Night Noises


Pops and bangs awaken me from sweet dreams, and I startle upright in my bed. It takes a few moments for me to get my bearings, peek through my window blinds, to realize it’s just the neighbor boys shooting off random firecrackers…again. It’s the Fourth of July for only another few minutes, but the city fireworks and suburban celebrations have long been over. I contemplate whether or not to confront the boys’ parents in my PJs. Most assuredly the whole neighborhood is now awake too, collectively rolling their eyes or throwing pillows over their heads. Instead, I let out an explicative, turn on my white noise machine, plug my ears with pink foam, and attempt to recreate sleep.


That was last year.


No, I don’t mind fireworks, crackers, or sparklers, I actually have a particular fondness for the day of celebration for our country’s independence — although my DNA ancestry and obsession with BBC dramas and monarch royalty make me seriously question how far from the “home country” I would have gone if I were asked to sail across the ocean in the Mayflower convoy with my great, great, great, great, great relative. You see, “The Fourth” is one of my favorite days of the year; it is my grandfather’s birthday.


Although Pops is gone now, I still carry loving memories of Kansas farm fireworks each summer: vats of homemade ice cream, my uncle and cousins by the side of the dirt road, lighting rockets with the rest of us safely set on the front porch (telling tales of “whirling dervishes” chasing Pops around the yard when my dad was a boy), the “ooo-ing” and “ahh-ing” over color bursts breaking the star-filled sky with loud power booms and crackles, and Pops’ cake presented with layers of sparkling sticks for candles.


But as I get older, I have less tolerance for being awakened by loud “bangs”. It’s a reminder that we don’t live in an era anymore where an innocent firecracker is the first thought that goes through your mind in the middle of the night – instead of the concern of a shot from a firearm. I admit I live in an affluent, privileged, suburban community, where gunshots are a rarity and usually make the news only if a child accidently hurt himself, or friend, with a collector’s gun that wasn’t locked away properly. But, my husband is an urban church pastor in a neighborhood where “drive-bys”, and senseless killings have become more frequent in the recent years – sadly, multiple times in the past couple weeks. In that neighborhood, the sound of pops and bangs piercing the day and night don’t symbolize celebration; instead they usually bring sorrow, anger and disbelief.


Our country can revel in its independence during the first week of July, shoot off brilliant displays to brighten the dark sky, but we must also acknowledge the bondage fear still has on us. Our schools don’t feel safe. Our streets don’t feel safe. Police are feared, and we can’t seem to decide who “gets to” have a gun and who doesn’t.

So this year, on July 4th, in addition to reliving blessed memories of innocent fun in the fields where Dorothy and Toto played, during the neighbor boys’ midnight mischief I will also think of the families in my hometown for whom the sounds of firecrackers will cause them to grab hold of their children and hide under beds. I will pray that this is the year we grow up as a country, no longer a teenager asserting independence from kings across the seas, and finally make “good choices” (as I raised my kids to do) to keep ourselves safe. I will hope for a day when firecrackers will be the only night noises we all hear piercing the sky, and we awaken without fear to give thanks.

Blackbirds and Wonder Women

sunset one

The sky glows sherbet-orange as the sun begins its evening theatrics. With winter finally “run out of town”, I thrill over this long-awaited spring eve. I locate my favorite wicker chair in the garage and drag its monstrosity across the lawn to my patio. I’m so ready for this. I settle in with a sigh and throw my feet up on the fire pit. No more than one moment of peace, barely time to think, “I really need this”, and a high-pitched cry pierces the sky overhead. It’s Ginger, our resident eagle.

Usually, Ginger’s calls remind her mate to stop gallivanting the neighborhood, return to the nest, and provide her with a much needed break from “egg watching”, so she can swoop down to the lake and snatch up a pike for dinner. But this is different. She screeches twice more, sharp and desperate. I leave my comfy spot, shade my eyes and look up a few yards toward her favorite branch. Circling near Ginger’s snow-white head is a little black bird, jutting toward her and away with teasing repetition, pecking at her neck. Ginger ducks, flaps and squeaks again, not wanting to leave her perch near her nest. But the beastly pest is relentless.

