Pressing Matters

My new spiritual discipline is ironing.

Mother ironed a lot.

She was ironing when the news announcer

broke into the afternoon programming

on our black and white Zenith portable tv

to say that J.F.K. had been shot.

I was three years old.

I remember the familiar, cozy-like smell

of sheets and shirts freshly pressed and hot–

steam rising in front of mother’s sad, sweet face.


The basement of the parsonage is cool.

It’s quiet and roomy and smells of years of clean laundry.

I set up Mike’s mother’s ironing board to use when sewing

but in recent weeks I’ve started ironing many things:

his handkerchiefs I used to simply smooth with my hand,

pillowcases, our COVID masks, the top part of top sheets

determined to fold over in odd little bits, our worn cloth napkins.

Under the iron, fibers fall in line

a quick spritz of water flattens the fate of recalcitrant wrinkles.

The hot, crisp smell promises all will be well.


As if I could iron out the wrinkles in my heart,

the folded over places in my mind.

As if the assassination of reason, the crumpling of decency,

the handkerchiefs heavy with sobs and snot from

demonstrators demeaned and detained by dictatorial bullies

could be spritzed and sprayed and fixed

with a hot iron and steam rising indignant off of sweet faces.

I am sad. I miss my mother.

Turn off the news.

Keep ironing, keep pressing on.


Snow Angels and other prayers

They shuffle in, the first two with hair disheveled and bad dye-jobs, locks matted from too much time in their bunks. Faded florescent pink sweats hang baggy on their tattooed frames. Younger than my boys, I guess. Twenty-two, twenty-three perhaps. Another, older, rounder, with a short-auburn bob finds her place at the end of the table, quietly pulling out her chair. The fourth carries a thick red-leather, red-letter Bible in her willowy hands and wears her hair piled on top of her head. Her granny-glasses have lenses so thick her eyes precede her into the room, reminding me of a grasshopper–a very pregnant pink grasshopper. Her stomach swells taut against her sweatshirt, revealing her inside-out belly button below. She talks without stopping to breathe. At the end of this short parade comes a slim, tall woman with curly dark hair cropped like Peter Pan’s, slouching. There’s an energy of anger pulsing just beneath the surface of her skin. A thin blue vein beneath her eye twitches in time to her heart beat. Intelligent eyes silently claim, “I don’t belong here” as she curls, like a fetus onto the rolling chair.

The women of the county jail are a motley crew.

I carry with me, on my coat and in my hair, the crisp, fresh smell of snow.

“We have snow!” I say, with the delight of the first blanketing of a season, when the crisp, cold freshness is still novel and exciting, and driving on ice and through snirt (snow mixed with dirt) hasn’t yet grown wearisome and disgusting. “It’s so pretty out there.”

Without windows, the women were unaware of the hushed beauty pillowing the landscape on the other side of the cinder blocks surrounding them.

“I love snow!”

“I wish I could see it!”

“The men may get to go outside to shovel it.”

“I’d love to see it falling from the sky.”

“I’d make a snow angel if I could.”

Five of the six of us laugh.

It is my first visit to the jail to share Bible study with the women. I didn’t know they couldn’t see the snow.

Around an oval conference table in a nondescript interior room, they tell me their stories. Meth and Crack and a parole violation. Dealing in several counties, and jail time awaiting in each one.

Grasshopper starts talking. Five babies taken away, but this one, this one, she is determined, this one, her sixth, (is she even twenty-five?) this one will be born drug-free. She’s going to give this baby the life he deserves. She knows God is with her always has been always will be she just needs to trust in Jesus and get back to church and doing what the Gospels teach and not listen to the people who are always trying to lead her astray and she may have had the other kiddos taken from her because of drugs but not this one because this time she’s getting into the Word and following the Way and she’s not messing up again no way and if the baby daddy doesn’t want to support her and wants her to get messed up again she’ll just leave this time that’s all there is to it because she knows she’s God’s precious child and so is this baby and this time it’s all going to be alright so she’s actually happy to be in jail because it means less time to be tempted to backslide and turn her back on God which she isn’t going to do this time. No way.

Bonnie weeps. When she finds her voice she says she misses her fourteen-year-old boy. She feels so guilty. She really messed up and he’s the one who’s paying the price. “A boy needs his mother. Mine really loves me.” She says. “I really messed up this time” and again she weeps.

Five of the six of us weep.

Stoney silence from Peter Pan.

