old Hymn from 1888

Throw out the Life-Line across the dark wave,
There is a brother whom someone should save;
Somebody’s brother! Oh who then will dare
To throw out the lIfe-Line, his peril to share?

Throw out the Life-Line with hand quick and strong:
Why do you tarry and linger so long?
See! he is sinking; oh; hasten today—
And out with the Life-Boat! away, then, away!

Throw out the Life-Line to danger-fraught men,
Sinking in anguish where you’ve never been:
Winds of temptation and billows of woe
Will soon hurl them out where the dark waters flow.

Soon will the season of rescue be o’er,
Soon will they drift to eternity’s shore,
Haste then, my brother, no time for delay,
But throw out the Life-Line and save them today.

Throw out the Life-Line! Throw out the Life-Line!
Someone is drifting away;
Throw out the Life-Line! Throw out the Life-Line!
Someone is sinking today.

by Edward S. Ufford, 1888

Life Songs 2, # 137
Copyright 1938 by Mennonite Publishing Housetroubled seas

Good-Bye and Hello

Even when the old favorite blanky is tattered, and stained with jelly, snot, and tears; it’s still hard to let it go. But eventually we do. My old “security blanket” in the nursing profession, always “home base” for so many years, so portable and useful for earning my family’s bread & butter— has been the ER. It’s a rather well-worn blanket by this time, and the heart-breaking events and uncontrollable onslaught of misery have taken an ever-accumulating toll on my heart these many years.

Tomorrow I start my last weekend of ER nursing.  Sunday evening will mark the end of my days as an ER nurse; and the end of my days as a traveling / agency nurse.  So long ER; some days friend and some days the destroyer of my sanity;  goodbye to 12-hour nights and shifts from Hades.  I’ve learned so much, and I am forever thankful for the wonderful people I’ve met along the way.

Next week begins a new era in quality management with Utica Park Clinic.  A wonderful job opportunity has simply “dropped into my lap”. Everything I’ve learned in two vocations over the past 20+ years has prepared me for this; and for the first time in my life I had to literally restrain myself from laughing with glee and delight in the middle of an interview– the job described was exactly what I’ve been longing to do.  So begins a multi-year committment to some meaningful work that will let me be at home for supper every evening, available for all my children’s evening school programs, and free all weekends and holidays. (not to mention a few other perks that go with a M-F, 8-5 regular sort of job.) There will be a lot to learn, and it is truly exciting to be in on the ground level of a newly-developing branch of Clinic care in Oklahoma.

Caregivers need someone to care.

I met an old man who came to the ER late at night for a problem that was not even close to being life-threatening but which needed medical attention.  It was a problem that had developed over some time.  Why here?  At this hour?  Surely at 81 you have a primary care physician.  It wasn’t until discharging him that I finally figured out why he was    here,   now.    This was the only time he could get away from the house; while his wife with dementia was sound asleep on her night-time pills.

I met a man who had gotten up early, had taken care of his wife, then drove his hour to work but had chest pain.  He left work and drove the hour back to his home town so he could go to a hospital close to home.  With chest pains persistent.   And he hesitated to go to the place in the big city to see the interventive cardiologist that he really needed.  He said    “I can’t leave my wife alone overnight, and there’s no one else to care for her.”  He put his own comfort, and his own life, on the line because he didn’t know of any options for the care of his wife.  He was so isolated in his situation that he couldn’t even think through what would happen with her if he didn’t get the treatment he needed.

Ann Voskamp   { http://www.aholyexperience.com/ }   writes,   “The man with the wife who wouldn’t leave her house anymore, he’d told me there was only so much that he could take.      I had no idea what to say to that.       Sometimes words can’t resuscitate like silence can.  So I’d nodded.  And I hoped he heard my wordlessness pounding hard on heaven’s door for him, pounding hard on lungs to just inhale a bit of hope, and I’d seen it in his eyes.     Because it can feel like that: When you are giving everything you have, you can only take so much.”

So here’s my proposal:  Let us establish a  Driver & Sitter Service.   Us,  as in church and community folks who are able & trustworthy to do the job.  Volunteer to be the sitters for the folks with dementia so that the care-givers can get out of the house for doctor visits, shopping, lunch with a friend, a walk in the park…  and volunteers to drive them to the places they need to go if transportation is needed.  Sometimes the car isn’t needed, but a person to drive you home from the doctor’s office is.

