Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Urbana – Day 1

Morning began with most of the SEND crew having arrived…Amy still stuck in Chi-town, Dan still driving in from VA…we rolled on over to the exhibit hall to register and set up by mid-morning, and wandered through the floating snowflakes. Unloading the van in the cold was, well, cold.

The SEND crew got registered and the booth set up, and the doors opened to students at 3 PM. For three hours various members of the crew hung out by the booth connecting with students. Amazing to see how many students came through already today, looking to see what God might have for them to discover this week.

Over the course of the afternoon, it wasn’t uncommon to see a SEND exhibitor talking with students, taking them over to the opportunities peg board to pick a card or two, then stopping to pray with them before they left.

In the kick-off session for the week Jim Tebbe, the director of Urbana challenged us to think about our neighbor, both next door and around the world. Ramez Atallah, the Bible expositor for the week, challenged us to imagine any middle class couple choosing to have their baby in the slums outside Cairo – no medical care, dirty facilities – and reminded us that God sent His Son to be born in a dirty manger among the poor of the earth.

Urbana Day 2 –

Amy made it in! We celebrated her arrival by singing “Happy Birthday” to Tom, about 10 times over the course of the day, in every public venue we could find…

Students have dreams…a girl we met wants to start a school in Japan, another a bookstore. A missionary kid is discovering how God has prepared him to reach international students at his university. A couple is searching for how their gifts in carpentry and administration can be used on a field. All of these students with dreams spoke with SEND reps today. Conversations led to connections, connections to prayer.

One of the most exciting parts of the Urbana experience is the opportunity to connect with students who are seeking God’s direction. There’s a board at the SEND booth that students can sign on which is written a simple prayer of commitment: “I will go anywhere to do anything, at any time, at any cost.” There are signatures beginning to fill the white space, students who are willing to commit themselves to God’s call, without agenda or plan.

Urbana - Day 3

Three years ago Drew met Ron at the SEND booth at Urbana. Drew was in college, interested in missions, and looking for a place to serve. Today, Drew came back to the SEND booth. The colors of the display have changed; the location in the exhibit hall is a bit different. Drew is now a graduate student in seminary; Ron's grandkids have grown a little older.

But the mission has not changed. There are still people who need the gospel, still people groups who have no evangelical witness. There are still young people seeking God's mission for them. There are still mobilizers who desire to equip those young men and women and mentor them through the process.

Drew and Ron spent time talking and praying together this afternoon. Drew spent two of the last three years on a short term experience overseas and is thinking about going back long term. There are decisions to be made, and things to consider. He doesn't know exactly what God's next step for him is, but he is trusting God's leading. And he knows that Ron is there as he walks this journey, available to listen, to mentor, to pray.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

We found a nickname

Conversation before dinner:

Ev: "My brother's Jonathan Blewis."
Clare: "No. Jonathan Lew-is. She sometimes says it wrong. Maybe it's too long for her. Ezelyn, you can just say 'Jonathan'."

Conversation after dinner:
Aunt Carrie: "What color are carrots?"
Ev: "Pink!"
Aunt Carrie: "No, carrots!"
Ev: "Orange."
Aunt Carrie: "What color is Jonathan?"
Ev: (Pauses) "Jonathan Blue-ass."
[Aunt Carrie begins to laugh uncontrollably.]

Friday, October 09, 2009


I've redefined rest today. I came to this conclusion just a few moments ago. Rest isn't not doing anything, it's doing something different.

Today, I'm not grading papers. I'm not writing Annual Report text or editing PBU Today. Today has been a day of rest.

What did I do on my day of rest? Well, I still had to teach, but one class took an exam and in the other I got to talk about the climax of one of my favorite dramas in the world...oh, and worldviews. But then, I went to chapel and sat once again under the Bible teaching of Dr. Master, and remembered why I loved his classes so much. And then, I left PBU.

I went to the Social Security Administration and sat in their waiting room for half an hour before I got called to a counter to submit my application for a new card. Then I went to Target and the bank before driving back to my apt. to gather together the million and three documents needed to transfer my licence to PA. I took off for the Driver's License Center and there waited for only about 10 minutes in the waiting room before they called me to a counter, then sat me down again, then called me to another, took my photo, and sent me off with a temporary PA license.

On my way home I stopped by the library and switched out the CDs of The Witch of Blackbird Pond for the audio Fever 1793, jumping forward in history about a hundred years in the process. Then, before 3 PM I sat down upon my bed and spread out bills to pay and numbers to crunch and organized my finances for the next few months. Following that, I got a few quotes on car insurance and made a decision, paid for six months what I used to pay for two, and then checked email.

Email led me here, to the blogs of family and friends, reading, thinking, processing, resting.

Looking at the list above I don't think I should feel rested, but I do. In the back of my mind, I know that there are still 40 papers, 19 exams, and 16 blogs to grade. In the back of my mind, I'm concerned that I don't have the third student profile written for the Annual Report, and that I still haven't gotten text from two authors for PBU Today. In the back of my mind those things remain, but for today, they're staying in the back of my mind.

And that's rest. After weeks on end of constant focus, always processing, always thinking, always figuring how I'm going to get this and that done, I took a break from it--and rested.

Tomorrow the break will continue. I'll grade a bit on the airplane early in the morning, but the majority of the day will be spent in a cozy kitchen with apples simmering in stock pots on the stove. I'll crank the handle of the sauce-making thingy; I'll stir the apples with a wooden spoon. But I won't worry about the PBU Today; I won't concern myself with the papers and blogs. They can wait for Monday.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Tribe

At some moment last night, I looked at the mass of small children on the floor before me, laying, crawling, toddling, walking in a great conglomeration of arms and legs, heads and bodies, and had a vision of the future.

In twelve years, the youngest there will have just passed that year marker. There will be two thirteen-year-olds, two fourteen-year-olds, and a sixteen-year-old. Add in the other cousins from the rest of the tribe and there will be another at thirteen and an eighteen-year-old in the bunch.

The boys that now climb all over each other, squeaking out shouts of glee and pain in toddler-sized voices, will wrestle on the floor, their voices cracking between high and low notes. The girls, who now giggle and push dolly around in a stroller, will still giggle, but will be more likely to be kicking a soccer ball around in the back yard. Chubby little calves will have elongated into skinny legs. Dimpled knees will be nobby. Tiny paws will have grown into strong hands.

A part of me hopes they remain friends like they are right now. Remarkably, for a tribe made up of families who spent the past thirty-five years traversing continents on the other side of the world, these cousins have all landed in the same place for a time: seven kids spanning four years who see each other more than once a week. If the families stay where they are, they'll attend the same schools or church youth groups.

But I know this tribe; those traversed continents make for itchy feet. Already, some cousins have moved away, and these that remain may well travel the world as well. However, they'll congregate with some regularity, perhaps at holidays, or in the cool of a Michigan summer evening like last night.

Two families joined years ago and formed a tribe - it's grown since, with additions through marriage and birth, but remained joined. The crew of kiddos crawling over rocking horses and sharing dollies today will not lose their bonds. Blood, tears, joy, pain, and love join them.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Quoteable Week

Home for the birth of Jonathan Lewis Warnemuende, who made his arrival a few days late at 9:56 am, Monday, August 10, 2009, weighing in at 9 lbs. 11 oz., and 21.5 inches long, I've realized once again how quoteable my family can be. Here's a few choice notes from the week so far.

In a discussion about various family members' names -
Aunt Carrie: "Ev, what's your middle name?"
Evelyn: "My middle name's not here, it's in the car."