We feast on stories shared from our lives and from God’s good book. Grasshopper sings, “Jesus Loves me.”

Five of the six of us sing.

Our hour draws to a close. Teeth are starting to chatter and blue goose bumps have risen on the bare thighs of the bleached blonde girl wearing prison issue pink shorts instead of sweats.

I ask how we can pray for each other. “For my boy.” “For this baby” “For my boyfriend” “For me and my court date on Wednesday.”  I ask them to pray for me and my churches and for my six kids.

Peter Pan unfolds her long limbs and uncurls her lips and for the first time speaks very quietly saying, “Pray for my daughters, they’re 16 and 17 and live in Detroit where I am a social worker with a Master’s degree. Oxycontin got me here and I want out.”

Six of the six of us pray.

I step into the blinding brightness of sunlight bouncing off freshly fallen snow.

A holy dance of longing and liberty moving me.

Ordinary People

My Column for The Elgin Review January 22, 2020

It was the coldest night of the year and the OB nurse reported to my insurance company she didn’t care what their current policy was, (dismissing new mothers and babies 24 hours after birth), she wasn’t about to send me and my 5lb 2oz baby boy into sub-zero temperatures. If the insurance company wouldn’t cover an additional night in the hospital for us, she would! The insurance company relented and allowed us to stay a second night.

Benjamin entered the world just before midnight on January 22, 1992.  He was three weeks early. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and ¼ of the placenta had died. If Ben hadn’t come when he did, odds are he would not have survived. Things didn’t immediately improve for poor Benjamin after he was born. Though he was not identified as a preemie, he was a tiny, tired little fellow. He was far more interested in sleeping than he was in eating.

After that “extra” night the nurse’s pleading gained us, I awakened in the hospital on the 24th with a high fever. A uterine strep infection kept the two of us in the hospital for the next week. Ben nursed lazily and my fever did a number on how much milk my body was making. When we finally went home, Benjamin, after a week in the hospital with me, was still considerably smaller than either of his brothers were when we took them home as newborns.

Five weeks later, Benjamin still hadn’t topped six pounds, so the pediatrician put him back in the hospital for “failure to thrive.” Unable to tolerate formulas, Ben was given bottles of my milk mixed with a high calorie supplement that cost $60.00 per day. In 1992 $60.00 per day was a fortune for a young family. Our insurance company said they would not cover it. “We don’t cover nutritional supplements” the customer service representative calmly told me. “But, it’s a prescription from his doctor and without it he will die.” I melodramatically, and truthfully, explained. She, still calmly, said she was very sorry, but that was their policy.

Fortunately, our insurance was through my denomination’s pension fund for ministers and the plan’s administrators went to bat for us and the insurance company relented. Ben received the supplements he needed. And now, as he turns twenty-eight years old this week, he’s six feet tall, still skinny as a rail, healthy as a horse, and living a good life in New York City.

I do not remember the names of the nurse, nor the pension fund administrator who effectively lobbied the insurance company on Benjamin’s behalf. But, on his birthday I give God thanks for them. They stepped up and spoke up on Ben’s behalf. Who knows? They may have saved my youngest son’s life.

What’s the moral of this story? There are at least three. #1. Happy Birthday, Benjamin! You are worth the worry you put us through. #2. Trouble with health insurance is not new in this country. It’s about time we make sure folks can get the health care they need. #3. God uses ordinary, everyday people, like OB nurses and pension fund administrators to save lives.

Everyday God uses ordinary people to make the lives of others better. For all of you who step up and speak up, thanks be to God!

Fear is a Trickster

My Column for The Elgin Review June 26, 2019

We moved to a suburb of Detroit, Michigan when my sons were entering first, fourth and fifth grades. In Ohio where we’d lived before, my older boys walked the block and a half from our house to Lincoln Elementary School. My youngest son, because he had special needs, took a bus across town. In Michigan we lived about a mile from the boy’s school. They were, by then, old enough and easily able to walk a mile to school. I’d done it growing up in Omaha, their Dad walked to school in Cleveland and there seemed to be no reason for my boys not to do it in Michigan—except—there were no cross-walks, no crossing guards and two four lane roads between our house and the school. When I asked why not, I was told, “well, nobody walks to school anymore.”

We lived in Michigan more than a year when I began to hear why “nobody walks to school anymore.” Twenty-five years earlier, two suburbs over, there had been a kidnapping and murder of a child on his way home from school. Tens of thousands of school children had safely walked to and from school for generations before that tragedy occurred, but since then, fear of a similar crime taking place kept a whole generation of school kids from knowing the pleasures of walking to school.

