Hear Her Roar

She wears her hair long and dark. She likes it that way; it’s feminine. Pink is her favorite color and adding sparkles only makes things better. She paints her nails every couple of days. She reminisces about last spring’s prom and talks about going again this year. Deep down she loves her little sister even though she finds her quite annoying. Oh, and boys bring out both her insecurities and excitement. She is a typical 16 year old girl.

She was riding along with me in the car recently. I was dropping her off at home after we spent the afternoon together. I entertained her request to listen to the top 40 pop radio station. She was telling me about how much she liked Lady Gaga’s new song “Applause” but disapproved of Gaga’s risqué album cover. She described the cover in detail.

The track changed on the radio. Katy Perry’s song “Roar” began pulsing through the speakers. Admittedly I started humming along and singing soon replaced my quiet drones. She followed my lead and I turned up the volume. In a loud-and-proud fashion we sang with enthusiasm. The words were lost to her, however. She made an attempt to recite the lyrics in time and in tune, but the best she could do was catch the line, “'Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar” as it cycled through the song.


All day she is defined by her 21st chromosome. She is told she will do less because of the number 21. She is told she will want less because of the number 21. She is told she will be less because of the number 21. Yet out of all the lyrics she could have remembered she remembered the words that defined her as more and gave her a voice- a fierce, roaring voice.

She is a typical teenage girl though her abilities are different. She likes pink. She idolizes pop stars, whether good or bad. She wants to spend her evenings dressed up in sparkly gowns and makeup. She is hopeful her high school friendships will last forever. She rebels in her own way and keeps secrets from her mom.

In those ways and many more she is like any other 16 year old junior, but the world isn’t comfortable seeing her as average, ordinary, or typical.  They tack “special” onto her needs and onto her education because special is easier for them to say than normal. And although she is a special individual, it has nothing to do with her abilities. Rather, it has everything to do with the readiness to champion her own life even when there are few others that stand to help her.

Running River Piercing Arrow

Small bodied and tense, the little girl sat next to her sister in the canoe holding onto the yoke tightly. Her older siblings took turns paddling while her father sat at the stern guiding them. They glided past sandbars and followed the bluffs that kissed the river’s edge. The little girl was terrified to let her eyes linger on the pores and creases of the bluffs fearing the rock would collapse on top of her. She took a quick glance and then steadied her eyes on the tree line on the opposite shore.   Adventures made her anxious, but she couldn't imagine a worthwhile afternoon without one.  
They paddled for a while longer. Her father described the kinds of monstrous fish that lived in the river and reminded them of the monsters their very own grandfather caught in those same waters. They spotted snakes and cranes, ducks and turtles. The little girl admired the cattails and the delicate lily pads that grew among the tangles of slimy seaweed. God has a habit of pairing the ugly and the beautiful together.
Stopping at a sandbar, everyone climbed out of the boat and the little girl tiptoed through the mucky shallows onto shore. The little girl, her three siblings, and their father walked along the water’s edge until they found a suitable place to swim. Their father ventured out first and dramatically and clumsily fell into the waves.   The river created hills and valleys below the water’s surface. Where the river bottom deepened, just off shore, the little girl and her siblings would run full speed until the sand gave way to a drop-off and they splashed into the deep.
Exhausted, with wrinkled fingers and toes, the little girl retreated back to the sand island. While being warmed by the sun, the little girl and her siblings began digging in the sand. She was impressed by her father. He too was digging, but so much more efficiently than her with his large hands and strong forearms. He struck water first. Then one by one, the little girl and her siblings stuck water as well. Before long they created canals and watched the water pass from one pool to the next.

Though finally relaxed enough to enjoy riding in the canoe, the little girl couldn't wait for their journey to be complete. The side of the canoe bumped and scraped against the dock. Waiting for them on the whitewashed planks was the little girl’s mother and grandmother.  She was pleased to see them. Walking barefoot up the small hill, the little girl brushed the sand from her legs and feet.

The cottage stood atop the mounded earth, decorated with a scalloped-edged roof, red shutters,
and one simple red arrow. The cottage was a haven for the little girl on Sundays in the summertime. It was filled with antique dressers, lace curtains, old fishing nets, and arrowheads. And mounted on the walls were the monsters her grandfather and great-uncles had caught. The basement was musty and dark, and it housed tools and equipment the little girl had no business using. Even still, with the accompaniment of her brother, she loved to explore the murky space beneath the floorboards.