As we waited impatiently for Baby Button to be born -
Kraig: "This kid's going to have to be named 'Spot,' as in 'Out, out, damned...'."

Upon meeting Jonathan for the first time -
Clare: "He's not in baby-land anymore!"

Talking about her 1-year-old cousin -
Evelyn: "I like Zachary. He's nice."

Upon meeting her brother -
Poppa: "Clare, what's your new brother's name?"
Clare: "C. S. Lewis."

Sitting at the breakfast table, pointing to her bent-over middle finger -
Evelyn: "Stay down! Stay down!"

Telling us about staying the night with Grandma and Grandpa W. -
Clare: "And we played Little House on the Prairie and I was Laura and Evvie was Mary. Grandpa said we should play Big House in the Suburbs."
(Then she wondered why we all started laughing)

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Comfort of the Familiar

It was a few years ago that I had the realization - my entire being would relax when I heard Tagalog. It was something I'm sure I'd experienced prior to the realization, but it hit me one day that though I couldn't understand what was being said, my mind just let the words and intonations roll over it without struggle or effort.

I've since concluded that the reason for that response is based in my childhood and before. My mom was pregnant with me in the Philippines, and when we returned to the States we made lots of Filipino friends. Much of my early childhood took place surrounded by commingled Tagalog and English, and it's comfortable.

Once or twice in my life that sort of realization has hit me in other ways: when I'm surrounded by Chinese, I forget my skin color and height and think I look like them. When I enter an Asian market my mind knows exactly where to look for the products most Americans wouldn't ever think to buy.

The other week I was at the Willow Grove Walmart and an Indian family passed me in the aisle, the boy in the cart chattering away in Hindi, the parents discussing whether or not to buy this and that, their voices mingling with their son's, the tones skimming up and down scales in ways that English never does. And I closed my eyes for a moment to enjoy the sound, and felt my mind relax, without even wondering why.

Today I went to the library in my hometown. In the space of five minutes I passed four Indian families and scanned a shelf of DVDs with 3 in Hindi and 2 in Punjabi. And I suddenly realized that the faces and languages of a country I've never set foot in have become familiar comforts. When I find them in another place, I think of home.

What's home? The familiar. To me the familiar is a mix of countries and cultures. When I see those faces, hear those languages: I'm home.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Apartments, Storms, Power Outages, and Syllabi

Well, I found an apartment. It's the downstairs of a neat old house in Newtown. And I love that concept. The house is on a little V of land between State St. (the main st. of Newtown) and Court, a residential street which goes off at an angle. Means that there's traffic out almost every window, but since it's Newtown, most everything rolls up by 7 PM. Anywhere I go is going to feel noisy after my current apartment; I figure I'll get used to it. The apartment is the bottom floor of the house, and the top two floors are a separate apartment (a little larger). I had originally looked at both, and liked the idea of either, though the upstairs is probably more than I need, and therefore more than I need to spend. There's a patio/deck out the back, fenced in, for outside-ness, and then, of course, all of Newtown for walking and exploration. I love both the main street and the surrounding neighborhoods there, so I look forward to lots of walks. Right across Court St. is the Friend's Meetinghouse, with a big hedged lawn, that Chuck, the owner of house, said they often went over and used when they wanted grass space.

Aiming for mid- to late August for moving in. I'll miss being where I am now (in terms of setting, and comfortableness of the people), but I won't miss how far away it is from everything! I'm looking forward to avoiding the turnpike. Currently I'm spending almost $20 a week in tolls alone.

PBU is on a four-day work week over the summer, so I'm basically working Monday through Thursday, and taking Fridays off. So yesterday was the "end" of an extremely long week. Here's hoping when Lisa's back in place things will settle into some sort of routine. Pretty much the entire department will be completely new. Good things and bad things about that. It means that we won't be stepping on toes when we say, "no, we're not doing things that way anymore," but it also means that there's no one around who knows what's been done and whether or not it's worked...guess we'll have to find out the hard way.

It was my intention to do some writing last night, and maybe watch an episode of something off of Hulu, but as I ate dinner, the heavens opened, and I set my computer aside to watch the storm. I closed up all my windows and the rain came down like a waterfall. Fascinated, I changed into clothes that could get wet and stepped out the door. I was hot and sticky (yesterday was a truly Philly summer day), and figured I would probably need to take a shower to cool down anyway, so I might as well let the rain soak me. Within a minute I was absolutely drenched, and at about the two-minute mark I was cold. That and the sporadic lightning encouraged me to go indoors again, so I went in, dried off, and changed. I walked through the living room with the wet clothes to take them to the laundry, and somewhere between the living room and when I entered the laundry, the power went off. Suddenly my evening plans changed - no computer (or, very little since I didn't want to use up the battery and I couldn't get online), limited phone use (again to save the battery), and no lights...I pulled out a book and used the daylight while it lasted and then a flashlight for a little while before sleep overcame me - got more than halfway through.

After the rain stopped, around 8 o'clock, Chris (my landlady) hopped into her car to go get Bill (her husband) from the train station. He was coming home from a business trip. About 10 minutes later she was back, there were two trees down at the end of our road, and she couldn't get out. She ran into a neighbor whose son was bringing him back from the end of the road in a golf cart and he had gotten home from work after the trees fell, so his car was parked on the far side. He agreed to go get Bill, and a bit later Bill was delivered safely home by golf cart.

The power was out all night, and Bill pulled out the generator early this morning to cool down our refrigerators for a few hours. The road got cleared by about 8:30 AM, so I came on over to Starbucks for a while. I have a syllabus to finish and had planned to work on it here anyway, just now I do it out of necessity. That said, I should probably stop writing this note and get cracking on that...it's due by the end of the day. Hopefully the power at home will be restored rapidly. This time it seems to just be a downed line, whereas when it was out the other year the entire transformer had gotten struck by lightning...here's to less than two days without power!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Irregular Update
From Carrie Givens
Blog: MaidCarolyn.blogspot.com
Facebook: MaidCarolyn

What’s Been Going On?

For the length of time it’s been since my last “irregular update,” I can only apologize and say that I’ll try not to let it happen again. I feel like I’m getting back into the sort of life that lends itself to sending out updates on a more regular basis, but the past two years have been anything but.

Let me show you what I mean:

May 2007 – Left Alaska after two years and flew to Macau, China for two weeks before heading back to Michigan for the summer.
August 2007 – Packed up everything that had made its way down the Al-Can Highway and moved it to Pennsylvania.
September 2007 – Started my Master’s in English with an emphasis in professional and creative writing and teaching at Arcadia University. Began working for Starbucks Coffee Company.
Fall 2007 – Took three full-time courses, worked 30 hours a week at Sbux, worked 4 hrs/wk in the AU Writing Center (WC).
Spring 2008 – Worked 35 hrs/wk at Sbux, 4 hrs/wk in the WC, took three more full-time courses.
Summer 2008 – Took two full-time courses, worked 8 hrs/wk in WC, 35-40 hrs/wk at Sbux where I became a Shift Supervisor.
Fall 2008 – Took three full-time courses, worked 30 hrs/wk at Sbux, 4 hrs/wk in WC, and taught one English Composition course.
Spring 2009 – Researched and wrote my thesis, worked almost 40 hrs/wk at Sbux
May 2009 – Graduated with an MA in English from Arcadia University, planning to continue working at Sbux while looking at possibilities for employment and pursuing publication.

What’s New?

I had planned to spend another year working for Starbucks and exploring writing opportunities. God decided He had different plans.