I wave my arms around, yelling “shoo!” and “knock it off!”, “leave her alone!” A crazy woman ranting to the skies. Then I place my fists on my hips like Wonder Woman, channeling some Marvel superpower, and stare down the evil menace. It circles once more, but doesn’t dare touch my eagle friend, who cocks her head down to view my antics. The menace leaves in defeat, maybe just mere coincidence, but I take all the credit. I shout out to Ginger, “Us moms must stick together!” Then sit back down and enjoy the magenta and amber horizon quietly with my wild companion.

We’ve shared much over the past couple years since Ginger has come to live in the tall pine adjacent to our bedroom window. We’ve experienced the fledging of our babies from the nest, mine to college and a special needs day program, and hers to the forested lakes beyond. As I was crying myself to sleep at night, trying to cope with letting go of my 19-year-old to his dorm life 45 minutes away, Ginger was coaxing her 3-month-olds to branch hop and make their way to the wind. I witnessed her watchful circling overhead as her oldest attempted daily wobbly flights and nest crashes. And I heard her hollow cries when the youngest drowned in the lake.

ginger and babies

I’ve read about the dedication of bald eagle parents and can only imagine what the loss of an offspring last summer did to Ginger. I sense she isn’t the same mother she was in round one, yet, here she is, doing it all again: the egg hovering, the patient waiting through spring snow and wind storms, the annoying visitors. Her nest is broader, fortified with secure branches, and save for the poop on our front patio and bloody bunny fur strewn about, I enjoy having this feathered friend around. Her resilience to continue to mother, even if only instinctual, is inspiring, and somewhat familiar.

When my daughter, Sarah, almost died after heart surgery, at six-months-old, the trauma nearly kept me from having my son. I remember crying in the bathtub the night my husband and I finally decided to have a second child. I can still see the hot water pouring over my toes, feel my tears in my hands, and hear the voice in my head, like a menacing black bird, picking at my sanity. Would this one be born early, underweight, have Down syndrome, hearing loss, a hole in their heart, too? If so, could I even survive it all a second time? Despite the geneticist who said that chances were minimal, and my daughter’s cardiologist who promised early ultrasounds and testing; the latent post-traumatic stress still coursed through every vein of my body like an anxious drug, skewing thoughts, draining my energy, and making me hide alone in warm bathtubs behind closed doors.

sarah newborn

I couldn’t speak any fear out loud back then, but other mother friends intuited it. When I became pregnant again, and ended up at home on bedrest, it mimicked too closely the months of hospital confinement with Sarah. My friends knew this, encircled me and stood guard, watching my daughter, bringing me Dairy Queen, doing laundry, and shooing away all worries and stress. I couldn’t have done any of it without them. Each kind gesture like a superhero’s command for fear to take leave.

After Jacob was born, full term and healthy, I looked into his sweet eyes and couldn’t imagine life without him if I’d chosen not to take another motherhood leap of faith. But at the same time, I still wonder what kind of mom I’d have been without the extreme trauma experienced first. Would I have been less paranoid, protective, smothering my kids with my love and attention? Would I be less of a worrier, a warrior and, certainly, less exhausted?

I look at Ginger, and imagine I see a slightly less energetic, more stoic bird too. Maybe a little more cautious and less carefree than last season, feathers ruffled, aged exponentially; and yet here she is again, growing her nest and sitting guard, still watching sunsets on a days filled with pecking pests. I am honored to be her mother friend, modeling after those who came to my rescue (and still come) time and again, like Wonder Women to shoo away the black birds in my life, whenever I dare cry out. “Yes”, I repeat, “us moms must stick together.” Ginger returns my gaze and I know, somehow, my wild companion appreciates this too.

Jake and sarah


Day One

89EB18B9-C9D0-4DD9-8601-B1A94623DB78.jpegNovember 1, 2016
I. Morning

Day One: November is for writing.
30-day novels,
flash fiction challenges,
everyday thoughts,
penned daily.

