Memories from…

This Iona kitchen crew cooked!

An ending approaches… As 2011 fades, a memory forms…

Looking back over the year, the joys and pains occupied different planes. Most years the two hold hands and nibble each others ears, this year they never met. One never touched the other, either there was joy or there was pain.

Pain is universal, we all know it and all need less of it. I’ll spare you the details, for no one likes pain on a page.

Joys I will share, for I need to remember and maybe, in remembering, you’ll smile with me.

This summary of my year is taken from our family’s Christmas letter, which was written by my twenty-one year old son. To add detail, I’ve added a few links and photos.

Me and my children, Charlie & Emily, in June

 Materfamilias (Mom, for short): Being a mother is tough. Being a mother of Charlie? Well, let’s just say that this amazing woman embraces the challenge! I could elaborate on the demanding nature of her regular telephone counseling sessions with her son, but will, instead (in an attempt to keep you awake), shed some light on Mom’s fascinating lifestyle. She advanced her freelance writing venture—titled “Word by Word”—via many hours of writing, editing, entrepreneurial work, and networking; she was published several times*, posted her 500th blog post, and has gathered a variety of subscribers including a monk, an almost-doctor, an Australian stay-at-home-mom, and an ex-convict.  In the spring, she traveled to Iona, Scotland for nine weeks, where she became part of a tight-knit spiritual community and learned how to speak cow and bake scones using the metric system.  After returning from this British adventure, she celebrated a 25thwedding anniversary (on the same day as my dad!  Quite a rarity these days!).  She is currently pursuing employment at a seminary and planning to take theology classes in 2012, but is also considering just writing a suspense/thriller novel based on the lives of her “crazy family and friends” (watch out!).  Don’t worry.  I will ensure a just distribution of profits…

We drove to Boston to see Charlie in August
Rich and I played in London in October

Grateful for the smiles you bring, and you bring them often, blog friends. You’re a huge part of my year, my years. I love to hear from you, read your comments and know that you here, with me, now.

Happy New Year! May God guide, protect and keep you.

* March: The High Calling’s Articles about Faith; September: St Olaf E-News; November: The Spirituality Gazette


The Unmentioned Victims of September 11


There are victims of September 11 no one talks about, no one has held a service for, few have signed a card for. Undoubtedly, they sit sick, humiliated and horrified by the tragedy and approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11 with grief, anger and sadness. Yet, you won’t hear about them in the news or on the radio. They won’t be mentioned in any memorial.

Who am I referring to?

The families of the hijackers.

From what I can glean on the internet, almost all of the September 11 hijackers came from run-of-the-mill Middle Eastern families who weren’t especially religious or political. They are plain folk, ordinary sorts who, somehow, have to come to terms with what their loved ones did* and find ways to live in the aftermath. Somehow they have to reconcile the one who shared their table and laughed at their jokes with the one who flew a plane full of people into a tower full of people.

Has a family member ever scandalized or humiliated your family? Has a felony ever sat on your back step or an infidelity ever climbed into your bed? Has your name ever been run through the rumor mill? Have you ever felt a neighbor’s scorn or pity because of what Uncle Joe did? If not, well, congratulations your family may have super genes or uncanny spiritual protection or, just maybe, it is better than most at hiding its dark side.  If so, though, I’m with you, I’ve been there. Even though we wish we hadn’t been “slugged” by our loved one, it does put us in a position to relate, in a small way, to the struggles of the mother, father, son or daughter of a death-dealing terrorist. We know that even if forgiveness is granted, some things don’t easily slip away: confusion, anger and grief ebb and flow for years, like a great tide.

I wonder, do we dare include the hijackers’ families in our inner and outer spaces tomorrow? Can our hearts hold those whose loved ones killed our loved ones? Whose sons and husbands brutalized our mothers and children? Are we that forgiving, that compassionate? Ten years later, can we do it?

