A Memorial Memory and A Childlike Faith

I feel like the Lord is constantly teaching me through my children, and I can choose whether or not I am willing to listen. It was 7 years ago that my oldest bravely walked me through a valuable life lesson. It happened on Memorial Day, which is fitting since I always need reminding.

My girls were 7 and 4 years old that year, and we decided to spend the holiday with my grandmother, who had recently been admitted into a nursing home. It was difficult for me to visit her there. Just opening the front door and encountering the aromas was a challenge due to the scents of aging behaving like a cruel, hostile hostess I could not get passed.

I am claustrophobic. Being unable to breathe triggers enormous amounts of anxiety for me. In order to fully engage with my grandmother, I had to shut down my olfactory sense before I entered the building. I essentially told my brain that what it was taking in was false. That way I would not and could not smell anything thus disconnecting my mind and my body.

It is kind of like a superpower.

We happily pulled up that Memorial Day, and I remember helping my daughters out of the van. We had gone to Wendy’s beforehand and picked up some Frosty’s, a treat my Memaw enjoyed.

I was a bit distracted by my small children as we walked through the parking lot. I was watching them while simultaneously looking for cars. Feeling like we had made it safely across, I lifted my head and almost bumped into a man wheeling a gurney out of the side door.

Startled by his presence, I pressed my youngest daughter’s  little hand into mine. He pulled up as well, and his startled eyes grew very large as he took in the sight before him.  He was a mortician and was wheeling out a resident in a body bag who had recently passed away.

He looked at me and then to my young children. He mouthed, “I am so sorry.”

I looked at my children. My youngest had her eyes on her cup of ice cream, but my oldest looked up at me. Then I followed her eyes as she took in the man with the gurney.

I don’t know if you have ever experienced watching a child process something in real time, but notice they were unable to grasp fully what they were seeing, but that was exactly what I saw in Maggie’s eyes. It was a type of horror confusion.

The gentleman waited for me to act, and I said the first thing that came to my mind. I faced him and whispered, “Just act natural.”

He nodded, managed a sympathetic smile, and motioned for me move on a head. We had to walk around him and his work to make it to the sidewalk. We proceeded to the front gate where I let us in to the patio. I was cussing myself and the situation when I heard my oldest say, “Mommy, what was in that shiny sheet on the wheelie bed?”

“We’ll talk about it later honey,” I said. “Let’s go see Memaw because our ice cream is beginning to melt.”

We walked through the front door, and like clockwork, I turned my brain off to the smelly realities.

The rest of the afternoon my daughter followed me around like a shadow. She asked me once again what it was that the man was pushing in the ‘shiny sheet.’ I brushed her off saying that we would talk later. I was too busy and needed her to run along and play.

At that moment, I had absolutely no intention of telling her the truth. I was not going to lie to her. I was just going to wait until she forgot about it.

That night while washing dishes, I felt a tug on my shirt. I looked down and there she was once again.

“Mommy,” she pleaded. “Will you PLEASE tell me now what was in the shiny sheet?”

I sighed and knew that this conversation had to happen. I dried my hands and sat her down at the kitchen table. I turned her chair to face mine and noticed her feet were still unable to reach the floor. They swung back and forth as she waited expectantly.

Her smallness and innocence filled up the room as well as my heart.

“Maggie,” I said no longer able to run away from her, “What do you think it was underneath the shiny sheet?” I of course was using her description of the body bag.

She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it quickly. She sat still for a moment thinking and then confessed, “Mommy, I don’t want to say.”

That was the moment when I knew that this conversation needed to happen, and I was so thankful for her courage to pursue an answer.

“I know you don’t honey,” I soothed. “But I need you to try to use your words.”

She was quiet and then whispered, “Mommy, I think it was a person.”

I was so proud of her. “You are right, Maggie. It was a person,” I said. “A person who had died.”

She looked at me and with all that she could muster said, “Mommy, I did not want that to be what it was.”

I smiled at her. I looked into her eyes and said, “I know honey. I didn’t either. But you are not doing yourself any favors by disconnecting this (pointing to her brain) and this (pointing to her heart).”

She nodded with the understanding of an aged soul.

“If you do it too many times, they will have a very hard time talking to and understanding one another,” I said. “They will get to where they will not trust what the other is trying to say.”

She nodded that she understood, and I really think that she did.

I told her she was very brave and thanked her talking to me about something that was hard for her.

“Your welcome,” she said, and hopped down off the chair satisfied with the truth.

I on the other hand sat in the irony of the situation. That is giving advice to my child that I often do not heed myself.

What exactly did I mean when I said that it was important for her mind and heart to be connected?

Isn’t one of my superpowers the ability to disconnect? To not feel. To not smell. To not see.

I realized in that moment, that the parent was learning from the child. I watched her the rest of the evening. She was relieved and also at peace with the truth, even though it was a HARD truth that she would have preferred to edit.

I longed for that type of peace and rest.

I smiled and knew that my girls were going to teach me more in the end than I would ever teach them as long as I could try to stay connected.

The Divine Chuckle

Bear with me. Sometimes a stage must be set.

On Saturday, I took my youngest to see the movie, “Ramona and Beezus.”  It is based on the Beverly Cleary children’s books that have been in circulation since the 50’s. I have not been a huge fan of the books in the past, and I can’t say that my reason is good as I have read nary a one.