In May, I met Lisa Weidman, the Communications and Marketing Director at Philadelphia Biblical University. In our conversation she asked me questions about the types of writing courses I took in my program at Arcadia. Her eyes lit up when I told her about the Writing for the Web and New Media course that I took last summer.

A couple weeks later, Lisa and I got together again and she began to pick my brain about my concept of a biblical university. We talked for nearly two hours about how a university should present itself. Concurrently, Lisa was working with a team to reevaluate the entire Communications structure in place at PBU. Basically, an overhaul of the system was needed.

About three weeks after our first meeting, I met with Lisa again and she offered me a position as a Communications Specialist in the new Communications and Marketing Department at PBU.

I accepted the job. Next week I’ll start full-time at PBU, but I’ve been going in a few afternoons to get my feet wet. Rethinking the whole system is going to be a big task, especially as we’re putting together a new team to do so. It will be a challenge, but I’m looking forward to it.

Oh, and meanwhile, I’ll teach two freshman English courses at PBU and possibly a course for home-school high school seniors this fall, too.

Celebrate and Pray with Me:

· Thank God for His provision of a good job in an economy where so many are struggling.

· Praise the Lord for His guidance in the education I received that prepared me adequately for this new position.

· Pray that I’ll find a new apartment. Working at PBU means I’ll daily be in Langhorne, about 40 minutes from where I’m currently living. Therefore, I’m looking for new digs closer to campus.

· Pray for God’s continued provision for my needs, my health, and my energy.

· Pray for the new Communications and Marketing Department at PBU, that we would be able to handle the tasks set before us and that we would be able to communicate the value of a biblical education to the varied audiences PBU reaches.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Where I Am Now – Keeping Focused

This morning, someone made a comment about passages of Scripture that have, in the past, impacted you so deeply that they’ve become a part of the fabric of your being. At the words, I cast my memory back and thought of passages like that in my life.

The first to come to mind was a verse in Second Timothy that resonated with me in times of struggle during college, hard times when I didn’t even have the strength to pursue Christ: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself.” Having the strength for faith isn’t something I’m currently struggling with, but the verse still resonates—it is a truth I rely upon and live in.

Today, though, I went back to the beginning of the chapter to take a look at that verse in context. I wanted to see what I was to do with the phrase right before the one I’d grasped: “If we deny Him, He will also deny us.” It’s a frightening verse, really. What does it mean by the word deny?

These days, my spiritual struggles are wrapped up in the struggles of others. I have friends and mentors who have turned their back on the God who is my life-force; friends and mentors with whom I learned Christ and a biblical worldview. And I do not know what to do with that. If God taught me something through the words or actions of a friend, and that friend no longer follows that teaching, what am I to do? How am I to comprehend that teaching now? Through prayer and consideration, I’ve come to realize that my philosophy that God’s Truth is Truth, no matter in what vehicle it is presented, applies here, too. But even so, the struggle remains. My faith is currently secure. By God’s grace, I am not doubting His person, His faithfulness, His goodness, His justice. But these friends cannot say the same—and some have said the very opposite; they have rejected God.

So I read the whole passage again, finding myself in a different position than when I last spent time looking at it. This is what I read:

“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in sufferings as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect; that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with Him, we will also live with Him;
if we endure, we will also reign with Him;
if we deny Him, He will also deny us;
if we are faithless, He remains faithful—
for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:1-13)

Who am I in all this? Where do I stand today? I am the “child” addressed at the very beginning. I’m exhorted to be strengthened by Jesus’ grace, by the truth I’ve heard all my life. I’m commanded to pass this truth along—which is what I’m doing right now.

I’m to pursue Christ single-mindedly, undistracted by those around me who doubt. Not without care for them, but with the knowledge that my pursuit benefits them, as a soldier’s obedience to this commander serves everyone he protects. Yes, certainly, there is reward for faithfulness, like the athlete’s crown or the farmer’s crop, but that is secondary to the soldier’s focus upon his commander. That aim to please the commander comes with hardship sometimes; soldiers are asked to lay their very lives on the line, but their aim is not focused upon the suffering, rather the goal.

And what is that goal? That Truth will be heard and understood. Paul exhorts me to remember Christ Jesus. He is bound for the sake of the Truth, but the Truth still speaks, still goes on. Paul sets aside his own cares; he shows the soldier how to endure the suffering for others’ sakes.

This is where things get nitty-gritty and theological, and I’m not sure if I’ve got it all right, or even exactly how it plays out in real life, but here’s what I’m thinking on the end of the passage. Paul says he endures everything for the sake of the elect, and it is in that context that he says what follows. He knows the elect will be saved, but he wants them to obtain salvation with eternal glory…living fully forever, starting now.

The saying Paul quotes at the end of the passage is the part I’ve always spent time upon. There’s salvation: dying with Christ and also living with Him. There is suffering and reward: enduring and reigning. And then that denial. Those who deny Christ will be denied. So who are these ones? I think, based in the idea of election, these are those who are not elect, who were never saved to begin with. The faithless, on the other hand, are believers who falter, either through willful sin or simple exhaustion. To them, Christ remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself – and they have co-died and co-lived with Him.

So where does it leave me with these friends who have turned their backs on the Savior who suffered for them? I mourn to think that some of them may have denied Him from the start, and they will be denied by Him. But others, even those who have shaken their fists in His face and said, “I will not serve!” may still yet find Him faithful. For He cannot deny Himself, and they are His.

I wish I could figure out who falls into which category. I wish I could shake those who have lost faith and say, “Wake up! Don’t you see? He’s still here! He hasn’t given up on you!” Right now, I don’t have the opportunity to say those words, but at least I can keep my focus and hope He speaks through my life. I also co-died and co-live with Christ. He is my commander. It is He for whom I compete, for whom I work. And it is that that will benefit those friends around me; it is that which will point to the Truth. I love that right in the middle of this whole passage there’s an encouragement to think on all this, and a promise that God will give understanding. I don’t know if I’ve got it yet…but I’ll keep my focus.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Unfathomed Mystery

It's funny - strange, really: grief. One of those mysteries of life we experience as human beings but never really understand.

This week I watched episodes from the show Roswell--not a series of great depth or insight in general, mostly just fluffy teen pulp with aliens thrown in for good measure. An entertaining diversion, but not much more. But there was an episode I saw in which one of the main characters died in an accident and the rest of them dealt with the loss. It was a very real hour of drama. Despite the random alien elements of the show, it took the time to focus on how death affects us as humans, how we grieve.

I've been grieving lately, that's no secret. My niece died in January and the loss has marked me forever. As I watched that episode this week, I shed a few tears for Keren. But here's where grief bewilders me: that recent loss was not at the forefront of my mind as I watched. Instead, I found myself once again grieving the loss of my friend Carrie Wolfe who died in 2003.

I got word of Carrie's death just after we'd finished celebrating my birthday a day early. The next morning, the day I turned 22, I awoke to the knowledge that my friend was gone. It was not the happiest birthday I've ever had.

In the Roswell episode, on the morning after the accident, one of the guys, Kyle, awakes to his typical morning routine but then, remembering, he crawls back into his bed. His dad comes in and, sitting next to him, says, "Not a very happy day, is it? I want to tell you something. It may not seem like much, but you need to know it: your friend died yesterday, not today. Have a happy birthday, son."

At those words, the loss of Carrie washed over me once more, and it was followed by a wave of relief. I'd never realized how closely I've connected Carrie's death and my birthday in my mind. With the words of a fictional character on a silly television show, God reached into my heart and set up a hedge of proper separation between the two events.

