Saints Among Us: Of Grandmothers, Nuns and Pea Soup

GETTING (5)Joining us here for today’s reflection is my friend, Shanda Blue Easterday. Shanda is a professor of composition and British literature and is a poet. Her latest work, “The Beekeeper’s Wife”, is available on Amazon.

Because I grew up in a dysfunctional family with alcoholic parents, I looked elsewhere for role models. Luckily, my maternal grandmother lived just a house away from us for many years. When things got crazy at our house, or when I was frustrated by my babysitting uncle’s pea soup, I could run to her house for relief. As far as the pea soup was concerned, the adults caught on to that trick and made a rule that I was not allowed to abandon lunch at home in favor of a possible bologna sandwich at Grandma’s house.  Otherwise, I spent much quality time with my grandmother, who taught me some of the most valuable lessons of my life.

“Grandma Gene” taught me how to crochet and that opened a pathway so I could teach myself to knit as an adult.  Now I spend many therapeutic hours doing one or the other. Grandma also taught me to love books.  She had a collection of Gene Stratton Porter’s novels that I could read whenever I wanted. I learned about the Boy and the Girl of the Limberlost and, when I am transplanting pieces of Iris around our woods and wetlands, I am reminded of them.  Maybe that’s why I married a beekeeper.

My grandmother taught me many other practical matters that I remember as I cook and keep house daily.  One of those things is to clean my stove top after every use.  This is easily done and keeps grime from building up to an intolerable or hard-to-clean problem.  Sometimes my husband asks me where I learned something particularly helpful, and I must answer “From my grandma.”

My grandmother would give me some change and send me walking a few blocks to the “Five and Dime” to buy rolls of border trim wallpaper for her living-room or dining-room.  If those rolls didn’t exactly match it was no problem for her, as long as they were in the same color family. That memory makes me more patient with my own grandchildren as they work on projects and get paint on the dining-room table or my favorite apron.

My grandparents were not perfect people. At big family dinners, where my grandfather and most male members of the family could be counted on to be drunk and become unruly, I was often the distraction for my grandfather.  Because I was the most quiet, patient child, some adult would seat me on grandpa’s lap and he would go through the set of A Child’s World encyclopedia from his bookcase.  He would ask me what interested me that day then he would elaborate on what the encyclopedia had to say on that topic.  Many years later I inherited that set of encyclopedia.  Because I was not the only grandchild to read them, the books were well used but I could remember where some of those scars came from.   Usually they were the result of eating while reading, one of my favorite occupations still.

My grandparents died when I was in my teens so I went forward in life, adopting other role models as I felt moved to do so.  One favorite was a woman who would never be a grandmother.  She was a nun, Sister Consilia Danyi. She was an outstanding artist and professor who taught at Ancilla College in Donaldson, IN.  She taught me quiet confidence and encouraged my patience.  She also taught me that my talent might be in writing, not painting. My oldest daughter is named after her, and my younger daughter is named after Grandma Genevieve.

Sr. Consilia was a welcome antidote for the nuns I remembered from a stay in an orphanage when my parents abandoned me and my three siblings in Santa Fe, NM.  (We were reunited after many frightening months of separation.)  Those nuns washed my mouth out with lye soap for a “language usage problem” and held my frost-bitten hands under painfully warm water to thaw them out after leaving me too long on the playground without mittens. I’m sure they meant well, but the experience was frightening.

Over many years I have adopted other women’s mothers and grandmothers as role models, but the one I think of most fondly is my own grandma.

A Walk Among the Dead on Resurrection Sunday

It was not what I expected to do on an Easter Sunday evening.

We had worshiped, feasted and rested. Our hearts and bellies were full with celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Who knew as the sun was setting we’d be walking among the dead and rejoicing over life.

An evening visit to my hometown on Easter Sunday led us to Rose Hill Cemetery. Dad spent several years as keeper of the cemetery grounds and records. It was his very favorite job among the many he’s held in his 85 years, and he knows the layout of this beautiful resting place like the back of his hand. (He did, in fact, survey and map out a portion of the cemetery. He also gave walking tours as part of the Tombstone Trail, an organized trek through 10 cemeteries in northeast Indiana.)

On this beautiful spring evening, we were there to see the stone bench he and Mom have placed on the site where they will be buried. It’s a lovely, black marble piece of art that is engraved with icons depicting their character and interests. A drawing of the Virgin Mary with a coiled rosary reflects Mom’s deep Catholic roots. Dad’s military service is honored with a sketch of the B-52 bomber that carried him in its belly for tours across the United States during his peacetime enlistment.