I don’t know…

Maybe if we try…

Light a candle, say a prayer…dear Jesus, please help me, I’m going to try…

* For instance: the father of two hijackers, Muhammad Ali al-Shehri, is reported to have said, “If that turns out to be the truth, then I’ll never, never accept it from them. I’ll never forgive them for that.” (Wikipedia: Wail al-Shehri)

A Rising American Idol

PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 7, 2010) Sailors cheer aft...
Image via Wikipedia

Sunday’s worship will brim with nachos, pizza, pop and beer. Jerseys instead of ties, jeans instead of skirts. Huddled in close quarters we’ll sing with the band, smile at the ads and yell at the refs.  Lost in awe, lost in wonder, our gaze wavering never.

We’re Americans. Sunday we’ll worship. The whole world knows it. They tune in to see why.

This is our high holy day, our Easter, Yom Kippur, Ramadan, Buddha Day. We all show up, we all stop and watch. Elbow to elbow, with dipped nacho in hand, we’ll chatter, laugh and pound our fist. Some will even cry. When the digital clock clicks zero, we’ll praise God, hang our head or walk away with a shrug.

The sun may go black, Egypt may kiss and make up, Haiti may sink into the sea. We won’t notice.  Well, I mean…we will notice…eventually.  Just not during worship. Letting anything disturb our devotion is  downright unholy.

Children take cues from adults. Tradition settles into young bones as year-in and year-out elders extol the virtues of this special day. Fathers, mothers and marketers make sure it will never die; a new generation of worshipers is born. Growing year-by-year in the global psyche, even naysayers cave and come.  To miss would be a sin.

Will you be there?  Are you coming?  I confess, I must.  For in sitting out, I may miss a moment of collective ecstasy,  collective hilarity, collective agony.    Global emotions will swell and subside; something I wonder if I’ll feel deep inside.

I worry, though, just a bit.  Is football a rising American idol? Are Hollywood and Wall Street being forced to share the altar? Has the Super Bowl become football’s high holy day, a bona fide American holiday? This Sunday will more kneel before big-screened TVs than before their Maker?

Christmas Letter 2010

Charlie and Emily

Last night we finished writing, printing, stuffing and stamping the Hill family Christmas letter.  Mailed on Christmas Eve…oh well….

I post it here because I cherish you.

Merry Christmas, my friend, Merry Christmas!


…the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.
Luke 1:78b-79



Christmas greetings,

As we think of you and wish you well, we share snippets of our year together…

Emily: 18 years old

  • March: received the prestigious Music for All national music scholarship
  • May: Prom, bedecked beautifully in silver and smiles, escorted by a real gentleman
  • June: Orono graduate with high honors
  • June-August: nanny for Rudy Boschwitz’s grandsons and hostess at Axel’s of Loretto
  • September: off to St Olaf to study music education (a teacher she will be)
  • December: sung in St Olaf’s Christmas Festival and, with a sigh of relief and swell grades, finished her first semester

Charlie: 20 years old

  • June: made the Dean’s List with Distinction, again; came home for a week to applaud his sis as she stepped into adulthood
  • June-August: lived at Boston University, took a physics class, worked on BU’s maintenance crew and trumpeted in their summer marching band
  • August: marching band played at Fenway for the Aerosmith/J. Geils Band concert
  • September: started his junior year as a physic major (trumpet performance no more)
  • November: sang and danced in BU’s Thoroughly Modern Millie; celebrated one year of couple-ship with a very special someone, named Sophia (who visits us in January ’11)
  • December-January, ’11: spreads smiles in Minnesota for a whole month!