Fear is a trickster. Fear is a natural and needed response, bred into us to keep us safe, but it can also be irrational. Fear can paralyze us and keep us from life’s pleasures. Fear can separate us from our neighbors. Fear can motivate us to take up arms when the arms themselves are a greater threat to us and those we love than what we were originally afraid of. Fear can deceive us into giving up our liberties and freedoms under the guise of security.

One of the more frequent admonitions in the whole of Christian Scripture is “Do not be afraid.”

The Bible was written over a span of 3400 years give or take. Those were years in which people had true and legitimate threats to their safety on a near daily basis and yet again and again the writers of the Jewish and Christian faith stories tell us, “Be not afraid.” God is with us and for us and will be with us no matter what happens in our lives. The one who created everything continues in creative love to make all situations new. No matter what, God’s love is with us. When we know that to be true, we have nothing to fear.

We need to be wise and prudent. We need to take appropriate precautions. Danger is real. Harm happens. Some people do evil things to others. But, live fully. Live boldly. Practice hospitality. Let the kiddos walk to school. Most people are kind and good and loving. Most people want to help others. Most people want the best for each other.

At Park Congregational Church everyone is always welcome. Have no fear, you are welcome here.

Poop Disasters and other Perils of Parenthood

Once upon a time, all I wanted was to be a mom. From the time I was a little girl playing with dolls, through Jr. High when I started to babysit and High School when I gave up my “real job” to go back to babysitting (even through there was always, always at least one poop disaster every single time I sat for my favorite family), through college when I was a nanny for a family, I knew, more than anything I wanted to be a mother.

I had other dreams, too. First, I thought I’d be a teacher. Then, a ballerina, then, when I had a boyfriend who I was way too serious about, I thought I’d be a nurse (so I could study in town and be close to him). Then, I experienced my call to ministry while I was still in high school. So I wanted to be a mom and a minister and I wasn’t sure I could be both at the same time.

My mother was a stay at home mom. I walked home from school for lunch every day in elementary school. In Jr. High Mom was there when I got home, or she had come to school to pick me up to get me to my ballet or piano lessons. When she picked me up she always had a bag of raisins and peanuts for me to snack on to tide me over until dinner time. Mom was an assistant troop leader for my Girl Scout troop even though she really didn’t like working with kids. Mom was my room mother when I was in first and second grade. When I was in High School, she was my younger brother’s Cub-Scout den leader, and hated it, “Becky, please come straight home from school today to help me. The boys will be here. You know I need help, especially with Kevin.” Why was she the Den Mother? Because the den needed a leader and Mom was one of the only stay at home mothers around. And she believed my brother Tom and his friends should have the experience of being Cub Scouts.

Early in High School I brought in the mail and it included a letter to Mom from the State of Nebraska. It looked official and I was curious. Mom explained it was her application for renewal of her nursing license. Mom was an RN who quit working outside the home when they adopted my older brother. “Why do you keep your nursing license?” I asked. “You haven’t worked as a nurse for years.”  It was in the mid 1970’s. Mother told me, “Becky, every woman who has children has an obligation to be able to earn a living for her family. I keep my nursing license up-to-date so that were anything to happen to your father, I could support you.”

Daddy was a pediatrician. He knew a lot about what was good for children. Once, after I was ordained, after I was a mother to young children, sometime in the early 1990’s we were home for a visit. Daddy read something in the paper that troubled him and he said, “The problem is all the women working outside the home these days.” And, I asked him, “Dad, do you mean by saying that, that I shouldn’t be a minister?” Taken aback, Dad demurred. “Well, no. But you’re different.” And I was, sort of. My husband and I were. We were both ministers and when our boys were little we shared one position. It was a choice we made. We chose to live on less income, to have fewer things than many of our friends in order to be able to be more fully present with our boys.

Dad had seen too many kids whose parents were too busy to pay them the attention children require and deserve. He allowed that maybe the problem wasn’t women working, but couples who wanted it all and in a big hurry. When my brother and I came home as babies it was to a 900 square foot home. When my parents built their dream home, it was a 1200 square foot brick ranch which they owned for thirty years. My parents built a life they could afford to live on Dad’s income alone. A life Mother could have continued to afford had something happened to Dad and she needed to return to her profession.

