music came from my church choir.  The church choir was led by an enthusiastic, faithful musician named Irv Martin.  When I was in junior high on Tuesday nights I would sing in a choir. I never skipped. I’m sure it was because of Irv and his kindness and his love of music that kept me coming back every week. Those melodies and lyrics have remained in my soul and my long-term memory my entire life.

Dona Nobis Pacem

Irv would draw us into the music and we would forget that we were supposed to be cool teenagers and we would sing with joy and energy.  Guys and girls formed a community in the choir loft. This was before the term “contemporary music” and the age of the Worship Wars.  We even sang hymns.

Praise Ye  the Lord the Almighty the King of Creation.

Finding a choir director that can  balance expression of faith and musical expertise  is a rare find. Church musicians are, well musicians.  They care about intonation and balance and might even consider what they are doing to be a performance. It’s hard to find a choir director who can express their faith, while at the same time focus on musicianship.  Irv struck that balance between minister and musician. He loved God.  He loved expressing his love of God through music and he loved compelling his choirs to express the love of God through the expression of music. It’s because of Irv that I fell in love with God and music. His enthusiasm was infectious.

You shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace. The mountains and the hills will spring forth before you.

Irv was my confirmation sponsor.  While I was going through the confirmation process, he would pick me up at 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday mornings, take me out to breakfast and talk to me about faith and social issues of the day. Above all, he listened, he prayed for me and with me.

Oh sing to the Lord a new song.

Irv was my first voice teacher.  In high school I wanted to perform in musicals more than anything.  Singing was not a gift that came naturally to me. Irv knew I loved to sing and that was enough for him. Before an audition I would go to his house and he would help me prepare my solo. He’d play the piano and help me with my range and breath.

You’ve got to light up my load. If I’m to carry this heavy load, you have to lighten my load with sunshine.

Irv died today.  He had Alzheimer’s Disease. I can’t believe he’s gone and I never got the chance to thank him. I never got the chance to thank him for his kindness to a teenager who loved music and had the desire to sing well.  I never got the chance to thank him for sharing his faith with me and for his patient listening as I shared my faith with him.  I never got a chance to thank him for being faithful to the baptismal covenant and for his  generosity.  I never got a chance to thank him for being my friend.

In 1993, the Reverend Fred Rogers was asked to speak at the National Press Club.  Mr. Rogers began by taking out his pocket watch and announcing that he wanted to start his speech with two minutes of silence during which he invited each person present to “remember people in their past—parents, teachers, coaches, friends, and others—who had made it possible for them to accomplish so much.”  Irv Martin was that person for me.

He was the first adult, other than my parents, in my balcony.

Do you know about balcony people?

They are people whom we have known or known only through stories about them or their writing or philosophies who have made us understand the presence of God. Whenever in life you and I feel timid, needy, fumbling, mistaken or even failed, our basement people voices say, “I told you it wouldn’t work. I knew you couldn’t do it. You’ll never amount to anything.” But our balcony people are those whose voices we hear in our hearts and our prayers and often times if we are blessed, in our own ears. Our balcony people say, particularly in the bleakest and most anxious of moments, “Go for it. You can do it. You can make it. You’re made from good stock.”   Our balcony people also protect us from trying to go life alone.  They never leave us. They leave an imprint on our souls.

Think for a few seconds, who are people in your balcony?

If they are still living, go find them and thank them.

When our church choir went on tour, we always closed with this song.  It’s my favorite. I sing it to my children. I sing it when I need to remember that God never leaves my side.  It’s because of Irv, that this song stays with me.

I hope a choir of angels has greeted him with it:

“Go ye now in peace and know that the love of God will guide you.
Feel his presence here beside you, showing you the way.
In your time of trouble when hurt and despair are there to grieve you,
Know that the Lord will never leave you, He will bring you courage.
Know that the God who sent His Son to die that you might live, 
Will never leave you lost and alone in His beloved world.
Go ye now in peace.
Go ye now in peace.
Go ye now in peace.”

Joyce Elaine Eilers

Thank you, Irv.

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Teaching our Daughters about Being the Odd Girl Out

oddIt’s going to happen.  Let’s just start there.  It’s a fact of life that sooner or later everyone is going to feel left out.  In this day in and age when our culture tries to encourage inclusion and acceptance, it’s hard to know how to navigate the experience of being excluded and unaccepted.  How do we help our daughters when they are the Odd Girl Out?  (See Odd Girl Out, by Rachel Simmons)  I remember it well, don’t you?  That feeling in the lunch room where everyone had a seat at the table, or on the bleachers at the football game, or got invited to the sleep over?  Am I over sharing here? I mean didn’t everyone spend Friday nights at home watching Nova with their parents?

Everyone. Everyone at one time or another, feels left out.  Everyone goes through moments of self-consciousness, and the feeling of loneliness even when they are not alone.   The first thing we need to teach our daughters when they are the odd girl out is that this is not a new phenomena. It’s normal. It’s going to happen. So while it may feel yucky, we need to teach our daughters that it’s part of life to sometimes be left out.

