Sunday, April 20, 2014


Here, at the end of this Lenten Season, on the eve of Easter, I am drawn to the memory of people whose lives have crossed mine in meaningful ways.  So many of them, so that the crossings have created a tightly woven fabric that wraps itself like a warm blanket around my spirit.  There are no accidental crossings. I truly believe this.  

This last chunk of time has been filled with profound comings and goings.  We have fresh new spirits among us: grandbabies Joe, and Beth and fresh-from-Heaven Walter, and a new little angel prepares for the journey in our niece, Katie. Woven into these fresh new fibers are old ones, where the threads wear thin and disappear. The upper layer of my earthly existence is gone now.  My parents and my husband's parents are dead.  And there are those who are contemporaries, and some even younger, who have skipped up to heaven, some of them taking two or three steps at a time so that they arrived way too early.  
I am reminded of my friend Cindy Gardner, who left us weeks ago.  The other day I was going through a drawer in my bedroom and I came upon this sign, tucked into a plastic bag.  I had made this banner a few years back, after Cindy had lost her breast, and lost her hair, and yet found her health after walking through the deep valley of the shadow of death.  She took that distressing path and rose up triumphant! My sister Libby took Cindy to every single chemo appointment, both three years ago when cancer first reared its ugly head, and this past 18 months, when it plunged its deadly sword too deep for the body to survive. But that first go round, when Cindy's oncologist told her she was cancer free, we had great cause to celebrate.  I strung this banner across Cindy's garage door.


Because I am a keeper of things, especially sentimental ones, I kept the sign.  I had hoped to string it across her garage door once again, hoping against all odds that there would be a miracle drug that would save her, or that the Lord would touch her with his divine finger and heal her.  We both knew He could have done that.  But she knew, somehow, that He would not.

I remember hearing Cindy's daughter, Meg, at her high school graduation, the day they declared that Cindy's cancer was back and would be terminal…I remember Meg saying "It isn't fair!"

And I remember Cindy agreeing with her.  And with a face as calm as a summer morn she explained:  It is not supposed to be fair.  If life were fair it would be a shame, because then we would none of us get to wear the custom made suits the Lord designed for us.  Do you think God would give his most precious creations a one-size-fits-all experience?  No, life is not fair, and hooray for that!

Then with dignity and grace, with trust that overshadowed fear, Cindy took that walk through the gate, leaving her cherished ones behind.  What a courageous thing.

So now I lay this banner on her grave, true as it was the day we strung it across her garage door. She fought the good fight, and though she…like all of us…was not without blemish, she gets to go Home.  Home…where no one can enter with blemish.  There lies the magnificent gift this Easter season celebrates.  He cleanses us.  Only He can do it, because only He is without blemish.  
Because He triumphed…
So can we.

A blessed Easter to all.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


When we were kids our mom used to say, when it got a little hectic at her house with seven kids running around: "Unnecessary noise is rude!"  One day when we  drying dishes in the kitchen on Old Clairton Road George was making some sort of racket, so I said UNIVR! Short for Unnecessary Noise Is Very Rude.  It stuck, and to this day you will hear any one of us calling out the family acronym, UNIVR, whenever someone is making annoying sounds. We have a number of family acronyms, some worth sharing and others…well, not.

I'm reminded of a couple acronyms that mean something to me.  One comes from my friend, Bob Pegritz, and the other from my daughter, Annie.

"Fred used to end his show with 'I like you just the way you are.'  It took me about 50 years to be able to say it and mean it.  Fred never said that with any exceptions, he lived it. " My friend Bob spoke with that reverential tone in his voice, the one he uses when he talks about his musical heroes, and Jesus.

Fred… of course… was Fred Rogers.  The gentle soul of many a child's safe place. Creator of Mr Roger's Neighborhood, wearer of comfy cardigans and tie up tennis shoes.  Friend to Daniel Tiger and Mr. McFeely and so many others who graced the screens of generations of televisions.  And a friend of my friend, Bob.