I took the challenge,
by email prompt,
coerced by writer-friends;
accountability to exercise
my creative brain.

I doubt I can do it,
I never finish what I start.
I could pretend
I forgot it’s November.

There are leaves still
on the trees, after all,
and hanging on my
backyard maple.

In Minnesota,
this makes no sense,
save the global warming,
the skewing of the seasons.

So, it must still be October.

II. Afternoon

Day one: A friend is dying,
her brain captured by disease,
eating every crevice and lobe
at rapid pace,
nothing to be done.
I pray for a miracle,

Day one: I watch from the end of the hall
as her husband receives news,
and chooses to remove the tubes
from the love of his life.
The swaying,
the fidgeting,
the bravery.

Day one: I pray in the chapel,
by a pile of altar stones;
the 23rd Psalm,
the shadow of death, and
the table set,
I choose a pebble,
the color of my friend’s hair,
and place it into my pocket.

Day one: I watch my son say goodbye
to his youth pastor,
second mother
and friend.
I watch stoicism
melt as he does
the hardest thing
yet in his young life.

Day one: I say farewell to my friend,
a God-got-it-right woman.
I tell her to rest now,
she’s done more than her
fair share of work.
All the children saved.
All the stomachs fed.
All the people loved.


III. Evening

Day one: I eat chocolate,
hug everyone,
hold my prayer stone,
and I write.




An Eagle’s Story

“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles…” Isaiah 40:31


We are still in the dead of winter as I write this, but spring is definitely coming as snow and rain interchange, and we’ve had our first nearly 60-degree day. In our backyard, squirrels are calling and chasing one another and owls hooting songs from our neighbors’ trees. One hundred feet high and mere yards from our bedroom windows, a resident bald eagle pair is putting the finishing touches on their new abode.

Mama eagle, named Ginger (as a family of dancers we couldn’t resist), is roosting in the nearly six-foot-wide nest in the tallest White Pine nearest our rooftop. Her regal head looks around, proudly guarding her territory. She doesn’t seem to mind the rest of us who live here, with our music and occasional bonfire. She watches us come and go, cocks her head to the side when I call for her and wave. She cries to papa eagle, named Gene, who swoops in with another beak full of fuzzy nest liners of bush and bramble to insulate their new home. Rumor has it that eagles can lay eggs as early as February, even before the cold days leave and other animals fully wake from hibernation. And, Gene and Ginger seem to be ready for parenthood.

Last year, Ginger was not so fortunate. She and her former partner, Fred, tried fervently to build a proper nest, but storm after storm, tore it apart, sadly…branch by branch. By April, our whole yard held its remnants. Then something happened to Fred. The entire summer we watched Ginger come and go, alone, with no sign of her mate in sight. She sat and ate meals of rabbit and pike by our patio. Her sense of loneliness was obvious. By autumn we assumed her partner had either left or passed away.

Online research told us that eagles mate for life. The female chooses their home, and if her significant other leaves or dies, she often stays put, waiting to find another life partner to approve of her home. But after a warm Fall of going it solo, by November, Ginger gave up, abandoned her nest, probably for a warmer winter hiding spot by the Minnesota River Valley. We missed her calls and cries outside our window at Christmas and didn’t know if she’d ever return.

Happily mid-January she came back, with a new mate, a freshly fortified nest and a renewed hope for a future with promise of little eaglets likely by spring.

A dear friend’s daughter recently died after many years of a suffering illness. The morning she passed, I saw the eagle pair soaring free in the horizon, and I was reminded of scripture and God’s provision for us of wings, like eagles, to shelter us and bear us up in times of trouble and loss. Eagles are praised as the most attentive parents of all the bird species and perhaps the greatest teachers of their young. God, our heavenly Father, is continually providing for us, teaching us, and has built the ultimate nest for us to abide with Him in our eternal home.

Through her loss last year, Ginger never gave up hope. She came back, rebuilt her nest, and started anew. For me, this eagle is not just a symbol of God’s strength, but also one of resilience, not unlike that of the disciples in scripture or my dear friend and her brave daughter. Each reminds me to never give up in times of trial or loss.