And when it happens, our daughters need to know that their self-worth is not based on being included. If we teach our daughters that their worth is based on how accepted they are in a group, or that happiness only happens when you fit in, they will eventually lose sight of who they are.  See the children’s book Stripes, by David Shannon. stripe

We adult women need to be self-aware enough to know when our stuff is being projected on to our daughters.  If we carry baggage that we have never dealt with from those adolescent days, chances are, we will project our story into our daughter’s story.  We need to deal with whatever messages we have recorded in our self-esteem file and make sure we are not replaying them for our daughters.

When our daughters come home and express that feeling of being left out, not fitting in, do we run to their aid, call the other mothers, get angry, take them shopping, get out chocolate, cry, decide to home school?  Or, are we still for a moment and listen?  Do we give them power, by letting them express their feelings and then validate what we heard?

Dear Mothers of Daughters who feel left out, hear this: you cannot fix it.   You can only receive the painful, confused, sad, daughter in your arms and listen.  Let her know she is safe to tell you she feels left out and don’t try to fill the void with food, or shopping, or quitting.  All of this affirms the belief that something is wrong with the one who is being left out. Rather, we need to teach our daughters that its ok to be alone. It’s ok to be independent. It’s ok to be themselves.  It’s o.k. to be left out!   They need to know they are loved just the way they are. (See Mr. Rogers) mr rogersThey need one place where they are safe, accepted, and heard.  They need one place where they are not left out. Hopefully that is home. If our homes are safe places where we fill their emotional cups with good thoughts of self-worth, then when they go to those places where they are emptied, they have something to draw upon to sustain them.

What do we tell our daughters when they feel left out?  We tell them we love them, just the way they are.

“When I say it’s you I like, I’m talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.” 
 Fred Rogers




What Not To Say


There is a lot of bad theology out there.   There are a lot of stupid things we have said about God that has made God into  “our own personal Jesus.” (To quote my favorite 80’s band).  We have personalized, minimized and materialized God into a god.  There are a lot of things that have been said about God that are just not true.   I have a good list going.  But there is one thing that we say, that must never be said again. Ever.  There is one thing we must stop saying.  And that is this:

God will never give you more than you can handle.

That is by far the dumbest thing I have ever heard.  I find it insulting to both God and the person who is faced with the impossible thing.  This statement has no Biblical grounding.  Read the Psalms and you will find the opposite  theology.  You will find people lamenting, grieving, struggling, and suffering.  Nowhere do you find a Psalm that says, “Thanks for giving me this enemy who is shaking me down, and thanks for the pain in my back.  I can handle it. You could probably give me one more hardship and call it good.”  Moreover, and to the greater point, God is not the distributor of pain and suffering.  God is not Zeus.  God does not delight in seeing people suffer.  God does create a playbook for each of us in which He says, “O.K.  I  will give him this disease, this divorce and this detriment, that should do it.”  (I do, however think God speaks in alliteration.)

But back to my rant.  We have to stop this.  We have to stop saying stupid things about God when bad things happen.  We have to stop thinking that somehow we can handle the burdens of our lives because somehow we are tough enough to handle them.  “Well, the tornado came through and took my house and I lost my job and  no one in my family ever talks to me, but God will never give me more than I can handle, so I better toughen up and handle it.”  (Insert your favorite expletive.)

My heart is heavy with people who are heavily burdened. My list is long, I don’t know where to start.   I’m sure you have a list too. Maybe you include yourself as one in pain, one who is grieving, one who is suffering.  Here is what I believe to be true: God is closer than the air we breathe. God is in the messy, yucky, painful, awful, smelly, unfair, difficult parts of our life.  Not because God wills it, wants it, or planned it, but because God is the Mother Bear of all Mother Bears and would never let Her children suffer alone. You know the kind of Mother I’m talking about.   Maybe you resemble Her. Maybe when your child is suffering, you suffer for them, with them and even more than they. God is like that, tenfold.  God is the Bulwark, the Mighty Fortress, the Strong Deliverer.  You know, when the nightmare happens? The one from which you cannot wake? God creates a foundation under you and puts a shield around you and holds you tight.  Like an anchor in the storm.  He’s got you.

So the next time that awful thing happens to our friends and loved ones and we shake our heads and wonder how they are going to get through it, and we think we need to say something, or even be a little pious and suggest that we know the will of God, it would be best if we said nothing at all. Just be still. Sit with them in their suffering. Just be present.  Be humble enough to recognize that we don’t have all of the answers, nor do we need them.  We only need to know that we are shielded, protected, held and beheld by one greater than ourselves.  If we can do that, we may come to hear a Still Small Voice, who has something profound to say.  If we are quiet enough to listen.



I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where will my help come? (Psalm 121)


Mildred is a 94-year-old poet. She carries a deep wisdom, a quick sense of humor, a Katherine Hepburn sense of style, and the ability to unravel a story.