Oh how I would love to have a list of the volunteer “army” of caregiver substitutes at my fingertips;   when I find the older couple in situations where the more-functional one has medical issues,  or when the working mom has a sick child who can’t go to daycare and doesn’t have a grandma available.

Would you play  Parcheesi and make lunch with someone who can no longer count or eat without a bib?   Would you make your home and heart open on a moment’s notice for a little one full of cough and snot and fever and vomit?

I can’t think of a better way to be “Christ with skin”.

Let’s get together and MAKE THIS HAPPEN!!!


Scars, Healing, and old wounds.

Every one’s got some really good things that helped them develop into the people they are today.  Even a scoundrel with barely a shred of decency got that shred from somewhere.   And everyone’s got some tough or awful things that helped develop them into the people they are today.  Even a bright shiny star of your community has a few dings and scars that are real.    A quote that has been attributed to several writers rings true:   “There is so much good in the worst of us, and so much bad in the best of us, that it hardly becomes any of us to talk about the rest of us.”

So I’m going to tell a piece of my own story here, and though other players take their parts, I’m not talking about them.  I’ve been reading up on “vulnerability”.  In hopes of being stronger myself and in hopes of extending a strong hand to someone else,  I’m going to go ahead and be raw and vulnerable.  If that sounds bad to you, here’s a spot for you to stop reading this and go on to something else.  I won’t be offended if you walk out now.  And in fact, I won’t be offended if you read to the end and then walk out on my life.  I’m just letting you know up front that some of what is coming isn’t pretty.

You’d think a man in his middle-ages would be quite over whatever went wrong in his childhood.  Truly, I am much more deeply developed in soul than I was at the beginnings of  the school years.  But you see, that little boy, though he was the early version of this man, did not contain this man’s life and experience.   But this man fully contains the entirety of that little boy.  I own the entirety of who he was, what he did, what he experienced, and who he has become.  Thus I never get “over” him.  I just keep learning how to navigate this full rich life with his ideals and his scars still present.

In general, we men don’t talk about the little boy inside of us.  If we are really blessed, we have someone who really loves us as we are and who doesn’t disdain the little boy inside.  But all too often, we either hide the boy and his memories and are ashamed of him, or even worse—we  keep acting like him with our grown-up body.  Guys, it doesn’t have to be that way.   And gals, it would sure help if you’d not only hold us accountable to act like men, but also accept that we hold the entire memory of being a boy.

I mentioned in a previous blog post about the fact that I experienced a form of sexual abuse between the ages of five and seven.  The results of that in my life have been complex.  Having a healthy sexual and emotional development has been a life-long challenge.   My history includes a few things which were never reported and for which the statute of limitations have long expired:  In early years  there were things that happened to me.  To my eternal regret and remorse,  in late teen years there were things which I did.  Self-loathing and thoughts of self-destruction have never been far away. 

I remember sitting with my wife and a counselor, talking about anger and control and communication.  He’d reviewed our personality profiles.  We weren’t there to talk about our sex life.  And he asked me, “Were you sexually abused as a child?”  Don’t you just love it when a counselor draws on their research knowledge base, reads between your lines, and cuts down into stuff you thought you had stuffed away?  The effects of those early sexual experiences, the coercive and secretive context in which they occurred, and the lasting shame, guilt, and twisted memories have all reached forward into the adult life I live as a husband and father. 

As we explored those experiences and memories, the counselor asked a probing question that sometimes comes back to me:  “Imagine if you will, Jesus at that time.  In your life.  Where was Jesus while you were in that experience?  What was he doing?”    I’ll tell you, I sat and thought about that for what seemed a long time before I could come up with an idea.  It seemed at first thought that Jesus was entirely absent from those scenarios.  Him there?!  You’ve got to be kidding, right?   But the thought that came to me was a scene in the western bedroom addition on a neighbor’s house.  Not one of the scenes from the barn.  Not the scene in the old junker car beside the barn, barely sixty feet away from where my mother was working in the garden and I was too scared to tell her what had happened.  A memory from the house.    Imagining  Jesus…   He was sitting up on the roof of my house, by the chimney, where he had a view down through that bedroom window where things were happening that shouldn’t.  And he was crying.  He wanted to go there and stop it, but he couldn’t.  Just like he couldn’t do much in the line of miracles, long ago in his own neighborhood, where people didn’t have faith in him,  he couldn’t go to that room because there wasn’t enough real faith in my house and in my church for him to do what he wished he could.  He cried.