Bob Pegritz is a gifted whistle player, among other things.  But before I knew him he was a surgical nurse. After a few years of military service during the Vietnam War, Bob attended Physicians Assistant School.  He was hired, after graduation, to work as a surgical assistant at the Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, PA.  One day, as Bob was attending to a young patient, the boy queried, "I heard that tomorrow you’re going to open my chest with a big saw to fix the hole in my heart. Is that right?” The question was so frank that it stunned Bob, and he didn’t now how to respond. Instead of answering, he told the young boy that he had to go deal with an emergency and he would be right back. In his white lab coat and scrubs he crossed the street to the building which housed the television  Broadcast Station WQED channel 13.  Out of breath, he told the receptionist in the lobby  "I need to talk to Fred Rogers."

She quickly opened a door and returned with a panicked gentleman, long and lean, wearing a soft wool sweater.  "What's wrong?"  He asked, his eyes focused on Bob.
"I’d like to talk to you about this child." Bob responded.
Fred said, “One of my kids?”
"No. One of my patients over at the Children's Hospital. He has a question and I don't now how I should answer him. "
Fred put his hands on Bob’s shoulders and said “Do you realize the picture you are presenting by standing in a lab coat and scrubs, what worries that creates for me?"  Fred had worried that something had happened to one of his children. "Oh, no! I'm sure your kids are just fine." Bob apologized.

True to form, instead of turning his back on Bob, Mr. Rogers asked: "Now that you’re here, and you have my attention, what can I do for you."

"What do I say to a boy who asked me if we were going to saw open his chest?"

Fred answered, in no hurry.  With his gentle words he told Bob, "You cannot lie to this child.  By doing that you will have lost your trustworthiness and integrity.  He needs to trust doctors.  Reply yes, but you will be asleep, and you will be sore when you wake up, but in the end you will be fine.  And tell him you got that from me.  And one more thing, take him up to the operating room and show him where he will be going.  Do it tonight, so in the morning it will be familiar.  De-mistify the operating room."
At the end of the conversation Fred asked Bob if there was anything else he could do for him.  Bob, daring as it may have been, asked if there was any way he could hold King Friday.  So back on the set, Fred tucked noble old King Friday over his hand and held him up near the castle:
"Hello, Bob Pegritz.  How are you today?"

The next day Bob helped sew up the hole in that boy's heart, and he filled that pumping heart with trust.
Bob was 23. On Fred Roger's advice he began taking young patients to the operating room the night before surgeries.  The nursing staff at Children’s Hospital, to this day, takes children to the operating rooms the night before surgery.
Thus began a lifelong conversation between Bob Pegritz and Fred Rogers. There were many comings and goings across that street in Pittsburgh, PA. Bob was medical advisor for Fred Rogers special Mr. Rogers Talks to Children with Cancer.  Through the years Bob and Mr. Rogers wrote letters back and forth. Bob has 39 letters from Fred Rogers, each one hand written.  Fred signed each letter with a four letter acronym, followed by his name:
 IPOY,  Fred.

I asked Bob what IPOY meant.

I’m Proud of You.


Words being repeated so often that they become acronyms are endearing. Mr. Rogers' IPOY reminds me of our own ILYMTYCEI, which began years ago with our youngest daughter, Annie.

My Annie, of the tender heart, has a tendency to worry a bit.  Always has.  Bless her tender heart. She worried at the simplest things, her imagination fooling with her.  If Dave and I were going out on a date, she would stand at the garage door and watch us as we pulled out.

"Be careful!  Don't get in a wreck!  I Love You More Than You Could Ever Imagine!"  She stood there with her hand thrust in the air, her fingers forming the American Sign Language symbol for I Love You! Dave put the car in reverse and we both held the same hand signal as we pulled away.
Annie had, and still has, a deep need to express her love.  Her fears of loss make her a bit too anxious.  I have other children with the same anxieties.  It makes them especially loving, but it also makes them hurt more than they should.  I would wish the fears away, but then it would take away their sweetness too, so I pray for them to find peace despite fear.

Annie's continual use of the phrase "I Love You More Than You Could Ever Imagine" became a standard salutation in our house.  Eventually I began signing all my letters ILYMTYCEI, followed often by a simple "m." for Mom.