I lost a friend, and that loss is a thing to grieve, and the knowledge that Carrie is in heaven is a thing to rejoice over, and the anniversary of the day I was born is a thing to celebrate. But they are not one event. I can commemorate each, day after day. Though they fell together in time, here on this earth, God holds them each in His hands individually, having known since before the dawn of Creation that He would place both grief and happiness in my life and that they would become intermingled. But to give each event its own value, I cannot remember them as one. Instead, I should hold them separately, as precious memories in my heart.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Random and Ridiculous

An occasional assortment of things I've found of (humorous) note:

1. T'other day, I drove through a neighborhood on the way home from work. In one lawn stands a lightpost. That day, there was a bright yellow recycling garbage can upturned over the lamp post. I'm still not quite sure why.

2. Sometime in the media blitz that followed the American Idol win of Kris Allen, I saw a clip from the first morning after his win. He arrived at a red carpet press gathering early in the morning after only a couple hours of sleep to begin the morning show interviews. Upon arrival he was greeted by a woman (some sort of publicist or something), who asked him if he'd gotten any sleep and then offered to get him a cup of coffee. He accepted the offer and she took off. A little while later she returned, and pulling him aside between interviews handed him what I know to be a venti-sized Starbucks reusable mug. "Thanks! Oh, look at this," Allen said, admiring the mug. "Yeah, we're being eco-conscious, too!" the woman replied. "Vanilla latte, right?" Kris took a gulp. "Wow," he said. "Thank you."

And I laughed. Originally offered: Cup of Coffee: $1 at a 7-11. Recieved? Mug: $19, Vanilla Latte: $5. Yep, that "cup of coffee" was worth nearly $25. Welcome to your new life, Kris.

3. Yesterday, my friend Courtney and I went to Max & Erma's for dinner. The closest one is more than half an hour away, so it's a treat to head there. I, confident in my memory of the direction, did not look it up again before going. My confidence obviously misplaced, my memory failed me and when I took what I thought was the right exit, I found myself feeling that I was headed in the wrong direction. Courtney offered to pull out her GPS and fix the problem for me by typing in Max & Erma's and getting the Garmin to lead us there. When she did so, the woman in the little box informed me that I was headed in the right direction and that Max & Erma's was less than four miles ahead. Still slightly suspicious, I believed the determined voice of the woman, and drove on. Then she told me to turn right. Doing so, I found myself in a neighborhood. Continuing along, I followed her directions through the neighborhood back to a main road where she told me I'd arrived at my destination. I looked right. There was an STS Tires, Honeybaked Ham, and Curves. None of those were Max & Erma's. After a little fiddling, I found the right town on the Garmin's map and she eventually led us to our destination, which was, after all, in the direction I'd originally thought was correct. Silly GPS.

4. In the course of the above adventure, Courtney informed me that when she first got the GPS she wanted to call it Jack Bauer, 'cause it was so often useful for getting her out of a pinch. But, realizing that the little black box had a woman's voice, Courtney found that Jack Bauer was probably not the best namesake for the little device. So instead, she named it Sydney Bristow. "I usually just call it that to myself, though," she said. "Not many people understand." I, of course, understood completely, having often attempted to name myself Sydney Bristow whenever I have some sort of experience that I can remotely connect to being spy-like.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Did America Get It Wrong?

For weeks, now, Adam Lambert has been proclaimed the preordained holder of the American Idol crown. He fit the bill, too: powerful vocals, huge personality, determined glint in his eye. Adam singing a cheesy victory song with confetti raining down around him at the Nokia seemed a foregone conclusion.

Then Ryan opened the envelope and read the winner’s name: Kris Allen. The guy from Arkansas, the boy next door, the “dark horse” takes home the crown.

How did it happen? Even before the confetti began to fall online message boards were throwing accusations around: “Did people not vote for Adam because he might be gay?,” “They must have messed up the tally!,” etc. Shall we shut the door on the accusations straight away? America voted. America got what it wanted.

Surprisingly, perhaps, for Simon Cowell, America doesn’t want Whitney, Celine, or Mariah anymore. Paula Abdul might be shocked to learn that glam rock is no longer in style. Randy could be mistaken in thinking that vocal ability is all it takes to make a star. Kara may be surprised to discover that “artistry” has been redefined in recent days.

I’m not trying to put anyone down. I love classic rock and glam rock. I recognize the powerhouse vocals of the divas of the late 20th Century. I state unequivocally that Adam Lambert is an amazing vocalist.

But I think America has chosen from its heart, rather from nostalgia or homage to ability. The past six months have been tough ones for this country. The economy is in bad shape, the promised change is not as quick to arrive as the voters expected it to be, friends and loved ones are still in danger in Iraq and Afghanistan. American Idol has played its role admirably this season. It has been an escape.

For a season that so many found difficult to “get into,” Idol has, in recent weeks particularly, become a nail-bitingly close competition between remarkably different contestants. The final five could not have been more individually unique: Matt, the jazz singer; Allison, the rocker; Danny, the crooner; Adam, the glam; and Kris, the boy with his guitar. Yet their performances on Rat Pack night were almost equally good. There wasn’t a let-down in the bunch. Matt went home, but it wasn’t because of “My Funny Valentine,” the jazz classic. Allison the rocker went home in Rock week, singing Janis Joplin’s “Cry Baby” with a passion that rivaled the original. Danny left after crooning “You Are So Beautiful.” Each went out on a high note.

The same could be said of Adam. While I found his vocal stylings awe-inspiring from the get-go, I have to say I struggled to be an Adam fan. His pattern of back-and-forth manic-and-maudlin performances got dull after the first few. He is a man of extremes: screaming (perfectly on pitch) the lyrics to “Whole Lotta Love” or delicately handling “Tracks of My Tears” in a falsetto, Adam rarely used the middle ground. But in his final performances, he found the center, singing “A Change is Gonna Come” with a strong, full, restrained voice. Even so, Adam didn’t take the crown. America voted for Kris.

When his name was read, Kris seemed shocked. “Adam deserves this,” he said. “I’m sorry.” He was right. That said, he deserved it no less himself. Both men had week upon week of solid performances. Both men had a slight misstep (Adam with “Ring of Fire,” Kris with “All She Wants to Do is Dance”), both an “off” performance (Adam’s “One,” Kris’s “The Way You Look Tonight”).

The difference between the two is the difference between the entertainer and the everyman. Adam is entertaining. No matter whether you loved him or hated him, you watched, just to see what he would do next. Every performance was expertly crafted, so well that the stitches were invisible, but crafted nonetheless. His confident attitude assured us we were in the hands of a proficient. Kris, on the other hand, is everyman. He picked up his guitar or sat down at his piano just like he would in your living room, with gentle, but complete, authority. He understood that he couldn’t compete with the belting power of Adam, or Allison, or even Lil, so instead he imbued his performances with a quiet, moving passion. His humility, so annoying to Simon Cowell, made everyone else smile; his genuine surprise at his success brought joy to everyone watching.

America chose the everyman. With Adam, a distance was created: he was the performer, we were his audience. We reveled in our role, for who doesn’t like to be audience to a great performance? But we didn’t intimately connect with this entertainer, who, after all, seems by all accounts to also be a really nice guy. He was confident, but never cocky. He was polished, but grateful for good advice. He pointed the spotlight upon those who helped him and those he worked with. All this and a great voice, yet Adam’s not the American Idol.