It’s because we have one of the books on CD.  Stockard Channing who narrates uses the screechiest, whiniest voice for the character, Ramona. It literally grates away at your last nerve and wears it down to a nub. Kind of like the small fragment left in your hand when you are finished shredding a block of cheese. But, I digress.

Having this as my only reference for the story line did not prepare me for what I was about to experience sitting next to my daughter in a dark, full, movie theater. Half way in, when Ramona’s cat “Picky Picky” died…..I started to cry.  I’m not a cat person. It was not a deep, visceral cry, yet those tears began a steady flow that did not stop until the movie ended. My husband texted me and asked how I liked it. All I could type was that it made me cry for a long time, and I didn’t know why.

Later that evening, he tried to engaged me on why it made me a wreck of sorts, so I began to explain the movie to him. I told him how Ramona was a third grader who was very misunderstood in school. She was always messing things up and not because this was her intention. In fact, many times, she was trying very hard to do the right thing but it generally ended badly.

I talked about how all the kids laughed at her when she was giving an oral report and how the teacher was always exasperated with her behavior and performance. I shared other things, but he interrupted me after I said, “What was so beautiful was that in the end, she was accepted for being different and never getting it right.”

That’s when my husband said, incredulously, “Seriously!? You don’t see why this movie made you cry? Carrie, It’s autobiographical.” I was stunned by his comment. Then he ended with…”Don’t you remember, the little girl whose teacher  threw away her homework in front of the entire classroom?”

There’s something beautiful about someone who knows your stories.

He was right, and I didn’t want to see it because it was too painful. School was a horrible place for me.

What my husband was referring to was that in the 4th grade, I had a very harsh teacher. One day, we had an assignment to draw a hot air balloon. I was excited about this because there was no writing, reading, or math involved. Finally, a level playing field. I remember being in my room for a long time creating. I drew a hot air balloon in the shape of Snoopy, the Red Baron.  Afterall, he could fly, right?

The next day, the teacher called me to her desk. She held up my picture and asked me to explain myself.  I don’t remember the specific words but after getting the attention of the entire class, she made an example of me about what it looks like to not follow directions. She pointed to a huge stack of pictures on her desk that were ‘correct’ then held up mine and crumpled it in my face. She threw it in the trash and then told me to go sit down and do it again. Correctly.

This is just one of a zillion stories I have tucked away in the recesses of my mind. Stories where I just didn’t ‘get it.’ Today, they would say that I am “Dyslexic” and have “Attention Deficit Disorder.” Back then, they had other words.

I didn’t want to talk about it anymore with my husband.  I was done with memory lane, but God was not.

On Monday morning, my girls and I read about an artist named Peter Brueghel(1525-1560).  You need to know that the readings and assignments for our school day are preplanned by the  My Father’s World curriculum. I open a teacher’s guide, and it tells me exactly what to do for several subjects. Art being one of them.

We learned that Brueghel was a genre painter living in a region of turmoil caused by the Spanish Inquisition. Our book described him like this, “Throughout these years of war and religious subjugation, the artist was well aware of the sorrows of his day. Even so, with Peter Brueghel there is a fresh breath of life as his art brings laughter to the soul.”

Because his paintings are often full of people celebrating and enjoying the simple life, my daughters art assignment (that was preplanned) for the day was to draw a large family gathering at Thanksgiving.

Later that morning, my daughter, who is in the fourth grade came down the stairs to show me her picture. She was very excited and proud. She wants to be an artist, one day.

When I looked at it….I was taken a back.

Now, no one said that it couldn’t be a family of mice….celebrating Thanksgiving. Or a hot air balloon shaped like the Red Baron.

And that’s when I heard it….”The Divine Chuckle.”

I hear it every time I refuse to deal with something painful, and God brings it back up in a way that shows me it’s redeemable. He brings it to light to show me He is aware of the hurt and wants to communicate to me that it can become a beautiful wound.

Later I asked her if I could take a picture of her drawing, so that I could blog about it. She asked me why. I told her the story of why Ramona and Beezus made me cry, and then shared with her my Red Baron story. She was horrified and said, “Mommy, if you draw me a picture, I won’t throw it away. I will hang it on my wall.”

Now…..where are my crayons?

Flecks of Faith

Last month, my friend and I took our children to Reed’s Gold Mine. We had just finished up the school year exploring the Gold Rush of the 1850’s. This triggered a memory of being shocked to learn years ago that the first gold ever to be found in the United States was discovered in my home state. Actually, about 20 miles from my back door. My friend and I packed everyone up for a teachable moment that for our family that would reach far beyond our school room.

The field trip would consist of a tour, an instructional video, and panning for gold. There were five kids in our group, and they stood in line eagerly awaiting their chance to find treasure in a pile of dirt. The woman at the front desk was less enthusiastic about their venture. She sees kids come through everyday who ask the same question. “Will we find gold!?” Our children were no exception, and she looked at them with her dead pan expression and answered, “Probably not, but you have a one and six chance.”

Our crew was not discouraged, except for my youngest. It was the pin that popped the balloon of her hope. She tends to be a glass half empty girl, and I admit that she comes by that honestly. I too have a pessimism astigmatism that blurs my vision.

