Have you entered the storehouses of the snow...Job 38:22

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Playing with Destiny

Sometimes joy comes unexpectedly. Sometimes it comes in ways you’ve never expected. Sometimes joy surprises you. Today joy surprised me. Today I played with Destiny.

Now that sounds dangerous, doesn’t it? It is the thing we search for. We all hope to have some destiny in life, so we search for our destiny. Sometimes destiny break-in when we least expect it. For some, all of a sudden they find themselves in places they don’t expect and have an epiphany catapulting them into their destiny.

We take destiny very seriously. We feel our lives will be a failure if we don’t reach our destiny. Something so serious should not be played with.

Today started out as one of those days. My husband’s brother and another brother’s daughter, a niece are visiting. They are nice people, but clashes of culture and my lack of understanding their language always make these visits difficult for me. Add to that cooking food I can’t eat and sometimes, my mood and attitude is lacking. I try really hard to practice hospitality. It isn’t that I don’t like them. It is just difficult for me. Usually when they leave, I feel bad that my attitude took the better of me.

This morning my routine was disrupted. I cooked an omelet with enough red peppers and chilies to kill someone.  I made a strong bold tea that stained my stainless steel. I ate two slices of blueberry bread toasted while they feasted. Custom dictates loud chewing so I retreat to the other room praying for grace.

Nothing went well today. Everything was off, timing, meals, a cold shower, etc. You get the picture, it was NOT a good day. That was until Destiny came along.

My husband is trying to do some good. So he takes his brother, his niece and I on an odd trip to Fort Thompson reservation. We meet with a dear sister in the Lord who is native, who was preparing a Seder supper. We meet with her friends. What an odd group, including some colleagues of my husband, we were now ten people in the small apartment. Four were Native Americans, three were from Pakistan, and three of us, were plain vanilla folk.

After a delightful chat with our hostess, I started stressing about our long trip. I dreaded the trip in the car of four more hours with people who chose not to speak in English. I was getting tired. Then I started to play with Destiny.

Destiny is this absolutely delightful four year old child who was trying to watch Pocahontas among all these strange people. She had a book in her hand and I offered to read it. I read the book once, then twice, then another book, and then back to the first book. I coaxed her on my lap.

Before long, I was a little girl giggling and playing with Destiny. She charmed her way into my heart and will never leave. She brought me such joy. As I heard myself laugh, I thought, I haven’t laughed with such joy in a long time. There is nothing like little arms around your neck to remind you that life is worth living.

I forgot about the adults. They could have their conversations. I forgot about the long morning and the long drive ahead of me. I forgot about school. I forgot about all the things that stress me. As I hugged beautiful little Destiny good bye she kept saying “squeezes!” Playing with Destiny was the best thing I’ve done in a long, long time.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Doin' the Crawl

I’ve lived in college towns before. I’ve learned that unless you are a student or a faculty member, the campus is like another world, even if you are only a mile away. I never know what is happen on the campus. Sometimes I wish I did because then we might actually find something to do here in Brookings.

My husband is an administrative faculty person on this campus. I am sure he gets all sorts of notices across his desk about all sort of interesting things, he never pays attention to them, or shares the. My husband’s ability to filter out things he is not interested in is amazing. Me on the other hand, I have radar that won’t quit. It is always bleeping at me with all sorts of information. None of which I filter. Most of which, I remember.

For a very small campus town, Brookings has a pleasant looking downtown. It has signs of life. You do see people walking on the streets. I’ve been one or two of the eating establishments on Main. I’ve never been to their famous burger place though, Nick’s Hamburger Shop or George’s Pizza. Both are supposed to be city landmarks. A friend convinced me to poke around a couple of shops on Main. Neither did a whole lot for me; I haven’t been back.

Today I went downtown. As I left, I thought, I haven’t written about South Dakota much lately, maybe I’ll get some inspiration when I go downtown. I did.

I was to meet a friend at a restaurant I’d been to before, Sun Dried Tomatoes. Last time I was there I had a Panini. It was okay. I’ve had better. Compared to the Panini’s I made at Joyce’s Pegram Deli and Coffee Shop in lovely little Pegram TN, they were small, overpriced and not that good. Nonetheless, it was a nice place to visit with someone and the food certainly wasn’t bad. The pizza I had today was good.

As I got downtown, late as usual, I thought OMG, what don’t I know? There was little place to park. You don’t expect this in a small town like Brookings. Finally I found a place two blocks away across from a beautiful old building that says City Hall on it but isn’t anymore. City Hall is now found in a very ugly newer building several blocks away.

I still had no idea what was going on in Brookings.  There was a buzz in the air. There was a sense of life and vitality that I don’t expect to find in South Dakota except in Sioux Falls or Rapid City. Certainly there couldn’t be anything that great in downtown Brookings on a Saturday in March. As I had walked to the restaurant, someone was standing on another street corner tapping on a make-shift drum while his friend played the accordion. I met my friend, a native South Dakotan. She wondered aloud about the busyness of downtown.

Then I found out what was going on. It was Pub Crawl. Now the name alone tells you this is a college binging activity. This is not part of why parents send their kids to college.  There is even a mention of it in Wikipedia. It is also known as spring “Hobo Day.” The idea is that college student roam from bar (pub) to bar throughout the downtown. After drinking their way through the city, they eventually have to crawl from pub to pub.