I have been blessed, or cursed (Blursed) with a powerful imagination.  Four of our children inherited that blurse.  They are gifted artists and musicians and thinkers and writers and creators.  I can imagine deep, deep love.  I can feel it, too.  Annie's suggestion that she could possibly love me more than I can imagine is quite…well, unlikely.  And yet, I suppose it is true.  Because what we think we know of love is encapsulated in our human experience.  And yet we are more than human.  Like the old adage, "We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.  We are spiritual beings having a human experience." Love is deeper than my conscious mind can fathom, and what I know of it is strangely more than what my experience and my imagination combined can conjure.  Love is ancient.  I suspect it is the most familiar of all emotions to our spirits. ILYMTYCEI is likely true, for all of us.

It is very late here, as I write this night, this Good Friday.  Dave and I are in Spokane helping Annie and her family move into their new house.  Kate has flown in from Houston to help as well.  We've been laboring all day, and we are exhausted. The household is sleeping.  I can hear love breathe.  In my tiredness I think of Peter, James and John falling asleep at the gate of the Garden, despite Jesus specifically asking them to keep watch.  I ache for Peter, James and John.  I don't think their weariness was an indicator of their love.  I hope not.  It was a reminder for them, and for all of us, that we are human and by nature must fight to recall our divinity. I imagine their regret.  

I imagine the events unfolding, their Friday night ending with a scene on the cross; the profound sorrow, the immense physical pain, the spiritual intensity,  the juxtaposition of full knowledge and ignorance, the ironies and the agonies. Inscribed on the cross, above the head of the Savior of the World, were letters meant to mock him.  And yet they were the truth. A simple acronym:

INRI . "Jesus the Nazarene.  King of the Jews".

He is king over all, whether we know it or not, whether we believe it or not.  Doesn't matter. King over all. But somehow, each of us takes Him individually for our own.  On a most personal level, He is mine alone, and in my imagination I see these letters, hammered into the cross:

I Love You More Than You Could Ever Imagine.

One day, when this is all my past and all that is left of me are words, I imagine with my grandest imagining that He will give me a hug, a real warm one like I think He would, and while He holds me close He whispers in my ear, " IPOY."

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Remember when we were little and it was, like, the coolest thing to be selected to clean the erasers in school?  It happened to me more than once.  I loved it!  You got to go into that deep closet down the hall where they stored the linoleum floor polisher.  There were boxes of garbage bags there, and stacks of those little toilet papers that fold into each other, and a shelf full of cleanser next to the mops.  Back behind the garbage can on wheels was the electric eraser cleaner.  You got to flick the switch on the back and the thing started to vibrate, the bag attached to it filling up like a big blue balloon.  The long velvety erasers that were carried down in a bin went gliding into the trough, chalk dust jiggling down and being sucked into the blue bag as your hand guided each one through. You knew your teacher trusted you if she allowed you to go into that dark closet and turn on that metal monster vibrating machine.

Being chosen to clean the erasers was a step down from the ultimate fifth grade teacher assignment, the Big Kahuna of positions: Safety Patrol.
Safety Patrol kids got to wear belts that strapped across the chest and waist.  Neon orange with strips of silver reflector, and a heavy metal badge that looked like a bonafide police badge.  It wasn't until late spring of my last year in Elementary school that I was finally chosen for the Safety Patrol.  I could hardly contain my excitement, though of course no one would ever know that, because by fifth grade it is required that all enthusiasm be squelched beneath the facade of "no big deal." Secretly, though, I felt my heart pumping when Mrs. Jackson handed me my badge and the orange strap.  I nodded my head as she reviewed my responsibilities. I was to aid the crossing guard, and make sure the little kindergarteners and first graders didn't run out into the street when school was out.  I had to stay until the second bell rang, and was to be at the school early in the morning all week, before the kids with rich parents started dropping them off at school. The poor kids all walked.  And we came early to play on the playground before the bell rang.
That whole week I could not play.  I had to maintain the dignity of my position, keeping an eye on the monkey bars, walking the perimeter of the building making sure there were no robbers or other criminals sneaking around. When the first bell rang  knew I had five minutes.  Five eternal minutes before I got to do it… the thing that commanded the attention of all souls on the Pleasant Hills Elementary School playground.  Finally…four minutes and 59 seconds later…Riiiing. Finally  I got to blow my whistle! The emotional release was stunning! I laid into the cold metal in my mouth with all the air an eleven year old's lungs could contain. Can you believe they gave us whistles!?  And can you believe we actually only used them when we were told?  Maybe this is why I was only on the Safety Patrol once.  I don't recall.  I only know it was amazing, and I felt amazing.