The little girl had been told stories about what the red arrow on the side of the cottage meant. It was a reminder of the brave men in her family who fought in great wars. She tried to discipline herself to remember that when looking at the arrow, but to the little girl the red arrow meant something different. It pointed her in the direction of future pilgrimages to the ever-changing islands and it pointed her in the direction of future adventures waiting to be conquered.  It reminded the little girl that she too would be brave someday.

The Times They Are A-Changin'

They were black skinny jeans- the kind of skinny before the skinny of the current trend. His black vest was embossed with a leaf and vine design and it stretched snuggly across his expanded belly. One of the church volunteers was making announcements while the man paced in the side aisle waiting for his cue.  The long chain he wore around his neck bounced lightly off his full chest as he walked.  His movement was intentional; it was designed to make a statement. He had a position amongst the people. He had a title. He was the congregation’s self-appointed lay leader.
I was visiting my sister and brother-in-law.  Sunday morning rolled around and we readied ourselves for church. Upon our arrival we learned the senior pastor was out of town and the church’s lay leader would be responsible for leading that morning’s worship. Change for church-goers is often an uncomfortable inevitability that’s avoided whenever possible.
The cue came and the lay leader stepped up and turned his lapel mic on. He carried a Styrofoam cup filled with water and held it as if he was about to take a sip, but the cup never made it past his chin. He just held it mid-tilt. The lay leader circled the sanctuary as he spoke. The wedding at Cana was the topic for the morning’s sermon; however, between his comments about Peter Jackson’s work in the Lord of the Rings and his Rubin Vase handouts, the message was lost on me.  I turned to my big sister to gauge her reaction. When I realized both my sister and brother-in-law were fighting expressions of confusion and amusement, I felt more justified in my own confusion.
After several more unclear references, the service was coming to a close.  My sister pointed out in the bulletin that the same man, the lay leader, was scheduled to perform special music.  My brother-in-law leaned over and whispered, “If he starts singing a Rod Stewart song I’m walking out.” Luckily for my brother-in-law, there wasn’t room for Rod Stewart in such a service, but there was certainly room for Bob Dylan, the born-again Voice of Protest.
The lay leader prepared to perform “Forever Young” and hooked his harmonica holder around his neck and picked up his guitar.  The first few chords sounded unfamiliar, but the longer he played the more clearly the song took shape. He sang the first verse and before starting the second the lay leader slowed his strumming and asked that the congregation join him in singing the remaining verses.  He leaned toward his harmonica but couldn’t reach the reeds. There on his chest, the harmonica and its holder sat for the remainder of the song as if a decorative piece of jewelry and not an instrument. Rounding into the last verse it was invoked as the benediction:

May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young

And so after a mystifying hour, I left knowing nothing more about miracles, other than the miracles of classic song writing and the miracles of good will and patience.

I tip my hat to you, Mr. Lay Leader, for doing a job few have the courage to do. Bless your heart.

A Call to Worship

I listened to a sermon a few months back and the pastor, Bible believing and Bible preaching, commented on dying denominations’ inability to maintain membership because of their inability to incorporate modern worship into their services. A church must be relevant to the culture. Generally when I hear this type of argument I find points I agree with and many I don’t. My reaction to this sermon was typical; I’ve heard it before.  
There is something raw and emotional about contemporary worship. The elevated heartbeats crescendo with the percussion. The guitar harmonizes with the trailing congregational voices. It’s effective worship. It’s gratifying and immediate. People feel something leaving a contemporary worship service.
However, I have never been more moved lyrically than by traditional hymns. Where contemporary worship songs are full of feeling, hymns are full of conviction and weight, the kind of weight that warrants action rather than complacency. The hymn writers often reflect on tragedies and struggles, but their choruses champion themes of joy and forgiveness.   
It was less than a week ago, while I was walking through Hobby Lobby, that I began thinking about this topic. An instrumental version of the song “In the Garden” (He Walks with Me) began to play over the speakers. Being raised on traditional hymns, I immediately recognized the tune. I continued to move through the aisles when I spotted a man in tailored dress clothes, probably in his thirties, whistling along to the hymn.  I was amused. Based on my stereotypes, it was not something I expected to see, rather hear.
As I moved closer to the checkout lines I passed a woman, if I had to guess, in her sixties shopping with a friend. Dressed in light linens and sporting cropped silver hair, she seemed free spirited. As I passed, the woman began to hum, quite loudly, along with the song. The friend followed suit. Again, I was amused.
I returned home and I began to think about what I had observed. I think most people would have chalked up the whistling and humming to good moods and beautiful weather. I think that would be a disservice.
It is in moments like those I spent in Hobby Lobby, that make me believe there is no place for arguments about contemporary versus traditional worship. Is it necessary for a church to label its worship in one way or the other? As much as I appreciate contemporary services, I attend a church that worships in such a way, I find comfort in what traditional worship offers: no lights, no power points, no amplifiers, no videos, no distractions. At times, simplicity is relevant.