That counseling  session was quite a few years ago, and sometimes that question comes back to me.  As it did this morning.  There now is greater clarity in my mind about it all.

Jesus promised that I would not ultimately deal with all the fallout alone.  I have helpers along the way.

My older sister sometimes was a babysitter for the family that lived in that house.  One day she opened that bedroom door and discovered my nakedness and what was going on in there.  She was too scared and confused to know what to do or to say, or to whom she should go.  So she didn’t do anything.  In our adult years we’ve talked about why she didn’t get help.  That’s another story and it’s more her’s than mine so I won’t tell it.  And I have not ever held it against her for not getting help at that time.  But finally this morning, many years after that counseling session, and many more years after first talking with my sister about it, and more than forty years after the incident  I finally realize:

That is when it stopped.           My dear  sister,  despite your confusions within the system of our lives at that time, Jesus who was restricted to observing from my rooftop, sent you.  Even if you didn’t know it, you were sent.  You opened the door and the hidden things were uncovered.  And the episodes stopped.  Chi Miigwetch.

Truly, in time, things change.   Situations can find some resolution if we are open to it.  Circumstances change.  Our capacity to choose our responses matures.  In time, a tow truck came and took those junker cars away.  More time… and that frame bedroom addition on the back of that old brick house caught fire and burned.  Burned good.  They tore it down, and in more time Mr. E______ restored that back of the house to its original configuration.  In time, a group of Mennonite men tackled a small “Mennonite Disaster Service Project”.  No, it wasn’t a flood or a tornado, but that old barn was a disaster in more ways than those men knew.   They tore it down and took it away.   Now, if you go there,  you can see only yards and a nice brick wall.  No garden where I couldn’t talk to my mother.  No junker cars where things happened with children that should never happen.  No barn…    But if you look at the back of that house in the right light, you can see some outlines where the mortar is different.  Sort of like a scar.   It’s strong mortar, the bricks are clean and strong, the new window is made in the exact same style as the other ones that are nearly a century older.   But the scar in the mortar is visible.

Maybe you would disdain me for some of the choices I’ve made, or the stuff I wrestle with.  I’ve nothing to be proud of, but I will be glad in this:  even if my scars still show, and even if the real raw me isn’t always having the prettiest behavior, I believe that Jesus has built me a new life.  He’s the one behind any bricks being stacked straight and strong in my life, he’s the one behind the junkers being cleared out and old walls being torn down.  He’s the one making grasses green and light to shine.  His ministry of reconciliation can reach to the darkest depths of a soul.   Darkness cannot overwhelm a shining light.  Somethings can put out light, but darkness can’t.

My light may seem to be of shaky quality somedays, but I’m sure that darkness won’t puff it out.  And he’s the sort of light that can put fire to your candle too.


If I don’t like it, offer a suggestion for improvement.

Here’s my recommendation for improving the healthcare system in the USA. It goes farther and deeper than the ACA (“Obamacare”), and with some folks won’t be any more popular. But as a healthcare worker for over 20 years, I believe it would work.

#1. Everyone take some responsibility for the healthy or unhealthy choices in their living. NO ONE should have free health care– everyone needs to have a stake in the process. Income-index every medical visit and procedure, even for Senators and street people. If a person is truly indigent and completely cashless, let them give service in exchange for their medical care. Caveat– see number 4.

#2. Facilitate health education for every family and in every school; more than First Aid and nutrient pie-charts. Eliminate the “food ghettos” where nutrition is unobtainable and eliminate the social “norms” wherein ignorance or disdain of the outcomes is par for the course.

#3. Stringently outlaw non-food items being marketed as food. Zone and plan for and create community gardens, neighborhood butcher shops (and back-yard chickens and fish tanks). Make “locovor” the norm. Eliminate the rampant use of preservative chemicals to make things look and smell nice long past their useful existance as food.

#4. American “christians” increase their “charitable giving” by merely 1% of their income, and the churches pay for or directly provide what is needed by those who are utterly unable to pay.

#5. No free medications for families of cigarette smokers. If you can’t buy your child a $4 bottle of cough syrup then skip your next pack of cigarettes and do what’s right for your child. If that won’t work for your level of addiction, go beg from your neighbor and admit you care more for your own comforts than the needs of your child. Maybe then you can, in the contex of a relationship with someone who cares about your child, learn to love her too.