I have to squint very hard and with great effort look at a situation to find its outer and inner form of beauty and value. Even though, I would love to just easily put in a corrective lens and be done with it, I am thankful that I have taken the time to train my misshaped eyes to see differently.

My girl’s eyes are still young and developing, and I am hoping to catch her impediment early enough so her compensation will not be as difficult when she grows older.

We took the long walk out to the panning site. Being a home-schooling mom who has discovered a deep love of history, I talked to my children about the men and women who left everything to head to California to strike it rich. It was like a cosmic “rapture.” Fields, homes, and towns mostly emptied over night as people abandoned their daily grind to find quick financial deliverance. “What would you have done?” I asked them. “Would you have risked everything for a chance to find gold?”

Their answers varied, but mostly they just try to humor me.

We gathered together and listened to a man demonstrate the panning process. He had a large, Abraham Lincoln beard and talked about the patience it was going to require because the gold would be small and hiding. More than likely, it would just be a fleck. In haste, you could overlook it because the water and sun love to play tricks on your eyes.

First, they pulled out the big stones and rocks. The obvious. Then, they began to add the water, and it was time to jar and shake the pan. It felt like rolling dice or scratching off numbers on a lottery ticket. I said this to a gentleman who reminded me of Johnny Appleseed. He adamantly responded quite the opposite. “Oh, no,” he said. “That’s just chance. This here has a good probability of finding something.” My daughter looked at me skeptically, already determined in her mind how this was going to play out.

I stood with her and listened as she shook the pan over and over again. “Mom, this is ridiculous. I’m never going to find anything.” Never. Such a dark, empty word, but one I understand well. It is so comforting to the discouraged heart because it slams the book shut. Sometimes, it’s just too difficult to wait for our own story to be written by the Author of Heaven, so we scribble an ending on the page ourselves.

I prayed quietly that the Lord would help my children and I have a heart that is not afraid to hope. Not to find a precious metal in a pan on a field trip. But, for the ability to wait for the uncovering of flecks of gold buried beneath years of rocks and dirt in our own lives. In the things that we do not like or understand.

We got to the bottom of her pan, and very little remained. Her resignation early on made me sad. But I had done all I could to convince her to wait it out till the end. Johnny Appleseed traveled around to all the children to scan their pans one last time.  He came back to my girl. He swirled the last little bit a few times. Then he held it very still. And smiled.

I was confused. He grabbed a small vial out of his back pocket and began talking about how heavy gold was. Still, we did not understand, because we could not see. Then, he took his index finger, the tip of which was pointing to shiny, yellow fleck. He pressed into it, lifted it up, and scrapped it off into the vial filled with water. He looked at my girl, handed her the container, and said, “You found gold.”

Her eyes got very big as she held it up. There it was shining in the sunlight. He was right. Gold is heavy, and this small fleck became a family anchor.

Maggie’s Silver Key

*Here is Maggie’s article that won a “Silver Key” in the 2012 Scholastic Writing Contest. I have been wrestling with WordPress for 30mins trying to get it correctly formated, so forgive me for its present state as I no longer have the time to fiddle with paragraphs and proper indention.

This was an AMAZING opportunity suggested by my daughter’s writing teacher in early October. I never dreamed of all that we would gain by her taking on this project which consisted of interviewing a passenger on the 31st floor of the Duke Energy building, countless drafts and revisions, and visiting the Charlotte Aviation Museum to see the plane.

The article was due December 15, 2011 and Maggie found out last week that she received a “Silver Key” for her work. She was SO excited but not nearly enough to make her want to read her article again. By the time she submitted it, she did not care if she ever saw it again due to having to go through it so many different times welcoming her to the true writing process.

One day in her writing class, she turned in the article thinking she was finally finished. Her teacher looked at her, praised her effort, and told her to go through it again. Maggie, fully believing she had reached the finish line felt dejected. Her teacher wisely said, “Maggie this is like running a marathon, and you are around mile marker 20.” And when all else failed to encourage my daughter, her teacher looked at her with all sincerity and said, “Maggie, you is kind, You is smart, and you is important.”(a line taken from the book The Help)

Several friends and family asked to read the article, so I am putting here for ease sake. Again, I apologize if it reads disjointedly due to having to copy and paste it.

“Better Late Than Never” by Maggie Luke 13 years old.

A massive commercial airliner has just arrived at the Charlotte Aviation Museum.

From one angle, the plane looks as though it shouldn’t be lying motionless in a

museum. It should still be soaring, gliding, and maneuvering through the skies. Then

suddenly, its battered appearance is revealed.

From one point of view, the airliner seems tall and proud, altogether triumphant at its

survival. But at the same time it looks sad and dejected, a shadow of its distinguished

former self. Whether it looks sorrowful or dignified is a decision that the thousands of

people visiting it must make.

At the very back of the aircraft, the tail is raised high, but below it is complete chaos.

The covering of the body is ripped off, and the inside is rusted. It seems as if the

underside of the aircraft had to bear an extremely violent collision. Instinctively, anyone

who sees it realizes that there has to be a story behind this plane. Even now it stands

there, silently telling a tale to inspire the world.

In January 2009, Flight 1549 set out on an ordinary routine flight, set for an hour and

a half. Most of the people on that flight expected to be home in time for dinner. Two

and a half years later, it arrived at its destination.

