Life With Pain – What I Lost

Pain and suffering leave a deep scar.

Even if there’s no outward evidence of the damage, pain leaves a mark on the psyche and the spirit that is permanent. Lately, I’ve been running a mental finger over that scar, reminding myself that I didn’t imagine it all. It wasn’t just a bad dream. Like a tongue seeking out the hole of a missing tooth, I can’t resist exploring that area over and over again.

I want to write a story, a story about how God sustained me, how my faith was strengthened, how I’m better for having suffered, but I’m stuck. Looking back at the endless years of seizures and pain, depression and drugs, I feel so much grief. At times I’ve become frantic, trying to make sense of it all and trying to figure out why all of this happened to me in the first place.

Somehow, I need to come to peace with the fact that I may never know why but I finally realized that I won’t find peace until I acknowledge the grief – until I lament.

So…this is my lamentation. This is what I lost.

I lost memories. I lost time.

Pain robbed me in so many ways. Suffering cheated me out of so many things. It didn’t just cheat me, it cheated the people I love.

A single event or moment in time will stand out and I can easily recall the sounds, smells, and emotions of that time, but the bigger picture of my past is baffling to me. The harder I try to make sense of it all, the more frustrated I become. There are huge gaps and holes, years that are just a fog.

I was forty years old when I lost my license and much of my life to seizures. Sam was 3, Rachel was 5, Ashley was 18. As a grown woman with three children, I became dependent on my parents, my family and my friends. I couldn’t drive my kids to church, couldn’t get to the grocery store on my own. My sense of self disappeared along with my self-confidence.

I have pored over old diaries, medical bills and calendars, to cobble together the timeline of my life. It’s helped jog my memory but there are still gaps of time I can’t account for.

Just writing this makes my eyes sting with tears. Because, in those huge gaps of time, my three amazing kids were living their lives, without a ‘fully present’ mother. I can’t retrieve those years, those sweet childhood moments. This causes me no small amount of pain and anguish. I’ve tried, time and again, to surrender what I can’t pull back, to trust that God was by their side when I was not, to believe that their dad and grandparents and all the other well-meaning and generous adults in their lives, did the best that they could to make sure Ashley and Rachel and Sam were cared for and loved, but it still hurts. I weep for what we lost – for what they lost.

I don’t want to revisit the pain and admit how much all of this must have affected my children but I long to move beyond this, to redeem the pain in some small way.


I lost my self.

Because, to my mind’s eye, my scars are so obvious, the change in me so dramatic, it is disconcerting when I meet someone who only knows the new me, the after-pain-changed-me me. What is even more confounding is when someone, who I’ve known since ‘before’, treats me as though I haven’t changed.

Can’t they see that I’m completely altered by the experiences I’ve been through? Surely they see it tattooed on my arm or written on my forehead. How on earth can they miss it?!

In the years since my recovery, I’ve regained my sense of self but I’m not the same as before. I lost the old me.

I lost my faith.

At my lowest moments, God was lost to me.

All my life, I felt His presence. I didn’t always want to feel it, because that presence was, at times, convicting me, pricking my conscience and challenging me. But it was there. He was there.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.”

In my three-o’clock-in-the-mornings, God was silent. There was a gaping void where His presence had once been. That void beckoned me in the dark hours of night and sometimes even during the day. I grieved the loss of His presence as I grieved the loss of my health. My depression was a pit that I climbed into. I could smell the musty earth and feel the cool gravel between my fingertips. That dark cavern became comfortable and it was harder and harder to draw me out.

I lost all hope.

This shouldn’t be over-spiritualized. There were physiological factors involved. I was clinically depressed. Pain and heavy medications dramatically altered my brain chemistry.

At one of my lowest points, my dad came by to visit. The timeline of this isn’t clear. But I remember him coming into my darkened bedroom and sitting by my bed. I was in the fetal position and barely responded to his presence. I can’t imagine how that broke my father’s heart, seeing his girl in such physical pain and mental anguish. He stroked my hair and sang softly. After singing for a few minutes, he started praying and I began sobbing.

“He’s abandoned me, dad!” I cried out.

“I can’t pray anymore. I can’t read my Bible. I have nothing left. I’ve failed God.”

He passed me a tissue and waited for my sobbing to subside.

“Karen, you don’t have to pray. Let me pray. Let it go.”

It is a terrible and terrifying thing to lose faith. For someone who was raised from birth to believe, to ‘trust and obey’, it felt like a betrayal of not just my faith but my family, my history, my childhood. Everything that had been firm and certain, was now sinking sand. There was nowhere for me to gain a foothold.

That’s when I rediscovered Job, Jeremiah’s Lamentations and the Psalms of David. I’d read them many times before, but in my previous life, I focused on the Psalms of praise and the Psalms of comfort. Now, I found comfort in the grief of Job and the Psalms of anguish. I felt a kinship with David in his moments of darkest despair. I read his words and wept as I cried out to God.

“Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep?
    Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.
Why do you hide your face
    and forget our misery and oppression?

We are brought down to the dust;
    our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up and help us;
    rescue us because of your unfailing love.”

These are things I lost. Maybe tomorrow I will recall the things I found.

Guest Post – A Wonderful World (A Response to Terror)

I had something else prepared for today but, once again, the world is rocked by terror. The people of France are dealing with the aftermath of yet another horrific terror attack. Last night, as thousands celebrated Bastille Day in the beautiful seaside town of Nice, men with hate-filled hearts drove a truck through the crowd, shooting and running over innocent people. 

My friend Patricia DeWit, lives in France and just returned from a relaxing holiday in the very spot where this attack took place. Eight months earlier, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks took place near their home in Paris. Pat wrote the following article in response to those attacks. Unfortunately, these words ring true for her and the people of France yet again.



Terror attack in Nice France

In childhood I truly feared …

Frankenstein coming up the stairs

A werewolf under my bed

A tornado flinging our house into the air

A house fire in the night

War, atomic bombs and nowhere to hide

The Rapture, being left behind


My parents getting divorced, or worse, being killed in an accident

Getting head lice


In adulthood I truly fear …

Getting into a horrible car accident

Losing a child


Losing my husband

Losing my parents or siblings

Getting fat

Getting murdered in the forest

My children getting head lice


They say that except for the fear of falling and the fear of snakes, all other fears are learned. In the past year I have seen something. It taught me to be afraid.


Terrorism came like a hardball through the window and rolled to a stop at our café, La Belle Équipe. When terror hits your city, you can’t just hide beneath your bed.

If we slept at all on November 13, 2015, we woke up feeling the aches and pains of survival. We got our coffee as usual but cut our feet on the shards, leaving a bloodied footprint on the cobblestone streets.

I felt small, like sitting where my feet didn’t reach the floor. We called on God and angels and doctors. Each siren’s wail was another raw prayer. With each flatline in an emergency room, someone’s walls collapsed.

When terror comes to your street, for a while you don’t care about any of the places on the map except one dot that says “you are here.” Surviving is painful because it is underlined in the red ink of someone who didn’t.

After terror we wait for tomorrow because they say that time heals all wounds.

So tomorrow comes. Then another. And another. Slowly you don’t feel quite as afraid, not so jumpy. But nonetheless, that day is a sticker on my suitcase that won’t let me forget “I was there when …”

How am I?

If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have answered, “Not fine, thanks.”

Anyways, “fine” is a word that lies.

If you were asking now, I’d have to say I’ve gotten used to a new way. Take today, for example. On my way home, I stopped on the bridge behind Notre Dame, sat on the curb along with many others, and listened to some live musicians. While the guy was singing the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” six fully armed soldiers walked in front of me, with the barrel of their weapons inches from my face.

I know. You want me to be fine, to be filled with faith. And victory. And give God the glory.

I know. You want heroic, or at least missionic-sized fearlessness. (You might remember that I have told you never to see me as a hero for I knew moments like this would come, moments when I’d be unheroic and afraid.)

I have faith. I can imagine a wonderful world again. ONLY I must feel all the feelings first.

After all, isn’t the comfort of God only as great or as deep as our suffering and weakness?

Isn’t His protection felt more acutely in our vulnerability? I admit my weakness and own my vulnerability. I lay my life down for you to witness what happens when God does what only God can do.

Which brings me to The Gospel According to Bob Thiele. He wrote the song that Louis Armstrong made famous in 1967—“What a Wonderful World.” That is quite a hymn; a declaration of faith if ever there was one. You see, at the time the song was written, it wasn’t a wonderful world at all. It was released during the Vietnam War, after the Six-Day War, and it was only six months before Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. See what I mean? Not much of a wonderful world.

Was Bob Thiele blind? Naive? A Pollyanna?

I think he had an ability to shift his focus. He started looking for other things. And he found them. He found the beauty on the top shelf, in the things that war and racism could not touch … a baby’s cry, people greeting one another, a rainbow, and the colour of the sky.

So simple.

So victorious.

And then it comes. That moment when you shift focus, and you can imagine (have faith for) a different outcome, and your emotions begin to turn around. First Faith. Then Hope. Then …

You knew it was coming.


After terror, love makes you a bit hyperactive when it comes to seeing and appreciating little things. After terror, you see mundane things in a brand-new way.

Everything is made new?


Circumstances are different?


Everything is the same as before, but we make a crucial decision to process things differently.