#6. Increase Home Health Care visits– make them the norm instead of the exception for the care of the elderly. Do not require “homebound status” for elderly adults in order for them to receive the aid they need.

#7. Create a price unification system so that every one can find out ahead of time what any given procedure will cost. Under the current system (only entrenched by ACA) a single ER visit may commonly result in 5 different bills: hosptial ER, ER Physician group, Radiology, Lab, Radiologist’s Group. These layered and split billing systems, with different prices for each insurer and yet another different price for self-payers, obscure the actual cost of a procedure and render the healthcare consumer powerless in deliberating risk-benefit equations. We must restore power to the individuals who are needing and receiving the care.

#8. If a third-party payor system is needed, let them all offer the same “product” and let them differentiate from one another in the form of “cafeteria-style” benefit packages ,deductible levels, and service responsiveness. The current system makes it nearly impossible to compare “Apples to Apples” when shopping for insurance.

These are my suggestions for improving care, improving health, and reducing the horrible expenses, wastes, and neglects of the USA medical system. Will it be painful for some? Yes. But in 1-2 generations we would see an immense sociological shift in healthcare expectations accompanied by excellent clinical outcomes.

The Stuff of Family

I used to think that other families had it all together. It was just my family that was weird. The fact that we had difficulties was rarely acknowledged, and I never gained a sense that we were all pulling in the same direction or working together for our common good. I think this contributed to a tendency to magnify the difficulties in my own household, and to idealize the successes that I see in other families.

But this is not an accurate way of understanding life. The reality is that every person and every family has things which are special and precious; and every person and family faces hard things in life.

It is precisely when the intensity of those opposite aspects of life swirl in our hearts at the same time that we know the richness and fullness of being human and living in relationship.

One of the hard things in my life was the beginnings of parenthood. By the time my wife was pregnant with our first-born, we had already experienced two miscarriages. I recall the delight of “playing tag” with the little one—a gentle poke on the firm mound of her abdomen, the little kick back from someone’s foot inside. I was fascinated with the anticipation of our child. From the midwife visits to the childbirth classes from a privately-hired birthing assistant, from the affirmations of the older women among our clan and church to the stack of gifts from the baby shower held by my wife’s coworkers; I was delighted with all of it. It literally felt like my stomach had nothing below it to hold it in, or me together, when my wife at 31 weeks into the pregnancy appeared crying on the back porch… to tell me her water broke. And the wrenching of my heart as I watched my tiny newborn son fight for life in the following days was a carving into depths of my soul that was beyond my comprehension at the time.

But that whole experience changed my life for the better. Facing those fears, crying out to our Maker about my deepest desires, I came to a state of being able to give total and unreserved thanks that I had been a father for a few days and was honestly able to say that that thankfulness would not change, even if my son didn’t live another hour. I was willing to be “Dad” for as long as he lived, and be alright with the possibility that it might not be very long. The development of that surrender at the beginnings of fatherhood has served us well. And it connects to the hopeful understanding that our Maker is a master at bringing good to fruition out of our messes. “Hopeful” I say, because I still am messy and life isn’t done.

Sometimes I think about mothers. It isn’t easy to be a mother. You have to deal with the man through whom the motherhood has come; and that is often complicated. Thank God for Love, because without it the whole process of human reproduction would be unbearable. The body changes. Hormones play head-games. Social constructs are altered irreversibly. And birth—they tell me that’s no picnic either. I know the sound of a woman who’s womb is opening; it’s hard work. And then the child- sweet and precious, and grieving your soul on a regular basis.

Those arms have reached for the sky as she danced across fields of flowers in youth. Now they will hold a child even when weary. Those hips she got at puberty; they swayed and rocked that baby for the growing inside. All a-wash in the birth waters, sounds muffled, nothing but smoothness touching skin. Those thighs that squatted down to pick things up because bending over wasn’t possible anymore; they held her as she squatted and bore down and stretched, and brought that baby out. Those knees will carry a zillion steps until the cartilage is right worn away over a lifetime, and still they will bend and touch the ground as she prays for her child, her family, her clan.

And in that clan there will be painful things. Happy things. Heart-rending and heart-changing things. Yet even if she kneels by the stream as a death is carried away, she will tuck her chin into love. She will let it flow through her arms and her breath, so that when the child faces her own hard things, there will be a true knowing of the Love which carries her through and stands her feet on solid ground.

This is the stuff of families.

kneeling Mother and Child 2

Important vs Necessary

To any regular reader, I again owe the apology for weeks of silence.  Behind this is the reason for the title of this post.

