Tender Mercies

It was hard for me to feel peaceful in Paris, what with the busyness of the place and all.

Then I remembered the harp store.

Our hotel was on a narrow streets not far from the Arc de Triomphe. On our first night there, we had walked to a little bodega (not sure what the French word would be) at the end of the street to buy something and the poor store owner was in the midst of an argument with a couple who looked strung out on something. He would glance nervously at us, the naive Americans, and argue a little more in French with the couple. It probably was a good thing I couldn’t understand what was being said.

In my heart, I bemoaned the city. It was all too much.

But the next morning, when I stepped out the door, I saw the harp store, wedged into a tiny space precisely where I couldn’t miss it.

It was lovely and reminded me of those tender mercies God gives us to help us remember Him.

Yesterday, back in rural New York, I was reminded over and over of those little mercies all around me.

As I drove Mary into work, I turned onto the street where Cooperstown has their helicopter pad. I quickly pulled my phone out of my pocket and handed it to Mary.

“What?” she asked.

“Get some pictures,” I said.

The state police were taking their dogs-in-training for helicopter rides. Mary snapped a bunch of pictures.

“They’re probably pretty bad,” she said apologetically.

“That’s okay,” I told her. “I just want to remember this. It’s pretty awesome that we live in a town where dogs get to go for helicopter rides.”

The line of police cars at the helicopter pad

Where else could I go to see such a sight?

On my evening walk, the cows were in the field near the road.

A week ago, another blogger had written about playing Queen and watching the bovine reaction — “most of their uncomprehending faces turned toward the noise, and turned right back to chewing cud sightlessly.” A few nights later I decided to play a little music for the cows near me. Mozart — one of my favorites, and what I had been listening to — elicited little-to-no reaction.  They perked right up for Andrew Peterson though; some even approached the fence. (For the record, it was “Hosanna” that I played.)

Owen thought I should play John Gorka’s song “Winter Cows” for them. So last night, that’s what I did. This was their response.

Hmm… I wonder what it is about Andrew Peterson.

Also, where else could I test out cows’ listening preferences on my evening walks?

Further on, I saw a deer.

She watched me for a while before bounding away.

And then there was the sunset — all golden and lovely.  

The steadfast love of the Lord isn’t just new every morning. It’s there throughout the day if we but open our eyes to see it.

The Angels Were Angry

And the angels were angry
At the crispness of the cake
“HOW DARE YOU,” they bellowed,

They brandished flaming swords
To bar me from my kitchen —
I felt like such a failure;
I knew they were itchin’

To use their blazing rapiers
Against the likes of me
Because I multitasked disaster
Where disaster oughtn’t be

Oh, the angels were furious
While smoke rose from the range
So I pondered how to soothe them
Then I spotted something strange —

A hero in a paper bag!
He boldly stood between
Me and my catastrophe
Better sight ne’er seen

“Begone!” I think he shouted —
Or maybe it was “Gwam!”
giggle-giggle “Wook! Wook!
Here I am!”

So the knight-in-paper-bag
Took my mind off of burnt cake
And I played with little Henry
Before I cleaned up my mistake.

Chalk Throwing

Three teachers that shaped me used the not-socially-acceptable technique of throwing chalk at the students.

One teacher threw a piece of chalk at me for passing notes during class. He threw it, and then he called me a “stupid Pollak”, an ethnic slur for someone of Polish ancestry — which I wasn’t — and a mispronunciation of my last name. I was angry. I vowed never to take another class in that subject again. And I didn’t — until college. Trigonometry was the last math class I took in high school.

Another teacher threw chalk, erasers, whatever was handy — and called students “Harry Lipschitz”. Maybe because I was never the target of his missiles, or maybe because I liked the subject matter more, I worked really hard for that teacher and have a lifelong love of music, largely because of his influence. Not every former student shares my opinion though.

The third teacher smacked yardsticks against the chalkboard and broke them on a regular basis — the yardsticks, not the chalkboards. He threw also chalk. And erasers. He had a large wooden machete that he would rest on a student’s shoulder and gently tap the “blade” against his or her neck, all the while asking him or her to solve a problem or answer a question. We loved this teacher. We paid attention. We laughed. We learned.

Sometimes, I think, we try to over-simplify problems or solutions.

I had a teacher that threw chalk at me and he made me want to quit learning, therefore all teachers should be forbidden from throwing chalk.

But I also had a teacher who threw chalk who made me love learning, therefore all teachers should be required to throw chalk.