So this past Sunday I walked to church. I took the long way, through the market, along La Seine, and then crossed the city to the other side. I heard an avocado vendor shouting, “Un euro pour deux.” Two gals dressed as 1950s pin-up girls flirted with their eyebrows as they sang “Clementine.” Children’s chubby fingers sneaked bread samples while parents pretended to scold. I saw grandparents pushing strollers whose handles were heavy with bags of fresh produce and scraggly teddy bears. The man at the crêpe wagon taught his daughter how to make coffee and kept referring to her tenderly as “mon amour.” The bells of Notre Dame rang out much longer than usual, announcing a new “man and wife.”

Is it too much of a stretch to consider all of it as a sacrifice of praise, a collective and very flesh-wrapped sighing of relief in the ears of God? I like to think that for God (who told us He collects human tears), a quickened heartbeat is a standing ovation. In my expression of faith, every time people think to themselves, It’s a wonderful world, terror is defeated and God gets glory. In the midst of this fear and terrorism, the presence of God, the gospel, is the answer and our hope. That is why God has called us here—to show that with God, it can truly be a wonderful world.

(This article originally appeared in the Testimony Magazine. Reprinted with permission from the author.)

Patricia DeWit and her husband, Peter, are PAOC global workers in France. Learn more at

Who Is My Neighbor?

She was sprawled on the sidewalk, her head flung back and her mouth wide open – a real life rendition of The Scream. I couldn’t hear her cries from inside my car but it was clear she was in great distress. I noticed her as I drove out of the hospital parking lot. It was Sunday morning and I was on my way back to church after visiting a friend.

I said a quick prayer under my breath and continued on my way. It was still early and I figured I could catch the tail end of the sermon. We were in the middle of a series about Neighboring.

That’s when it hit me.

Go back! Your neighbor’s there on the sidewalk. Church is here!

I made a quick U-turn and pulled over. As I approached, I could hear her howling, the sound like an animal stuck in a steel trap.

In front of me was the figure of a woman in obvious agony. My presence barely registered with her. Her creased leathery skin was toasted a deep brown from years spent living out in the California sun. Her long auburn hair was tinged with streaks of gray. With every wail, she brushed the back of her sleeve across her dripping nose and into the tangled mess.

Bending down, I assessed her physical appearance to see if she was injured. She slumped to the side, leaning against a large white plastic bag filled with clothes.

“Are you okay?” She shook her head and wailed even louder.

As I looked closer, I changed my initial opinion of her. Her nails were freshly polished with a deep purple lacquer and there were beautiful silver rings on her fingers. Her brown leather sandals were new. She wore a pretty lavender cardigan that matched her nails and, with the exception of the snot smeared on the sleeves, it was clean.

Her plastic wristband and bright white scrub pants indicated she had just come from the hospital. She was a paradox.

I sat down beside her and touched her gently on the shoulder. “Are you in pain?” She whipped her head up and down in affirmation. “Do you need to go back to the hospital?”

Her swollen, hooded eyelids popped open at that question and she spit out the words. “NO! They kicked me out!” Her mouth contained a line of rotted, stained teeth.

I need to mention at this point – the most distinct thing about her appearance. The smell. She looked clean and bathed but her whole person reeked as if she had been pickled in a vat of whiskey. The alcohol seeped out her pores and the odor emanating from her was palpable. I could taste the alcohol in the air and long after I left, the sensory memory of it burned at the back of my throat.

I plied her with questions and she shared her sad story between gasps and tears. “I have cancer. I’m dying! There’s nothing they can do for me so they kicked me out.” This triggered a fresh round of tears.

During this time, I kept my hand on her shoulder and tried to console her but I finally decided a firmer hand was needed and said, “You have to stop crying now. I want to help you but we can’t talk if you’re sobbing. Take a deep breath and let me help you.”

She hiccuped and breathed deeply. When she regained some composure I asked her name. “Patterann,” she mumbled.

“Pat or Ann?”

“No. Patterann. Ina Baptist preacher.” She spoke as if her mouth was filled with marbles.

“I don’t understand. Is your name Ann?”

She lifted up her head and looked me squarely in the eye. “Ann*. Ann! Angela! My name is Angela and ina Batist preacher! They call me PASTOR ANN!

With every word, the volume and intensity increased until she was spitting out the words like bullets.

“Okay, Ann. It’s okay. My name’s Karen. I’m here to help you.”

At this, she slumped her head forward and lay down in my lap with another flood of tears. Suddenly, something in her clicked and she bolted upright, screaming and ranting and clutching at her necklace. She grappled with the beads, struggling to turn them around. I saw the cross that had been hanging down the back of her neck. She yanked the necklace off and threw it to the ground.


rosary crucifix

I didn’t know what to do. She was deeply intoxicated and in such emotional turmoil that I just stroked her back and began to pray. I reminded Ann (and God) that she was His precious child. There was nothing she had done or could do to be separated from that love. I prayed for peace. I prayed for strength.

I ran out of words and just repeated a solitary name.




I chanted that sweet, holy name and prayed that in it she would find some small measure of comfort.