Pledged Allegiance

It is by the tears that are spilled with the accompaniment of blood that they have earned our memorials. It is by the time they sacrificed and the security they abandoned that they have earned our remembrances.  They are living souls fighting in the whispers of legends.
Forgetting privilege, they survive on the notion that there is goodness and careful justice in the choices our leaders make. They believe there is reason to protect and reason to prevail- even when charging the fields of another man’s war.
They speak of honor and make oaths to an empire. When the minutes pass like hours in the throes of chaos, they pray to a god they may not know and endure rather than succumb to a villain they know too well. They live in a world that showers both ally and enemy with metal raindrops. And if the light fades and if the cold sets in they remain in hope; their lives and the lives or their comrades weren't lost in vain.
They are soldiers. Trained fighters. Trained guardians. Through their sorrows and their successes history is made. Whether you’re an impassioned patriot or an indifferent citizen, there is nobility in a soldier’s story and that must be acknowledged. Whether you find war justifiable or inexcusable, a soldier’s story is poetic. They are not the poems of idyllic melodies but percussive darkness.  They are poems that litter the pages of every written history in all of mankind.      

Photo by Rebecca Reale

Puppy Love?

Dear Franklin,
You’ve lived with me a week to the day. I take pride when friends, and even strangers, comment on your handsome features (like I had something to do with it). I’ve found you to be an excellent cuddler, and though you are still small, I feel a greater sense of security with you in my house. Your eyes are expressive and your ears are even more so. You are a wonderful first dog for a first time dog owner. In general, Franklin, you have been a delight. In general...
However, I wish I could be as excited to see you as you are to see me when I come home to a soiled kennel. And when you start tearing through my house like your tail is on fire, I wish you’d take note of my disapproving stare and politely retire to your dog bed instead of nipping at my jeans. It would be lovely if after you gnawed on your toys and spit out itty bitty little pieces all over my floor, you’d have the decency to clean up your mess. Oh yes, and Franklin, I don’t appreciate when at 5:30 in the morning you tell me you can’t possibly sleep a moment longer so we adventure out on a walk only for you to fall asleep again twenty minutes after returning home.  
In conclusion, Franklin, I’m learning to love you even when I have a hard time liking you.  I think I’ll keep you so long as you promise to grow out of puppyhood soon.
Your Pseudo-Alpha Dog


Burkina Faso: The Musical

My life one year ago.


A disclaimer- I don't claim to being any kind of cinematographer. I apologize for the choppy footage.  Can we all agree, however, that my song choices are excellent? 

Dearly Departed

Amplified by a corded mic I prayed, “Your word says ‘sorrow may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.’ We are in a season of sorrow.” 
There was little confidence in my voice as I eventually surrendered to tears. His family and friends were gathered in a misshapen circle in front of the stage where I stood. Hearing the cries of his parents made gaining composure hardly possible.  He was a young man with a gentle heart and a genuine spirit. He was a young man who chose to exercise his mortality rather than succumb to age.
I had hoped to pray a prayer of eloquence, grace, and healing.  Instead it felt like a question.  What lies did he believe in his last days?
Loved ones were left with an encumbered guilt and old friends didn't know whether to find comfort in their reunion or regret. “If I would have known I could have helped.” “I can’t remember the last thing I said to him.” “When he asked how to be happy, I wish I would have given him an answer.”  Each of us recycled the same generic responses when it was our turn to listen, and when we confessed our own sadness words weren't sufficient.  We ached for an explanation that would bring light to the night fallen grief. 
Rest in peace. Though he knew the Lord and is now forever with Him, was it peace he was seeking or an escape from a haunting unhappiness? Rest in peace. Friends and family must rest in the sovereignty of God while wrestling with the anger they may feel toward the Sovereign One. Rest in peace. A sorrowful mourning will be followed by a morning of joy and remembrance.
“But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  -C.S. Lewis