As we left, I thought now this is a strange event to be having the day before we start Holy Week. Maybe it is some sort of South Dakota version of Mardi Gras.  Here they were, at noon already filling the bars with their beads on.

I suppose it is a rite of passage. It is like spring break in Florida. None of this stuff is new or unique to South Dakota. Yet, it strikes me as ill timed. At a time when we are going into the most sacred week of the Christian calendar, crawling drunk through downtown isn’t exactly a good way to reflect on our Savior’s sacrifice.

How are you preparing for Holy Week?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

South Dakota - The Tornado's Vortex

In a strange moment of conversation yesterday, I told someone that I was beginning to wonder what the big deal was about South Dakota. I’ve made a very big deal about having to be here. I almost said live here, but not sure I want to “confess” that yet.

The sun is shining today. Yesterday was warm today isn’t warm yet. I heard on the news mention of getting shorts and sandals out. Bear in mind that I have seen people in shorts in 40 degree weather here, so talk of shorts may be premature.  I even hear a few birds today.

I know the answer to what is the “big deal” about South Dakota. Certainly, the weather is a factor but every place has weather to complain about, it’s all relative. When it is beastly hot and humid in Tennessee I complained. I probably wouldn’t complain as much now as I used to, but hot and humid is pretty bad too.

A woman in class yesterday who had read my blog said to me, Man, you really don’t like South Dakota! I replied:  my blog is toned down. It used to be worse. She had moved from somewhere else. I think she came from Minneapolis.  Okay, Minneapolis is a city and Brookings SD is not.  I think she failed to consider the culture. Upper Midwest culture includes Minneapolis. Just listen to Garrison Keillor if you are in doubt.

I tried to explain my situation to her. I mentioned family. She seemed quite happy not to have family close. I couldn’t mention to her the real reasons. The feelings, experiences and emotions, so personal, that are wrapped up in my difficulty with the move to SD. It isn’t the weather, it isn’t just family, it is me.

It is the move to SD, not the living here that is my problem. Moving here is wrapped up with emotions and things I cannot share. I look like just a crabby person who doesn’t want to live in South Dakota.

What people can’t realize is that this move snuffed out so much of my life, my inner core. Like the tornadoes that plague the plains, I feel I have been in its vortex threatening to suck me into a hole so deep I would never recover.

I realized yesterday that I had some sort of emotional connection to the seminary. A professor tried to tell me several months ago that I was part of the seminary family. I didn’t believe him. I thought he was just being nice. He is a very nice man.

Yesterday, while students still look at me like who is she and why is she here? Some still don’t talk to me. It can be lonely even in class. Nonetheless, I thought I am going to miss being here. It has been a bit of an oasis of sanity for me.

South Dakota is getting to me. It is alluring me in ways I was unwilling to accept. I accept it as part of my journey through life. It will teach me. Whenever I leave here, I will hold parts of it as something dear in my life. 

We may yet have a spring blizzard. It often happens here in the Dakotas. I think I can survive. Part of my inner core is coming back alive again.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In the Twilight Zone

The last two days I have been reminiscing about Brooklyn. I was born in Brooklyn NY. It was a wonderful experience growing up in the borough of trees and churches. I’ll bet most of you didn’t know that Brooklyn was known as the Borough of Churches, but it is. Every year on Brooklyn Day in June, all around the borough there would be parades. The parades were very unique, they were Sunday School parades. I came across this picture of one of those parades on facebook:

I am the one on the second row on the far left. My mother was our Sunday School teacher. I think that year we studied the Kings I & II from the Old Testament. My mother made crown shaped books for us to write something about the kings. One week we’d write that this king was a good king and loved God, next week he was a bad king and disobeyed God. Such is the state of humanity to this day.  My mind and heart were roaming around Brooklyn and Salem Gospel Tabernacle yesterday when I realized it was time to change my clothes. I had a Cattlemen’s Association banquet to go to in Ward SD.

I changed my clothes no less than four times yesterday. I couldn’t seem to settle on what to wear. Finally I chose one of two dress pants I own and jazzed it up with a tank, jacket and a scarf. We headed for Ward.

Ward has a population of 49 – yes, only 49 people. I’d been there before to the restaurant that was holding the banquet. It had been an interesting experience. Food was good but we were starred at quite a bit. 

Flooding dotted the sides of the road as we left the interstate for the 15 miles to Ward. Passing a semi with a flat tire, we pulled into Ward and parked in front of the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Church.

Cars were everywhere.  This banquet brought cattle folk from two counties and swelled the town to quadruple its size. We entered the Feather’s Nest ready for the evening. Like something out of the Twilight Zone, I began to realize that I had entered another dimension. My mind was still back in Brooklyn, my body in Ward.

My husband greeted a few people; we paid our money and found a seat. I recognized the two men we were seated with and exchanged greetings. Another couple came and sat across from us. They lived near the booming metropolis of Bruce SD, population 260.