Finally, the tension released in her shoulders. I asked if she wanted me to get someone from the hospital. She did not. I asked where she was going. She said she was homeless and lived in Huntington Beach.

“I just want to go home.”

“To Huntington Beach?”

“Yes. I need to go there.”

“Do you have any family? Any way to get there?”

At this question, she sat up and the faintest shadow of a smile crossed her face.

“Tom. My son. Tommy!”

“Do you want me to call him?”


She gave me his number and after a few rings, a deep voice answered. “Hello.”

“Hi. My name is Karen and I’m here with your mother. I…”

“Is she conscious or unconscious?”

His words were a blow. The deeper meaning behind them was clear. This was not the first time he received this type of call. He spoke slowly with a heaviness that revealed a weary heart. I choked back the tears as I imagined my own sweet son being placed in this position – the child as the parent, unable to help, yet called on time and time again to do so.

I reassured him that she was okay but in distress – explained where we were and asked if he could come take her home.

“Let me talk to her.”

I passed the phone to Ann. Her words were incomprehensible as she sobbed and whimpered her story to her son. I understood one word that she repeated over and over again – “Mommy”. She referred to herself in the third person – “Mommy is…” and used the endearment as though this word would somehow lessen the impact of what was happening or bring her son a measure of comfort.

She finally passed the phone back to me and Tom, apologizing, told me that he was at work until 4. “There’s really no way I can leave. Are you able to help her?”

I reassured him that I would. My mama’s heart wanted to say something to comfort his fractured spirit but all I could offer was the assurance that I would find a way to get his mama back to Huntington Beach.

As I hung up the phone, I noticed a bus drive by. “Do you take the bus? Do you want to go back home?” She nodded yes.

I grabbed her bag of clothes and helped her as she stumbled to her feet. When we got to the corner, she waved wildly at the bus driving past. The driver pulled over to the side of the road and waited for us to cross the street.

We climbed in and I asked if he was going to the Huntington Beach Pier. Pam’s condition was obvious to the driver and everyone else yet he treated her with respect and spoke with kindness when he said, “No. It doesn’t, but there’s a transfer.”

“I can help her get her transfer,” said a voice a few rows back.

“I’ll make sure the other driver gets her where she needs to go,” reassured the gentleman behind the wheel. “We’ll take care of her ma’am. She’s in good hands now. God bless you.”

I gave him her fare, stepped back out of the bus and looked through the window at Ann’s tear-streaked face. She waved at me and yelled “Thank you!” over and over again as the bus pulled away.

As I walked back to my car, I saw it lying there among the flowers – her necklace – a rosary with a string of black beads and a solid black cross. I picked it up and ran it between my fingers. This will be my reminder to pray, I thought to myself – the first Catholic rosary I’ve ever owned, probably given to Ann the Baptist Preacher by someone else along the way, attempting to bring comfort to her troubled spirit.

That’s it. No happy ending.

I called her son and let him know his mom was heading back home – ‘home’ being a park bench somewhere down by the pier. He thanked me softly and told me he would see her on Monday at the Starbucks where they usually meet.

I drove back home and hugged my own son a little bit tighter than usual.

I recorded this narrative a few months back and have been troubled ever since, with the nagging feeling that I should have done more. What could I do?

Since that day, I’ve begun working with the homeless in my own city and the more I become involved, the more conflicted I become – the more I feel as though it’s not enough or that we’re putting bandaids on gaping wounds.

The rate of homelessness in Orange County is climbing with every passing year. The causes of homelessness are complex and include overpriced housing, insufficient shelters, low wages, drug addiction and mental illness. But it seems to me there’s an even deeper cause that statistics don’t show. A lack of connection and deep-seated loneliness. So, how do we cure that?

I admit, there are moments I wish I could go back to the time before I noticed, before I cared. But now I see it. Now I care. What do I do?

What would you do?


*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Want to read more about the issues of homelessness in Orange County and beyond?

The Simple Beauty of Uncertainty – Making Room for Mystery and Wonder

I’m right and you’re wrong. Period. End of story. End of discussion.  


Whether it’s how to raise children, how to deal with the homeless, whether the toilet roll should go over or under, which candidate is sending us down the road to mayhem and destruction or what the government should do about ISIS – or healthcare, or immigration or… you get the point. I know what’s right and why you’re wrong.

This is the tone that currently dominates all avenues of media.

Those of us in the religious community are particularly susceptible to stating our claims with a stubborn dogmatism.  But this attitude isn’t evident in religious opinions alone.  Every day, as I read and engage with friends on-line, firmly entrenched points of view are presented on every subject imaginable, ranging from the current political climate to health issues and, of course, the raging debates among mommy bloggers about an infinite variety of parenting topics!

There is little room for doubt or uncertainty.  And if you do doubt, we certainly know what that means.

You’re weak or stupid.

Let me admit something to you today.  As I get older, I’m uncertain about most things – judge me how you will.  