I'm trying to figure out how they made it so cool for kids to do chores like clean erasers.  Seriously.  If I could package the trick I would be famous!  (And my house would shine!)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Dave slid the slender edge of his credit card along the slot  at the check out counter, signed his name in one continuous line, and pushed the shopping cart out the doors of the grocery store and across the parking lot. He paused while I kept walking, bending over to pick up a penny.  As we approached the car he tucked the coin in his pocket and smiled.
"Pennies on the street always make me think of Fred," he said, loading the bags into the back seat.
"Really?" I responded, "How come?"

Fredrick Volcansek receives the Bronze Star from his father.
Fred is an old friend, a true friend, one with whom we can settle down into a heart to heart discussion even if we haven't seen each other for years.  He and his wife Gailyn lived next door to us at the old house.  Fred is a hard working patriot, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, whose professional history includes positions in Presidential cabinets and other interesting, emotionally and financially  taxing experiences.  Fred and Gailyn live in Clifton, Texas now, where Fred serves as the city's mayor. David, as an attorney, represented Fred through a variety of situations, some sweet and successful and others not so much.

One day Dave was walking down the sidewalk in downtown Salt lake City with Fred.  Fred bent down and picked up a stray penny. Holding it out in front of them, he told Dave that he makes himself always respect the penny.  It was his way of reminding himself that tiny little things matter, that we all begin and return to small singular things.  As they walked on, Fred said something else that has always stuck with Dave.
"You know," he said, "even when I didn't have a penny to my name, I always felt it was important to keep my shoes polished."

Whether or not it was a habit developed in the Marines, it made a statement about our friend. It spoke of self respect, of dignity, of hard work and appreciation.

My mom always used to say:
"Soap is cheap."
By that she meant, while you may not have the means to purchase fancy new clothing, or coif your hair at a salon, or have your fingernails manicured, you can still be clean, and wear clean clothes, and trim your nails.

Mom and Fred were cut from the same clean cloth.

I better understand now why David, at least once a week, carries his father's old wooden shoe shine kit out to the kitchen table.  He rubs wax on and polishes it off his church and office shoes and his work shoes. The aroma of shoe wax permeates the house for a couple hours.  I could not understand why he would go to such effort for his work shoes, the ones he wears to work in the garage and to chop down trees in the back yard. That was before he told me about Fred, and the penny, and Fred's shiny shoes.

I can see now why David's shoes last so long.  He's not just polishing them for appearances, though there is that.  He is respecting the leather that protects his feet.

And he's remembering Fred.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

42. TWIN

I always wanted a twin.  At least since the Johnson's moved into our ward in elementary school. Steve and Scott were identical twins and they had all sorts of fun with it. I'm sure they have stories to tell even still, all these years later.  Trading ties, trading homework, giving two and a half minute talks in church for each other.  Fooling even their own mother, at times.  Their sister Andi and I used to try to pretend to be sisters.  We thought if we wore the same outfit that people would think we were twins.  It didn't matter that I was a blond blue eyed  Dane with plenty of squish and Andi was a long and lean, brown eyed, dark haired half Hawaiian girl. 
Libby and I pretended to be twins, too.  Pioneer twins, with matching horses.  Hers was the left banister on the basement stairs, and mine was the right.  If we both parted our hair in the middle and wore braids then there was no question we were identical twins. If Ann Marie was playing with us we were triplets.
If Libby and I weren't twins by birth, at least we were twins by bed.  Our twin beds were symmetrically situated in our bedroom.  Mom liked symmetry.  The aisle between the two beds had a small rug on the hardwood floor.  The rug was the magic carpet between two ships sailing into the misty harbor of some never-land on a Saturday afternoon. Lib and I played ship for hours on end.  An upside down waste basket was our stove top.  Towels were our hammocks.  Our pillows became sails, then cradles for our babies.  If your feet touched the ground on a sailing adventure then you were dead.  This was rarely a problem.  We would jump from twin bed to twin bed, the safety of the rug being a small cushion under us.  If we could find a two by four in the garage then there would be a plank between the two ships, which always added great dimension to our adventures.  
We often pretended to be royalty aboard ship.  I was always the prince.  I danced the boy part as well when we learned to waltz in a church activity.  To add realism to the royalty aspect we stretched wire hangers over our heads, the hook poking out from the crown of the head, the loop fitting tight under the chin.  If we both wanted to be princesses, then we would add Mom's silk scarves, which flowed gently down our backs.  
Lib and I grew up and we lived very far apart for a lot of years.  But now we are super lucky cuz we  have houses right by each other.  The Madson's house is like a nightstand between our twin beds.  We get to play all the time. Not long ago I went up to visit Libby with a crown on my head.  Anyone else would have thought me crazy.  But not my sister, my twin…she went straight to the closet, grabbed a wire hanger, and stretched it over her own head.
Yay for twins!