Forced to make an unplanned ditching in the Hudson River, the unfortunate aircraft

had been stored inside a hanger in New Jersey for the past two years. Finally, it felt the

wind again as the plane was hauled along to its original destination. This endeavor was

estimated to cost 2.8 million dollars. But whatever the expense, the receiving city was

determined to have the plane home. Flight 1549 was bound for Charlotte, N.C.

On June 10th, a special ceremony was held for all the passengers of the flight

which so many called the Miracle on the Hudson. A large part of the miracle was that

no fatalities occurred. Only two people were seriously injured.

It so happened that one passenger was not present at the ceremony due to a

previous family engagement. His name is John Howell, and this is the person I had the

privilege of talking to about his experience that day.

As John Howell stepped aboard Flight 1549, he wasn’t contemplating anything out

of the ordinary. He was thinking of his meeting, and the dinner that was waiting for him

at home. But about ninety seconds into the flight, he was definitely thinking about the

plane, and his thoughts were not carefree.

“I was in the second row, and we could hear the geese crashing into us,” he said.

Either from the perspective of the geese or the perspective of the plane and its

passengers, this was definitely not a good thing. Since the beginning of flight, birds

have been a serious complication. Even one of the Wright brothers collided with a

songbird. Unfortunately, these weren’t songbirds that fate collided with Flight 1549.

Huge Canadian Geese flew in a V shape formation towards the plane, and somehow

managed to strike both engines. John remembers the engines revving up very hard,

and then breaking down. All was deathly quiet aboard the plane. “Then you could hear

the clicking noise of the engines trying to turn back on,” recalled John.

It cannot be said that the plane was doing anything dramatic. The pilot was in

control, and the flight glided up and down, heading for the George Washington Bridge.

“I could see that we were headed for the river,” John said, “I stared at the flight

attendant, trying to confirm the situation. She gestured to me, saying that everything

would be fine. At that point, I realized that she had no idea where we were headed.

Probably, she thought that we were on our way back to the airport.”

John knew that this was not the case. “I couldn’t believe I was doing this to my

family. They had already lost my brother, a first responder, on September 11, 2001. I

didn’t know how they were going to survive this.”

When the plane landed in the Hudson River a minute or so later, there was a severe

jolt. One passenger remembers hearing the airbus groan, as if complaining about

the collision. Looking out the window, all anyone could see was murky water. Suddenly,

the plane bobbed up, and people could perceive sunlight. John remembered how he

had slowly unbuckled his seat belt and stood up. Already, the aisle was jammed with

people on their way out.

“I travel to New York frequently, and all the safety instructions that they give out, I

know by heart,” he said, “But I went out onto the wing without even retrieving my life

jacket.”  “When I stepped outside and saw the ferry boats, I wasn’t worried anymore,”

John said. After a while of holding ropes for other passengers, John finally clambered

onto a boat himself.

Every passenger that day was brought safely off the plane. Captain Sullenberger

walked the interior of Flight 1549 three times, making sure that no one was trapped


The full count of people saved that day was 155, and everyone was accounted for.

This was extraordinary, for never before had a plane crashed in water with no fatalities.

At that time, the mood in New York was not good. The people needed a miracle. On

January 15, 2009, they received one, with the Miracle on the Hudson.

Now, two and a half years later, this plane was on its painstaking journey to

Charlotte. It took a whole week to get it there, but now it sits inside the Charlotte

Aviation Museum, which is near the Charlotte/Douglas Airport. Flight 1549 was not

repaired, and visitors can view it almost exactly as it had been when the plane was

submerged in the Hudson River.

It seemed fitting to John that the aircraft should be moved to Charlotte and left

untouched. Many of the passengers live in Charlotte, and now their families can see

the plane. No one can fully appreciate the devastation done until they witness it.

When I asked John Howell if there was anything he wanted to see in the plane, his

reply was immediate, “My seat,” he smiled, “Originally, I thought that they would be

auctioning off pieces of the plane, and I wanted to find a way to get my seat. I thought

it would look great in my living room.”

Not many days go by when John doesn’t think about the Hudson and what

happened there. “For me, the story is tied very closely to my brother who died on 9/11.

Finding myself in New York, such a short distance away from where my brother died,

and all of us getting to walk away from the plane, I think that must mean something,” he

said. “Do I have some higher calling, or something that I’m supposed to be doing? Or

does it just give me more opportunities to tell people what my brother did?”

For John Howell, the Miracle on the Hudson was a series of miracles. Everything that

happened that day aligned to make January 15th end the way it did. The pilot was

prepared for the job, the water was smooth, there was no wind, no ice, and no rain. So

many things could have gone wrong with the rescue, and none did. In short, this is why

Flight 1549 is a miraculous plane. This is also the reason why the Charlotte Aviation

Museum is honored to be its final landing place.

Maggie and John Howell


Though both experiences in DC were almost indescribable, the difference between our time at Mt. Vernon Estates verses walking the Mall to see the monuments/memorials was about 36 hours and 18* degrees. That Friday, I walked into George Washington’s Mansion and saw his original bed, desk, and travel trunk wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. But a day and a half later, I stood before a chiseled Abraham Lincoln and a wall covered with 58,267 names of the men and women who perished in the Vietnam War zipped up in a fleece and wrapped in a scarf. One day was sunny while the other promised rain.