The stubborn, entrenched stance that I used to take on EVERY SINGLE ISSUE now happens less and less.  

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a strong-willed person and am not known to shy away from voicing my opinion (just ask my family).  Most of my life, I expressed those opinions with absolute certainty but lately…I just don’t know.

After raising three children, I am bereft of parenting advice. The candidate choices we are left with are…confusing at best and my opinions about how to deal with ISIS, immigration and healthcare are, more often than not, lacking in conviction.

Thirty-five years in and I don’t know what the key is to a lasting marriage.

I have more questions than answers regarding pain and suffering and bigotry and hate and mental illness. I don’t know why these things even exist.  

Here’s the thing. Being uncertain has allowed me to listen with respect to what others are saying and has forced me to dig deeper into the wisdom of God’s Word.  

Certainty doesn’t allow for wonder.  It dismisses mystery.  It denies paradox.  It doesn’t leave room for growth or learning or listening. It traps God in a very small box.  And that box cannot possibly contain Him.  

But, I’m coming to peace with the not-knowing because this is what I DO know.

Wonder encourages empathy. Mystery invites creativity. Paradox stimulates conversation and insight. Doubt forces us to ask bigger questions. And God is big enough to handle that.

What do you think? Does the unknown terrify you? Does being uncertain rock your world?

For I am convinced [and continue to be convinced—beyond any doubt] that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present and threatening, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the [unlimited] love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 AMP

I’m A Rock. I’m A Puddle.

I’m a Rock.

I’m solid and strong.




I’m not worried.  I’m at peace.

I’m holding it all together remarkably well. Don’t you think?

I’m juggling all the balls – mom, volunteer, breadwinner, friend, grandma, wife, business owner, employee.

 Look at me!  I’m doing a bang-up job!




I’m a Puddle.

I’m a soggy mess.




I’m worried and fearful.

I don’t ‘get it’.  I don’t even know what ‘it’ is.

I could cry for a week and sleep for a month.  I feel a sense of panic over the thought that I don’t have time to do either.

Those balls I was juggling yesterday? They have become the weight of the world and they are resting on my shoulders.

My body and my blood pressure are in complete rebellion. The peace that I felt last week is eluding me now.


I am Clay.

I’m not solid.  I’m not liquid.  I am moldable, pliable clay.

I’m not as strong as I pretend to be nor as weak as I fear I am.

I’m clay in the hands of my Maker who is forming me daily into a vessel fit for his use.  

He knows where my strengths lie and where my fears hide.  I can’t do this alone.


I surrender.


“Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  

Isaiah 64:8

How are you feeling today, dear friend? Are you a bit of a puddle, trying to become clay? I pray that this day, you will find peace in surrendering to the One who holds you so tenderly in His hands.



Summer Days, Blue Jeans and Grand Theft Auto

Have you ever wanted something so desperately that you would do almost anything to possess it?  Was there ever an object you coveted so dearly that you knew you could NOT live without it?  I get it.  I’ve been there.

Years ago, I went to some extreme measures to get what I wanted.  The object of my desire?  A pair of jeans.

The year was 1976.  I was 14 years old.  Our family had recently moved from Toronto, Canada to the California Central Valley. My dad was the new pastor at a church in Modesto. You would think, coming from a bustling metropolis filled with subways and freeways, hippies and high-rises to a small cow-town surrounded by orchards and ranches, that the social advantage would be mine, but you would be oh, so wrong.  In that rare and strange kingdom known as adolescence, I knew I was a fish out of water the moment we arrived. 

For starters, we were Canadian.

Add the fact that my dad was a Pentecostal preacher and you start to get the picture. Conservative, modest, polite – these are a few of the words that would accurately describe my parents.  They weren’t stuffy or strait-laced.  On the contrary.  They were warm, friendly and fun to be around.  But, still…Canadian. 

I had mixed feelings about our move.  On the one hand, I was excited.  The lure of California, palm trees, beaches and celebrities was definitely on my mind.  I had no concept of the miles that stretched between Modesto and Hollywood but, how far could it be?

On the other hand, I was just starting to come into my own with my friends in Toronto and didn’t relish the thought of breaking into a new social group. “Didn’t relish” is my way of saying I was obnoxious and whiny throughout the whole move.

The breed of teenager our family discovered in Modesto was vastly different from any variation of the species we encountered in the past, as though we had stumbled upon some wild, lost tribe.  At the time, I thought this was a reflection of all California teens but, in hindsight, I think this particular group of kids was unique to that place and time.  It wasn’t long before I felt like I belonged – a long-lost feral dog finally reunited with her pack.  But those first few months were awkward, to say the least.

We arrived in town during Easter Break so our first encounter with locals was the youth group at our new church.  My sister, brother and I nervously walked in – the new pastor’s kids.   We dressed as we always had at church back in Canada, with Kathy and I in sweet, modest dresses and Karl in slacks and a button-up shirt. 