41. PIT

Anna Bella stands beside me in the kitchen.  Sometimes I look at her and, I'm sorry, I can't help myself... it starts as a thought and squirms up from my belly and spreads out through my hands, the words fizzing out of my mouth.
She giggles and squeals, her long sable colored hair flailing as she presses her arms in front of her. My fingers work their way into the tickle spot in her arm pit.  She wriggles and giggles, begging me to stop, which I do, of course, because excessive pit tickling is painful. You have to be old like me to know how to come up to that line between funny and not funny and not cross over it. It's one of the great advantages of getting old. And another thing, pit tickling is for little ones, creatures who are small enough to get bundled up in kisses when you're done. And whose pits don't stink.
My Bella fits perfectly in my arms, even though she is seven years old.  Her feather-light body curls into mine at night on the couch, after story time.  She tucks her head down by my heart while I kiss her head.  Over and over and over.  Like heaven assigned me an astronomical number of kisses to bestow upon her. I am a dutiful servant, and because she lives a bit too far away for my liking, I have to take advantage while I have her. When she sees me, melt my heart, she tucks her head into her neck and smiles, then when I bend down to hug her, she throws her arms around my neck.  I smother her with kisses, ending finally on kiss number nine thousand nine hundred ninety nine. Then we both take a deep breath and she asks if I want to see her new jump rope.
Bella came to us a week or so after her mama graduated from medical school, and just a few months before they moved to Kansas City for Sarah's medical residency.  She was tiny and sweet.  So tiny, in fact, it worried her pediatrician mother.  Tiny body, massive spirit.  She did not know me the way her brother Timo did.  I had tended Timo almost daily while Sarah went to Med school and Dave the Younger (their daddy) worked.  Timo knew the sound and the scent of me, the beating of my heart.  But Kansas City was too far for Gummy time and Anna's early years were not spent in my arms.  When they moved back to Utah, when Anna was three years old, she was hesitant to leave her parents' arms. I determined to win her heart.  It started in her arm pit.  Now, she can tell just by the sparkle in my eye if she needs to run.  But she never runs too fast or too far.  She knows my feet will not respond to the running commands. She acts like she's trying to get away, but we both know better.
Last night we stood in the driveway while Sarah buckled baby Joe into his car seat and prepared to go back to Herriman after Sunday dinner.  My nephew Joseph and his girlfriend AnaLisa were here.  I wrapped my arms around Bella to say goodbye, telling her as I smothered her with affection:
"Oh, I love you with all my heart…and my elbow…my liver…my right big toe…and both arm pits!"  
Joseph laughed and said, "And your fingernails and tongue!"
I told him that this was an awful lot of love from Anna, because she has an exceptionally long and agile tongue!  Anna nodded, showing him her amazing ability to touch the tip of her nose with the tip of her tongue.  Lizard tongue, her mama affectionately calls it.  Joseph was duly impressed.
Bella has determined that she is going to be a songwriter, and the truth is, she has gifts in that department.  I am not just being a biased grandmother, either.  I wish I could show you her first song, recorded by her songwriter daddy while they were living in Kansas City.  It's called Big Yellow Dough.  She belts her tunes, her lyric matching the melody, the use of melisma and prosody making it seem like she's a semi-savant.  She and Timo both have a love affair with music, and with colored pencils and paper.  But they are really just normal kids, which makes me most delighted.
The last two years Anna Bella has played the role of Baby Mouse in the Nutcracker.  She jumps up and down, her little fists curled up in front of her chest under that furry little mouse costume with the yellow bow on the tail.  She scurries and jumps and dances around Clara.
So this past Christmas Eve, when I gave her the Clara nightgown I had sewn for her, she immediately put it on and swirled around the family room, her little striped tights peeking out beneath the ruffle.  She throws her arms out like Maria on the hillside in the Sound of Music, her long red hair rising with the folds in her night dress.  I watch her from my rocking chair.  I have no desire whatsoever to tickle her arm pit.  I am content to watch her twirl and twirl, knowing that eventually she will get dizzy and fall into my arms.  Then, indeed, I will take advantage of the gift and bestow on her another blessed installment of Gummy kisses.