The conversation around me centered on cows. What else would you talk about at a Cattlemen’s Banquet? The woman from Bruce was talking to the young man sitting next to me. He appeared to be about 13 years old. She was asking him about his showmanship at the Fair. Something I have never understood is showing livestock. But it is a big deal here in SD. Evidently the young chap had done well. She encouraged him in his endeavors telling him about a workshop in Sioux Falls where he could develop his showmanship skills.

My brain wandered off and returned in time to hear another conversation between the woman and the young man. She was telling him about the high tech equipment they have on their farm. She glowingly shared that they have an antenna on the top of their silo. This antenna is connected to a computer in their barn. All of this is to record information about their cows. It seems that attached somewhere to each cow is a transmitter. Pretty high tech stuff, wouldn’t you say?

She went on to explain the purpose of all of this technology. The transmitter recorded when the cow was in heat. Yes, when the cow was in heat! They now knew the moment the cow went into heat and for how long. I sat there thinking... how did a nice little Norwegian girl from Brooklyn ended up at this table listening to this conversation. It went on. She told him that this transmitter records when and how many times the cow was rode while in heat. I nearly spit out my water on that one…

Now I understand-if you raise beef you need to know this stuff. I like steak. I like hamburger. I know where it comes from and how it gets to my plate. Nonetheless, it was hard for this Brooklyn girl to appreciate this as a dinner conversation.  Sort of reminded me of a scene from a movie where the city girl goes to the country.

I looked around. There was this 7-foot man with Wrangler work jeans with the crotch nearly to his knees, plaid western shirt and no teeth talking to the man in Dickies work jeans with the bright green John Deere suspenders.  I thought yep, I’m definitely not in Brooklyn; this is not like any place else I’ve ever been.

We got our salad but I passed on the pickled herring. I may be Norwegian and we always had a jar of Vita Pickled Herring in the fridge, but I never acquired the taste for it. Sitting down, we noticed a table had been added to our string of tables. Someone exclaimed: we aren’t last anymore, we must not be good Lutherans. I know there is a private joke there somewhere.

As the meal concluded the man across from me stuff chew in his mouth for dessert. The program started. We returned to the theme of showing cattle at the Fairs and achievement days. One of the big winners was also the young woman who was the first runner up for Miss SDSU. It seems that you can be a beauty pageant contestant and champion cattle show-person. Who knew? Not me.

Okay, so some of you are laughing and some of you are mad at me. I admit I don’t get it. I don’t get it at all.

My purpose though is not to laugh at these good people who provide me with the best hamburgers and steaks you can find anywhere. If you want to laugh, laugh at me. Laugh at the irony of God taking someone who walked the streets of Brooklyn. Someone who knows the NYC subway system well and can find her way around Manhattan to this day. Then picture them in Ward SD on a Monday night for a Cattleman’s Banquet.

Is this what they mean when you say God is stretching you?

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Last night I was an invited guest for a Scholarship Banquet at the Seminary. I know I was invited because I have the invitation. I turned in the RSVP card, on time, to the receptionist at the seminary. Assured that it would be given to the proper person, I didn't give it another thought. When I got to the door there was no sticker with my name nor one for my husband.

Since that was my second trip to Sioux Falls, I was tired. My husband had a stressful day at work. I stood there wondering why I came. I was embarrassed and frustrated. I mumbled to the equally stressed and embarrassed woman in charge, that I really had turned in my RSVP.

She asked us to handwrite our name tags and go sit at table 13. I thought 13! That's not a lucky number. My husband wanted to know if table 13 would be outside. It wasn't. We hung our coats and found the table.

To my delight I recognized the other student sitting at my table. She has listened to my lament on living in South Dakota. She has said she'd pray for me. She has been kind sharing her struggles living in this state.

Also sitting at the table was a former dean of the seminary, a former administrator in fund raising and their wives. The fund raiser with typical friendliness of his profession greeted us with an engaging welcome and smile. His name was Ben. He said he knew almost all the donors who had funded our scholarships.

The former dean was less friendly. Nevertheless it was a nice table to sit at even if it was table 13. As we chatted across the table, that awkward chat of strangers pushed together at a social event, I asked Ben what he had taught before he became an administrator. He said "Oh I'm not that smart. I just raised money."

I said something about being fortunate to sit at this table with illustrious contributors to the seminary. He said "oh, no, it isn't such an honor, you are sitting with the 'has-beens.'"  Of course I said that wasn't true.

It's odd how we creep toward the final chapters of our lives that we see ourselves as has-beens. I am watching Crazy Heart, a movie about another so-called 'has-been.' I am fast approaching the age of has-been. Often as I sit in class, I see other students looking at me wondering what this old woman is doing sitting in their classes.

Ben should not consider himself a has-been. He was a contributor to all of us who came behind him at the seminary. Some of us couldn't go to school without scholarship money. What a great contribution he has made. As long as his contribution continues, he will never be a has-been.

I've been interviewing for another chapter of my life, a chapter of more education. In this interviews I have said several time, I'm not done. I still have something to contribute. I do!

Spring comes late in South Dakota, very late. While daffodils are blooming elsewhere they are not here. I haven't reached full bloom either. I may be old enough to be a has-been but I'm not. I have not been in full bloom yet. I'm still pushing through the hard ground. I'll get there. With God's help and grace, I will get there.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

It's Enough

I am in Florida. The sun is shining. The water is nearby. I can see palm trees and green. I get on a plane today and go back to South Dakota. I don’t want to go.