So remember Ginger’s story and God’s promise. Hold fast to hope through the storms, even when your earthly nest seems to be torn in two, or you find yourself alone. God is here with us, faithful and true. And like an eagle, God covers us, protects us, provides for us and will lift us up on wings so we may soar.

Original publication: Gethsemane Gazette Newsletter March 2017


Left, right, left, right. I plod the unicursal path of switchbacks and circles trying desperately to focus on one question “where do I go, now”? My strides are intent as I press the unleveled foam mulch below me. My ankles wobble to balance my step, I haven’t much trust in my footing. That is the purpose of this contemplative maze – and its singular path to the center, to carry in a concern or burden, a devotion or question of your self, the universe, or for God, and leave with an answer and renewed hope.

Over 25 years before, at a sacred dance conference, I was coached though my very first labyrinth– a beautiful marble inset on the steps of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Amidst dozens of tourists, curious pigeons and the honk of traffic, I managed to have a prolific religious experience, complete with seated prayer in the labyrinth’s center and a weightless return out, as if all burdens had been lifted from my heart. I don’t remember exactly what I was asking for that day, but because of the goings-on in my life at the time, my eating disorder, relational struggles, my guilt, I’m sure it had something to do with forgiveness.

Since then, I’ve completed many a personal maze, even laminated ones for index fingers, with at least some meditative success. And, I’ve choreographed a sacred dance piece on labyrinth-patterned carpet in a methodist church that wanted a Lenten worship piece about sin and salvation. It was a structured improvization, creative free choice, allowing the dancers to commit to the moment, and experience communal inspiration. We lined the path with candles, chose a collective concern and then crawled or trudged the first half of the journey. In the center we took turns falling or lifting each other up, and then spun and leaped out way out. I am very aware of the powerful metaphor this Ancient Greek symbol, like the maze once created to contain the Minotaur beast, holds in the life of faith seekers. The desire to confront your fear and slay the ties that bind you with the courage of Theseus, the passion of Christ.

But today, despite all of my efforts, the buzz of Japanese beetles, the repetitive clack of a woodpecker and various aches and pains take center stage in this search for clarity in my life. I had great expectations as I began this journey. It was to be a time to think, to feel, to choose what I will do with my life now that my husband and I are closing the dance studio we have owned for over two decades. Perhaps my distraction comes from the financial stress of previous weeks, or the accident that broke my pelvis, sacrum and shoulder five months before and the sluggish healing process that has left me wondering if I will ever dance or teach again. It could be the concern over my daughter with special needs turning 21 and what her life will look like outside of school, just as her younger brother heads off to college. Perhaps it is the wandering of my mind, nearing its half century mark–a symptom I recognize in my aging mother. Or the laziness of my faith life, my recent lack of prayer, worship and commune with my God that has left me feeling less than whole.

Instead of offering up my question, confronting my demons, which was my reason for being here, I find myself obsessing about the prickly heat of the sun on my neck, the annoying bang of birch branches blowing in the wind, the slight smell of manure in a nearby fertilized field. I find little patience for the present journey that taunts me, taking me close to, then far away from a bench in the center that is my goal. I feel heavy, wasted and exhausted. After more dizzying turns, with one last curve, I enter the pinnacle of the maze and plop onto the cool marble slab, under the shade of a newly planted tree. I exhale.

I look back out over the twists and turns I just traveled and am suddenly aware of it’s beauty. The stones that line the path are of different colors, shapes and sizes –some seem to glow in the sunlight. The complexity of the common medieval design seems uniquely awe inspiring, as if I am looking through the eyes of one of the very first Christians to pilgrimage a labyrinth, on their knees. I find myself wondering how long it took to lay the foundation and place each stone precisely, and how the designers decided the exact size of the maze, the texture of its turf and perfect placement in this field on the hill. I wonder who chose the tree next to me, and if they knew it would turn such a lovely shade of amaranth in Autumn.

I lay down on the bench, my face to the clouds, and watch the leaves dance. God’s creation, truly breathtaking. I give Him a little shout out of thanks. My arms stretch open, freeing up my sore arm and the pain that has wound me so tight.