You see, none of this thing we call “family life” is happening  without the funds to pay for it all, nor without the transportation to get to school or work.  And precisely those things have been highly demanding of my time.  The steering column needs repairs on the Fleetwood and it can’t even start without it.  The VW doesn’t run at all– needs the engine head rebuilt.  The little truck has temperature issues that point to a head rebuild too, but it still gets us around locally, and the van just got some new tires…  no need to belabor the list.  Everyone’s got one.  And the struggle is to navigate the immediate and necessary while being true to the important.

My difficulty is manifest in the days when necessary and important seem incompatible and irreconcilable.

I reviewed my list of Important Things (see the archives for January 2013),  Admittedly, the past few weeks seem to be more full of the necessary and doing little about the important.  Can I give myself some grace in this?  Children are among the important things, and a lot of the recent necessary has to do with creating good life for my children.  So maybe these things are not irreconcilable, but they sure do detract from each other sometimes.  What about music?  I create none.  What about clean water for every one in the world?  I’m doing nothing about it.  I’ve planted no parsley, and my last, most precious (an irreplaceable last root-stock of a rare color mutation) raspberry died.  And I am so exhausted with a weekly night-shift thrown into the mix that my drive to apply myself to home-building tasks is entering the “endangered species” category.

But really, things are not hopeless.  If Diana Nyad can swim from Cuba to Florida at age 64 on her 5th attempt,   it gives hope that you and I can also do hard things.  I will not give up on navigating a way in the fullness of life.  I will not sit idle, nor spin my wheels in old comfortable ruts.  I will move forward to learn new things, heal old wounds, love more deeply, and leave the world a better place than I found it.

What does you journey look like?  What are you doing about the stuff in your “Important” list?

A Leap at Big Falls



Good (FREE) Read for a Hot August Night

When East of the Narrows was in the process of going live in Amazon’s Kindle Store I promised to post a link.  I didn’t get that done, and I apologize for being late with that,

So here it is:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E8OBUXK

And this is the sweet part:  THIS WEEKEND IT IS FREE!   Saturday, August 17, and Sunday, August 18  East of the Narrows is FREE in the Kindle Store.

If you don’t own a Kindle, you can download a FREE Kindle App here:


Enjoy the story and pass it on!  Join me in wondering….   In my life, am I in the cave, huddling through the treacherous Narrows, trapped in the castle, or looking for the cheese merchant?

Have a great weekend!

On the road southward (Again)

This life of living in more than one place is not an easy task.  It has its rewards, and it has high costs; financially and emotionally.   I think my costs are highest in the financial department and my children’s costs are highest in the emotional department.

So the question arose last night from one of my daughters, “Why?…”

And that was hard to answer in full honesty without giving her more detail than she needed.  (Development-appropriate answers are always a part of parenting, and so often we have to learn it on the fly because the kids ask when they want to know, not necessarily when we feel like explaining.)

Why?   Because life ahead required new possibilities, new opportunities, and new ways of living.  Improved family dynamics require sane and sensible leadership, with forward vision.  I just couldn’t figure out any way to develop those fresher ways of living, and have a true-to-my-heart forward vision, while remaining in the same old circumstances and settings.  There’s a reason for that.

“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”  (Rabbi Jesus, of Nazareth)

My life has enough rents and tears, no need to make the holes bigger.                              Oklahoma is the pre-shrunk cloth to the garment of my life.                                              The land by the lake is the new skins for new wine; and we intend to share!Picture-0231.jpg

REcovery from vacation

This will be short.

We not only survived, but had really great visits with our people.  It’s been tough;  I’ve been slightly ill with a persistent cough for the entire trip.  I miss my bed.  My dog ate my best hat. (Ecuador straw, fedora, thirty years old…)  And I thought I could do this trip,  and   finish packing out the north-woods house, and  publish my book.

There’s still a mountain of work to do at the up-north house, but we’ll make it.

East of the Narrows  was uploaded to Amazon today for Kindle publication!

If you don’t own a Kindle that’s ok.  You can download a free Kindle reader app from Amazon so you’ll be ready for the book.  I’ll post links when it comes online in the Kindle store (should be tomorrow)  and I’ll definitely let folks know when the Kindle “Free Days” come around later on.  Meanwhile, thumbs up for all the subscribers who had a pre-released copy emailed to them today.

cover Picture revised