Instead, the American Idol is the guy who said, “Don’t cry, Momma,” when mothers around the country are shedding tears over how to pay next month’s bills. He’s the guy who sang about hopefully pointing a sinking boat toward home when families are trying to keep from drowning in their troubles. He put aside the band and the back-up singers and invited us to join him as he sang. Instead of his audience, we were his listeners, and we heard greatness in the quietude.

2009 is the year that a little movie about choosing love over money took home the Oscar. 2009 is the year that Kris Allen became the American Idol. Both things you wouldn’t expect in a country looking for escape.

Did America get it right? Did the best man win, or even the better man? Let’s set aside the superlatives. They don’t seem to matter at all this morning. Both Kris and Adam deserve their moments of glory. If 19 Entertainment has any foresight at all they’ll give both record deals, because America still loves the diversion of the entertainer, even when our heartstrings are tugged by the decent humility of the everyman.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Few Notes on My Weekend

1. While originally intended to be a party of multiple members of an older generation and multiple members of a younger generation, Friday night ended up being just me and Kristina - so, at least we got one representative from each generation - since the Rebeccas were both busy, as was the Christine, the Courtney, and the Bonnie. Anyway, the purpose and intention of this gathering was to introduce the wonders of Newsies to the younger generation. Kristina, born in the year the film was released (oh, goodness I'm old!) had never seen the movie. As a girl who spent many, many hours of my teen years watching Christian Bale and David Moscow singing and dancing their way through the streets of New York (or, at least, Disney's version of the streets of New York), I felt it was my civil responsibility to correct the egregious error of Newsies omission in Kristina's education.

She liked it. My favorite moment of the evening: after telling me that she'd just recently seen The Dark Knight with her brother and his girlfriend, Kristina began to examine the Newsies DVD case. She pointed to a picture of Jack and said, "Who is this actor? He looks familiar." My reply: "Um, well, that's Batman. Much younger."

2. Friday morning when I got to work at five AM, it was thirty-five degrees outside. By noon on Saturday, it was ninety. This weekend, when I wasn't working, I spent time in front of fans and finding new things to freeze in my freezer.

3. Last weekend I mentioned to mi madre that I'd love to have some of the Tupperware popsicle forms that we had when I was growing up. She went to the basement, pulled out her two sets, and handed them to me. Thrilled, I packed them up and brought them back to Philly. I was not expecting to use them quite this soon, but I was glad to have them yesterday afternoon when I had apples to use up before they went bad, so I quickly made applesauce and then filled the popsicle forms with it. I've been eating applesauce pops for a day...they're delicious.

4. So far, with the applesauce pops, tank tops and shorts, the fans, and the shades down at every sunny window, I've managed to remain at a decent body temperature these past few days. However, I'm looking forward to Wednesday when the high is supposed to be sixty-eight.

And looking forward:

5. Tonight is Chuck's season finale. I live in fear that it will not be renewed. If that is the case, I will weep. Okay, maybe not weep, but definitely be sad. That said, I've decided that I would totally hire Zachary Levi to be in my coffeshop sitcom, if only just to hang out with him, 'cause he seems pretty cool.
A few random thoughts...and American Idol

Random thought # 1 - The cheese factor of signs in front of churches bewilders me. Is it really helpful to have a ridiculous saying like "Now open between Easter and Christmas!" on your sign? Does it bring people into the church? Oh, and how 'bout the one that I saw the other week: "Come early to get a seat in the back." Was that supposed to be funny, or just insulting to the regular congregation?

Random thought # 2 - On Monday evening I had one of the three worst airplane landings I've ever had. In a rainstorm. It was bad. I'll spare you the gory details, but it was gross, too. I sometimes wonder why I like flying. Is it really worth the headache of takeoff and landing?

Okay, there are the random thoughts I've had today. Now onto American Idol.

I haven't said much about AI this season, mostly because, though I've been following it, I haven't been enthralled by it. But, now that it's down to the homestretch, I thought I'd put down a few words about the remaining contestants.

Comments (in no particular order):

Allison - I like her. She's a great singer, and a solid performer. Of all the girls in all the seasons I've watched, she and Brooke White are probably the only two that I've really rooted for. So, there you have it. And I think Simon was being ridiculous the other week when he made some comment about her not being likeable. She's totally likeable!

Danny - I never really got into him. I didn't ever love him or hate him. There was all sorts of controversy early on about him using his dead wife as a pity thing, but I was just kinda "meh" the whole time. He's got a pretty good voice, but there's very little about his performances that make him stand out.

Adam - I will never have anything bad to say about his voice. The boy can sing. It's amazing to listen to the control and capability he has with his vocal chords. That said, he's kinda boring. He seems to have only two modes: manic and maudlin. One week he plays manic, the next he plays maudlin, then back to manic, then to maudlin again. Sure, no matter which mode he's in the vocals are great, but I would like to see some shades of grey in there.

Kris - He's been my favorite since the very start of the semifinals. Part of that is style preference; give me a boy with his guitar any day over the screeching rock stars or R&B soul singers. But generally, Kris has put in solid performance after solid performance, barely missing a step the whole way along, with good vocals, original arrangements, creative song choices, and great musicianship.

Matt - I've tried to like Matt more than I do. I mean, he's from Michigan, I think my friend knows him, he's kinda cool. I like him, just not tons. Probably it's because he falls into the R&B soul singer category, at least in the eyes of the show, if not in his own. I was glad to see him saved, if only because he certainly deserved to outlast Lil, but he's never completely hooked me.

My Rankings (from least favorite to favorite):

5. Adam
4. Danny
3. Matt
2. Allison
1. Kris

My Prediction (of the order they'll fall in)

5. Matt (could be 4)
4. Allison (could be 5)
3. Danny
2. Kris
1. Adam

It's kinda sad, really. I don't think Adam should win, simply because he hasn't shown range, only extremes. I think Danny should certainly go before Allison, but I doubt that will happen. Actually, I think Matt should outlast Danny because at least Matt has taken risks and tried new things, but for some reason Danny seems to be untouchable. Maybe it's some big fanbase in Madison, WI.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

"With all due respect, Madame President..."

I discovered this week that one of my coworkers dislikes me so much that she's now quitting because of me. Evidently, I'm impossible to work with. I didn't know. I make light of it, and will continue to do so, because in so many respects she's being ridiculous, but at the same time, it breaks my heart. I've known she didn't like working with me, and I've walked on eggshells with her for months, but nothing has helped. Me being me is just too overwhelming, I guess.

I actually thought we were doing better than we had in the past. She was gone for a couple months on medical leave, and since she returned, I didn't feel the tension quite so palpably. Granted, I'm not a rocket scientist when it comes to reading people, but I thought we were doing okay. I was careful to be interested in her personally, and tried to talk to her as much as anyone one else we work with. I took care not to let my annoyance with some of her actions reveal itself, I just bottled it away and let it go (how's that for mixing metaphors?).

But then, Monday morning, another coworker informed me that she had called our District Manager about me. Wow, skipping the manager this time. I mean, when she was bothered by me before she never did talk to me, but at least she took it to the shift supervisor and store manager levels in order. So, my kind coworker just let me know that this was going on, so that I wouldn't be blindsided by whatever repercussions were going to take place.

I was a little stunned. I like our DM. He's really with-it, and I trusted that he'd have a level enough head on his shoulders not to take one person's side of the story without investigating further, but I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I was totally prepared for him to come and ask me for my POV on the situation. I actually thought through all the other people I've worked with at the store and had conflict or differences with, and thought about how we'd handled those and come through them as friends on the other side. I had a list of references for him to talk to. And I totally wanted to use Jack Bauer's line from this season of 24, when the President asks him how she can know where his loyalties lie and he just growls, "With all due respect, Madame President, ask around."