“Help me.” I say.

“Let go.” I hear, in the rustling leaves.

A rush of peace, like the tickle of tiny feathers, sweeps over me. For the first time in months I feel safe; no worry, no agenda, no question.

I close my eyes and rest.

And then a word comes. Meander. Such a curious and playful muse. It tells me this is not the time for big decisions in the midst of inevitable change. I must let go of my need to know the outcome and relax in the self metamorphosis to come.

It is for the path, not the goal, I must go.

I stay there long enough for the shade to shift a bit and then lift myself up. The time it takes to exit the labyrinth seems nearly half that of coming in. My feet are more secure, and I take each corner with ease. There’s a bounce to each step, rebounding the mulch. I take care to appreciate the stones this time and the spaces between, the warmth of the sun on my face. I carry gratitude with me for ancient warriors and compassionate pilgrims, their battles and sacrifices, and even the beasts they feared. I have newly clad armour and shiny sword to take with me from this maze in my new meandering quest.


(Written: October, 2015)

The Newlyweds

Banking left, in swoops and glides, He silently settles on the right most branch next to his mate. He’s brought another nest offering, a twig larger than his wingspan, and plops it atop their cloud-height home. She looks at him over her shoulder, with a cockeyed crane of her white neck as if waiting for this one to drop, too. But somehow it stays, wedged at an awkward angle. He stands on it, opens his wings and lifts his beak. Success.

At the base of our front yard pine there are dozens upon dozens of such twigs and sticks from the previous nest attempts. My husband and I have determined that our new yard mates, and national treasures, are most likely newlyweds. Only an ignorant young couple would attempt to make a home mid-windstorm one day and mid-spring snowstorm the next, and not get the hint. Or maybe they are just extremely determined, under a time crunch and she is ready to plop out their next generation.

I’ve googled these creatures, who have made their new abode right above our bedroom window, pooped on our front stoop and rooftop, and dropped rabbit carcasses in our side yard. I have emailed the raptor center at the University of Minnesota in complete concern of the fact that in less than 2 months we will be having a hundred people in our yard for my son’s grad party, and although I know pigeons in Rome have “good-luck” excrement, what about Minnesotan bald eagles? I picture putting a “poop guard” under our front tree — and handing out slickers (blue and gold, of course) to everyone as party favors. But will our guests appreciate the fact that the school’s mascot might bring fresh meat to our BBQ?

I discovered there are laws in place that might keep us from doing anything to scare these lovely creatures from leaving their nest once they settle. So we may not be able to get our storm-damaged fence fixed and our new patio paved before June, or blast our son’s favorite music over the loud speaker for the inevitable dance mob of seniors, if they drop eggs first. Eagles mate for life, live for around 28 years, and return to raise their children every spring after their winter stay in the Mississippi River Valley. These new neighbors of ours, and this Discovery Channel reality show, might out-live my husband and me.

So it’s a love, not-so-much love, relationship.

When I was little, I coveted visits to the Montanan mountains where my mom grew up and vacations in the Tetons with my family. We’d take raft trips down the Yellowstone, peering through binoculars in search of uncommon wildlife. Awestruck, we’d find a rare eagle’s nest in the trees along the river banks and watch the beautiful creatures come and go like ethereal ghosts from the Wild, Wild West. Last summer, my husband and I discovered that the area around our lake had such beauties. They’d circle overhead and dive the water’s surface in the summer and scoop up fish, or duck, like a National Geographic special. It was rumored that for decades an eagle pair and its extended family have nested in the neighborhood north and only occasionally dined on our waterfront.

I blame my husband for changing the natural order of things.

We are a pet-less family, and since we moved into our new home a year and a half ago, he’s been feeding all the squirrels with handfuls of grain and cobs of corn secured on special “squirrel” tree seats so they can eat in style. He has embraced our suburban lake home with the enthusiasm of St. Francis. He also fed the geese kibbutz and the flock of ducks that took over our lawn last summer. So why wouldn’t the eagles relocate to where the buffet was?