Looking back on it, the weather was a foreshadowing of my mood to come. I had never seen the monuments or memorials before that day, but I had always wanted to walk along the wall of the Vietnam Memorial. When I was in Jr High School, I became fascinated with the conflict. Like any and everything academic, the larger picture was lost on me at the time. But, one night I came across the song “Goodnight, Saigon” by Billy Joel and for some reason, the loneliness and egregious loss of war resonated deep within me.

It is very difficult to walk the 493 feet of the Vietnam Memorial wall and not become overwhelmed or desensitized. So, we just stopped and took in a few names to make it seem real.

I really do not have words to describe what it was like to see the Korean Memorial. I did not know it existed until I saw it, nor did I know the details of that conflict until my sister’s fiance(now husband) explained it to me over a popsicle.

The faces of those sculpted soldiers walking through the rice patties is STILL imprinted in my mind four months later. It is hard to say that something so penetrating and haunting is a “favorite” of yours, but it most certainly left the greatest impression on me.

We were fortunate enough to be in DC just two months after the new Martin Luther King, Jr memorial was opened. As you walk up to it from behind, there are three mountainous structures with the Jefferson Memorial seen across the water.  It does not make sense until you see it from the front.  MLK is chiseled into the middle, protruding structure and there is a beautiful inscription on the side of his rock.

*a picture of my girls standing where Martin Luther King, Jr stood giving his “I Have A Dream Speech.”

*Jefferson Memorial

*Lincoln Memorial

*Rocket Pops at the Mall with my girls and my twin sister, Susan. She’s just a wee bit taller than me.

Chasing Butterflies in George Washington’s Garden

“I can truly say I had rather be at home at Mount Vernon with a friend or two about me, than to be attended at the Seat of Government.” George Washington

For the past year and a half, my girls and I have been studying American History. It has been an introduction for all three of us, because I managed to make it 36 years on this earth without ever really knowing the birth story of our nation.

In our study, no other man has captivated my heart and mind like that of George Washington. I confess to have developed a strange “crush” of sorts when I read of his courage in battle and his humility in office.

But, in all that we took in about the life of this great man, my favorite stories had to do with his quiet, contemplative farm life on the grounds of his beloved Mt. Vernon estate. Whether as a general in the thick of war or as an elected official presiding over a new nation, he often found comfort day dreaming about sitting with Martha in the evenings on the veranda overlooking the Potomac River. To him, home was a feeling; a state of being.  At  Mt Vernon, fellowship, acceptance, work, and rest were always present and always plentiful.

Over the semester, I began to dream about visiting Mt. Vernon for myself one day because I had grown to love the idea of it as much as he had. I never thought I would get the opportunity but desperately longed to walk the same paths he walked and feel the same solace that he felt among those trees and hills.

On September 30, 2011, a glorious fall day, my girls and I pulled up to his home right outside of Alexandria. We were visiting my sister who lives in Washington, DC and had invited us up to see Les Misrables at the Kennedy center. So, having a place to stay, I planned a four-day trip, which included a day trip to Mount Vernon.

It was a wonderful day that felt like a tonic to my weary soul.

I had come heavy-hearted because our community had just buried a dear friend a few weeks prior, who died from a brain tumor. I knew that I would be channeling Sydney when I stood before a Van Gogh at the National Gallery of Art the next day.

But, late that afternoon while taking pictures in George Washington’s garden, a very LARGE, orange Monarch(which is her symbol to me) fluttered by me. I nearly went CRAZY. It was late in the season to have such a sighting, particularly so far north.

My girls, bless them were SO tired and had parked themselves on a bench outside the garden. I told them about the Sydney butterfly and begged for just a few more minutes.

“Go,” they said wearily but very happy for me. “Go and chase butterflies.”

I took a deep breath, prayed, and hoped to be able to find it once again. Quietly, I followed it to a patch of purple, spindly flowers. I stood very still watching the butterfly, and could not have been happier or felt more alive.

Unbeknownst to me, two women had stopped behind me to watch the moment unfold. The monarch finally opened up its wings and the onlookers heard my shutter click.

“Oh, you got it, didn’t you?!” they asked, excitedly.

Startled, I turned around with tears in my eyes.

“I did,” I said. “But she’s still gone.”

They were puzzled, and I explained to them why I was chasing butterflies.

“Bless you,” they said. “And bless your sweet friend.”

I am remembering this story because a year today(December 23,2010), I sat with Sydney in her bedroom. She was in a hospital bed because her tumor was reeking havoc and had rendered her unable to walk. We were all very worried about her recent decline.

Sitting there, I did not know that in a seven months, she would leave us. Forever.

I did not know that the photograph I had framed for her that day as a reminder of how I would always see her would become an image to us all in our remembering.(They were released at her graveside the day of her funeral.)

And that wherever I would go in the future, it could always become a sacred opportunity to be surprised by chasing butterflies.

Mt. Vernon

Me, George, and the girls. (Sorry Martha)

George Washington/family tomb

The Slave Memorial Garden

Slave Quarters

The West Wing and A Picture of Ruby Bridges

My girls and I recently returned home from a trip to Washington, D.C. where we visited my sister and her fiancé. Having our excursion on the calendar for a few months, I had plenty of time to ponder all that I wanted to see with in our allotted days. If you have ever been to our nation’s capital, you can appreciate the scheduling puzzle it presents.