Bella and her Gummy make pies

Ten thousand one…
ten thousand two…
ten thousand three ….

Anna Bella swirls in her Christmas night dress

Sunday, April 13, 2014

40. PALM

“Hosanna!”, they shouted, their arms raised to the heavens, their hands grasping the central vein of palm leaves.  The palms fluttered in a rippling tunnel beside him as he passed through the city gates.  Children wove their way between the legs of old men, their little arms cradling palm leaves. They bent down, pushing through the crowd to the dusty path where the donkey would pass, laying the leaves, lattice-like before the beast of burden, like an ancient red carpet.
“Hosanna” they cried.  “Save now!”
 Finally, on this day in Jerusalem, Jesus the Christ would profess his royal lineage.  Finally, Hosanna, they thought he would save them from the political control of the Romans.
They did not know he would not save them from the Romans. More importantly, he would save them from themselves.

On this Sabbath day, Palm Sunday, I hold a fresh green palm leaf in my hand.  My fingers trace the sharp edges, all the way up to the brown tip, then back down to where the color is the hue of newborn green.  I imagine myself there, in that city, and I wonder where I would have set my feet that day.  I wonder if I would have been a believer, or a doubter, or a believer of half truths, or even a Roman.  I pretend I am old and infirmed and I have lifted myself from my bed, down the steps f my humble home to the street.  Frightened by the motion of the mass of people, yet compelled to join them.  I imagine myself a weary mother, wondering what all the fuss is about, wiping my hands on my apron as I peer out my window.  I imagine I am a child, my legs curled around the trunk of a tree, my arms stretching up to the tender part, pulling leaves out and letting them drop to the ground below, calling to my friend to hurry and gather them before strangers took them. I imagine the smell of sweat swirled in the dusty dry air, stirred up by crowds of people.  I imagine the bray of a small white donkey, the shadow of a man whose cloak will no longer hide his face. 

Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem that day, one last time, and set the wheels in motion for his own demise.  He was, of course, fully aware that this was the beginning of the end.  Such a celebration for so much sorrow!


I sat at church this morning, my head bowed as the Deacons walked between the rows, offering the bread and water to we who believe and desire cleansing.  I sat there and held my hands in my lap, my palms facing up.  Fingers fanning out, like palm fronds.  I traced with my eyes the life lines, and head lines, and heart lines on each hand, curling the fingers up toward the thumb to make the lines press deeper in the palms.  I pondered the mystical mind that puts weight on the length and strength of flesh lines; who foretell the future according to the lines in the hand.  I was reminded of the desire of the human heart to find purpose, and direction, and meaning.  Some of us find it in faith, others in fortune and mysticism.  Some pick, piecemeal, bits of this and bits of that to suit their imaginations. Still some drink their coffee and read the paper and pay no mind to faith.

I sat there, during the passing of the Holy Sacrament this morning and spread the fronds of my palms out, interweaving my fingers into each other…one hand into the other, and tucked them tight into a cluster of prayer.