Rich and Jodi: 45 years young
(no months noted here, for they’re less well timed…they’re freer floating…)

  • Rich added value as an upstream marketing manager at American Medical Systems
  • Fluffed the nest for the flight of their youngest (and her grad party)
  • Prayed together, stayed together and entered intense marriage counseling
  • Cuddled with Kleenex as Emily emptied her closet and moved away to college
  • Financial collapse caused…considerable…pause
  • HBK, a real estate company beget by Rich and two friends, bought its first property
  • Freelance writing found a foothold in Jodi’s soul

We celebrate each other as we seek a place.  We celebrate life, as it must be a gift.  We celebrate you, the ones we love.  We celebrate God, the lover of our soul.  We celebrate Jesus, who chose life, death and Life, so we might choose Him…

Have a God-kissed Christmas and a Spirit-splashed New Year!
The Hills

Do Unto One’s Spouse…

Image by jcoterhals via Flickr

I’m holed up in Starbucks on a freezing December afternoon.  With latte in hand, I’m reading Boundaries in Marriage*, a Christian book about creating a healthy marriage.   Do unto your spouse as you would have them do unto you, a marital version of the Golden Rule, just jumped off the page and hit me in the face.

How do I know what is best for Rich, my husband?  Well, the book teaches to step into his shoes and be on the receiving end of what I dish out…  Uh…yeah…  So, every time I feel frustrated or ready to criticize, I need to pause and think about how it would feel if I were on the receiving end of what I’m dishing out.  I need to reflect on the effects of my behavior on him.

Since I’m quick to see what is missing and name it, my growing edge is to learn how to name it in a way that doesn’t attack or blame him…say it in a way that is mindful of being in his shoes, of being on the receiving end of what I’m doling out.  Jeepers, if I approach things this way I’ll probably end up dropping most things as I’ll realize they don’t matter, that I’m just looking for an outlet for pent-up frustration and Rich is handy.  I hate the thought of this last bit, but may be…

The book teaches that, at times, this approach doesn’t always lead to a warm, fuzzy place…at times it means thinking about what is best, even if it is difficult.  For instance, it mentions arranging an intervention for an addicted spouse, an uncomfortable move but one in their best interest.  Or, confessing sins or hard truths, in the interest of honesty and real intimacy.

At other times, this idea manifests more mildly, like not blaming one’s spouse, but simply stating how something makes one feel and what one plans to do about it (i.e. I feel frightened when you yell at me, next time it happens I will leave the room until we are able to engage in calm discussion.)

With Christmas approaching and no cash in pocket, maybe this can be my gift to Rich.  Empathy in action, even in marriage.  Well, well, Merry Christmas my dear…

*written by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

Charlie Performing in Thoroughly Modern Millie

Many of you know about my fabulously talented kids as I toot their horn unabashedly, here, there and everywhere… Charlie, a junior at Boston University, is singing/dancing/acting in a student-led musical this weekend, entitled Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Bothered to distraction that I’m missing it, I hunted down a YouTube video that shows him performing.  He is on the right side of the screen after the men enter.  “There are those…I suppose…”, his solo, will help you spot him (tall blonde with red lettered sweatshirt) and give you a glimpse of his amazing voice.  Enjoy!!

Oh, and no, it isn’t your computer…the video is dark…

Charlie: way to shine!!  Break a leg tonight!!

Unable to view?  Visit: YouTube – BU Stage Troupe cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie performs opening number. or

Where Love is Transmitted

A whole hour.  Today I spoke with my son, Charlie, for a whole hour.  He is a busy junior at Boston University, so our chats are usually squeezed between his activities and classes–short snippets, sweet snippets but snippets nonetheless.  Today, though, we shared a whole, spacious hour.

He told me about the musical he got a part in, the intricacies of quantum physics (he is a physics major now), his terrific roommate,  how he schedules his days, his patient Spanish professor, his “things are going really well” girlfriend.  I shared happenings at home: empty-nest angst and adjustments, new ventures, financial frustrations, updates on friends. We gel well, Charlie and I.  Actually, it has less to do with me than with him–he gels well with everyone. As others say, Charlie has never met a stranger. An hour with him is all honey, sure sweetness.

At times during our conversation, I realized I wasn’t hearing what he was saying, instead I was delighting in his voice, his cadence, his being ringing through the receiver.  I was listening to his essence more than his talk. I was smiling at who he is.  I was with him.  I’ve done this since he was a baby–reveling in the sound of him, hearing his soul spill up and out and joining it, coming close beside.