As I filled the spots with tangible tours, I left one space open for the possibility of a west wing tour at The White House provided by an inside connection through my sister’s fiancé. It was going to be a game time decision, so I tried not to get my hopes up. I was very excited at the opportunity even though I have never been confused for someone who has had any interest in politics or government.

My longing to see the West Wing went beyond mere bragging rights. I feel as though my mind has been renewed in the last few years in its ability to grasp, comprehend, and process information. For too many years, my brain did not work properly which left me out of the beautiful world of learning and discovery. After studying American History for two years with my children, anything concrete to go with my book learning felt sacred.

We met our guide on a rainy Saturday afternoon and he graciously confirmed that there was room on the tour for all three of us. There was a possibility of only having two spots, so I was prepared to send my girls off for a tour of a lifetime. My good fortune still did not register when the guard handed me my ‘official’ badge, and we entered through a back gate reserved solely for the West Wing.

There would be no pictures once we entered the building, so our guide kindly snapped this of us with the President of the United States Seal behind us.
(Don’t judge. It was rainy and 60*:)

We first got to stick our head into the White House dining hall which is staffed by the Navy. As I looked around having passed by the President’s personal elevator and back door into where he eats lunch, I still had a difficult time grasping the reality of where I was. Usually my Saturdays are filled with soccer games and college football.

We walked down the hallway and headed upstairs. All along the walls were recent pictures of the President, his family, and staff taken by the White House photographer. Some were official in nature, but others were very pedestrian and personal.

My oldest and I were standing before a picture of the President taking a jump shot over one of his staff members. His shirt was pulled up exposing his navel. I leaned and whispered to my girl, “How many people do you think can say they have seen the President’s belly button?” She turned around and said, “I was thinking the EXACT same thing.”

We walked along looking at the other photographs. There was talk in our small tour of names and job titles that I did not recognize. I was beginning to feel very out-of-place in my ignorance when we came to a photo I could connect with.

The President and his wife were standing together in a field at dusk. The lighting was amazing as they looked down at something. The mood in the image was very still and quiet.  Our guide motioned others to the picture and said that it was recently taken at the Flight 93 memorial in Pennsylvania.

We moved outside to the Rose Garden. This was when I officially began to ‘freak out,’ because I could recognize things from watching outdoor press conferences on TV. Our guide pointed to the different spots around the yard. For instance, he said, “That’s where the helicopter lands.” Or he pointed to a swing set and said, “That’s where the girls play right outside the Oval Office window.”

It has always interested me a bit that my girls are the same age as the President’s, but this put an entirely different spin on how different lives could be but also share undeniable similarities. The Obama family’s personal sacrifice became more real as I walked around where they lived life.

We went inside for the moment I had been waiting for but as the tour walked toward the Oval Office, I stopped dead in my tracks. In the adjacent room hung a picture by Normal Rockwell.

“That’s Ruby Bridges,” I said.

Our guide came over to me. “Yes, The President loves this picture. It’s on loan from the Gallery.”

I learned about her story years ago while student teaching. I remember introducing my 2nd grade class to the very brave 6-year-old girl who was the first African-American to integrate into a white elementary school in New Orleans. People were so outraged that they refused to send their children to school and the staff would not teach her. So, for a year, the system brought in a teacher from Boston who taught Ruby as if the entire classroom was full.

I shared what I knew of her story and our guide responded by telling us that the President had just brought Ruby into the West Wing to meet her and see the picture that he chose to inspire him each day. He then pointed out how the tomato at the bottom of the painting was shaped like a snail. It was to represent how change is very slow. Also, he showed us how the smashed tomato markings on the wall were painted in the form of an eagle flapping its wings to symbolize victory and courage.

You can see the video of their time together here. It’s VERY cool.

I am so thankful to have had this little glimpse into the life of the President. I saw that though we disagree on some issues, he is still a man, a husband, and a father. I also love that we both share the same appreciation and admiration for a little girl who had big courage.  I often tell my girls about how she would stop on the corner on her way to school and pray for all of the people who hated her. What a great picture for us all.

Pray Without Ceasing: A New Perspective from Harriet Tubman

Today was the first time in three years that I mopped my kitchen floor. “I” being the operative word.

Three autumns ago when life was hard pressed on every side, my husband traded services with a local businessman who owned a cleaning service. Every other week, they came and cleaned my house from top to bottom. Even down to the last service two weeks ago, I would walk through the door and sing a song from the musical “Oliver” that I learned while performing in our 5th grade school production. Amending the word food for clean.

“Clean, glor’E’ous Clean!!!”

My girls would wander off, and I would bask in the blessing that was NEVER lost on me.

Well, the professional cleaning well has dried up, and I am back to cleaning my own home.

Thankfully, life is different now. It is no less busy, but I am in a much better place emotionally than I was then. Also my children are at an age where they need and are able to take an active part in the process. So, I have tried to have a positive outlook being very, very grateful for the gift that I received when I desperately needed it.  Though understandably, it has required lots of mental gymnastics to overcome my inner grump.