A Thief in the Night

My Secret Santa at work had given me a gift card and a bag of Hershey Kisses.  Friday seemed as good a day as any to break into the bag of chocolate as I spent the evening unwinding from the holiday season and work.   I ate seven or eight Kisses before calling it quits and I left the remaining chocolates on my coffee table.  I went to sleep and I slept the kind of sleep one can only find when they know an alarm won’t be waking them.
The next morning I got a slow start.  I spoke with a friend over the phone and I sorted old clothing.  When I finally ventured downstairs I was ready to break a sweat.  I was geared up and prepared for a workout, but, as counterintuitive as it sounds, I decided eating a Kiss before exercising was just the right sort of motivation I needed.  I reached for the Hershey’s bag- remember how I had left an almost full bag on the coffee table- and it was completely empty!  Not a trace of the wonderfully bite-sized candies were left.
My thought processes at this point was skewed.  Rationality can’t be guaranteed when it comes to a woman missing her chocolate.  My first theory, and I’m not making it up for this dramatic retelling of my story, was that an intruder came in the night and ate my chocolates.  The kind of intruder that moonlights as a chocolate thief, mind you.  When I checked my doors I soon deduced this theory was not plausible.   My second theory was that I slept walked during the night and ate my own chocolates.  Without a history of sleep walking and with no putrid morning-after taste in my mouth, I also concluded this theory was not viable. My third theory was only formulated after I slowed down my panic (missing chocolates is a big deal) and looked for evidence.  Evidence I was looking for and evidence I found…in the form of mouse droppings.
In general, I’m not afraid of woodland creatures, so long as they stay in the woodlands. My house is no place for a mouse!  Up until this point there had been no indication of mouse activity in my place of residence, so in order to find out where the mice were sneaking in I had to retrace any and all tiny mouse steps in order to develop a plan of attack.  The first order of business was to tear apart my living room.  In doing so I discovered candy wrappings underneath my Christmas tree skirt which led me to the utility closet which then led me to the hole. 
With the point of entry established, my next order of business was to call my older sister.  I needed advice, but more than that I needed a sympathetic ear.  I wanted to know my distaste for such an inhumane breach of privacy was reasonable and not at all exaggerated.   Just as all big sisters should do, she gave me obvious instruction and then proceeded to widen my panic by telling me tale after tale of mouse horror stories.
Knowing I would have to face the day eventually, I got dressed and headed to the store.  I bought twelve different mouse traps.  I couldn’t be sure what variety would work best and the strategy I’d formed in my head involved a series of mouse trap barricades ranging in complexity the closer I got to the point of entry.  Risking it wasn’t an option and I could very well be dealing with an entire army of mice when considering the sheer volume of chocolate they stowed away within a night’s time.   I set up the traps, lured with peanut butter, and I waited.
Evening rolled around again, but instead of enjoying Hershey kisses as a means to unwind, I was camped out on my couch, feet avoiding contact with the ground, and watching a movie on low volume...just waiting.  Then it happened!  A mouse trap snapped shut!  I felt excited. I felt afraid. I was confused.  Again I needed advice, so I called my sister.  She encouraged me to open the door to the utility closet.  Open the door! Was she crazy? I envisioned hundreds of mice pouring out of the door as soon as there was opportunity. She suggested I arm myself with a  broom or shovel, so I grabbed my kitchen broom not quite sure what I’d instinctively do if a mouse was coming at me while I was holding a weapon. 

I opened the door with my sister still on the phone. As soon as I did so, I let out a sigh of relief. Apart from the excessive number of mouse traps on the floor there was nothing else to be seen. I picked up the trap that snapped shut and peaked inside, and as if the mouse was waiting for our inevitable showdown, it glared back at me with more disdain than fear. I put the trap back down, shaken by our meeting, closed the closet, and shoved a towel under the door.  I fully intend to keep the occupied trap where it is, as a warning to other mice, or at least until my maintenance man comes and remedies the mouse situation.

So there you have it: a story for the ages. One that could have been told in a mere three sentences, but instead was dragged out far too long and far too dramatically.  I declare with confidence; it is the year of the mouse.