Category: Stories

Imagining the Unimaginable : A lament

I sit against the cement block.  The blue, rubber mat sticks under me.  “How did I get here?”   My hands tighten in my fists, my eyes burn from tears no longer able to make water.  My head pounds. My breath ends.  I am trapped. Here.  “What is happening?”  

We made the long journey from the gangs and violence of our streets.  I held him tightly  to my chest as we bumped over rocks and holes in the earth.  I told him we would be safe once we crossed the border.”   My grandmother’s gold, cross necklace glistened in the moon light.  His little hand reached up and rubbed it between his fingers.  I kissed them gently and told him we were in God’s hands.

When we got to the border they took us to a room.  They told me they were getting him a drink and they would be right back.   I waited and waited.  Where is he?!  Where is he?!   I could hear him screaming from the other room, “Mamaaa!!!!  Mamaaa!”    My God, My God, My God, what have I done?  What have I done?  What have I done?  I started screaming, “Give me back my son!  Give me back my son!”   I banged on the metal door until my hands bled. I hit my head over and over again, until ringing filled my ears. I kicked with all of my might.  Please God, NO.

He was gone.  I am here. On the blue, rubber mat.  I must remember that he was wearing a blue and white striped  t-shirt and jeans and green tennis shoes.  I must remember the scar under his left ear from when he hit his head on the counter top when he was two.  I must remember his little hands and his brown eyes.  Oh God, what have I done?  He will think that I did this to him, that I threw him away.  How will he sleep without me as a pillow?  He has never slept without me for day in his life.  His little body has breathed next to mine since before he was born.  Will someone know when he is scared?  Will someone bring him comfort when he cries?  Will someone tell him I love him?  Oh God, please, please let him know he is loved.  Please let him know he is mine.

I sit on the blue, rubber mat.  I rub the golden cross between my fingers.   I find myself weeping again, as the tears come and rock back and forth.  Please God. Please. Hold him. Hold him. Hold him. Hold him. Hold him.  

Deep within me, a stirring occurs.  It comes up into my throat, and I begin to wail.





When Scary Things Happen

Dear Creepy Man in the Gas Station:toilet_retro_gas_station_restroom_square_sticker-raf635655033c4e06b5fdd9b111017f57_v9wf3_8byvr_512

You know who you are.

You are 6 foot 4 inches tall and are about 72 years old.  You drive a red SUV and you live in Illinois.  You have white hair and a big nose.  I am not afraid of you. Although as I write this, my pulse rate has accelerated and my hands are slightly shaking.

This is what happened.

We were on a family road trip. Me and my children. We were so excited to be getting away for the weekend and return to a place we had previously called, “home.” Our spirits were high and nothing would get in the way of us having a fantastic weekend.  We stopped at the McDonald’s just on the other side of the Mississippi River in Le Claire, Iowa on Highway 80. We always stopped there on previous road trips.  It was our first sentimental visit.

We finished lunch and headed to the adjacent gas station to use the restroom.  My son used the restroom and came out.  We were getting ready to leave and you came up to my son and started talking to him.  You towered over him and said, “Did you just leave the bathroom that way?!  Do you leave your bathroom like that at home!”  I stepped in front of my 8-year-old child and shielded him from you.  I told you that if you had a problem with my son that you should direct your concerns to me.  You put your finger in front of my face and shook it at me and said, that if I was a better mother, the bathroom would not have been left in such a mess.  I told you to remove your finger from my face.  You then said, “O ho ho”  and you changed your finger to a fist. My three children stood by. Terrified. I said,  “You will not act this way!”

I went to the bathroom and made my son flush the toilet and wash his hands. My son started to cry.  Meanwhile a little man stood at the urinal peeing, while you continued to yell.  I told you that this was entirely unnecessary.  You shouted at me, that it wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t such an awful mother.

We left the bathroom. My children were shaking, “Let’s Go. Let’s Go. Come on let’s get out of here, before he comes out of the bathroom.”

“Just a minute,” I said. “I need to catch my breath.”

The teller behind the counter said, “Is everything alright?”

“No,” I said, “My son was just accosted.”


“My son was just accosted.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“Accosted….it means we were all just threatened.”

We got to the car and waited for you to drive away.

We got gas and drove on.

My children all started sobbing. My daughters were crying, saying they were afraid I was going to get hurt.  My son kept wailing, “You are wonderful, mama, mama!”

It was awful.

I will not try to figure out what is wrong with you, or make an excuse for your behavior.

I do agree that children need to clean up after themselves and remember to flush toilets. You could have simply said, “Ma’am, your son may want to go back and make sure he remembered to flush the toilet.”  You could have done a lot of things.

It took us a while to process what happened.  It was truly terrifying.  But know this:  the power that you think you had over us does not exist, and dude, you need to get a grip.

We have flushed you down the toilet.

The Mission Trip Community, by Barb Dowd

This is an entry from a member of our congregation after a week of mission in Indiana. Thanks for sharing your story, Barb! Most of all thank you for sharing your faith!