Or, I had a teacher that threw chalk, and some students really liked him, while others did not, therefore chalk-throwing should be discretionary.

But why is it that one teacher can throw a piece of chalk and we laugh, and another teacher can throw chalk and we want to quit? The answer lies not in the throwing of the piece of chalk.

I don’t even know where I’m going with this. I just know that nothing is simple.

I mean, is social media bad, or is social media good?

Are guns bad, or are they good?

Are drugs bad, or are they good?

Is chalk bad, or is chalk good?

Are teachers bad, or are they good?





What I do know is that when we know something for sure, we are most in danger of being wrong.

For the record, in my opinion, chalk throwing is not a great idea for teachers… yet I learned a lot from a couple of chalk-throwers.




A Run With Andrew Peterson and Friends

Laurel told me something about wearing exercise clothes making you want to exercise, so I bought the uniform of the runner — leggings — and it sort of works. Once I put them on, I feel like I’ve made the commitment to run.

This morning I really didn’t want to run — and when I say “run”, I mean “walk-run”, with more walking than running at this point in my 5K run app.

So, I didn’t want to run, but I had on the leggings and my father was still sleeping and Mary was downstairs in case he got up anyway and I had no other excuses. I headed out the door and down the hill.

About 5 minutes in, I heard a *ka-pling* from my phone, so I checked to see if I was supposed to start running, but it was a message from a friend. I barely had time to see her name when I heard the *ding* signaling time to run. I shoved my phone back in my pocket, and began running and praying for her.

Lord, I don’t know what’s going on with my friend

Meanwhile, in the background of my run, Andrew Peterson was singing, “Keep to the old roads, keep to the old roads, and you’ll find your way…”

I focused on a distant tree, telling myself I could run that far. It’s a thing I do because I really hate running – set a short-term goal.

*ding* — I could walk again. I pulled out my phone and read her note. “We are very lost and hurt…”

“Keep to the old roads,” sang Andrew. He was on the last chorus.

Lord, help her to remember the old roads. Help her find her way.

I know that lost feeling, when it seems everything is wrong and wasted. I thought of another friend who recently lost her home in a fire and the heavy ache she must feel, sifting through ashes. I’ve gotten those heart-wrenching phone calls and driven to far emergency rooms. I sat with my mother through her last breaths.

*ding* — Time to run again. I picked a barn to run to. Andrew was singing “Dancing in the Minefields.”

“This is harder than we dreamed…” Indeed, it is. Marriage, parenting, life.

It all is so hard and no one warns us about that.

Or they do, and we don’t believe it because we have stars in our eyes and hope in our hearts. But the stars are replaced with the pollution of life, stinging our eyes. And the hope in our hearts withers like an unwatered plant.

Lord, walk with her in these shadowlands.

And so my walk-run went.

Andrew sang, “So when my body’s weak and the day is long, When I feel my faith is all but gone, I’ll remember when I sing this song, that I believe….”

And I prayed.

Andrew sang, “Isn’t it love?”

And I prayed.

The last bit of my run-walk is miserable, absolutely miserable. I start off going downhill which means I finish going up.

I thought about a comment Jonathan Rogers had recently made when someone praised him for being an encouragement.  He said something like, “I’m like the cross-country coach who pulls alongside in the golf cart, takes a drag of his cigarette, and tells you to keep going.”

I thought about a new friend who wished me Bon Courage and explained that it’s not about bravery, but strength and resolve.

I thought about my friend who is lost and struggling, and that we’re all like the guy in the golf-cart, smoking our cigarettes and encouraging from our comfort, while we really don’t understand the pounding on the pavement pain of the runner in that moment, and that we need strength and resolve, and to be able to set our sights on reachable goals.

We also need to remember the ultimate goal — that running with endurance the race that is set before us. We have a cloud of witnesses — not riding golf-carts. We need to focus on Christ for our strength and resolve, our bon courage.

And so I prayed for my friend as I finished that final hill.



My Mother’s Closet

My mother’s  closet has only been hers.

When my parents bought this old farmhouse 50 years ago, it had one closet — a tiny one, at that.

While we kids put up a rope swing, my father put in closets.

Putting up the rope swing


putting in closets

Bi-fold doors must have been in then, because that’s what he installed — in his closet, my mother’s closet, my sister’s closet, and my oldest brother’s closet. The rest of us didn’t get closets; we had cardboard wardrobes.