When we walked into the youth group, that first Friday night, I looked around and sized up the other kids.  Not a single girl in the room was wearing a dress.  The uniform of choice for male and female alike was t-shirts and jeans or shorts with a few pairs of overalls thrown in here and there.  Sandals, Vans and even a pair of bedroom slippers were the footwear options.

Immediately, I sensed how out of touch we were.  But, in spite of our awkwardness and differences in clothing choices, the group of kids we encountered were unusually friendly. Not Canadian friendly, in that ‘nice to meet you –  let’s shake hands’ kind of way we were accustomed to but in a singularly American way with big smiles, hugs and loud laughter.  It was heartwarming and I felt like we were being greeted by a roomful of over-eager puppies.

That night, after we arrived home from church, Kathy and I laid it on the line with mom and dad.  We would-not, could-not humiliate ourselves by wearing (gasp!) dresses one more time to youth group.  We emphasized the fact that we would “never go back again” if we couldn’t wear jeans like the rest of the kids.  My parents, thank God, shrugged their shoulders, muttered something about “when in Rome…” and gave in to our demands. 

Maybe now you are starting to get the picture of how, in my desperate attempt to fit in, I needed The Jeans.  I discovered them that summer. 

I am not talking about any old run-of-the-mill jeans.  The pair I coveted were the pinnacle of 70’s disco-era attire – Chemin de Fer bell-bottom, lace-up jeans.  These were the jeans that every Farrah Fawcett wanna-be, Studio 54 diva and Cosmo model wore.  In other words, they were as essential as feathered hair and Dittos to any teenage girl in the 70’s. 

This was a non-negotiable issue.  I had to make them mine.


There was one major hurdle in acquiring these jeans. My mother.  She did not share my sense of urgency regarding this necessary purchase.  When I showed her the must-have pair at the store in McHenry Village, she shook her head and said, “You already have a couple pairs of jeans and I’m not spending $35 on that pair!”

It still boggles my mind, how my mother could have been so callous and neglectful of my most essential needs but, there it is.  I don’t think she meant to be cruel but she clearly didn’t get it. No amount of pleading and begging was going to change her mind.  It was clear that I would have to take matters into my own hands.

The opportunity presented itself a few days later.  Mom and dad were out of town for the night, attending a conference and they left my brother in charge of Kathy and me, which basically meant, we were on our own. I knew I had to act fast.

I discussed the options with my new friend Tam.  The one part of this memory that’s fuzzy is where I procured the necessary funds for my purchase.  I didn’t have a job.  My parents were not overly generous with allowances and I never saved any money I was given.  So how, exactly, I ‘found’ the $35 to buy the coveted jeans is anyone’s guess.  Let’s just leave it at that.

Money in hand, we had to get to the mall.  Now, Modesto isn’t that big and I was used to riding my bike or walking wherever I needed to go but for some reason, on that particular day, I felt that we should be transported to the mall in a car.  Maybe it was the importance of the task at hand.  What to do?

I opened the door to the garage and there it sat.  My parent’s 1972 baby blue Lincoln Continental.  This vehicle was more boat than car.  Not exactly the sporty race car I would have preferred but reliable transportation nonetheless. 

Let me remind you, dear friend, that at 14 years of age I was still a long way away from obtaining a legal driver’s license or even a driver’s permit.  But I was not about to let technicalities get in my way.  After all, how hard could it be?

I had observed my dad for years, as he drove.  I started young, sitting in his lap with my small hands gripping the steering wheel while his big, steady hands guided the vehicle. As I got older, he taught me how to turn the key in the ignition, put the car in gear and had even let me get behind the wheel once or twice and drive from our cottage to the railroad tracks. 

I felt that he had given me all the necessary training and essentially granted me permission to drive whenever I felt I was ready.  I was tall and could easily reach the gas and brake pedals.  I was ready.  What could possibly go wrong?

Tam hopped into the car beside me.  I started the engine, put the car in reverse and slowly backed out of the garage.  Success!  This driving gig was even easier than I had imagined!  I could picture those jeans in my mind’s eye.  I was only a few miles away from making them mine.

Slowly, we made our way through town and eventually arrived at the store without a single hiccup.  I made my purchase, clutched the heavenly denim to my chest and made my way home.

Two blocks away.  Just around the corner.  Almost home.  We pulled up to a stop sign.  To my left was a van.  You know the type.  It had an awesome paint job with a wide pinstripe down the side and a bumper sticker that read, “If This Van’s A Rockin’ Don’t Come A Knockin’!”  This was no mini-van.  I slowly pulled forward to turn right when, out of nowhere, there was a kid on a bike.  I slammed the brakes!  Oops.  That was NOT the brake pedal. 