Even at Target this past Friday I was in line to pay for cleaning products when a man in front of me said rather rhetorically, “So, I guess you are cleaning a lot this weekend? Heh Hehee”

“Yes,” I smiled, “We let go of our cleaning service last week, so I’m back to cleaning my house.”

“Well,” he said, “Life’s too short to spend your weekend cleaning.”

To which I replied, “Get behind me, Satan.”

Knowing I would wake up this morning to begin these new additions to our already busy routine, I received inspiration and encouragement last night from a very unlikely but timely source.

Before bedtime, the girls and I finished up a read aloud called Courage to Run: A Story Based on the Life of Harriet Tubman. I was reading the epilogue when I came across in her own words how she managed all of the tasks set before her.

I may tape these words as they are to my kitchen window along with my other favorite gems that help remind me to look up more and look inward less.

It was PERFECT for today, and really for any of the days to come.

Harriet Tubman:

“‘Pears like, I prayed all de time,” she said, “about my work, eberywhere; I was always talking to de Lord. When I wen to the horse-trough to wash my face, and took up de water in my hands, I said, ‘Oh, Lord, wash me, make me clean.’ When I took up de towel to wipe my face and hands, I cried, ‘Oh, Lord, for Jesus’ sake, wipe away all my sins!’ When I took up de broom and began to sweep, I groaned, ‘Oh, Lord, whatsoebber sin dere be in my heart, sweep it out, Lord, clar and clean….'”

A Gold Mine

“Mommy, we won’t have to go far underground, will we?” asked my youngest the night before our field trip to Reed’s Gold Mine. She still remembered her unease of watching men get swallowed up by an elevator shaft in a movie about coal mining in West Virginia that we saw over a year ago.

“Oh no,” I said, “You never go so far into the mine that you cannot see the light from outside.” 13 years ago, I had gone on the same field trip with my 3rd grade class as an assistant teacher.

Reassured, we both slept soundly that night.  Confidently.

The next morning, our guide pulled open the large double doors that led deep into the earth, and a rush of cold, musty air hit our faces. “That’s 50* degrees you feel waking you up, folks.” I looked at my friend, and we both laughed as our kids huddled against us for warmth. No matter, this will be short and sweet, I thought to myself.

We entered into the cold and dark. But, unlike my other experience, we kept walking.  I did not want to cause any confusion, so I followed the people in front of me. My oldest pulled me aside and said, “Mom, are  you alright?”

“Sure, honey.” I said. “We’re not going far.”

“O.k.” she said,  “but if you get really scared just stay in the back away from all the other people.”

“I’m fine.” I was amused by her concern for me and added, “I can handle anything for a few minutes.”

But, after 10 minutes of twists and turns, the guide stopped and declared, “You are now 50 feet underground.” That was enough to shake me out of denial and the moment when I realized something was grossly amiss. I leaned over to him and whispered, “Excuse me sir, how much longer is this tour?”

“Oh, well over 30 minutes,” he said.

In shock at his response, all of the blood ran out of my face in front of about 20 onlookers. Two of which were my own children.

His eyes widened with recognition and said, “You’re claustrophobic, aren’t you?”

It was not a question. It was a statement.

“Yes,” I said tearing up. In a childlike voice I heard myself say, “I don’t remember this part.”

So many thoughts raced through my mind. None of which were encouraging or stabilizing. I began berating myself for being so foolish to think a trip to a gold mine would not include a tour of the actual gold mine.

I felt so vulnerable and exposed which is never a good cocktail of emotions to drink in front of strangers. And then it hit me. The reason my only memory was of the mouth of the cavern was because I had opted out of the tour all those years ago.

I wiped away a tear and searched for my daughter’s faces. They knew my secret, and now so did everyone else.

I did self talk and breathing exercises. But, nothing was touching my deep fear of being trapped because “what I knew to be true” was lagging too far behind “what are these people thinking?” It seems silly now, I suppose, to be SO concerned with the opinions of others I will NEVER see again. Worried about the thoughts of those who know nothing about me or why I panic when I feel like there is no way out.

It seemed like I stood there holding up the tour for hours feeling like I was drowning.  Splashing and flailing around internally with no hope of finding solid ground and suffocating beneath the mountain of rock and moisture.

But then, surprised by grace, the hand of a stranger reached in and pulled me out. “It is ok,” the guide said very gently and calmly. “This happens all the time,” he smiled. “All you have to do is stay away from the crowd when I stop to talk. You’ll be the first one into a tunnel, but then move to the back to be the first one out.”

“I promise you,” he said as he looked at me pointedly. “It will be alright.”

There was no condemnation. There was no judgement for my lack of foresight. Only compassion and mercy. I looked at my dear friend, and she smiled so tender and knowingly at me.   My girls too nodding that it was going to be fine. All of these visual and verbal cues helped me find my footing.

We moved on, all the while the guide was checking in on me in a way that was not patronizing right down to the moment when we emerged from the cavern. I leaned over with my hands on my knees.

I was fighting the urge to be sick and panting for the air that escaped me so far below the surface. I took it into my lungs and began laughing like a crazy person. My friend’s daughter went to her mom, and I over heard her asking in a concerned voice, “Mom, what is wrong with Mrs. Luke?”