So, I waited. I didn't initiate any further discussion of the topic. I was pretty sure everyone else in the store knew what was going on, but I didn't ask. Then, on Thursday morning, I worked with my manager. Now, my manager and I aren't best buddies at all, but there's a certain level of respect there. Somewhere, then, in the course of the morning, she informs me that this disgruntled co-worker would be leaving us after next week. To which, I raised my eyebrows.

Then, piece-by-piece, the rest of the story came out. Pretty much, she'd called the DM, and complained about me, and he asked for some specific examples of what I'd done that was so offensive. When she gave him the examples, his response was something along the lines of, "Well, um, that is her job." He also had heard complaints from other people about her, which weighed in to his words to her. Whatever the whole conversation consisted of, the DM's pretty sure that what he said to her made her seriously consider quitting. Then next week's schedule was posted and we're scheduled to open together every single morning...and she quit. Now, supposedly she'll fill out her two weeks, so I get the joy of opening with her every morning this next week, and not letting her know all that I know, but who knows what will really take place? I'll keep you updated.

I still was holding my own counsel about everything at work, not wanting to say anything that would confirm my meanness, 'cause there's plenty of things I could say, but shouldn't, when yesterday, working with a different girl (someone who'd originally thought I didn't like her, approached me about it, discovered we'd just miscommunicated, and has since been a delightful coworker and friend), I got to hear about how this has gone down in the store scuttlebutt. Evidently (and this is exactly why I want to write a sitcom about this kind of job--the drama!), she'd worked with another person the night before, who was telling her everything that the quitting coworker dislikes about me, and my delightful coworker completely turned on this person and laid into them about how ridiculous the quitter is being and how I'm one of the best employees in the store and that the quitter could learn a thing or two from me, etc. She then went on to say that I was a better person than the quitter in so many ways and that when I leave a shift and the quitter is still working I'm barely out the door when she starts in harping on all the things I do that she dislikes, whereas when quitter leaves and I'm left she never hears one word about my frustrations.

I thanked her for the vehement defense, shared that I really don't want to be hated, and wish I could have done something to prevent it or fix it, but don't know how, or even exactly what I've done that's so horrible, and then smiled very broadly on the inside, glad that I'd kept my own counsel. I know I'm not perfect, and I'm sure I'm at fault to some extent, but it is nice to know that other people don't think so.

In other news, I got Slumdog Millionaire on DVD this week, and had my friend Courtney over last night to watch it...and loved it just as much this time around, and then today, when I put it in to listen to the commentary and watch the special features, discovered that they are missing from my disc. I got online to see what the issue was, and evidently FOX messed up and didn't get the special features on the discs (oops!), so there was a help-line to call, and once I proved that I did actually purchase the disc by reading random things of the disc and the box ("what does it say in the white box under the Special Features listing on the back of the DVD case?"), they told me they'd send me a replacement in the mail. Which is all fine and good, except now I'm bummed 'cause I have to wait longer to see the special features!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Random and Ridiculous

I've come to the conclusion over the years, that to survive in this world you have to have a healthy sense of humor about its foibles and ridiculousness. Here's a few things I've found funny in the last week.

There are still political signs in people's yards. Seriously? I mean, the election was four months ago! If your sign's for Obama, well, people, he's in office - get over yourselves! If your sign's for McCain, um, he lost, it's done, no changing it now. And, if you're the one random person on Bethelehem Pike that still has a Hillary sign in your yard, give it up! She was out of the running almost a year ago!

On Tuesday, I went to IHOP to celebrate the National Day of Pancakes (and Fat Tuesday, of course) with a free short stack. There was a woman at a table near us who called over the waitress and informed her that the bacon she had was not turkey bacon, but was pork. The waitress assured her it was turkey, but when the woman wouldn't believe, took it away and brought her new turkey bacon. A few minutes later one of the cooks came by and the woman caught his attention and asked him what brand the turkey bacon was, because it tasted like pork. Really? Isn't the whole point of turkey bacon to taste like real bacon? So why are you complaining when it does?

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. I'm pretty sure three quarters of the penitents went to Mass and then came to Starbucks afterward and stood in line for their lattes and mochas with ashen crosses marked on their foreheads. Here's my question: if they came straight from Mass to Starbucks, what are they giving up for Lent?

This morning we had a customer tell us (as she ordered an apple fritter) that Starbucks food was horrible, because (and this is a direct quote), "I mean, even my dog will eat it." Right, 'cause dogs have really discerning palates. She then proceeded to inform us that we should get our food from some bakery in downtown Philly which, "isn't as good as it used to be because the new owner is all about profits and is cutting corners on making stuff." Uh, so why would we want to get food there?

I have also concluded that I want to create a sitcom set in a coffee shop. That's my new goal in life.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

There and Back Again

“Well, I’m back.” So ends Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. Sam returns to his home and family after seeing Frodo sail away from the Grey Havens, having been entrusted with the red book to continue writing the story. He returns home.

I’ve often wondered, when I’ve returned from a long journey back to the world I left, how Tolkien knew – the feeling of alienation, of difference – that you’ve changed, but no one really knows or understands. Had Tolkien been on a great journey? Had he had that experience? And the telling of the tale – I’ve wondered about that, too. Was it some innate instinct of the storyteller within that made him leave a character to tell the story? Or had he, having had some great experience, have lost those with whom he’d journeyed, attempted to tell their story to a misunderstanding world?

Before Keren was born we nicknamed her Baby Baggins. Loren and Kraig loved Tolkien’s stories and the first film was still in theatres when Loren found out she was pregnant. The theme continued with her birth: she was small, like a hobbit, and she even had pointy ears. Loren and Kraig saw even then that her journey would be something like Frodo’s, arduous, hard, painful, and the only way through would be with the help of friends.

When the third film came out, the final song, “Into the West,” sung by Annie Lennox, caught our hearts. For Tolkien, the West is heaven, and Frodo goes there, leaving Sam with the commission to tell his story. The song was also written in honor of a young man, a friend of the filmmakers, who died of cancer while they were making the film. Sometime after Loren heard the song, she said to me, “I hate to think about this, but if Keren dies I want this song at her funeral service.”

Loren remembered that last week, and once again we were reminded how like Frodo’s Keren’s journey through this life was. And our role, her family and friends, was confirmed to us as well – we have gone on this journey with her and remain behind to tell her tale.

Well, I’m back. And I wake in the morning and make and serve coffee, and I walk through the grocery store or fill my tank with gas, and all around me, speaking to me or going about their own business, are people. And when I look at them I want to scream out, “Can’t you see? Can’t you see that I’m different? My world has changed and I’m looking at you through a lens that has transformed my view. I know I look the same, but I’ve changed; I’m different!”

I want to tell Keren’s story. I want to write it in the red book and share it with those who did not take this journey with us. They need to see, to experience the changed world I know. And perhaps their lenses won’t change as definitely as mine has, but even one divot will alter their view. The story must be told by those who remain.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Keren Elyse Warnemuende

Last Wednesday morning, my niece Keren woke up with labored breathing. My sister Loren called me to come take care of the younger girls, Clare and Evelyn, while she took Keren to the doctor. On the way, Keren stopped breathing.

Loren turned toward the emergency room and called 911. An ambulance met her along the way and took over the efforts to resuscitate Keren, but she didn't come back to us.

I've been writing, it's how I think. But I haven't share it broadly yet. Today I will. This is long; it's a lot, I know. And you don't have to share this time with me if you don't want to. But I want you to know, if you read, that we do not mourn like those who have no hope. We rejoice.