There he was, lying on the ground looking up at me with abject terror in his eyes.  I had knocked that poor kid right off his bike and onto the ground.  To make matters worse, Tam started wailing.  “Is he dead?!  Oh, dear Jesus!  My mother’s going to kill me!  What if the cops come?!  We are in SO much trouble!” 

“Just.  Shut.  Up!”  I screamed at Tam.  As I assessed the situation and tried to calm my friend and my nerves, the boy hopped back on his bike and pedaled away furiously. 

With my heart pounding in my chest and Tam still freaking out in the seat beside me, I drove the rest of the way home.  Slowly, I pulled into the driveway and eased the car into the garage.  That’s when I heard it – a high pitched “Screee!” as the driver’s side of the car scraped against the garage door frame, leaving a two-foot scratch in that beautiful baby blue exterior.

I had no idea what to do at that point so I did what every other conniving, spineless, lying teenager would do.  I closed the garage door, hid the jeans in the back of my closet and waited. 

I put the entire incident out of my mind when, two days later, I heard my parents in the kitchen. “Anita!” my dad called out.  “You scratched the side of the car getting into the garage.”

I’m not proud of this, but it’s the honest-to-God truth.  I sat in the family room and listened as my sweet, innocent mother protested and my dad blamed her for what I had done.  I sat there, with the flames of hell licking at my feet for surely, anyone who would let their mother take the fall for their sins was heading ‘down there’ on the fast train.

But my seared conscience held firm.  I never said a word. 

My list of transgressions related to those jeans was already long. 

  • Petty theft
  • Grand theft auto
  • Driving without a license
  • Hit and run
  • Destruction of property

I was in deep.

Two weeks later, I pulled those Chemin de Fer’s out of my closet and added to my list of sins when I lied to my parents and told them that my friend had given me the jeans.

Every time I looked at myself in the mirror, with those jeans on, I thought, “I am surely going to hell but, I sure look foxy!”

Over fifteen years later, when I was a mother myself, with my first teenage daughter, I remembered the incident and ‘fessed up to my parents. They sat there looking at me with jaws dropped.  My mom turned to my dad and said, “See, Albert, I told you I didn’t scratch the car!”

I’m still grounded.


Fess up! Do you have a favorite summertime memory or a childhood infraction you’ve never owned up to?  I would love to hear it and I promise, I won’t tell a soul. Leave your best behaving-badly story in the comments below. Confession is good for the soul!

Are the Beatitudes For Suckers?

Have you read The Beatitudes lately?

I recently revisited the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5 and was struck by how contradictory Jesus’ words are to the voices dominating the present-day North American church. Divisive political rhetoric, an emphasis on a Prosperity gospel and fearful discourse are currently drowning out all other points of view.

Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount are directly opposed to most of what the modern-day evangelical church has come to represent. It made me wonder. What would The Beatitudes look like if we wrote them today?

Perhaps they would look like this.

Cursed are the poor in spirit, for they lack faith.

Cursed are those who mourn, for they aren’t thinking positive thoughts.

Cursed are the meek, for they will always be failures.

Cursed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be called idealists.

Cursed are the merciful for they are suckers.

Cursed are the pure in heart, for they are naive.

Cursed are the peacemakers, for they will be conquered.

Cursed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for they were not well-armed.

Cursed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Complain and feel sorry for yourself, for you need to maintain your standard of living and nobody has the right to call you names.

Contrast the above with the following. Here’s the setting. Jesus has just returned from his time of testing in the desert. He is traveling around Galilee when he encounters Peter and Andrew, then James and John. He invites them to become religious radicals, taking up arms to defend themselves and overturn the Roman empire.

Scratch that.

He invited them to be ‘fishers of men’. He hung out with the sick, the diseased and the mentally ill and brought healing.  People were drawn to him and large crowds followed him throughout the area.

That’s when he spoke the following 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 for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children 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.” 

Matthew 5:3-12 NIV

Blessed are the pure in heart



When you read the true, tender words of Jesus, they ring clear, like a melody, they wash over you in a wave, like a benediction. They also sound radical and revolutionary in a terrifying and beautiful way.

So, how did we get to the point where…

  • we mistake our comfort for our rightful inheritance.
  • we hoard our abundance in disdain of the poor.
  • we let fear dominate our lives and influence our decisions.

Are you tired of the clanging and the noise? Does the constant stream of anger and division wreak havoc on your spirit? I know it does mine.

I invite you to join me – let’s spend more time meditating on the words of Jesus instead of the rants of a political pundit, an angry talking head or a religious spokesman and let the truth of God’s Word bring clarity to our minds and peace to our souls.

Don’t Blink Or You’ll Miss It

“Cherish every moment, because you’ll blink and your kids will be grown up.”

They thought it was a good idea to tell me that while I was dealing with a teenager, a toddler, and a baby. While I was elbow deep in dirty diapers, bad attitude and laundry. When I was sleep-deprived and overwhelmed and at the end of it all.