“It’s ok, honey,” she said. “She just has a really hard time with small, tight places.”

I’ll say.

Finally, I was calm enough to sit down and rest. I felt my sanity returning to me very slowly.  I looked at my friend, my girls, and the kind, patient guide as he walked away very thankful for the grace and compassion I found deep down in the darkness of my exposed weakness.

I guess you could say, I struck it rich.

Walking With Wingfeathers

“Evil digs a pit, and the Maker makes a well. That is His way.” Artham Wingfeather in The Monster in the Hollows

In March, my girls and I went to hear Andrew Peterson speak to a group of children about The Wingfeather Saga, and his recently released third book in the series, The Monster in the Hollows. My family is no stranger to his gift with story telling as this modern-day, lyrical minstrel has been weaving some of my favorite tales for many years with his guitar.

Sometimes it is difficult for one to alternate artistic mediums, but Andrew has done more than entertain with his first attempt at fiction. Just like with his music that moves and stirs, he has created a story line and characters that stay with you long after the last page is turned. This series is unique in that he has successfully created an experience that engages the hearts and minds of young and old alike whether you are a student, single, or married with or without children.

As Andrew spent the afternoon with us, discussing the writing process and the perils of encountering creatures like Snickbuzzards, Bomnubbles, Toothy Cows, and Horned Hounds, the excitement in the room was palpable. But, it was when he read aloud from a section in Book 1, that we came completely under his spell. Which is how all great stories start…..from the beginning.

In book 1, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, we are introduced to the Igiby family, and consequently characters who are easy to identify with because of their honest struggle with matters of the heart. The mother, Nia, is living in a small cottage by the sea with her three children and one-legged, rough edged, ex-pirate of a father, Podo Helmer.

Janner, 12, is not unlike most first-born children. Being fatherless, he bears the weight of responsibility for his siblings on shoulders that do not feel strong or old enough for such a burden. He is thoughtful and has a deep longing to know the father no one will even mention by name.

Tink,11, is the middle child. Like most younger siblings, he has the luxury of questioning rules and plunging head long into trouble without a second thought. He is funny and very likeable, but finds himself making choices with great consequences for himself and for the family.

Leeli, 9, is my favorite. She is the youngest but by no means the “smallest.” Though injured after birth that left her leg lame and crippled, she carries a song inside of her that can make Sea Dragons stop to listen and remember.

At first glance, this family is not unlike the others living in the land of Skree. All residents struggle day-to-day under the oppression of the wicked, Gnag the Nameless and his dutiful, merciless hoard, the Fangs of Dang. But, upon further notice, you see the Igiby’s are far from ordinary. Only the three children do not know it yet.

So begins a journey of discovery after finding a map, a storehouse of weapons, a hidden jewel with a royal insignia, an odd man who wears socks on his hands, and a new name of distinction that belonged to their father who was lost in the Great War: Wingfeather.

At the book signing, Andrew let it slip that in North! or be Eaten, which won the 2010 Christy award for young adult fiction,  Gnag the nameless has discovered an eerie way for the dastardly, lizardly Fangs to overcome their inability to with stand the cold. This is discouraging as book 2 begins with the Igibys, now known as Wingfeather, trying to avoid capture by setting out for the safety of the Ice Prairies.

That is, of course, if you consider a frozen land of Bomnubbles as “safe.” This segment will challenge the reader as one character’s fateful decision will alter the face of the Wingfeather family forever. Such a great tale of sacrifice and loss and courage and love, that even our four-legged family member enjoyed the reading of this book.

As for book 3, The Monster in the Hollows, we have yet to finish even though an autographed copy was shipped to us from the Rabbit Room two weeks ago. Our slower pace is not due to an arduous story line. On the contrary, I think this book may be my favorite. It is because we have chosen to do this series as a family read aloud and walking with the Wingfeathers has proven to be as good as finding out what happens in the end.

What drew me to Andrew Peterson’s music so many years ago was finding someone who was able to articulate, in rhyme no less, the love of God in a world that is hurting. Sometimes a life of faith is a difficult journey, which will be true for our children as well. But, that does not mean the Lord is absent or unmoved by our struggles. It would be easy to assume at times that He is cold and unfeeling when life gets hard, but it would simply be untrue.

In fact, those are the moments when God can show up in our lost places to rewrite our own stories that would have otherwise ended in death. That is the hope that we have in Christ’s redemption, and Andrew is one of the best artists I have ever encountered who can communicate that truth so profoundly.  He uses his gift with words and translates this beautiful reality it into fictional series that my children can hold in their hands, and I am so thankful.

So, as you are considering summer reads for kids ages 10 and up, I would highly recommend The Wingfeather Saga. But, I would also encourage you to go on this adventure with your kids by reading the series aloud together. The chapters are short, yet captivating. It provides wonderful content for relevant discussions on themes such as forgiveness, courage in the face of fear, being drawn into a story that is much bigger than yourself, difficult relationships, disappointment, consequences of our sin, having compassion for the seemingly “unloveable,” and being remade out of a brush with darkness.

Besides, what greater journey can you go on alone or as a family than one that is an allusion to the Great Story. And, who knows, you may even find yourself in these pages, like this 37-year-old wife and mother did, as you take a walk with the Wingfeathers.

“Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul.” Emily Dickenson