We inspected the beautiful piece and listened to Dad explain that the bomber’s wings were a little short. He half-jokingly mentioned bringing a dremel tool to the cemetery to correct the problem. Ever the fixer-upper.140420_0003

Venturing into the older parts of the rolling burial grounds, we found stones bearing the names of my great-grandparents and other individuals who contributed to my hometown’s history. As we walked and drove the winding pathways, familiar names passed before us. Prickett, Moorhouse, Black, Brazzell, Young — families whose lives were entwined with mine during my growing up years in this small town.

Far off, the Lutheran Church downtown chimed the hour, and suddenly I was transported back to summer evenings spent playing among the tombstones.

One particular summer — perhaps the BEST summer of my youth because that’s what memories do for us — a group of my school friends organized “kick-the-can” contests on side streets downtown. This crazy game of hide-and-seek that we played with great passion helped fill our summer evenings — and sometimes led us to the cemetery where the tombstones made perfect hiding spots.

A few years later, some high school chums had the great idea to make a late night visit to the cemetery — maybe to relive our “youth”, or maybe just because it was something to do.

We loaded ourselves into a couple of cars and drove across town to the cemetery gate. The stone markers propped against the night sky had a chilling effect. We parked the car behind some trees and, hearts racing, scrambled across the cemetery for a commemorative game of hide-and-seek. Exuberant in our innocence (drugs and alcohol were not part of our social lives, at least not openly), our voices rang out into the night — and carried across the road to my uncle’s house.

Uncle Joe was my “cool” uncle. A handsome former high school basketball star, he was my favorite uncle. But he now had a wife and a young family, and they were the unofficial guardians of Rose Hill Cemetery.

Soon, headlights appeared at the entrance to the cemetery. Uncle Joe had called the town cops. We were busted.

A few brave souls took off, but I promptly and obediently came out from behind the tombstone hiding spot in response to the policeman’s call. He gathered those he could find and hauled us to the police station, where our names were written down and parents were called. I realize now that he had to be fighting back a chuckle as he took in our fear-struck faces and contrite countenance.

On an Easter Sunday evening, back among the tombstones, it’s somehow comforting to walk among the dead and to recall moments that speak to me of Life.


Five Minute Friday: Glue

It’s what He created you to be. When He fashioned this family and set you at the center of it, God knew what they needed. You’re the glue that holds it together.

Dear friend, you struggle today with the burden of your role. Caught between the children who still need you and the mother that suddenly needs you. Then there’s the husband that will always need you, and the friends who know now is not the time to need you.

So, you keep moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other, doing the next thing. Because it’s what we do, we women who are the “glue”. We keep it together and hope it sticks.

Praise God we don’t do it alone. You know that, and so do I. We know where to turn when the going gets tough. Some days it’s a tricky balance and we get off track and things just seem like they might fall apart. But we keep moving forward.

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-15

We do it because we can’t do anything else. We’re the glue, and we press on.


Lisa-Jo-Baker-FMFI’m linking up with the writers at Five Minute Friday. Hop on over and join the conversation.

Taking a Minute for Latte, Laughter and Life

140416_0001Over there, behind the card rack. I can’t take my eyes off you.

I’m not a stalker. I’m happily married and young enough to be your daughter. But there is something about you.

It could be the way you nod at the fella next to you with a smile that says “You matter to me.” Or the friendly wave at the guy walking through the front door. “Welcome! You’re one of us.”

Maybe it’s the laughter, the low rumble of your conversation.

Whatever it is, I can’t stop watching. And you make me smile.

I slip out my phone and snap a quick photo while my latte cools on the table before me. It’s a rare day that I take a seat in a coffee shop. I’m usually rushing through, grabbing a “to-go” as I pat that list of errands in my pocket. But today, I decide to sit a spell — and I don’t even hook up to the free internet.

So glad I’m just sitting here watching, because this is better than anything posted on Facebook or slipped into one of my favorite feel-good video sites. This is life. Happening right here and now.

You guys are the real deal. You’re friends. All grey hair and colorful shirts and chinos. All shared memories of hard times and good days. You’re all that and you’re sitting here in the winter of your life, laughing like it’s Springtime and you haven’t a care in the world. Oh, I know that some of you will go home to a lonely house to warm up soup for a solitary lunch. A few of you will head to the doctor or pharmacy for yet another prescription to add to the list that keeps growing. The lucky among you will go home to tasks that await, that make you feel productive and glad to be alive.