When it was clear my husband wasn’t happy as a minister, and we had three young children and we couldn’t count on him being able to do his part to earn a living for us in ministry I went back to school to get my Doctoral degree. I needed to be the best equipped I could be to support our family when he went back to school to learn another profession. By then, the boys were in school and preschool and my husband and I shared a 1.5 position in a church.  To earn my degree I woke up at 4:00 am to do my school work before the boys woke up, and I went to bed when they did. I studied during my days off from the church while the boys were in school and when they were home, I was attentive to them. I didn’t want their childhood to be filled with me saying, “I’m sorry, I can’t right now, I have to study.”

Once, around that same time, a friend from home called to tell me of her new lover, and the new lover’s children, and her own teenaged children’s struggles with her divorce and her re-marriage and divorce from that husband and how happy she was now she’d met this new love and how happy her daughter had been that she and her mom were finally stable. And she told me her son was really messed up, and struggling, but she knew her daughter and he’d be happier knowing she was, at last, happy. And I wanted to ask her “can’t you just wait a couple years until your kids are grown? Can’t you give them a couple years of stability before you bring another person into their home and your life? Can’t you just provide for them what they need, and think a little less about what you need for now?” My friend’s relationship with the new lover faded quickly, and her kids went through yet another transition and loss. It seemed so unfair to them. They didn’t ask for all that drama in their lives.

Then my own marriage ended. Instead of going back to school to prepare for a career other than ministry, my husband’s mental health crumbled and eventually, our family’s whole well-being rested on my shoulders.

When I had a boyfriend for a time shortly after my divorce, my thoughts about my friend with the new lover came back to me. Didn’t my sons deserve a mother whose attention wasn’t diverted by new romances and relationships throughout their teens? I became more cautious. It was eight years after I was divorced before Mike and I met. We married a year later when my youngest was a senior in High School and the other boys were grown and gone from home. My kids suffered enough trauma going through their parent’s divorce. It seemed only right to let the rest of their growing up be a lot less eventful.

I’m thinking about all of this because I just heard about a young woman I know who wants more than anything to be a mom. She’s always wanted to be a mom. More than anything else she’s ever wanted to do with her life, she’s wanted to have children. She wants to be a stay-at-home mother, too. She thinks it’s important for children to have their mother’s attention when they’re young. I applaud all of those impulses, having felt each of them myself when I was her age.

She worries me though. She worries me because she isn’t prepared to support the children she hopes to have. Right now, she imagines the man she loves will support their family. But what happens if their love fails? What happens if, like it happened to a friend of mine when we both had little babies, her husband complains of a stomach ache one week and is dead from stomach cancer the next, leaving a two year old and a six week old to rely solely on their mother?

When my sons were younger men, I said to at least one of them, “Don’t be making any babies until you’re fully prepared to take care of them, because any grandbabies of mine are going to be spectacular, and they deserve to have two parents who love them and each other and are each fully capable of being good parents for them.”

That isn’t always what come to pass. The best isn’t always what we’re able to dish up in life, but is it too much to ask that we try? Is it too much to ask that people who choose to become parents be as ready as possible to take care of their children, and ready to give up some of their own desires and pleasures in order to give their children the time and attention they need to grow up whole and healthy? Is it too much to ask that people bringing other people into the world make some contingency plans, and recognize life doesn’t always unfold the way we hope it will?

Being a mother has been the very best part of my life. It’s been filled with poop disasters (little round balls of poop falling out of one toddler boy’s diaper and the crawler right behind him, picking them up…Ugh!), sweet kisses, loads of laughter, loads and loads of laundry, some degree of heartache, creative chaos, button popping pride, and now, deep satisfaction and joy observing the good, kind men my sons have become despite all the ups and downs of their childhood.

I missed the mark in many ways raising my sons. But, I thank God every day for my mother teaching me every parent needs to be ready to take care of his or her children. I thank God every day for my pediatrician father’s example of keeping the main thing the main thing in raising children. Pay attention. Be there. Be a parent. If you’re a dad, you’re the only dad your children have. If you’re a mom, you’re your child’s only mother.

I thank God every day for the whole village that helped my sons become the men they are today. And, I don’t for a moment regret the years I invested in getting them grown and launched into life.

To my young friend and everyone like her who wants more than anything to be a mother, a father, I hope one day your dreams come true. Only, please, be sure you’re as ready as you can be. Otherwise, you could be selling yourself short, and your children, too.

And that would be so sad.