I am working very hard to accept the place where God has planted me but the truth is I’d rather stay here. I know my life isn’t in Florida. I actually know my life is not in Nashville full time for now. I believe I will return to Nashville and I look forward to that day, but for now, my life is in South Dakota.

There is a chance of snow in the forecast tomorrow for Brookings. I will leave this sun and beauty for flooding and cold. I will drive twice tomorrow to Sioux Falls because the things I need to do aren’t in Brookings.

I am not sure what South Dakota has for me or what I have to give to South Dakota. I just have to believe, as I return, that this is where God wants me. A dear friend talking about his own living situations said to me that he looks at as if he is a soldier and God has him stationed at a particular place.

I am not crazy about the military metaphors but I guess it fits. I enlisted in the service of my King a long time ago. That means I don’t always get to choose everything about my life. When God opened the doors for my husband to South Dakota, He knew that we were a package deal. This may feel like part of the “worse” in the “for better or worse,” nevertheless that’s what I promised.  I suppose it isn’t the worse. I can think of many things we’ve been through that were a lot worse.

I’ve said a few times that the problem with South Dakota is not the weather. However, today it is. I don’t really want to go back to the cold. I don’t want to go back to loneliness and isolation. But God has a plan, and I have a husband I love. I’ll get on the plane today to the land of snow.

Maybe God doesn’t have anything for me in South Dakota. Certainly there are times I feel like that. But is that important? Is it just about what I do? Or is that I am learning more and more about myself? Is it that I am more in love with my husband than I have ever been? Is it that for the first time in 32 years we have lived alone together? All of those things are special gifts. 

It’s enough.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Three Skevts of Coffee

Occasionally something really nice happens in South Dakota. I’m on the “pulpit supply” list at the seminary. This means that if a church has a need of someone to fill their pulpit on a given Sunday, they notify the seminary. The seminary then sends it out to all of us on the “pulpit supply” list. This list includes not only students but also faculty.

When their request goes out like, it is sort of a lottery for the church. Or should I say more like biblical casting of lots. They might get a PhD who teaches at the seminary or they might get a student. If they get a student, they might get someone experienced or not.

Last fall I got one of those emails. It was for a church in Iowa. It said it was close to Sioux Falls. Sioux Falls is 50 plus miles from me but by South Dakota standards, that’s not far. To go to this part of Iowa requires 70 miles from my house, but still within a range, I thought I could handle.

I replied saying I’d like to do this. I got a response back; I won the lottery that day. I was the first to reply. My obsession with emails can sometimes be a good thing. Then I got nervous.

I had a prayer and praise report all in one. I was praising God for the opportunity to preach and praying desperately about my concerns. I didn’t know anything about this church. I didn’t know how they felt about women in the pulpit. I didn’t know how liturgical they were, if I had to preach from the lectionary. I knew nothing. I was told I’d hear from the contact person, in this case the pastor.

I did. It was a woman! Okay, I could cross that off my list of concerns. There was a pretty standard order of service. I still didn’t know how formal they were though. I don’t have a problem with formality. I am just not sure how good I am with it.

I asked the pastor about the prayer times. She said oh, just whatever the Holy Spirit leads … Whew! that I could do. Writing formal prayers was not my strong point. I rather like the freer flow when it comes to prayer. The last hurdle in my mind as I prepared was could I wear pants for preaching? I still struggle with that issue. Too many years of hearing about the evils of women looking like men.

Ok, I know you are laughing now but I heard that a lot when I was young.  For the good Christian female pants were never acceptable anywhere, let alone church. However, if you were going to grace the platform, you should have no make-up, elbows covered, panty hose, skirt to mid-calf, and good supporting garments – a handkerchief or something for your knees, just in case the skirt crept up.

So preaching in pants was something to be thought about seriously. However, I had no skirt to wear. With some fear and trepidation, I headed to preaching that morning.

We got their early, a rarity for us. The church sits in a cornfield. You drive along wondering where you are and then all of a sudden you see this gleaming white steeple. Two cars were parked and one of the occupants was sweeping the walk.

As my husband and I walked in, we were warmly greeted. I mentioned we were there for pulpit supply. Someone thought that was to be my husband. We laughed; it was an honest mistake. No one seemed to look at my pants.

Nervously I went with a church leader to the office for prayer. I think he was trying to figure out this woman they sent. I nervously studied the bulletin.

If anyone cared about my pants, I couldn’t tell. I left there so much richer. I told my husband that is one of the nicest experiences I’ve had in South Dakota.  Oh, well, it wasn’t South Dakota, it was Iowa.  Nevertheless, the upper Midwest has some possibilities.

Yesterday, I filled that pulpit for the third time. I still get excited every time I go there. In pants, I walked in greeted with a warm handshake, then a hug by someone saying Good Morning Pastor Joyce.

The church has begun to feel like home to me. The warmth of the people is exceptional. They are amused at this Norwegian Pentecostal from Brooklyn New York with the husband from Pakistan who fills their pulpit and worships with them.

