Listening Beneath the Whistle

I was 16. It was clear to me that the generation before me had operated without the infallible wisdom of our cohort. We were ready to right the wrongs of those before us. Just fresh from a political rally, I walked into the house and heard the whistling from the kitchen. Bing Crosby — another symbol of the hypocrisy that was a demonstration of all that led to Watergate. I preferred the gospel according to Bruce Springsteen and the lessons of the Rolling Stones.firecracker

Having inherited my father’s quick tongue and tempered firebrand, I could feel my desire to explain why it was necessary for me to refuse to engage in the domestic role of the past to assume my ascent into the new position of women. We were simultaneously best of friends and greatest of irritants to one another, but I knew that whistling had nothing to do with music…it was a way to keep from crying or despairing or saying something that would hurt someone else’s spirit. I knew her from the inside out, and the tone of her whistle cracked the shell of my self-righteous indignation at all that was wrong with the world, and love was the plowshare that tilled the possibility of just being present.

Instead of telling my Mother why I was refusing to follow in her footsteps, I washed my hands and saw a tear rolling down her cheek, but I knew better than to ask what was wrong — she was of the generation of farm women who said “I love you” in action more often than words. Her way of loving was to feed us — in more ways than the body.

open heart

I knew the routine, I had been doing it since I was old enough to pull up a chair to the counter. The first week of Advent — roll the refrigerator cookies until the roll was about 12″ long and 2″ wide — a roll of butter, egg, sugar and remembrance. With two layers of waxed paper and one of aluminum foil, the roll would remain in the back of the ‘fridge’ until the third week of Advent. The first week was all about preparation — it was the third week that a hint of joy could crop in. This was a serious week of preparation. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the pan and something in me melted as I felt the gleam of “all is right with the world.” The suet bucket.

Maybe a bit of Christmas magic or the angel of my grandmother sitting on my shoulder. I asked her to tell me the story of the suet pudding — the real story — we never stopped working, but for some reason my heart was open, and instead of hearing about the women who had chosen a life that I wanted to reject as irrelevant, I realized that I had it all backwards. Maybe for the first time, I heard the heart story…hidden in the guise of suet pudding.

It’s the story held in the scripture of life…and in our family, it’s held in the suet pudding pan. As I listened that day, I heard about Bridget Lyons coming across the prairie in the old covered wagon and the pudding recipe that has been made in every generation since then — to remember the journey. In those days, when the wagon journey across the prairies was most rugged, they had to keep hope. “Hope happened in the kitchen of life” my mother explained to me, “because kitchen isn’t a place — it’s an act of love.”homesteading

In every wagon, there was a special pot where the precious commodities of dried fruit were collected and valued like gold with the intention of saving it for the Advent suet pudding, only eaten on the Feast of Christmas. Collected too were bits of fat (suet), dried and kept to be added for flavor and to preserve the pudding in the four weeks of waiting it would have. And in the combining of the ingredients passed down from generation to generation in the oral tradition of biblical women, there was remembering of the year gone by, those lost in the torrents of challenge and the new ones born to continue to make the pudding and be the love. Suet pudding wasn’t just something we made to mark a holiday, it was a ritual of remembrance that fermented into celebration. Something like the prairie version of the incarnation.

As I listened again to the story of my namesake who rode the wagons, something shifted in me. The women I had minimized a couple hours before became sages. In our family, it wasn’t our way to dissect the significance or reflect on the experience or even for me to ask what the tear stained cheek was about. Whatever my mother’s suffering had been that day had now become redemptive because we made the pudding and wrapped it in towels to sit until Christmas eve. And in the same way, she blessed my passion for justice and action (as she did throughout our shared life journey) and I was grateful to be blessed. There are certain things for which there are no words…only the silence of being present.

It’s suet pudding time…my brother has the pan…so that a new generation can know what it feels like to have your heart cracked open with “kitchen.” It’s an act of love. It’s Advent


That day…in that kitchen in Springfield, Illinois, my mother’s love looked past my self-righteous adolescent snare and saw in me what others had seen in her. Instead of engaging in debate, we rolled cookies and made suet pudding and remembered.


actionIt’s all about presence — being here. Today, my Advent Action is about being present to at least one other person…and instead of convincing them of my truth…I am going to make some suet pudding (without the suet or the pudding or the pan)…the kind of love that happens when I stop being so sure I have the answer and I notice a single tear and decide to just be.



Action Advent Reflection. Action. Reflection.

“Your actions, much more than your words will be an eloquent message to the world”
Madeleine Sophie Barat


It is in the silence of doing nothing but being present, that I have been shaped into who I am. Sitting every morning on my green cushion, and deciding again to let God be God — the God who is much more capable of running the world than I am (even though I frequently express my opinion) — there God takes out the sandpaper and smooths over some rough edges and creates some new ones because, for me, friction results in growth.

Mine is not the glorious prayer of saints…it is the rough and tumble of just seeking the grace for the next day (or the next hour) and the cultivation of my well-grown skill of needing forgiveness. Sometimes, I wonder if anything has happened in these hours in the darkness of early morning…except that I have a litmus test.

ACTION. I don’t measure the success of my spiritual life on what happens in the lotus positioned silence. Rather, it is what happens when I stand up and greet the world. It is my action that is the litmus test.