But you’re here now and you wouldn’t want to be any where else.

I know you, because you’re like my Dad. You have aches and pains, you have history and you know the final chapters are being written. But you live them like they’re first drafts.

That’s a good way to live.

I’m sitting here today because of a guy who could take a spot at your table. I met Levi on the Internet when he visited my blog, and he could be one of you. He likes coffee shops where conversation happens. And he loves God. Levi and I exchanged comments and he made me think about slowing down and taking a minute to watch life in my favorite coffee shop.

So glad I did.

Thought-provoking-thursday-banner_NEWI’m linking up today at Thought Provoking Thursdays with Lyli Dunbar. Join me here for more conversation.


Living an Easter Sunday Life: On “To Do” Lists and Brokeness

My “Things To Do” list for this week is long, and there’s some important stuff on there.140414_0001

But this morning, my head is filled with another list that speaks to me of Eternity.

We’re stepping into that painful climb to Gilgotha. It’s the Holy Week. Christ has been heralded as King. Soon He’ll be tortured as blasphemer. Every Lenten season, in this year more than most, I am walking with those women, following Christ’s trail of blood.

I want one last chance to kneel at His feet, to hear His words, to look in His eyes and celebrate what I behold — God.

Bible open on my bed, I know I have that chance. More than one, many every day. I can read His words and roll them around on my tongue. I can bring that list of ways I want to know Him more, questions I want to ask, thoughts I’d like to explore. And I can spread my list before Him and point, saying “What about this?” and “Please, show me that.” I know He’s listening. And I’m listening. On good days, when my “to do” list isn’t haunting, I am listening.

That’s at the top of my Eternal list — to listen. To hear Him…

in the laughter of friends,

in the birds rejoicing outside my window,

in the whispers that come when I still my heart to hear,

in words penned by those who also follow the trail of blood.

“I am broken at your feet. Like an alabaster jar…..I will bow my life at your feet.” ~ Rend Collective

Number 2 on my Eternal list — to look.

“We do not look with our mouths” is perhaps the wisest statement I’ve heard lately — and that from the mouth of a little one asking Mama to pay attention, not just mouth affirmation.

I played “I Spy” with God this weekend as I met fellow readers/writers from around the world on a college campus in Michigan. I saw Him in the broken and the blessed. He was there….

in the gentle spirit of a poet traversing the winter of her life,

in the kindness of a young woman leading her elderly mother across the campus,

in the beauty displayed for us by creative hands,

in the smile of the check-out lady at Johnny’s cash register.

And today I can celebrate!

Praise should be at the top of my list — every day. Thank you, Jesus, that I can get out of bed, stretch to the heavens, appease my hunger, use my mind, work with my hands. I celebrate His grace, His mercy. I revel in the onset of Spring, in the blessing of new human life.

And in the resurrection promise that is His to give to this one so unworthy.

This Lenten season, I’ve walked in the shoes of John, the Beloved Disciple. While he was exiled on Patmos, God revealed to John the sacrificial Lamb, slain so that the Lion could triumph (Revelation 5:5-6). As John stood witness before the throne, he heard a mighty angel proclaim that only the Lamb was deemed worthy to take the scroll, which bore all of life’s lament and promise, and to open its seals:

“because you were slain, and with our blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God and they will reign on the earth.” ~Rev. 5:9-10.

Did you hear that? Do you know? The blood of Christ, the slain Lamb, purchased you and me for God. We are His kingdom, here on earth. We have been called to serve the Lion.

My heart will break on Thursday when we partake of a final meal with Christ, and it will bleed on Friday to see Him condemned and crucified. But it will rejoice come Sunday, when in the midst of the same trial and heartache suffered by so many in my world, I gather with them to live out “an Easter Sunday faith in a Good Friday world.”

Today, as I yearn for Sunday, I lay my list and my broken self at the feet of Jesus “like an alabaster jar.” Won’t you join me here?

In Good Company for a Nostalgic Journey

I call the biennial Festival of Faith and Writing my “guilty pleasure.” What could be better than spending three days surrounded by people who love to read, have a passion to write and like nothing more than talking about both?


An early morning workshop at the Festival of Faith and Writing.