On February 3, 2013, 43 people from 9 churches and the Presbytery of North Central Iowa gathered in Brownstown, Indiana. It is a very small rural town, but is the address for PYOCA, the Presbyterian Church camp, where we stayed for the Mission Trip. It was a beautiful place to stay even in the midst of winter and brought back my younger years at church camp at Okoboji.
But it was also a great place to meet new people on our trip, reacquaint with others who had been on trips before, and to worship together dedicating our week to helping others. Everyone contributed to the routine chores of cooking and housecleaning which gave us the time then to travel to work sites and help the devastated people of Henryville, Indiana who are still recovering 11 months after the tornadoes and large hail. The survivors’ stories were amazing to hear such as: one large extended family who gathered in one of their homes prior to the tornado and felt the house go up and come down 3 times before the tornado passed by. Most of them lost all their belongings and their homes that day on South Williams Knob Road.
The physical work we did that week was challenging for many of us as we were doing labor that we had never done before. It was very important work to the homeowners to help to get their lives back to a normal state, but more important than anything else was the listening to their stories. We hope and pray that telling their stories over and over to different people helps them to recover from the disaster’s effects. Some of them shared their faith in God with us and saw his hand in their survival and recovery. Neighbors who never knew each other have become friends and even closer, like a family to each other. Their gratitude and love for those who have helped them was evident to me.
We were privileged to have several pastors and commissioned lay pastors in our group. Worship time in the morning and evening was a blessing. In that week, I believe we had a sacred community. It was also a time for sharing our stories. As Rev. David Feltman, Pastor to the Presbytery, expressed to us in our worship time, when we go home to our local churches is what we do as members of our congregation in our church and out in our communities as important as the work we did that week? We, the members of God’s family, need to utilize our time and talents like we did on this trip at home–working together in community toward one goal of spreading the unconditional love of God. That is what matters to Jesus. I am feeling renewed and able to appreciate the messages of Lent; and looking forward to what a mission trip might bring next year.

Falling in Love with Program Notes, by Christine Kaplunas

Thanks Christine, for being the first to brave writing a story about your experience in community. Moreover, thank you for sharing this story.

I remember when I was a sophomore in college, the time I fell in love with some program notes. I was a music major and played violin II in the university symphony, and Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss was programmed for our upcoming concert. It was the first time I had been given permission by a conductor to use “free bowing” in a passage- at the beginning of “Im Abendrot”. There I sat in the middle of the 2nd violin section, playing freely and openly- liberated by the sound. It was a nice balance to all the mind-bending flats I was reading in the other songs. I think the first few rehearsals were spent trying to apply my practice-room work on those flats into something elegant, and it was hard work. The songs became that for me, both restrictive and liberating. Demanding and rewarding.
Then I came in to rehearsal one day and picked up my copy of the program notes, left unassumingly on the music stand. I read them during our break time. In the middle of trumpets warming up, strings tuning, and an occasional musician who stayed behind to practice some tough passages, I felt my heart strangely warmed. As I read over the notes, I fell in love. I cannot fully describe it, and I cannot review those notes now as they have not survived my several geographic relocations since. The way the author of these notes described Strauss’ love for his wife, the preparation for his immanent death, this musical gift to the love of his life- it was so moving and so beautiful. I had only seen something like this from a surface perspective in the past: seeing an elderly couple holding hands quietly in the garden at the nursing home, sitting with a woman whose beloved husband had just died. But the beauty of the music revealed that love in a new way. Now I understood. Now it was real. The communal sound of the thickly-textured orchestra, accompanying the powerful, lyrical Soprano solo voice, cut straight to the essence of what those program notes described. I wept. I sat in the middle of the orchestra room with program notes in my hands and wept at such beauty revealed. I felt like that again at the beginning of the movie, Up, but that’s another story. Rehearsal resumed, and the music swept me away. I didn’t need to read from my part anymore. That paper with inked-in music notes was a distraction. The real music was inside. Okay, I peeked a little. By the next rehearsal, I had the music memorized so I could be taken over by the wash of sound around me. This, my friends, is orchestral music in its finest form. Love communicated.
The concert was magnificent. I don’t even remember what else was on the program. I didn’t care. I was swept away by the sound, by this love story. Our soloist was just wonderful. Her intonation was spot on, and powerful, and she communicated. I’ll admit that my favorite recording has since become Jessye Norman’s slow and lingering performance.
The writer of the program notes that captured my heart so thoroughly: DMA candidate and fellow violinist Daniel Kaplunas. It took another four years before I married him. For our 5th wedding anniversary this April, he will conduct the Four Last Songs by Richard Strauss with the Wartburg Community Symphony- where I play violin II. I’ll also be very pregnant with our first child and probably a bit emotional. I’ll try not to weep so much at the concert, but if I do, you will know they are tears of transcendent joy.
-Christine Kaplunas



This is an open space to offer stories about when you have witnessed a sacred community.

Are you in an orchestra? Do you teach a class? Have you ever left a community? When did your community feel the most sacred? Are you part of a volunteer community? A coffee community? A workout community? An interfaith community? A Yoga community? An art community? Athletic Community? What makes it unique? What makes it challenging? Why is it important? What made it healthy? What made it unhealthy? What di you learn by being part of this community?

Teach us about community through your experience.

Thank you for sharing.