I wonder if God has similar feelings about time with us, His kids. Does He ever get lost in us as we present Him with our petitions, our protests, our pleasures?  Does He know us so well that He knows what we’ll say next, so He checks out and delights in just being with us?  Is the “being with” more important than what is said or even desired?

Maybe, as I glimpsed today with Charlie, “being with” means two, regardless of distance, are actually with one another.  Maybe in “being with”, we’re together in spirit.

If so, I’m betting that is where love happens, the place where love is transmitted…in the being with…

In Flight

Third floor corner room.  Lofted beds, huge window.  Emily has a new home.

We moved most items on Friday, her music audition day.  Saturday came, though, the final good-bye. It was a glorious fall day–cool, sunny and fresh.    We arrived at St Olaf around 9:30am.  Freshmen and their parents were everywhere, actively moving bedding, furniture and clothing from SUV’s to dorm rooms.  I’m thinking Norwegians are natural organizers, as things were arranged to make move-in a breeze: we never felt hurried or had to wait.   Parked feet from the dorm door, we unpacked the last items–full length mirror, laptop, clothing, quilt–and climbed the open stairwell to her new home on the top floor.  Determined to do one more “mom” thing, before she was officially launched, I climbed the rickety ladder to her bed and wrestled the bedding over and under the plastic twin-sized mattress.   The quilt–made with love and signed by her church family and grad party attendees–was the final piece put in place.  I was done making home for her, with her.  Today she makes her own home.

Loose end tie-up came next: piano audition, work-study assignment, flute lesson scheduling.  Along the way, old friends were encountered, new friends made. Parents eyed each other knowingly, we were all struggling.  Students happily grouped and gabbed about what lay ahead.

We sat in the commons and munched hamburgers and chips at the college’s picnic lunch.  Then she disappeared, off to a friend’s dorm room.  She was gone for hours.  Rich and I sat, realizing this was a good sign, yet hating that we were missing these last moments with her.

Dutifully, we went to the meeting for freshmen parents while she went to the meeting for freshmen students.  Then four o’clock came, the official freshmen welcome ceremony in the gymnasium.  The faculty, in caps and gowns, processed to trumpet fanfare.  We sang a hymn.  Speakers spoke.  I rubbed her back, stroked her hair, straightened her necklace–she let me, she didn’t resist.  My eyes spilled, I wiped them dry.  The chaplain said a prayer.  Then came the benediction and recessional–it was over.  Parents were instructed to say good-bye, students were to move immediately to the field house.  Dads smiled bravely, moms teared up.  Hugs flooded the room.   I held her tight, then stroked her cheek and said “Goodbye sweetie, love you”.  She hugged me back saying “I love you, Mom”.   She hugged her dad, then kissed his cheek.  We turned away as she turned away.  I turned back but could not find her–she had become part of the mass of freshmen moving the other way.

Rich and I wandered a bit, forgetting where the car was parked.  It was okay, we had time…lots of time.  Eventually, it came into view.  As I reached for the car door, two birds emerged out from under the front of the car and flew away, one right after the other.  I felt my eyes widen and jaw drop.  God must have put them there to make sure I got the message: our nest is empty.  Charles & Emily are gone, in flight, our work is done.

St Olaf’s classes started today.  I watched the online live stream of the commencement ceremony.  It was lovely, well done.  She is in good hands, is ready for this and has everything she needs.  God is with her and she with Him.  What more I could ask for, I do not know…

One chapter has ended, a new one about to begin.  For now, I sit in the white, print-less space between chapters  sobbing.  Grief is good, not to be skirted.  I’m allowed, but must not linger.  A new chapter calls.  I can almost…yep, almost…see it from here.