I thought about the saying about the three cups of tea made know by Greg Mortensen in his book by the same name. When you share your third cup of tea in the remote areas of Pakistan where Greg has built schools, you have become family. This was my third time at this lovely church.

I think though it is more fitting to talk about three skevts of coffee. They are mostly Scandinavians drinking straight up black coffee.

The first time you drink a skevt of coffee, you are a stranger.
The second time you take a skevt of coffee, you are an honored guest.
The third time you share a skevt of coffee, you become family.

Friday, March 12, 2010

When I Grow Up, I Want To __________?

I don’t know if you’ve seen the new AARP ads. Mixed between paper towel ads and the red hot sale at HyVee, these ads actually caught my attention. It shows people about my age saying “When I grow up I want to ____________.” There is a woman in one of the ads that says, “when I grow up I want to write a book.” I can’t remember the specifics of the others but for personal reasons, that woman echoes in my heart.

It’s a good advertisement. It got my attention. I am not sure what AARP wants me to do after I watch this advertisement. Probably they want me to join AARP. Or maybe they think that I will feel empowered if I join AARP to write a book, open a business or sail around the world.

I actually remember when I first heard about AARP. My father would have been old enough for AARP, if it existed, when I was born. For a while, he and my mother lived in a retirement high rise, OATS Towers in Columbia MO. It was there he saw his first AARP magazine and quickly joined. I don’t know if it empowered him. Probably it didn’t.

Nevertheless, something seems to happen when we get older. For me, it is like going through adolescence all over again. Life is shifting. Life is changing. I am changing. I find myself at times just like the awkward insecure girl I was at 13.

Once again, I am trying to make sense of life. I am trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up? One thing I do know, is that I don’t know very much. It isn’t that I need more education although I still pursue additional degrees and take courses. While feeding my brain is important, I find my heart needs nourishment. It is on the inside, the questions of who I am and what I want to be that are the most urgent. I have found I don’t know myself very well.

I’ve been a mother since I was 17. I’ve been the wife to two husbands. The first husband, an abuser who abandoned me with two children and pregnant, is a distant memory. The other one has been my soul mate, lover and dearest of all friends for 32 years.  For most of my life, I have seen myself by my roles and relationships. As the 13 years I once was, I ask myself again, who is Joyce?

My dad seemed to find himself in his 50’s when he became a new dad once again. When my brother’s talk of my dad, the same dad, it sounds like we had different fathers.  The truth is, while his physical attributes were the same, he was not the same. Perhaps it was that I was a girl. I rather suspect it was more the person he became with age.

Opportunities of the Older Americans Act opened a new expression of the complexity of my dad. Similar to my mother, who evolved and grew into a very amazing woman, he grew. When he grew up he worked with disabled children.  The OATS bus would pick him up and take him to work as a foster grandparent. He worked first at Woodhaven, a home for disabled children.

Later he was transferred to Head Start. For a year of his life, the bus took him to work with economically disadvantaged African American children. My father was born in a foreign country (Norway) the last year of the 19th Century. He had a grade school education, was captured by Germans during World War I, was an illegal immigrant to the US, was a man of great mystery and complexities, who still spoke with an accent. Everyday he would give love and receive love from little children living in the projects. My father would often walk through the neighborhood where these children lived. As he did, children would come out of their homes yelling Grandpa as they eagerly awaited a hug.

Eventually my father returned to Woodhaven. The Columbia Daily Tribune  did a feature article on him. Here are the photos from that article.

I wonder what opportunities for growth I will experience here in the Storehouses of Snow. Had my father never moved from Brooklyn NY to Columbia MO he would never have known the joy of loving these children.  He might never have become a more loving caring person. He changed; he grew up. Like my mother, he continued to grow until the day he died.

Now it is my turn to grow up. Now it is my turn to find out who Joyce is. 

It is time for me to complete the sentence-when I grow up, I want to be ___________.  Perhaps the answer is stored here in the snow.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion ...
Philippians 1:6 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cloud Living

If I say the word cloud to you, your reaction will depend on your frame of mind. You might think of a beautiful blue sky with white puffy clouds on summer’s day. You might think how wonderful it would be to soar among the clouds. You might wish to sit on cloud nine.

If life is hard, you think of storm clouds. Coming toward you the gray mass bodes the coming deluge. One night our first year in Brookings, while the tornado sirens blared, we foolishly watched from our balcony as the tornado brushed the south side of town. 

There is a cloud sitting on South Dakota.  I don’t know how much of South Dakota is under this cloud. I do know that the 55 miles to Sioux Falls are under this cloud. It was a very dreary trip to Sioux Falls today. Rarely could I see more than two car lengths in front of me.

I suppose you could call it fog. Melting snow and the contrast of the air form these treacherous conditions. The moisture that filled the cloud speckled my windshield. I lamented my lack of an umbrella. Yet, I doubt it would have helped.

This was a different type of cloud. I’ve seen clouds sit on the ground in South Dakota many times now. I thought about the fog that I am in since the death of my mother. While this fog is different and definable, I have been in a fog for two years. I have not been able to see more than a few days ahead of me since moving to South Dakota.