She clenched her hand against her breast, the corners of her shawl wet with her tears, her throbbing chest rising and falling with the moans that fell from her lips.  She stretched her head upward, to the cross, where the weight of her son pulled at the nails in his palms. His blood dripped to the ground, like sacred rain, sucked into the thirsty earth.  Her head bobbed between the upward gaze and the demands of a mother heart that would not permit her to watch, so she lowered her head, then lifted, then lowered again in fitful sobs. And yet something in her told her to abide, despite the grotesque scene…to look upon him while yet he breathed, and to stay with him through the pain of death as she had shared that communal suffering at his birth. Full circle.  She ached to hold him, to lift his weight, to kiss his hands and his feet and cleanse them with her tears. 
He looked on her, the cradle of his flesh, and called to her, quieting her heaving shoulders with the safety of his living words.
He spoke to John: “Behold, thy mother.”

I do not know how they may have removed those nails when the deed was done. Some special tool, created no doubt for such atrocities, that would provide leverage to remove these things.  I imagine his mother’s hands, kissing those wounded palms, wiping them clean, but unable to remove the hole.  Big, gaping holes through which we all must pass.

I imagine, without really being able to imagine in my human condition, the moment those fingers sprang to life.  I close my eyes and I am Mary, running toward him, our hands outstretched, palm meeting palm in a sacred grip, my palm against his palm, my fingertip fitting perfectly in the well of his wrist

Tokens of love.  Scars He chose to keep. Never ending circles of mercy, left for proof to all the worlds, that while he could have saved himself, he would not save himself.  Instead, he ties us all to Home with sacred threads passing through the palms of his infinitely loving, compassionately wiling, strong and gentle and blessedly holy hands.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


I was twenty years old and deeply in love with two fellas at BYU.  To one I gave my heart.  To the other I gave my blood. 

Fortunately, this has not been a conflict for me; loving multiple men.  One started out pretty small, and never had to challenge Dave for my affections.  That’s my Johnny, my firstborn and only son.  He owns my heart as well.

John was born when I was an undergrad student at BYU, and Dave was attending BYU Law School. We huddled as a budding family all those years ago in our little house in west Provo.  I have such sweetly sacred memories of that singular time in our lives.

Spring ahead a full generation and here we are.  A few weeks ago, within hours of the birth of baby Walter, Johnny’s fourth child, John returned to BYU as the keynote speaker at a conference in the Marriott School of Business.  Dave had a jury trial and could not attend. (Dang criminals!) But Libby, Kate and I went to hear him deliver his address.  It was a blast from the past for Libby and me to walk across the campus of BYU, back past the Harris Fine Arts Building where we had taken most of our classes, past the statue of Brigham Young and the angular Smoot Administration Building, across the parking lot to the lovely new edifice for the renowned school of business.  We waited on some leather couches in a sitting area while the conference participants finished their lunch.  I watched silently as my boy-turned-to-a-man interacted with people; students greeting him with a sense of awe, others feeling his down to earth approachability and sparring in that youthful sort of way, kind of like flirting but without so many hormones flying around.  I watched him and remembered seeing his tiny face for the first time, all those years ago, his deep brownish black eyes staring up at me.  I remembered thinking “Who are you? And who will you become, my tiny man?” Seeing him in the town where he was born…I don’t know…it just sort of felt like the closing of a circle for me.

John, as National Director of Events for The Color Run, as well as a member of the advisory board for the BYU Department of Recreation at the Marriott School of Business, was introduced with great respect.  He had spent much of the last couple days with the people in attendance, and they knew of his experience, and expertise.  Couple his knowledge and skill with his unmatched ability to relate to people and he had them, so to speak, in his pocket from the get go.

He began by projecting a photo of baby Walter up on a large screen at the front of the room. One hour old.  Beautiful Walter.  He talked about his darling family, and his years at BYU (he has a degree in Philosophy from BYU).  He told about the Color Run, about its inception as the brainchild of his friend Travis Snyder, and about the philosophies and tenets that quickly catapulted “The Happiest 5K on the Planet” into the stratosphere of events. 

Then he talked about bagels.

Well, actually, he first asked a question:
“What will you say about this when it's over?” 

About this conference, about your experience at BYU, about this address?    He asked the question, not because he wanted an answer from them.  He wanted them to know that question.  That question, basically, was what he wanted them to take away from his address.  It is what he asks himself before every event.  “What do I want people to say when they walk away from The Happiest 5K on the Planet?