“They” were lying. I was sure of it. The days were endless and there was no relief in sight.

In 1983 our oldest child, Ashley was born. Reagan was president.

Thirteen years later, we welcomed our daughter Rachel into the world, followed by Sam, two years after that.

For thirty-three years we navigated the joys and perils of childhood and for the past two years, we had only one child left at home. Today marked the very last childhood milestone for all our kids when our youngest boy Sam, graduated from high school.

Did I mention we’ve been doing this for over thirty years?

I’m kind of surprised by the amount of emotion this day has stirred up. It’s the end of a chapter for us but I imagined, after all these years, that I would be relieved and elated. Part of me is but I’m also a bit of a mess and find myself blinking back tears and reliving memories.

BLINK – Like the shutter on a camera, the image is captured.

BLINK – The doctor squeezes the cold, goopy gel onto my distended belly. I clutch Steve’s hand and smile at our girls. We squint at the screen as the shape comes into focus. “I have fathered a manchild!” Steve hollers with abandon.

BLINK – I’m sitting in our wooden rocking chair, in the dead of night. My feet are cold as ice. The rhythmic creaking of the chair breaks the silence of a still, black night. I cradle my son and nurse him and breathe in the sweet smell of him, intoxicated by the scent. I am smitten.

BLINK – He refuses to sleep. Ever. Not at night. Not during the day. This boy requires no sleep to sustain him. For years, this is our battle. The sound of his scream grates on me. He nearly breaks me. We have a love/hate relationship.


black and white photo, Sam Rutledge


BLINK – It’s my first day as a volunteer in Sam’s kindergarten class so I take my place in the back of the room as a silent observer. There’s a brightly colored rug in the center of the room, with squares in a rainbow of primary colors. One square for each child. They sit in rapt attention as Mr. Hunter reads to them. Except for Sam. He log rolls from one end of the classroom to the other, seeming to ignore the story. But as soon as a question is asked, Sam jumps to his feet like a jack-in-the-box. He knows the answer. He heard every word.

BLINK – Sponge Bob is blaring on the family room TV. Sam has removed all the cushions from the sofa. He lays on the stripped furniture and leans his head back to watch the cartoon upside down. Then he laughs with utter abandon and sheer unadulterated joy. My heart is full and I can’t help but join in.

BLINK – The bile in my throat rises as I pull a dead mouse out of his shoe. Don’t ask.

BLINK – As I describe Sam’s clothing to the security guard in IKEA, I sob uncontrollably. The store is on lockdown for twenty minutes but he is nowhere to be found. Terrifying images fill my head and I struggle to maintain my composure. Finally, my towheaded boy is found and I race to him. His Superman shirt is drenched in sweat and his heart is pounding like a drum. “I turned around and didn’t see you,” he cried.  “So I ran!” I hold him tight and swear I will never let him go.

BLINK – I walk into the principal’s office. Again. I’m so over these weekly phone calls from school. I am so over the nagging, the cajoling, the threatening, the pleading. I fondly remember when I had time to read a book.

BLINK – There’s an odor wafting down the hallway. Something’s died, I’m sure of it. I turn the corner and there it is – a room full of adolescent boys. Bright orange Cheetos crumbs are scattered over the sofa. Pizza boxes and soda bottles litter the counter. I have no strength for this so I go into my room, put on my headphones and escape.

Sam Rutledge

BLINK – Standing in the DMV with harsh fluorescent lights flickering above, I glance to my left. There’s a broad-shouldered man standing next to me, waiting to get his license. It’s my son.

BLINK – It’s graduation day. We survived. I scream and holler and shout as my boy, my son walks across the field with his head held high and his shoulders back.

BLINK – They were right.

Mourn With Those Who Mourn

How do we make sense of madness when there is no logic to be found in the acts of a madman?



Once again, the world has been rocked by news of a mass shooting. Images and stories of the terror-filled night in Orlando fill our TV screens.

At times like this, the world seems to be spinning out of control. Hate and fear and death appear to be gaining the upper hand. We can’t make sense of anything and we hardly know what to say, or what to think, or what to do.

May I suggest, that perhaps we can do this.


We can stop the gun debate long enough to clean the blood from the ground.

We can quit posturing and arguing long enough for loved ones to plan a funeral.

We can offer condolences and prayers without pointing fingers.

We can put aside our hatred of one another long enough to bury the dead.

We can silence the debate and rhetoric for just one day.

We can pause to honor each life lost with a breath, a prayer, a tear.

We can stand with the LGBTQ community while they mourn.


If this was my child whose blood had been shed, if this was your friend whose life was cut short, we could not bear to hear anything other than words of love and comfort at such a time. Anything other than the tenderest of voices would crush our spirit even further.

So, to the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, the friends and spouses and lovers who have suffered the deepest of losses, we extend our hands in comfort, our hearts in love and our voices in prayer. May you find comfort where none can be found.