It’s been gray for days. I’ve been in the apartment for these days. It’s sort of the same with my life. I’ve stay inside. I’ve dared not wander around in this cloud.  Just as I found I could drive through the cloud to my destination and return, I can move forward here in South Dakota. Driving through the cloud I believe I will get to my destination, whatever it is in here in South Dakota.

I have daffodils in my apartment now to remind me that the clouds will eventually part.

"Daffodils" (1804)
By William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

I wandr'd lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed -- and gazed -- but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Escaping Cabin Fever at Wal-Mart

I went to Wal-Mart on Sunday. Considering I live in a town, where the only significant places to shop are Wal-Mart and HyVee a trip to Wal-Mart is not of any great interest. Nevertheless, this trip was interesting.

Usually I leave Wal-Mart or HyVee a bit miffed. It seems there is a lack of manners here. Either that or manners are different. I miss the excuse me’s and smiles when your “buggies” pass in the store. On a country road, I became accustom to a congenial wave from the pick-up truck that meets you.

I’ve long known this is all superficial but I was accustom to it and grew to like it. Last time I was wandering around Target in Nashville, someone smiled and said excuse me. It startled me. I thought oh my, please don’t let me lose my civility.

On Sunday, while I was wandering around Wal-Mart I was shocked again. Prepared to annoyed, I was surprised as a woman smile at me and said, “Excuse me.” I looked at my husband and whispered OMG she said excused me. Then another person smiled at me.

I bought some amazing fresh beets. The beets really don’t need to be added to this blog. I just want to tell you about them. Last night I had cooked beets with butter along with some barbecued chicken and some nasty rice. I wanted potato salad but thought that was pushing spring too much.  Besides the potatoes in my cabinet were filled with eyes and soft.  Leftover rice from the freezer was an unfitting substitute. Those beets were the star of the plate. Both my husband and I wanted more. I’m going to buy more today.

Beets are a winter vegetable. They store well like potatoes. Nonetheless, they remind me of summer picnics. My mother made great pickled beet. My Aunt Rachel introduced me to purple pickled eggs. Once convinced to taste them, I would beg for them. My childhood summers were filled with pickled beets, purple pickled eggs, potato salad and chicken, summer on a plate.

Maybe the beets do fit in this story. My experience of friendliness at Wal-Mart isn’t over.  I had navigated through Wal-Mart behind a large cat palm plant we found on clearance for $3.00. We came to the checkout with our plant. The clerk smiled. That too was a surprise. He said, looks like you are bringing spring. We need some spring!

He kept talking about spring. I guess like me, he was starved for green. Seeing the green reminded him that new life will soon emerge from the brown frozen ground. 

As he handed me my receipt and I said thank you, he said the most interesting thing. He said I’m going to tell everyone you brought spring. I’m going to remember you because you are bringing spring.  As we meandered through the puddles in the parking lot, my husband and I laughed. We wondered what had happened to us in Wal-Mart. He said I’ll bet you’ll blog about this. He was right. I said I’ll call it “escaping cabin fever at Wal-Mart.” I did.

What a strange beginning for a strange week. This week I have some important appointments. I have an appointment that may lead to the much desired, prayed for and sought after ministry as a Pastor. Could my call be fulfilled in South Dakota? I have another appointment concerning a doctoral program here in South Dakota. I will fill a pulpit this Sunday in a beautiful church that is filled with the most beautiful people I’ve met in the upper Midwest. I likely will also hear about the doctoral program in Nashville. It’s a strange week.

Maybe, just maybe, the glimmers of hope and acceptance that are springing up concerning life in South Dakota are what these people saw in Wal-Mart last Sunday.  Maybe as I embrace the hope of spring, it will be contagious.  Spring comes late in the Dakotas. Thankfully, it does come.  It will come for me as well.

Today I plan to go to HyVee. I am hoping their daffodils are in.

Monday, March 8, 2010


The bare ground is beginning to show in South Dakota. The piles of snow are black and brown. They are ugly.  The local news evidently had time to fill. Taking a rain gauge, they melted a foot of snow in it to show the amount of water produced from the melting snow.  In a “duh?” moment, the anchor said but that water is brown! Of course it was, it also had sticks and other debris in it.

Yesterday, the trip across the Wal-Mart parking lot was a bit like navigating around streams and rivers. One lake filled most of the area we walked. I thought about galoshes.  I wondered why no one wore them anymore.  I imagine if I poll the people walking into Wal-Mart, all but the very old would even know what galoshes are any more.  I like the sound of the word galoshes.

I thought about being a kid in Brooklyn when the snow was melting. There would be rivers in the streets. The storm drains would back up because of the volume. Every paper wrapper carelessly discarded, along with leaves and other debris floated quickly to the storm drain. Sometimes you couldn’t get across the street without getting your feet wet; unless you listened to your mother and wore galoshes.

I thought about the boys at PS 94 whose mother’s would make them wear those bright orange raincoats when it rained. They looked like miniature crossing guards or police officers.  With only their faces exposed, covered from head to toe they would be completely dry once they shed their rubber skin. Puddles would form in the coat closet as they noisily dripped on the wood floors.  My galoshes were never pretty. Pretty was expensive. My family stuck with basics. My galoshes would have looked something like this:

It was always hard for my little hands to get those galoshes over my shoes. It was worse when the school bell rang signaling it was time to go home. Mrs. Dickinson, my favorite teacher at PS 94 would complain about people who were absent when we wore our galoshes. She would look at us and say “Where is Bobby or Nancy today? It’s only rain! Are they "sugar cubes” that will melt in the rain?” That alone was motivation to get to school on rainy days. I didn’t want Joyce to be substituted for Bobby.