Adoration Today

Slemish, mountain in County Antrim where St Pa...
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Every Thursday morning I spend an hour in a Catholic chapel, they call it Adoration.  I sit in silence and pray, read, pray, read, pray, pray, pray.  Today, I randomly opened books situated nearby. What I read stuck, so I share it here…

I will restore you to health
and heal your wounds,’
declares the LORD
Jeremiah 30:17 (yep, the Bible)

The prayer-book bookmark sat at March 17th,  St Patrick’s Day.  The brief bio said: Patrick started evangelism of Ireland at my age and in 33 years he converted the entire island–peacefully, no bloodshed.  He died at the age of 77 having brought Jesus Christ to those who ripped him from his homeland as a teenager and made him their slave.  In the Middle Ages, Ireland was known as the Island of Saints as many churches and monasteries bejeweled its landscape–what a tribute to what God can do through one surrendered soul willing to reach toward those who wound his heart, steal his young adulthood. (pic is of the mountain where St Patrick shepherded as a slave)

A devotional book of “words” from God opened to a page that spoke of how God wants families to stay together, how both mothers and fathers are responsible for the well-being of the children, how mothers can’t bring what fathers bring and fathers can’t bring what mothers bring–children need both parents.  Some don’t grow up, some stay children and refuse to take responsibility, they harm their own children.  Parents are responsible for the moral and physical well-being of their kids and when a spouse threatens that, it is permissible to leave the spouse or remove the child from harms way.  Protect your children.

Just before leaving…

A hand on the shoulder from a fellow pray-er, asking how I’m doing.  She knows my struggle–some Thursdays we talk, others we don’t.  “It’s really hard right now” is all I can muster, as tears well up.  She rubs my shoulder and assures me she is praying and that things will get better in God’s time.  I believe her.  She takes her seat, I grab a tissue for the well is spilling over.  I cannot see.

Moms Not Alone

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=women+coffee+meeting&iid=5065830″ src=”; width=”380″ height=”253″ /]“You’re the senior mom.  I mean, the mom for the seniors.” wound its way to me just now, while filling my cup at the coffee shop’s refill station.  Without looking, I sensed the smiles at the slip of the tongue.  It comes from a table of moms busy planning for the school year, a committee of hearts committed to the well-being of their students, their children.

Taking my seat across the room, I watch as they sip their frozen lattes, lean over agendas and affably check off the must-do list.  I know that scene, I used to wear the committee mom hat.  The meetings were all the same: friendly mothers gathering to boost our kids’ educational or extra-curricular experience and divvying up the long list of items that always ensued.  Sometimes we knew each other–our kids were friends or we attended the same church.  Other times our “hello” met a new face.  Often we shared more than the plans and the list, often we shared struggles about our kids.  One mom, usually the extroverted one, would break the ice with something like this:  “No matter what I do, Johnny won’t do his homework!” The rest of us would look at her, then at each other and nod knowingly–we could relate.  One by one we’d give what we had: “Oh, I’m so sorry!  You know, I just read somewhere that if you do this…” or “Ugh, that is the pits!  My Susie went through that, you know what we did, we…”  Then another would share her parenting struggle, then another and another.  Suddenly it didn’t matter who had the biggest bank account or the track star child–we were all in the same boat, barely staying afloat.  Parenting–the great equalizer.

Hmmm…as I reflect on the times I shared a parenting frustration, what mattered most wasn’t so much the advice they gave or even that they sympathized.  No, it was the awareness that these moms were “with” me, that I was not alone, that they cared.  Oftentimes, I’d drive home a little lighter than when I came, even when my to-do list made Jaws look like a goldfish.

I gaze, trying to get through my thick skull (now that empty-nest-ness is upon me) that I’ll never again be a committee mom, I’ll never again huddle around a table with other moms tackling tasks and sharing struggles.  No, those days are over, that stage of life has ended, that work is done.  Emptiness.

“Are we going to meet again?  Are we going to meet weekly?” The dark-haired one with reading glasses, the obvious committee head says as they step out the door.  Even though they’ve spent hours meeting, they’re going to meet again.  If their committee is anything like the ones I’ve been on, they’ll meet again–they’ll make sure things needs doing–to help their children, of course, but also to gather, to share and remember they’re not alone…