Loren and Kraig chose a few verses to go on Keren's memorial service bulletin/flyer thing. One was Isaiah 57:1-2:

The righteous pass away; the godly often die before their time.
And no one seems to care or wonder why.
No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come.
For the godly who die will rest in peace.

Thursday, 29 January 2009 – 6:30 AM

The conversation is forever imprinted on my memory:





“Keren died.”

There it was, bald-faced, laid out in black and white. I’ve always hated euphemisms for death, but the words were so stark by themselves.


“Are you alright?”


“Don’t tell the girls yet.”


“I’m gonna try to come over to you soon.”

To hang up that phone and turn around to face Keren’s little sisters doing watercolors at the kitchen table was so hard. “Who was zat?” Clare asked.

“Aunt Jessie.” I kept my voice light.


“She might be coming over soon.”

I returned to emptying the dishwasher. I needed to keep my hands busy. Later in the day that wasn’t always true. I could help, and I did, with folding laundry and washing dishes, and organizing cupboards, but Jessie is the task-oriented one in crisis. Loren’s the dreamer, but Loren’s the one who’d just lost her daughter. I’m somewhere in between, always have been. I tried to help where I could, but sometimes, like Mary, I just needed to sit with Loren or Kraig.

This is going to hit Kraig hard, I thought, looking at the picture on the bookshelf of him and Keren, joy pouring out of their eyes into each other’s. Mid-afternoon I looked into the family room and saw Kraig sitting on the end of the couch, surrounded by people but completely alone. A piece of his heart is gone, my brother, my big brother. Give me pen and paper and I can write, but yesterday I had no words. I sat down next to Kraig, just to be with him.

Every once in a while it washes over me again, Keren died. I see her waxen body with its blue-tinged lips lying still on the bed in the hospital room, so still.

“She wasn’t my Keren-girl, even then,” Loren said about when she tried to get her breathing again and called the ambulance.

She was gone, so quickly. I think I may have known it then, though I held onto a hope. The first call, “Keren stopped breathing on the way to the doctor’s. I’m following the ambulance now.” I hoped the paramedics could help, but I think I knew she was gone.

“That was mommy; Keren’s very sick, so can we pray for her?”

“Is the new house ready?” Clare asked. A seeming non-sequitor.

“You’re in your new house, Clare,” I said.

“No, the new house Jesus is building for us. In heaven.”

“Oh.” Maybe Keren’s new house was occupied right then, and she could run, and jump, and talk, and do so many things that her body on this earth couldn’t do. “I don’t know if it’s ready yet, Clare. But it will be a wonderful day when it is.”

“But you don’t want to die!” Clare said.

“Not right now, no.” I smiled at the girls and gathered them in my arms. “Let’s pray for Keren.” Unable to tell them everything that was happening, I couldn’t pray with any specificity for my little niece, so I repeated the same words over and over, “God, take care of Keren.”

Thursday, 29 January 2009 – 3:00 PM

Her skin had a yellow tinge to it. Like wax. Her beautiful eyelashes lay spread across her cheeks. Those eyes-deep, blue, sparkling-would never open again. I had to grasp her hand. I needed to touch her once more. The face wasn’t her, but her hand was still warm, and her fingers still curled as they always did. No grip, just her never-straight fingers. Then I kissed her forehead, quickly – barely a touch, really. Someone started praying, and I took Loren’s hand on one side. I wanted to take Keren’s, but she wouldn’t have closed around my fingers, so I just lay my hand atop hers above the blanket.

Larry’s prayer was exactly what we all were thinking. How much Keren can do now in heaven that her body would never let her do on earth! I was so glad he was there, that he could put into words our gratitude for Keren’s life, for every moment God lent her to us. We received her with open hands, and when she’s taken from them, we cannot grasp her back, that’s not part of the deal. When you give her over to God, you have to trust Him with her.

The room began to clear out and I turned to kiss Keren’s forehead one more time. That peck earlier wasn’t enough. Her skin was cool, slightly chilled, even – wax, like wax. My lips held the chill, and I wanted to wipe them, but I wanted to keep that kiss. I fought the urge to rid myself of the chill…I feel it now. Keren was no longer there.

Thursday, 29 January 2009 – 9:00 PM

Sometimes the moments of normalcy are worst of all, for, right in the middle it all washes back over me. I hear the words again, Keren died. And I see her small body lying on the bed at the hospital, covered with a sheet – so pale, ivory, so still.

The busy house, a-bustle with adults and kids finding dinner and vacuuming floors and washing up dishes. And we’re all together so there’s laughter and children running around. I stand at the kitchen sink and the words echo in my head, Jessie’s voice on the phone, “Keren died.” And I see it all again. My heart aches, my throat constricts, my fists clench. I take a deep breath; I shed a few tears perhaps, and then I take a rag and wipe the counter. Even when tragedy strikes, life goes on.

Monday, February 02, 2009 – 10:00 AM

Can I say how wonderful it was to see people yesterday? Over and over again, the words came out from my lips, “It’s so good to see you!” We wish the circumstances were different. We wish we didn’t only gather for funerals and weddings. But these friends, this family, they are beloved.

Saturday evening we gathered together, my family. My whole family. It’s always hard to explain our relationship to outsiders. For six and a half years we’ve been able to say, “We share a niece.” That first niece is gone now, others remain, but among ourselves we don’t need them to explain our connection. We know we’re sisters, brothers, parents, children; somehow, long ago, two families were forged into one. We came together long before marriage or shared grandchildren bonded us with legal or blood connections. Last names no longer mean much: Givens, Warnemuende, Bash, King…it’s one family.

It’s my family. Together we’ve shared hard times, good times, tears, laughter, grief, joy. Governments have been struck down; bombs have fallen; marriages have been celebrated; children have been born. Together.
Now we face a struggle that may be the hardest yet. We bury a child. But we look at the earth-suit that held her for six and a half years and we know she’s no longer there. Her three-year-old sister attempts to understand why she looks different. “Keren’s not there, Clare,” we say. “Keren’s with Jesus.”

Kraig points out that Clare probably never saw Keren’s body before. She knew Sissie as a person, not as an object, a thing. Clare asks about Keren’s eyebrows, those Warnemuende eyebrows, “What are those?” We have to chuckle, we’ve always thought how distinctive they are, but Clare’s never seen them before; they were merely the housing for Keren. Keren was within.

Grammy and Clare have a talk: “You know when you go to Barakel, Clare? And you put up the tent and you go inside and there’s all sorts of fun and activity in there? But then, when you’re finished, you take down the tent and undo the poles and it’s just an empty piece of cloth?” Clare begins to grasp it: that body is just the tent Keren lived in.

Evelyn is just forming words. “Sissie sleeping. Resting. Jesus.” Yes, Bug, Sissie’s resting. And you won’t remember her laughs and squeals. But you’ll know her heart, because your Mommy and Daddy will never forget it. And they’ll teach it to you, and to the next child who’s coming.

Keren’s tent was “damaged” by earthly standards. She couldn’t walk, or talk, or eat. She flung her head from side to side because it was something she could feel. She poked her fingers in her eyes or down her throat, driving us all to distraction at times. But a look in her eyes, deep into her eyes, revealed the person trapped inside that stiff, awkward body. And when you looked, she looked back, and put out her hands and brought your face close to hers, and wrapped her arms around your neck, and hugged as tightly as she could. The life inside that tent wasn’t damaged in any way; it was the kind of life that we all wish we had: loving not only our neighbor, but the stranger, as ourselves.