It’s a grey ugly day in South Dakota.  The fog was so dense you couldn’t see last night. The temperature above freezing will bring more melting and water.  More debris will collect. 

I think it is sort of like that with my soul. My soul was covered and washed white as the snow.  And yet, debris remains in my life. Some has been there a long time. Other has recently collected. As the snow melts, I see that debris.  It's brown, black, ugly and dead. As it is exposed, the rain and force of the melting water needs to wash it away. As the March winds blow, it will push more of it away. Finally, in April, the showers will come. They will wash away the remaining debris making way for new growth in my soul. Nevertheless, I will look for some galoshes to protect my soul as the winds, the rain and adversity continues. 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

I am Ekte Norsk

I slept most of the way back from The Cities yesterday. We had gone to Minneapolis Friday and came back yesterday, Saturday. I wrote some about our trip on Sounds of Hope. Like no other place in the country, other than my beloved Lapskaus Blvd. Brooklyn, the upper Midwest is Norwegian.

On the way to The Cities, we drove through the quaint town of St. Peter's. In the middle of the north side of Main Street, was a shop with all the flags of Scandinavia. We've seen this shop before and have commented that we should stop some time. On the way back, exhaustion had over taken me. I could barely keep my eyes open. I wanted to go to IKEA for my Scandinavian "fix." I didn't even ask because of this extreme physical and emotional fatigue.

To my surprise, as we drove through St. Peter's my husband stopped in front of Swedish Kontur. The store with the flags. I actually protested going in, saying all they have is fancy stuff we can't afford. I was right. Nevertheless I left with a bag and a hand written receipt. I found a treasure I could afford.

Before I found my treasure, my eyes feasted on a beautiful set of Porsgrund Farmer's Rose.

We never had any Farmer's Rose in my house. We were too poor for that. Our good dishes had come with my parents first television set as a premium. I thought they were beautiful. I treasure the few pieces of it that remain. My mother was given a tea set when she married my father. The cups are paper thin. I don't remember her ever using them. They graced her make-shift china cabinet and I dusted them regularly. A few of them remain as well.

Farmer's Rose has always captivated me. In the recesses of my memory, I see stately Norwegian women in apartments better than ours, serving ekte gjetost and other Norwegian delicacies on these beautiful dishes.

Like my mother, I can't afford Farmer's Rose. I've poured over ebay ads for a few pieces. They are there, but I can't afford them. My brother knew of my love for Farmer's Rose. He has served me on his Farmer's Rose dishes. I own two mugs because of his graciousness. I don't think I've ever put anything in them. I cherish them. I have brought them here to South Dakota in hopes of preserving them from carelessness.

I longed to purchase Farmer's Rose yesterday. Perhaps my protest for shopping was that I knew I would leave disappointed. They were beautiful. The sight of them can take my breath away.

My husband scanned the Norwegian sweaters gulping at the prices. I think he should have one when he goes to Sons of Norway meetings with me. Lots of Pakistani Norwegians in Norway wear them, why not?

As we wandered to the back of the store I spotted my treasure. It was a tiny cup. It was not Norwegian, it was Swedish. On both sides it said Rida, Rida, Ranka. A flood of memories came over me. My dad already white haired and in his 50's when I was a little girl. He'd sit in his green recliner like all men of the 50's reading the newspaper or watching Lawrence Welk on Saturday.

It seemed like it was often that he would call his "lilla venn" to come sit on his lap. Sometimes I would sit on his foot and he would give me a horsey ride. He would say in what I thought was Norwegian, Rida, Rida, Ranka. I can hear the meter of the poem, but I don't recall the words.

I've looked to find the words in Norwegian. When I try to imagine the sounds of the words I have found in Norwegian, they don't match his rhythm.  I have found some but I rather think he said it to me in Swedish. The Swedish words seem to match.

Rida, rida ranka,
hästen heter Blanka.

Liten riddare så rar
ännu inga sporrar har.
När han dem har vunnit,
barndomsro försvunnit.

As I stumble at these words, the meter reminds me more of my dad's version. My dad's father was from Sweden. Something I didn't know growing up. Maybe my dad learned this from his dad. I don't know. I never knew any of my grandparents. In the pictures my dad had on his bureau, they always looked stern. A first cousin who knew them changed that view when he said: it was always a great day when we went to Bestefar and Bestemor's house. I wish I knew them. I wish my dad had told me more stories about them.

I've returned to another land of the Norwegians. Perhaps these stern looking people I see are like my grandparents. Perhaps someday I will say it was a great day when I got to visit and live with Norwegians from upper Midwest. Perhaps these distant aloof people are like my dad. He could be like that, often seeming to be in a world of his own. Like him, underneath the aloof exterior, there maybe someone who loves to play with a child on their foot reciting Rida Rida Ranka.