I stood outside my mother’s closet the other day, hesitating to open the door. It has to be done — the cleaning of it, I mean. She’s been gone over a year and a half. My son is staying in that room. And he sure could use a closet.

But I stood there, not wanting to look again at what’s inside.

The brown wool plaid skirt. The green skirt with Greek meander border. The dress she wore at my wedding.

The ruffled blouses that she wore to dress up.

The sweaters.

The housecoats, even.

They’re housecoats, for crying out loud.

But I can picture her standing in the kitchen wearing them, making our lunches for school.

A woman I know lost her house in a fire recently.

Is that how you want to deal with your mother’s things? a voice whispered in my heart. I knew it wasn’t God, because He didn’t burn my friend’s house down. He doesn’t threaten to burn houses down. I saw, however, in my mind’s eye, my fingers being forcibly pried off the things I’m holding onto.

Is that how I want to deal with my mother’s things? No. Absolutely not.

But they must be dealt with.

Garbage? No. That’s wasteful. My mother was never wasteful.

A yard sale? No — I don’t think I could bear watching people paw through her things.

Donate to the church’s rummage sale? No — same reason.

I think I need to box it all up and take it to a donation point in another city. She would want some good to come of it all.

Then, I’ll have to look at an empty closet.

And mourn a little, allowing the closet’s history to move just a wee bit distant into the past.

Before my son moves his stuff in and the closet has its second occupant.


Three Turkey Vultures

Three turkey vultures alit on the roof
Because they have no voice organs,
I really have no proof
That there was any conversation
Between them at all
Maybe a guttural hiss
Instead of other call

This imaginary dialogue then
Really didn’t occur
But for the sake of storytelling
I hope you won’t demur.

Three turkey vultures sat on the barn
One gave a sniff
“Is that carrion?”
And off that vulture flew
But he went the wrong way.
The other two just shrugged and said,
“I. D. K.”

Two turkey vultures sitting in the sun
Basking in the warmth,
Then they heard a gun
“Is someone after us?”
One asked the other.
“I’m not taking any chances.”
And he flew off in a bother.

One lone turkey vulture slowly looked around
He was a long way up
It was a long way down
He felt a little woozy
And his head began to spin
He tipped off the roof
Then his wings kicked in

And he felt a thermal lift
Higher, higher, higher
Sitting can be fun, he thought
But I’d rather be a flier.

The Gift of Giving

About a month ago, I received a curious piece of mail.

When I opened the envelope, I found a folded-up piece of yellow construction paper. In red marker, the sender, Juliette, a little girl from our church in Greene, had drawn a heart, an elephant, a waterfall, and some flowers covered in dirt. (Her grandmother wrote explanations for me.) 

It also included a dandelion. I actually love dandelions. I loved when my own children were of the age of bringing me dandelion bouquets.

That letter made my day. It was so fun to receive something so unexpected. I knew I needed to respond, but, in the craziness of getting ready for France, I didn’t do it until the other day.

I made a card for Juliette. 

The rabbits were just a little too big to fit neatly on my card, so one rabbit’s ear and tail fold around onto the back. I guess you could say its back side is on the back side.

I asked her grandmother for Juliette’s address. She texted the address back and added, “She is fascinated right now with giving everyone the pictures she makes.”


Juliette is learning at a young age that giving is its own gift.


Last night at the dinner table, as my father repeatedly repeated himself, I found myself wondering at the wisdom of bringing my children here to live with him.

It can be frustrating and even, sometimes, a little irritating to listen to the same comments about the blueness of the skies and the greenness of the plants.

I’ve heard Mary patiently explain how to operate the remote control to the television and sometimes resort the explanation of “magic” when asked how she found the right channel. The other night I heard Karl trying to explain the remote control. Again.

My youngest children have to live in a house with rooms still full of items from previous occupants. My parents’ house became a repository for so many things from other family members that it’s hard to find space for its current residents.

I wonder repeatedly, is this good for them? Is it good for our family to be a little fractured for the sake of the eldest member? Is it good to stretch between two homes, and in so doing, to almost have no home? Is it good to see their grandfather needy and weak and forgetful?

But I remember my mother caring for her mother and mother-in-law. With patience, sacrifice, and great love, she did for them what they could no longer do for themselves.

I suppose I’m following in her footsteps.

It’s a different kind of giving from sending a sweet greeting in the mail.

Sometimes this kind of giving seems like a terrible gift, but I need to remember that it is a gift nonetheless.

I need to lean in. Embrace each moment. These gifts are good.