Month: June 2014

Yup, I Was a Dirty Kid

I have a vivid memory of standing next to a pretty little girl in my 4th grade classroom. As I glanced down at our hands, my fingernails were not as white as hers and my arms still showed the dirt remnants of my latest adventures on the ball field.

Two years later, at a new elementary school, I learned the devastating truth, that apparently, I dressed all wrong. “Why do you wear summer clothes in the winter?” The perfectly dressed classmate asked me?

Seasonal clothing – that concept eluded me. But the shame of not fitting in didn’t, it stuck for years.

There’s a grei8opez3yna8118yat scene in Betty Smith’s book, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, where seven-year-old Francine has to take her little brother, Neeley for their vaccines. To take his mind off what she perceives is impending torture; Francine spends the morning with Neeley making mud pies. Forgetting to wash up like their mother told them, Francine drags her brother, mud and all, to the local health department.

Francine goes in first where a nurse scrubs a nice clean white spot on her arm. In disgust a Harvard trained intern who was obligated to work a few hours a week at the clinic says,

“Filth, filth, filth, from morning to night. I know they’re poor but they could wash. Water is free and soap is cheap. Just look at that arm…”

Francine is so angry she doesn’t even feel the needle jab. And while the nurse is bandaging her up, Francine blurts out,

“My brother is next. His arm is just as dirty as mine so don’t be surprised. And you don’t have to tell him. You told me…besides, it won’t do no good. He’s a boy and he don’t care if he is dirty.”

I anguished reading that scene.

For years my shame would pop up it’s ugly head. It drove me to overcompensate in many ways. Kelly and Daniel

And when I had children of my own, I overcompensated by keeping them clean. No dirt would gather under their fingernails. And of course, they had the best clothes, even if it meant sewing them myself from scraps purchased at Ben Franklin’s.

But then a funny thing happened. One day, in casual conversation my Aunt Jeanne Marie said,

“After your father died, when I was living with you guys in Arlington, I used to watch the little girl next door as she left for school. Her clothes were always pressed and her hair neatly done. Then I’d look at you guys and my heart would just break. There was so much to do and your Mother and I were doing the best we could. But I always wanted better for you guys.”

Suddenly, all those years of stored up pain melted away. Somehow, just knowing she saw my need made it better. There was comfort in knowing I didn’t suffer alone.

Aunt Jeanne Marie knew. And that knowledge was like cool water to a thirsty soul.

And to think, He sees it all…

He has searched me, and He knows me.
He knows when I sit and when I rise;
He perceives my thoughts from afar.
He discerns my going out and my lying down;
He is familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue, He knows it completely.
He hems me in behind and before, and He lays His hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain…

Praise be the Lord.


Your Gratitude Honors My Loss

Father Lederhosn

My Father

It’s Father’s Day and I’m on Facebook reading tributes to many of my friend’s dads. On days like this it’s hard to not count my loss. To not imagine how different I’d be if my father had loved and cared for me. It’s hard to not think it unfair. And hard not to blame God for that unfairness.

If you don’t know my father story, please read it here.

Sometimes in Christian circles, it’s difficult to honestly talk about deep loss. To mention the emptiness and challenges faced when you clearly are set at a disadvantage. And too often pat responses like, but God is the father of the fatherless, or He allowed you to suffer so you can help others, just add to my frustration.

So today words like, God blessed me with a great dad, were hard to hear. If true, does it mean He cursed me with mine? Sometimes it feels that way. Especially after I crash and burn, yet again, because of a weakness that’s an offshoot of that old wound.

But I want my friends to acknowledge the blessings of their great fathers. I want them to proclaim them everywhere they can. Because, as Brene Brown says in, Gifts of Imprefection, “If you can be grateful for what you have, you honor what I’ve lost.”

In an odd sort of way, your gratitude puts my loss where it belongs. Deep in the rubble of this broken world. And it reminds me of the model set when God created us.

And right in the middle of that brokenness, is exactly where Christ dwelt. And from that pit, He spoke these words:

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
  • Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

And those words soothe me. They lift me from the pit, and set my soul on higher ground. They remind me, I am not made for this world. And a better one is yet to come.

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For Tim. Our kids were blessed to call you dad, and our grandkids blessed to call you Papa.


Pining for the Moon

As a kid, I had several albums of stories told by animated readers. My brothers and sisters and I would gather around our little blue record player, crank up the volume, and sit spellbound as we listened.

I vividly remember one called, The Boy in the Moon. A deep male voice told the story of a little boy who lived with his loving family in a land far away. The boy had everything and yet, nothing made him happy. Nightly his father asked him what was wrong. And mournfully the boy pointed up to the heavens and said,

“I want the moon papa, I want the moon.”

Ladder to the MoonThe story goes on to tell how after years of seeing his son unhappy, the father decides to grant the boys wish. So one night he puts the boy in a boat and rows and rows until they reach the place where the ocean meets the sky. There they find the ladder that leads to the moon.

The father kisses his son and sadly watches as he begins his climb. For the rest of the father’s life he misses him, but is comforted by waving at the moon, knowing his boy is happy.

Boy in the MoonEach time I listened to that story, I thought it was the dumbest thing I ever heard. All my life I wanted a loving father. And the thought of a child leaving a happy family to go live all alone on the moon seemed so stupid to me. I never could see what the moon had to offer over a father whose greatest desire was to see his son happy.

I always wanted to rewrite that story. I wanted it to end with the boy coming to his senses. I imagined him dangling from that ladder until a boat comes by to take him home. I imagined the look of joy on the father’s face knowing his son finally realized there is nothing greater than a family, not even the fulfillment of his wildest dream.

Prodigal SonI hate to think how much time I’ve wasted pining after dreams, that if fulfilled, would have been a disaster. How grateful I am for a loving Father who has many times, patiently waited for me to come home. And each time I do, He runs out to greet me.

How about you? What dreams are you chasing? Is it time for you to turn around and go home?

But I Can’t Draw

IMG_0440As soon as she shut the car door, Juliette let out a deep sigh and said, “I’m so glad it’s just you and me gramaw, I have so much to tell you.”

Immediately, I understood. Juliette is just like me – a storyteller. And for us, stories  build up and need to be told. And who better to hear them than me, the other writer in the family.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve processed all my experiences into stories. Even as a kid, as soon as events unfolded, my mind began crafting the retelling. And I wouldn’t be satisfied until I had the best story possible. It’s so ingrained in me I can’t not do

I believe God gives us all a creative gift. For Tim, it was woodworking. Many times I saw him stand in front of a piece of furniture and run his hand across the wood grain. He’d pull out drawers and study the craftsmanship. Crane his neck to see the sides and back. He couldn’t not do it.


Tim’s Handiwork

I hear people say they’re not creative. Usually followed by, “I can’t draw.”

But creativity is in us all. And it isn’t limited to the arts. It’s what drives our need to put our individual touch on everything we do. Our desire to make it our own.

For some reason, I tend to resist the urge to write. I fight it like an approaching cold. Even though it gives me the greatest satisfaction. I love nothing more than tweaking a story so it ebbs and flows.

But I procrastinate. I let the stories build up inside me. Until like Juliette, I have to unload them.

For I’m created in Gods image. And He puts all his gifts on display. He smears the heavens with beauty, and the horizon in glory. And he begs us to stand back and marvel at His work. He delights in our awe and wonder.

So is it any surprise when someone says, “Oh, Ellen, that’s a good story,” I’m ecstatic? That I’m thrilled to reveal the gift God’s given me?

So how about you? What gift did God give you to share? How can you put it on display? What do you need to do to fine-tune it so it can bring Him glory?Sunset