Take a look at what the COLOR RUN is about at the end of this post.  A basic component of the event is the throwing of colored cornstarch at various stations along the route.  Of course, this is not the only component that makes this particular event so popular.  There are many imitation runs that have popped up since Travis first shared his brilliant plan with Johnny at his kitchen island. Still the Color Run blows the others out of the water in success. But color, for sure, is a major component. Over 2 Million people have participated in the Color Run in the last 30 months.  That’s a lot of happy runners! John oversees all the runs in America, with event directors serving under him. 

One time they were hosting a run in Austin.  It had rained for two straight days before the event. John is not able to be at all the races, since there are often multiple races in multiple places on any given weekend.  Let me correct myself: the Color Run is not technically a race.  They do not time runners.  That, my friends, is part of what makes it a happy run.  There’s a lesson in that about what competition does to us.  Anyway, John happened to be in Austin for this particular race.  The staff begins setting up for each event around 4 am.  They have been able to, through wisdom, creativity, experience and teamwork, facilitate these giant parties in a relatively short period of time.  They set up, execute, and clean up to the pleasure of participants and the satisfaction of the cities that license them to use their parks and thoroughfares.  Somehow they have been able to get anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 runners to pass through the start and finish lines in one single event, have a memorable time, and return the next time the Run comes to town with more friends.

So here it is 4 am in Austin.  They arrive at the venue and find the truck that is loaded with the colored powder, is mired in mud in the middle of the field where they hold their after-run concert/party.  John sets out to set up the Start Line, but tells the race director to make sure the truck gets to the color stations ASAP. He is conscious of the fact that the stewardship for directing this race lies with the race director. After a while John looks over at the field and notices the truck is still there.  He radio’s the director to take care of the truck. Just as the sun begins its ascent in the east John looks over again and sees the truck is still there.  At this point it is getting late for the color stations to have their colored cornstarch in place.  John leaves his own task to find the race director.  He finally finds him at the finish line, slicing bagels in half.  He asks what’s going on, and the director explains that a whole bagel is probably too much for each runner, so he decided to cut them.  And, noted Johnny, they were very nicely sliced.

John takes the director to the truck, which is sunken in the mud, and try as they might they cannot move it from the field.  They end up having to hand carry boxes to the stations, but not before time runs out.  Only two colors were thrown in that race, and there was a lovely panel truck smack dab in the middle of the party zone.

That director no longer works for The Color Run.

John explained, in his address to event planning students at BYU, that his objective in telling this story was to help them remember to ask the question before they start anything…any event…any relationship…anything that involves people: What do I want them to say when this is over?

“If we wanted them to say…’Hey, that Color Run has the best food of any run I’ve ever participated in!’ then we might have fulfilled our purpose.”

“Imagine the response you want…imagine what you want people to say when they walk away from your event.  Then work to make them say it.”  That’s basically what my boy taught me and a hall full of students that afternoon at BYU. I call it the bagel theory.

I have used the bagel theory in my head many times since then.  I have used it in the last month  planning gatherings of songwriters at my house, helping with a wedding and baby shower, taking a friend to birthday lunch, comforting through song at a funeral, even talking on the phone with my sister.  I use it, I should say, when I have my wits about me.  Sometimes, when I am overworked, or overtired, or overstressed, or even under confident, I catch myself figuratively "cutting bagels"…keeping myself busy with less important tasks while the important ones sit stuck in a field waiting for me to address them. When I forget to use the bagel theory I often find myself backtracking, trying to correct my mistakes, or bemoaning my failures.  But when I remember to ask ahead of time...when I have power to direct my actions rather than correct them…well I find it amazingly useful. I relieve myself from worry over things I cannot control, and I take control where I am supposed to. It doesn't make everything perfect, but it helps keep me in the right mindset for success.

As much as I know Johnny asks himself that question before events, I suspect he asks himself similar questions from the quiet of his bedside, or the solitude of his car. Maybe his newest question is this:
"What do I want Walter to say about this when it's over?"

And, since we are coming up on the holiest week of the year, tomorrow being Palm Sunday, perhaps the ultimate question to ask is “What do I want my King and Master to say when this is over?”

Click HERE if you want to know about THE COLOR RUN.
And HERE for a video.
The Color Run is eco-friendly.  And human mother friendly, as well.
John being blown away by some of his amazing Color Run team.