This past weekend I watched a video of a woman who had married her fiancé. No big story there, until you learn she married him after he was in a car accident that destroyed his brain and left him to a great extent incapacitated, and that she and her husband were both twenty-something when they married.

I was dry-eyed until she described her “gratitude wall.” It is a corkboard hanging on the kitchen wall, filled with post-it notes documenting everything in her life for which she is grateful—family, friends, her husband’s handicaps, God’s grace. (Perhaps those last two go together.)

Inspired and guilt-ridden, I made my own gratitude wall this weekend. Though it has only a few scraps of paper pinned to it, I plan to take a moment each day to remember those things for which I am truly grateful, and to add at least one thing to the board.

I think there is some sort of benefit from doing this–being consciously grateful–that goes beyond the obvious advice of being glad for what we have. Somehow, our gratitude is one of the ways God extends His grace to us–not a means of grace like baptism or the Lord’s supper, but important nonetheless. Important and true enough for me to recommend you do the same—build your gratitude wall.

Or at least, Be Grateful.

(Yesterday I was particularly grateful for my Mom.)


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Glorious Damp – The Red Line to Beaverton Station

The red line train is the hour-and-a-half milk run from the Portland airport to the Beaverton Transit Center. Five people on the train included a Native American homeless woman and her friend, a girl with very sad eyes, a fellow focused intently on his crossword puzzle that reminded me of a Key West friend of mine named Madison, and for two stops only, one thousand second-graders going to the zoo on a field trip. They left the train so quickly at their stop they sucked the available oxygen from the car and left the rest of us gasping. It felt like an Oklahoma springtime thunderstorm: a rush of thunder cracking the sky, a deluge of rain, then wet silence and ringing ears.

I had a strange form of rail-vertigo. Whenever the train stopped I had the strongest desire to run out the open door, run around the car, then leap back into the door at the moment just before it closed. I resisted the urge only because I didn’t think I could make the circuit around the car before the doors closed. If I were younger, I’d have done it.

A glorious dampness covers everything from the concrete bridges to the small cabin of St. Francis of Asisi outside my cousin’s front door. Evergreens are everywhere, poking up higher than the rhododendrons, azaleas, and forsythia’s bright yellow buds. It was Spring, and it was wet.

St. Francis and the doves, happily located in King City, Oregon outside my cousin’s front door.

If you’re raised in the Northwest you never forget the smell of rain on concrete, or the look of moss growing on rooftops. You never lose the love of the damp, and the green.

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You’re My Favorite, Sunshine

When you are in a position to play favorites at work, and you give in to the temptation to do so, you will destroy someone in the process.

Don’t do it.

And if you do, don’t be surprised when that loyalty you expected, that you live for in fact, isn’t there.

What shows up in place of loyalty is something worse. It is destructive. It is dangerous.

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‘Tween Here and Heaven

Ronald Mowry sat carefully on the wooden bench at the eastern edge of the playground, gradually relaxing his full weight onto it, and sighing with relief at the absence of back pain. The morning was cold, and crisp with unexpected sunshine. He propped his cane against the bench and took a look around. The playground wasn’t yet full of children, but it would be, and that was why he was there. On particularly lonely mornings he loved to watch the happy chaos of kids playing; they brought him outside himself into the light. He looked across the sawdust pit, over toward the slide, and saw a familiar-looking little boy.

“That looks just like Jack” he said to himself.

The boy was dressed in a white short-sleeve shirt, sweater, jeans held up with a thick belt, and a ball cap covering his blonde hair.

Tommy, Jack, and Ron, at The Ranch, Bend, Oregon.

Ron wondered how long it had been since he’d seen Jack. Eight years at least. Eight years and cancer treatments for them both. Ill-health robbed one of the motivation to stay in touch, particularly when trying to talk with someone as reticent as Jack.

Ron and Jack were cousins, sons of two of five Rowell sisters. Their families lived in Portland, but it wasn’t until Ron’s father moved the family to a ranch in Bend, Oregon when Ron was twelve that he and Jack got to know each other well.

Portland was The Big City, where you went to school, obeyed your parents, did your chores, and ate Sunday supper after church with all the aunts and cousins and neighbors who had no family to speak of. It was one hundred and seventy-six miles and a world away from The Ranch.

On The Ranch you were a man, albeit a small one. You rode horses, shocked hay, dressed in thick jeans, cowboy hats, and boots. The older men with the sun-browned faces and serious eyes showed you how to do cowboy things, ranch things, man-things–reparing the barbed wire fence, branding the cattle, catching the chickens to be killed for dinner. On slow days you saddled your horse in the morning after your chores were done and weren’t expected to be home until dinnertime; there was nothing but mountains and high desert and room to ride and a thick blue sky over top of it all.

Ron Mowry chuckled to himself, remembering his cousin’s first visit to the ranch. Ron’s hat and boots went missing, and when he heard the clump-clump-clump of boots on the hardpack dirt he looked out the window and saw his cousin down below, hat falling low over his eyes and boots threatening to leave his feet behind because they were two sizes too big. Behind him Jack dragged a pitchfork; it was needed to pitch hay into the corral, like he’d seen his uncle do.

“Jack never did come alive till he came to the ranch” he said to himself, smiling at the boy by the slide, and the memory of his cousin in the stolen hat and boots.

Hat-and-boot-thief Jack, Tommy, and Ron The Generous, The Ranch, Bend, Oregon.


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An Eaglet Is…. Homely

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:

Its lovliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.”

From the poem “Endymion” by John Keats

A brief glimpse of the Decorah Eagle eyrie this morning showed it covered in snow, The Papa securely tucked in the middle of the nest, and the Graylings (aka the three chicklets, Peep, Peck, and Poo) nowhere to be seen. Comfort is found in this second year of waiting for the eaglets to fledge, where we know that the chicks are just fine no matter the weather, and no matter how hard nor harsh they will never be abandoned by the Mama and the Papa, faithful and true.

Could we live in a world where poetry was the only adequate method of communication? A world in which everyone talked like Falstaff or Shylock, or the prophet Isaiah? Where everything was important and no word was allowed to fall casually to the ground and giggled at? No such thing as “whasssup!” or “booyah!” or “sock joy!”?

No, I prefer to live on the outskirts of that literary town; where just saying “weiner steam” out loud makes us laugh, where poetry is held in high regard, and where the eaglets huddle under The Papa’s protective breast feathers, high atop an eyrie in the middle of an Iowa winter.

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When Yeast, Like A River

Indulge in creativity and creativity will result.

Sometimes it’s clever irreverence at work (think “Y U NO” meme).

Sometimes its bursting forth with the scene from your favorite movie, with all the characters, with all the voices, and the moves.

Sometimes it’s taking a hobby (like baking bread) and putting it to music:

“When yeast like a river attendeth my way

When loaf pans like sea billows roll

Whatever the rise

Thou has taught me to say

It is well, it is well, with my dough.

It is well (it is well)

With my dough (with my dough)

It is well, it is well, with my dough.”

So indulge. Create. Laugh.

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Great Things

Why is it we’re always told to stop and smell the roses, but never to commit our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor to a cause larger than ourselves?

Why do we love the founders but seek to be like those who stood on the sideline appreciating the music?

Why do we honor those who fall in battle but pray that our soldiers be kept out of harm’s way?

What great thing was ever achieved while we rested?

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