I had a talk with them today, He and She. Yes, I realize we will probably have to name them soon. I told them of my concerns over their messiness, and scolded them at their careless nest making. Being a parent, I worry for their offspring. I fantasize faceting a special eagle “bin” and training them to poop and drop their meal remains in something I can discard with our weekly garbage. Yes, I know this is highly unlikely.

My husband just sent me the emailed plans for our new patio, the paver design, the depth of soil to be dug out by diggers. Perhaps the newlyweds will appreciate our attempts at “fancifying”our home, maybe they will stay even when the fence pounding starts, the cement is poured and the fire pit gets delivered. And maybe, their ultimate plan is to hang out with us on summer nights and listen to John Mayer over my son’s bluetooth speaker and watch the fading sunsets.

Graduating Me

Both my children are graduating this coming June. My son, basketball captain and student body president, and his petite older sister with Down syndrome and hearing loss will don on their caps and gowns, walk the stage and receive their final high school diplomas only one week apart. And I have already started practicing. I’ve practiced multiple scenarios: surviving the ceremonies without meltdowns, bestowing words of wisdom on my son, and prayers to ease my daughter’s fear of attention. But since I get misty whenever I receive emails from my son’s counselor about the upcoming Senior Breakfast, and panic with notice from my daughter’s social worker on Adult Day Programming options, I am certain I will not live through the next few months.

Certainly, as a mom I knew this was coming. It was an inevitable part of this mothering journey. But to have two at once, and such different circumstances, I can hardly process my thoughts from moment to moment. Such pride, oh my son, his multiple successes, servant-leader heart, the offers of scholarships from colleges, so many choices before him. And my daughter, her innocent unknowingness, my fear of what the big world will do to her shy nature and her non-verbal voice. One child will be catapulted into a world of possibilities while I search to find even one possibility for the other. Joy, pathos…yep.

My husband and I visit campuses with my son, talk dorms and celiac-friendly cafeterias, and dread the loss of him living across the hall. All the while, I reject day program after day program (none offer sign language para support) and contemplate the potential permanency of my daughter by my side day in and day out. Then I wake from dreams of me, disappearing.

I’ve been one woman the past 21 years, since my Sarah came into this world, and another when Jacob entered nearly three after that. I’ve worn the motherhood cloak like a second skin, it was natural, warrior-like in its armor, if a little tattered and haphazardly fashioned. I really believe to the core of who I am, that I was meant to be a mom. From the days of lining up all my dolls on the couch and naming each one, it was my destiny. So when motherhood usurped my dance career and changed my personal goals, I was able to justify the loss of the “me” before. But now, when I see my role as mother change completely, I can hardly breathe.

No longer are the daily lunch bags, uniform washings, coercing my kids awake and out the door, counselor meetings and homework reminders. No more are the days where I know my daughter is safe and tended to, familiarity of staff and texts from teachers that truly care, safe bus drivers, educational plans that just might get Sarah to communicate in full sentences, someday. Now, Jacob will write his papers late at night alone, and Sarah will only learn something if I teach her.

After a senior parent meeting last fall, where we were guided on the steps toward my son’s graduation day (the deadlines for yearbook photos and parent dedications, and the importance of encouraging a tame senior skip day), I joked with the principal that they should provide therapy for us “graduating moms”. There were at least four of us who had our last kid graduating and then the umbilical chord to school life would be severed. What were we to do without months of basketball games and the seasonal band concert, quarterly parent-teacher communication and possibilities of snow days. How could we survive without weekly News Notes and planning for the next parent volunteer event.

It’s not a completely self-absorbed thing to assert that, come June, I will be forced to graduate. Yet, I will not don a cap with a gold tassel – or move it from one metaphorical side to the other. No certificate will be placed in my hand and no one will shake the other. Definitely no photo of me will be put on the mantle, showing my motherly accomplishment of the past two decades. Yet as I break down in sobs twice in one week, smearing my makeup with tissues, I will remember that as I get tossed out into the real world that the valedictorian’s well-planned speech will be talking to me, too.