Sunday, 08 February 2009 – 4:30 PM

“Well, I’m back.” So ends Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. Sam returns to his home and family after seeing Frodo sail away from the Grey Havens, having been entrusted with the red book to continue writing the story. He returns home.

I’ve often wondered, when I’ve returned from a long journey back to the world I left, how Tolkien knew – the feeling of alienation, of difference – that you’ve changed, but no one really knows or understands. Had Tolkien been on a great journey? Had he had that experience? And the telling of the tale – I’ve wondered about that, too. Was it some innate instinct of the storyteller within that made him leave a character to tell the story? Or had he, having had some great experience, have lost those with whom he’d journeyed, attempted to tell their story to a misunderstanding world?

Before Keren was born we nicknamed her Baby Baggins. Loren and Kraig loved Tolkien’s stories and the first film was still in theatres when Loren found out she was pregnant. The theme continued with her birth: she was small, like a hobbit, and she even had pointy ears. Loren and Kraig saw even then that her journey would be something like Frodo’s, arduous, hard, painful, and the only way through would be with the help of friends.

When the third film came out, the final song, “Into the West,” sung by Annie Lennox, caught our hearts. For Tolkien, the West is heaven, and Frodo goes there, leaving Sam with the commission to tell his story. The song was also written in honor of a young man, a friend of the filmmakers, who died of cancer while they were making the film. Sometime after Loren heard the song, she said to me, “I hate to think about this, but if Keren dies I want this song at her funeral service.”

Loren remembered that last week, and once again we were reminded how like Frodo’s Keren’s journey through this life was. And our role, her family and friends, was confirmed to us as well – we have gone on this journey with her and remain behind to tell her tale.

Well, I’m back. And I wake in the morning and make and serve coffee, and I walk through the grocery store or fill my tank with gas, and all around me, speaking to me or going about their own business, are people. And when I look at them I want to scream out, “Can’t you see? Can’t you see that I’m different? My world has changed and I’m looking at you through a lens that has transformed my view. I know I look the same, but I’ve changed; I’m different!”

I want to tell Keren’s story. I want to write it in the red book and share it with those who did not take this journey with us. They need to see, to experience the changed world I know. And perhaps their lenses won’t change as definitely as mine has, but even one divot will alter their view. The story must be told by those who remain.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

For Keren - September 27, 2002-January 28, 2009

My Psalm

Written after the birth of Keren Elyse Warnemuende, born September 27, 2002 with Trisomy 18 Syndrome. Dedicated to her, my beloved neice, who is herself the loudest voice in the silent testimony of God’s grace and faithfulness.

The silent voices which praise You, Lord
The silent testimony of Your faithfulness
If we are faithless, He will remain faithful
For He cannot deny Himself.

The hundreds hear Your voice through the silence
The many see Your hand in the blind
Those who cannot speak sing Your praises
The still ones minister for You.
A withered hand is Your creation still
A laboured breath is perfect
For You designed it so.

My table is full; the blessings are here.
These ones have moved my life.
The ones You have given me have been my life.
But those who look from above
See me, too
Those who stand behind, silently smiling
Speak words of Your love
Show marks of Your faithfulness

The scars on my heart are healed by Your hand
The pain I feel is slight
Your suffering made a path – led the way
And now I hope.
There will be a day when all are joined together
A banquet feast will be prepared
And we will see the Lamb, and He will show us
The ones we loved and lost while here on earth
Who for now are silent voices to praise You, Lord.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

I finally saw Slumdog Millionaire last night. I've been wanting to see it since I first heard of it, and my desire has only grown as I've heard more about the film.

I was a little worried going into it that perhaps my expectations were set too high. There was no way it could live up to the hype, could it?

Perhaps not. Perhaps that is impossible. But it sure came close.

There is a harsh portrayal of poverty, corruption, and greed - and the effect those things have on people, especially children. But even in the midst of that there are moments of delight, joy, freedom. And it is a fairy tale, and there is a happy ending, and it's wonderful.

In church on Sunday, the pastor made the comment that the only reason we, as Christians, should look back at our pasts is to remember God's blessings, the things we've learned, the good He's done for us, not to examine our failures and the hurt. I thought of that last night as I watched the film. There's a moment, right at the end of the film, when an earlier scene is played in reverse, like a video rewinding, from its tragic end to its hopeful beginning.

The pain, horror, and sorrow of the past was not gone for the characters, no, that couldn't happen no matter how delightful a fairy tale. But instead of looking back at the bad, they chose to see through it and dwell on the moments of joy.

Monday, January 05, 2009

My Hand is Not Broken

Just thought I'd let you know, my hand is not broken. In a way, that bums me out, 'cause if it were, there would at least be a reasonable guess at a timeline for the stopping of pain. Instead, I'm in that bewildering realm of strained or sprained or bruised or something tendon or muscle or flesh or something...Seriously, I should just stop using my hands.

What? What's that? I didn't tell you about my hand? Oh, that's right, 'cause I've been on sort of vacation since it happened (on my last day of classes for the semester) and haven't been blogging much. Right, well, here's the fascinating tale of my hand injury (actually, the end is pretty good):

On December 15th, at about five o'clock in the morning, I was walking quickly toward the coffee urns from the cold beverage station and in the process I slammed the back of my hand against the metal divider that rises between the sink and the trash can. Don't ask me why there's a piece of metal sticking up in the middle of our counters at Starbucks, there just is.
It hurt. Lots. And most of the day I could barely use my right hand. I figured I'd probably just wait it out and see if it got better, but, when at 1 PM it wasn't feeling much better than when I'd originally bashed it, I had a coworker call in an incident report just in case I needed to go to the doctor or something.

That night in class, I talked it over with Mike, a classmate who I figured probably had some knowledge of broken bones, particularly metacarpals...he's just that kind of guy. He did, and thought it probably wasn't broken, but gave me some tips on looking after it.

So for a week-ish I waited it out, babied my hand a little, and didn't spend much time on the bar at work, 'cause that just hurt. Finally, about a week later, the very slight swelling that was there went away and the pain settled into a single lump right at the base of the ring and pinkie finger metacarpals, near the wrist. Just one spot. Hmm...perhaps a sign of a small fracture, I thought.

Unfortunately, it was now pretty much Christmas, and just as my hand settled into a specific injury instead of a general ache 'cause I whacked it, I couldn't go to the doctor or even call the insurance people to find out how to do workman's comp because no one was open. So I waited. And then I went to hang out with mi familia for a few days after Christmas, and evidently picking up little kids is no where nearly as injurious to hands as working at Starbucks, because after three days away my hand felt pretty good.

Then I went back to work. And it still really hurt. So I got the info for workman's comp, and then I got ahold of my doctor to write me a prescription for an x-ray, and then, last Friday afternoon, I went to Abington Memorial Hospital to get a picture taken of the deep recesses of my right hand.

In order to have that happen at Abington, I had to "register." I'm not sure what all that means, but they made sure they had all sorts of information about me and made sure I signed things that told them I understood what they were talking about...'cause I totally did. Anyway, as the nice lady was asking me questions about my contact information, I began to recite my address for her, "PO Box..."

She interrupted me. "Were you ever on Keswick Avenue?"

I paused, befuddled for a moment. "Er, uh..." Realization dawned. "When I was born." I paused again. "Which was the last time I was in this hospital."

After they took a picture of my hand, I drove home, and called my mom as I drove to inform her that the hospital where I was born still has me in their records 27.5 years later...wow.