My fifth Festival experience is awash with nostalgia as I hike back and forth across the beautiful Calvin College campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Here is where my oldest son acquired a college degree and found the love of his life. Eight years ago, when he was a junior at Calvin and engaged to his lovely wife, I signed up for the Festival. I had no idea what to expect, and I spent the weekend in awe of the esteemed authors who were willing to share their writing lives with me, a former newspaper reporter with dreams of writing a novel, essays, anything but a news story.

This morning, I sit in the beautiful Calvin Seminary Chapel with three published authors talking about “What Fiction Can Do”. Later I’ll find my way to workshops on writing about faith, food and failure. I’ll listen in on an interview with writer Rachel Held Evans, and tonight I’ll hear novelist, non-fiction writer and political activist Anne Lamott talk about “Meaning, Hope and Repair”. Sigh……

Some nuggets from this morning’s fiction workshop:

“Fiction is an opportunity to give language to longings.” — Author and pastor Sharon Garlough Brown.

“When I’m writing, I’m living on a higher plane. I’m happier when I’m writing….by writing I put order in the world.”” — Canadian novelist Hugh Cook.

“Fiction is a lie that tells the truth.”

“See it, feel it and write it.” — Author and book store owner Tracy Groot.

“Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself.” – Harper Lee quoted by Hugh Cook.




Honoring the Saints Among Us: A Teacher’s Gift

 I am delighted to share with you my friend Monica Clark’s tribute to a teacher who made a lasting impression.


The third-graders were ready for their last rehearsal. The girls dressed in white linen costumes lined up along the windows. Gold and silver halos danced and dipped, and stiff, silver angel wings stood at attention. The boys in their shepherd’s robes milled around like the imaginary sheep they were supposed to guard. Flush faces, sparkling eyes, and nervous smiles greeted me. It was too much. I excused myself and fled, weeping, to the supply room.

No, it wasn’t the Christmas pageant that upset me. It was the news that Roger Brenneman had passed away.

“It’s okay,” I thought. He lived a good life, a full life, a life filled with love and hope and faith. I was fine, until I looked into those shining faces and realized those children would never know Mr. Brenneman.

To understand, you have to go back to 1975 and a scrawny eleven year old who hated school. Four schools in three years had changed me. My main interest in school was skipping it. That worked fine in fifth grade where I once skipped 9 days in a row, but about the third time I pulled the old, “Missed the bus,” routine, Mr. Brenneman sat me down and demanded an explanation.

I couldn’t tell him how dumb I felt, how lost I was, so I sat in shameful silence. Then, he began to speak, and I soon realized he understood. He told me he wanted me in his classroom. I needed to be there to learn everything he had to teach. I was stunned to realize that he actually cared. I never skipped another day, and with his help, I caught up.

Mr. Brenneman wove life lessons through all our activities. We visited two local supermarkets, priced items, compared the differences, and determined the best place to shop. It sure didn’t feel like math, but it was.

We ran a bake sale and tallied up our money. We cooked applesauce in a giant kettle behind the bus garage to sell as a fund-raiser. We bought fabric, measured it out in blocks, embroidered—yes, even the boys—and stitched together a quilt. That summer, Mr. Brenneman took a group of students to Washington, D.C., and presented our quilt to Senator Birch Bayh. Pretty heady stuff for a Shipshewana kid.

We read great stories, memorized long poems, and wrote our own books. Soon, it was Christmas time, and one day we found jars of tempura paint and a stack of paint brushes in the room. Mr. Brenneman let us paint great murals on the large windows along the east wall. A huge Christmas tree, a giant candle surrounded by holly, and a manger with baby Jesus proved we were artists.

The morning sun streamed through the cobalt blues, blazing reds, the jaunty yellows, greens and browns, transforming mere paint into something magical. Our room became a wondrous cathedral with glowing stained-glass windows.

Even today, Mr. Brenneman’s lessons still resonate. He taught me I could do anything, be anything, and that it was safe to dream. Through his tutelage I have traveled the world, written and published stories and poems, and most importantly, worked with kids—kids just like me–who struggled in school, hoping in some small way to pay forward the gifts I received from a great man.

I composed myself and returned to the Christmas pageant, but made a note to stop on the way home and buy some paint for the windows.

Written by Monica Clark

Has someone touched your life in a way that made you a better person or left a lasting impression? Join us here to honor the “Saints Among Us”. You are welcomed to post here or on your own blog and link up to us here.