Truth be told, I am like him as well. I can appear very distant. I hold much inside myself. I am Norwegian too.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I'm No Figure Skater

There is still a lot of snow here. There is snow in the forecast for this weekend. The forecast is iffy so maybe it will be rain. Rain will wash away some of the snow.  They are concerned about flooding now that spring is nearing. A friend told me she is praying that the snow melts slowly.

I want the snow to go. It reminds me of the bleakness of my existence here in South Dakota. More than the snow, I want the ice to melt. I am terrified of ice. I have never slipped and fallen on ice that I can remember. I have little balance so I walk cautiously and grab onto my husband at every opportunity.

Even as a little girl I had many fears of falling. I never learned to ride a bicycle because of this fear. My father bought me a tricycle when I was little that was huge. To reach the peddles of the trike, he had to put blocks on them. When my friends graduated to bikes, I was finally able to reach the peddles of my trike.

I must have asked for the bicycle, or perhaps he just thought it was time. He went to a thrift store to buy one for me. Once again, the thing was huge. Way too big for my small body to handle. I remember him walking beside the bicycle to stabilize it while I tried to ride. Both the bike and I were clumsy together. He took it back and got his money back. I never learned to ride.

My dad did take me ice skating. I did ice skate. I think he had visions of me being a great ice skater. I could get around the rink finally without holding on but I never learned to pick both feet up - one foot always clung to the ice, refusing to raise.

I loved the skates my dad bought for me. They were white. They were new, a rarity in my childhood. I saved my allowance money and bought pom-poms for them. Prospect Park had free skating every Saturday morning. I'd take the city bus, transfer to another one and arrive at the park to skate. I was not yet 12 years old because had I  been, I couldn't have skated for free. It didn't cure my fear of ice or my fear of falling.

I used to think I liked new challenges. I think I did. Every move until this one I have welcomed. My brother told me when I first moved to South Dakota that I'd make an adventure out of it. I haven't. I have only tenuously walked out on the ice. I'm afraid.

The ice will melt and for a time I'll be more confident. As surely as it will melt, it will return again. I need to find some ice skates. Like then, I will never be a good skater but perhaps I can drag one foot behind me and get around the rink without holding on. I don't have to be a good skater. I can still cling to the sides of the rink at times. I need to try to skate on the ice once again.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


We are back in South Dakota. I wonder if I will ever say I am back home when I arrive in South Dakota. I say it sometimes. Sometimes without thinking, I say I’m going home. Life is ordinary here, even boring. I think that will actually be good for a while.

I had a wonderful send off from my stepfamily. I suppose I should stop calling them that since I have discovered that they are more family than anyone else is.  I always wanted sisters. When my mother was married to Murl I felt like I had sisters. My sister Helen said to me after reading my Sounds of Hope blog about Patchwork Intimacy, “Joyce, you don’t have to have the same blood in your veins to be family, do you?” She is right. Families are those people that love you just the way you are. It has little to do with biology.

After a hearty breakfast and two more hours of fellowship, we started the long trek north. My stomach prone to turmoil churned from the results of the last two weeks. The tears expressed and the tears not yet shed seemed at war in my stomach. My stomach settled as the sun began to peak out ever so slightly near Kansas City.

By St. Joseph, the dreaded snow seemed permanent on the ground. After this, we never saw ground without snow, not always deep, but always there. It signaled to me that I was returning to South Dakota, the frozen land. Snow as it falls is beautiful; when it freezes to ice, it permanently locks everything in its frozen shell.  I marveled at the thought that the ice will give way to green grass and green stalks of corn.

I saw something I’ve never seen before on this trip. I saw at least 30 hawks. They seemed stationed to watch me as I traveled north.  High in the trees or low on a fence post they were vigilant. There was a time I would have tried to make out some meaning to their appearance. Yesterday I just marveled at their number.

I saw something else I’ve never seen before. I saw herds of deer grazing in frozen fields. At first glance I thought it was a herd of cows. As I got closer I knew they were two small to be cows. By the time the sun was setting in marvelous reds, I had passed many fields where deer were foraging for food. Yesterday I saw well over 100 deer in these fields.

This bleak frozen land had more than enough food to feed all of the creation that depended on it. The deer, the hawks as well as the thousands of geese I saw, all had enough food. I suppose they had to look for it, nevertheless, it was there.

I thought this frozen land, that I so dreaded returning to has enough to sustain me as well. I may have to look for it. I may have to look beyond the frozen ground and see that there is enough food to sustain me as well. There will be food for my soul provided by the hand of God. I will look for it. It will sustain me through these last days of winter as the cold of the death experience lays heavily on my soul. 

I thought of an obscure verse to an old hymn. I hummed it to myself trying to recall the words. As I did, I recalled its triumph. I have found the Lord and He will feed me.

Feeding on the husks around me,

Till my strength was almost gone,

Longed my soul for something better,
Only still to hunger on.

Hallelujah I have found Him
Whom my soul so long has craved
Jesus satisfies my longing
Through His blood I now am saved.

I remember a Norwegian elder in the church of my childhood breaking into the last verse spontaneously, particularly during communion.

Well of water ever springing
Bread of life so rich and free
Untold wealth that never faileth 
My redeemer is to me


Until spring comes, God's provision will be mine.