Welcome to Action Advent. This Advent, I want to be sure that we are recognized as those who believe in the arrival of God into the world because they see something distinctive — not perfection, but intention. This Advent, for me, is about being deliberate and intentional. So, when you see this little icon, you will know that it’s my Action Advent at work.


Here we go…

Remember those Advent Calendars we all had as kids? The door pops open and out springs a single life saver with the countdown from Advent to Christmas. (okay, true confessions, I have one in my office)…


This year, I am adapting an idea I first heard about on social media “The Reverse Advent Calendar” — instead of receiving something on each day of the Advent Journey, I am going to give something. Here is the original idea that someone sent to me


Now, in my case, I have adapted it — consistent with my allergy to comply fully with the pre-set rules — I have my empty Advent calendar- basket and into it, I am placing something every day. By December 24, it will be a basket of Advent Action transformed into a Christmas Basket for someone else. Hopefully, someone that I don’t know. Here’s my rule: It has to be something that I care about and I would like to receive, and hopefully something that I can both do without and will miss a bit. It can be gently used, but it needs to be real.

I have a friend who is doing it with books, and another who is a photographer and is doing it by limiting himself to taking only one picture a day, and still another who is creating a basket of tools for home improvement to Habitat for Humanity. One of our teachers is creating an activity every day to share with a new teacher as a way to give them a real break over Christmas and a CEO of a large company who is creating a collection of what someone new in his line of business would need to start — suits, ties, briefcase, connections, and a daily piece of business wisdom for a newcomer. Reverse-Advent-Calendar-Advent-Action.

I have been thinking these days of the unsung heroes of the Bethlehem story — the shepherds who listened to the voice within and their families who didn’t tell them they were crazy — those who shared food along the way — the women whose names are never recorded who helped at the birth — the courage of an innkeeper to do the right thing — and all those who had nothing to gain by letting their lives be changed and giving away their time, their judgments and their certitudes about what the Savior would look like. I am okay being among them in my own infinitesimally small way —

And then…I am wondering if you are ready to do what needs to be done in the first week of Advent: roll the refrigerator cookies, get the suet pudding ready to sit for three weeks of “settling” (a polite word for fermentation) … and always the stable — devoid of habit-ants because the young family is en route.

Most of all, I will meet you in the morning as I light one candle and let God do what God does before the litmus test.


Election Musings…

I love politics — I love the political system — I love the possibility of democracy and I love the empowerment of voting.  I am the granddaughter of the first woman to run for public office (state superintendent of education) in the State of South Dakota. I walked with my father as he campaigned for two different presidential candidates and I rode with him as he picked up seniors and drove them to the polls. It’s in my blood.
Last week, six of our middle school students– in separate conversations —  (both boys and girls) asked me if it was true that we would be having a war on November 9th. … “Is 9-11 going to happen again and the adults aren’t telling us?” Here in this House built on Confidence,  We do faith, not fear.
Late last night, a parent came back to school with her daughter to see me to be sure it was safe for her to come to school today because she had been told by another student that she would soon be deported.  The child who was held in fear, and her parents, were both born in the United States.  It was about the color of her skin.  The words of the Gospel of John rang through me, “This is how everyone will know that you are disciples of mine, that you love one another.”
I remember late one election night when the candidate my father had fiercely campaigned for was losing the election.  And his response was to be sure that I  had memorized the words to the Preamble of the Constitution as deeply as I had the foxhole prayers that he claimed kept him grounded during World War II.
Last night, in the middle of the night — the time when almost nothing fruitful enters my consciousness — as I let fear grip me…the fear of what we are doing to one another and to the nation built on the commitment to one another, those words from my depths of memory became my mantra…
We the People of the United States, 
in Order to form a more perfect Union,
establish Justice,
 insure domestic Tranquility
provide for the common defence
promote the general Welfare
and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity
do ordain and establish 
(this Constitution for) the United States of America.
From the depths of my being I want to shout, “We are better than this” — we are not the division that leaves children frightened — we are not the land where accusations are made based on the color of our skin, the religion of our choosing or the political alignment we proclaim.  We are the nation — we are the system of education — we are the school where we “show respect, acceptance and concern for ourselves and for others.”  We are the place where we “promote a safe and welcoming environment in which each person is valued, cared for and respected.”  We are better than this.
Over the last several days, my prayer has turned from the actual elections to a prayer begging God to show us the way to heal — to heal from what is broken, from what is fractured, from what no longer demonstrates to the next generation civil discourse, responsibility for our words as well as our actions and the moral compass of right action.  We are better than this.
I know that I am an idealist, but I still believe.  I still believe in right action and goodness and integrity.  I believe in the power of God and that God prevails in the darkness as well as the light.  I believe in fair systems of government and in the importance of every human person in the process of election and the responsibility of citizenship.  I believe that leadership matters and that we each have a responsibility to lead.  I believe.
I wish I could write an apology to the generation behind me. The “greatest generation” left me with a dream — one that they had given their lives to make possible. Right now, I feel ” impeled to act” — to right a wrong — to create a world worthy of our children, if only in my little corner of our world.  There is something that needs to heal.  I am not afraid of the darkness and I know that when someone “hits bottom” recovery is possible.  The dawn arrives.  The light from heaven trickles through the stars.  The wildflower grows through the crack in the sidewalk.  There is something very possible ahead of us.  We have the potential to decide — to shape what is next — to leave the last 18 months behind us and to reclaim “We the People.”
You know…the more I think about it, maybe the whole country is being elected tonight…”We the people…”