She can no longer write and she struggles with keeping her train of thought. Yet she can hold court like Dane Judy Dench.

I love Mildred. She’s a story-teller. Today she told me about when she was a little girl, riding her horse to school and about how her horse saved cattle from a raging river.

When she was 10 years old, her Father bought a farm sight unseen. The guy he bought it from said he would really like it. So the family traveled through the Iowa prairie on a winter day. Her Dad had gone ahead and lit all the stoves in the house. When Mildred, her mother and sister arrived, they found a large farm-house with five rooms. They went upstairs and there on the floor were thousands of dead bees. No one had lived in the old farm-house for years. Mildred and her Dad found the rope for the attic. They pulled the attic door down and found a zither! Immediately Mildred and her Dad sat down around the dead bees and started playing the zither. Her mother said, “I need to find the kitchen!”


“Did you like your new home, Mildred?”

“Oh Honey, things went from bad to worse. The house was not insulated. There was no warmth in the house. One spring two tornadoes came through our backyard and two years later the Depression came and we lost the farm.”

As I sat and listened to Mildred unravel her story, tears came to my eyes. I knew I was on Holy Ground. Friends came around her and held her hands. Her 97-year-old friend Lavena who was dressed all in black with a gold and black jacket and her friend, Bethel, the young chick of 88, dressed in coral and gold sandals. These classy women with their stories of triumph and struggle. And I, half their age, seeing their beauty and respecting their journey. What stories will I remember? Who will listen?

Mildred gets frustrated when her brain won’t let her tell the stories she wants to tell.

“Mildred, dear, elegant story-teller, your stories are still alive even in your inability to retell them. They do not diminish. They are alive in your imagination.”

Music can be played, joy can be found, even among the carcases of dead bees. Just open the attic door.

Little Women and Moving


“Which character do you want to be?” My sisters and I would ask each other after watching Little Women and reenacting the parts of the book for the 100th time. Nobody wanted to be snooty Amy or moody Beth. Well, Beth was ok up until the death scene. Meg was okay too, but she was so prissy and Marmy was cool and wise, but the truth was we all wanted to be Jo.

Jo had ambition and tenacity. She knew how to talk to boys and she was willing to travel on her own to New York City to as Marmy said, “go, embrace her liberty and see what great things come of it.”

“Although I don’t know how I will survive without my Jo.”

This book is more about change and the nostalgia of home than anything else.

Amy says, “we are all going to grow up some day, we might as well know what we want.”

Beth, “Why does everyone want to go away, why can’t things just stay as they are?”

“Go, and embrace your liberty and see what great things come of it.”

As we have prepared our children for moving to a new town, school,and home, I recognize each persona in them and myself.

Our beautiful home, where first steps were walked and the stomach flu ensued. Where reindeer food was sprinkled out on the walk and the home sparkled with Christmas splendor. Where stories were unfolded and my children were safe to grow and learn and run. “Maybe we can take our home with us?” Our middle daughter said.


We have been upfront and honest with our kids from the beginning about the possibility of moving. They were never kept in the dark. We invited them to imagine moving before they were told they were going to move.

We hug a lot. We remind them that as long as we are together that is all that matters. That our family story stays our story as long as we are a family.

Our wonderful friends. We walk into the library, grocery store, bank and see a friend or know the teller. We are connected to our community and we love our friends. How do we say “goodbye”? We don’t. We say “thank you.” We say “see you soon.” I have lived long enough now to realize that all relationships that matter come back around. That our storylines are like yarn through a tapestry. They may disappear from behind the picture, but they will reveal themselves again. Our relationships make us who we are and we carry the people we love with us. Always.

I hope I am like Marmy and can encourage my children to embrace their liberty. I hope I can send them off to a new school, even a junior high, with all of the belief in the world that they are ready for the next great adventure. I hope I can give them the assurance that they can always, always come home and that home is wherever there is a feeling of love and safety.

Where good books are read and bread is baked and a candle is burning.

Friendship on the Trail

Picture 246

Another winter storm is coming and I am aching to get back on our trails and run! I confess that I don’t run for the cardio. I run for the friendship. I run for therapy. I run to “leave it on the trail.” Whatever “it” is. We laugh, lament, swear, sweat and sometimes even cry. We push each other on.

My favorite route is along the river, where the trees canopy the trail and one can imagine that one is out in the woods, far away from it all.

This is the quote that sits on my desk:
“Nothing’s better than the wind to your back, the sun in front of you, and your friends beside you.”
Aaron Douglas Trimble, Runner

It’s negative 5 and 5 inches of snow is expected tomorrow. The trails are covered with windswept snow and the trees are creaking with cold. Come on Spring! Get here! My shoes are ready. My legs are strong and ready to pound the pavement. My lungs are aching to breathe in the fresh air. My skin is ready to feel the heat of sun. My soul is ready for the bond of friendship that only comes from a good run on the trail.