Tuesday, March 29, 2011



Kind words are a creative force, a power that concurs in the building up of all that is good, and energy that showers blessings upon the world.

Lawrence G. Lovasik (a Catholic priest from Pennsylvania)

Friday afternoon, the students leave the building, I gather a few things to take & grade, I tidy up & recycle, I drop things off in the copy room & tell people goodbye with weekend wishes…there’s my car with Darrell & Tex waiting for me in the parking lot – we’re off to Austin for the weekend. Jonathan and Erica are there in their new house with their familiar items and some new stuff – putting on their personal touches to make the house their home. What do you like to do with people you love? Sit together & swap stories, share meals, react to the latest political dilemmas and sporting events– just be - together for a while.

Arriving to the usual dog greetings of run and wrestle, when peace was eminent we got the home tour – art nooks, new paint – burnt orange study, red walled dining room, hardwood floors & granite counters, new flat screen TV above the fireplace, new leather sectional where we could all fit & be lazy at the same time, lovely, comfy home. Talk, talk, talk….until yawns & reluctant bedtime – you want to savor all the minutes.

Packing up food & drink on Saturday we headed to the home of Mark & Nicole Dubee & we ended up hanging out there all afternoon – eating, drinking, admiring their babies and laughing at their tales. Back in his days of working at IBM, Darrell was once Nicole’s boss. Jonathan & Erica became friends with them in their early married days of apt. living in Lewisville – now they all live in southwest Austin. We reminisced about the fun time at their wedding – seems a foggy past in the delightful presence of their 2 children under 2 – Weston and Emerson.

On the way home, we toured the neighborhood taking in Erica’s school, Kiker Elementary, Lady Bird Wildflower Center (closed for a private event), hills & trees. We lazed on that new sofa & watched March Madness surprise endings and later ate grilled steaks. Together at the dinner table, Jonathan offered a blessing – not for the food, but for us. Baring his emotional side, he commented of often feeling the need to plan something to show in Austin – but for us there was not a need to show us anything for entertainment – we were very content to just be there in their presence. Joy was found in listening to stories of their work, friends, extended family, travel plans and the new scholarship fund they set up for a graduating senior of Weimer High School in memory of Erica’s mother Charlene Hoffmann.

I have a devotional book that I usually read each morning with the Bible, Bread for the Journey by Henri Nouwen. Catching up on the 2 missed mornings readings when I got home, I met an appropriate topic for March 26 – Becoming Friends of our Children. Henri says, “Father and mother become brother and sister of their own children, and they all can become friends. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is as beautiful to watch as the dawn of a new day.”

Malachi 3:10 - …if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


New Jersey was our temporary home in the early 80’s. I was the crazy Texan teacher who everyone at Glenwood Middle School thought “talked funny” and could never make it in on time when there was snow – how did I get so personally acquainted with so many drifts and ditches? What’s so wrong with “Git out yer book”? Those adorable Yankees did know how to exaggerate! Darrell was the crazy Texan long-haired third shift manager at an IBM facility in Paramus. Since we worked different weekday schedules, weekends were very precious times together. During the week, Darrell would meet up with our pastor, David Hess, to play golf together at the local course. Where we lived in Vernon Valley, the local golf club was The Playboy Club – I felt sure I could trust him with the preacher as his buddy. One of my favorite stories from the golf adventures was their agreement about David’s bad shots. If he didn’t approve of the outcome of the score on a hole, David would ask Darrell to “cuss” for him. So as an act of friendship, Darrell obliged. We did a Google search for David, who we haven’t seen for over 25 years and we not surprised to find that he was pastoring a small Baptist congregation in New York. Many of his sermons are posted to share with interested readers: http://www.theparson.net/

In her opening statements of the sermon at Ken’s funeral, Cindy mentioned panicky fear of possibly passing out or cussing. Cindy, you may have very well done it yourself, but I want you to know that in the past weeks, I have cussed for you. We all have those moments: d@#$, sh*&, d@#$, etc.! We feel robbed by death, Alzheimer’s, cancer, being misjudged, natural disasters, accidents, disabilities, war and literal robbers. We feel paralyzed by fear of uncertain futures. In the midst of this daily life, God still calls us to worship and to serve. How do we do this? I think that even when you don’t feel like it, you push yourself through repetitive acts of daily living, reading the Bible, sending out prayers, resting in the moment when you get the chance to stop and look at the beauty around you. The brilliant shine of the super moon, the tiny green buds poking out on the trees, birds landing on a lake – when you make yourself available, God meets you there. Impossible actions are asked of us, but not to accomplish alone. He connects us together to help each other. How do we know this will work? From our collective experiences and shared stories, from the faith of our fathers, from the rare, occasional glimpses of heaven on earth – we know.

What are you being nudged to do that seems too much? I know what I am being called to do. Encouraging words pull me in the right direction. Today, those words were, “Susan, don’t stop asking me.”

This scripture, which is often read at weddings, has been returning to my heart lately. Sharing with a childhood friend who lost his wife last week and a Grapevine friend whose is seeing his father through his last days:

I Corinthians 13:12-13, For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully as I also have been fully known. But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the law? And he said to them, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all you soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. And a second is like unto it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” -
Matthew 22:37-39

Saturday afternoon Feb. 26th was an experience to remember – emotionally draining and at the same time, uplifting. I was attending the funeral service for our pastor, Ken Diehm, and I was trying to hang on to every note of music, every verse of scripture, and every word of Cindy’s sermon. Darrell dropped me off early behind the parking barricades that were placed to handle the crowd of thousands and I met with fellow Stephen ministers to take our assigned places to assist our congregation and guests. He was planning to watch the live feed on the computer at home and pick me up later in downtown Grapevine.

While waiting for the service to start I greeted people as they came in to the overflow seating in the Family Life Center, exchanging hugs, waves and nods with those that I knew. Watching the slide show of photos of Ken and his family through various stages of his life, I noted that we were from the same generation – teenagers in the ‘70’s – and I noticed Kenda’s fabulous fashion sense. Her dress in the family photo of their daughter’s wedding was the same that I wore at Travis and Chelsea’s wedding and the same that Chelsea’s mom had also chosen unbeknownst to either of us.

Cindy preached what I judged to be the most powerful sermon of her life to the largest audience of her life. She openly shared her own pain and shared stories of Ken – some familiar and some were new – and she used The Bible to remind us all that there is faith and hope without end. One story she shared I will carry with me for a long time. A man in our church was teaching a Sunday school class based on Paul’s letters to the early churches. He had questioned Ken – if Paul were sending a letter to you about the current condition of the church what would he say? What is God’s message? Ken’s reply was simple and concise, five words, “Ken, it’s not about you.” God wants us to live in simplicity and humility. He wants to let his light shine through us. He wants to permeate our hearts with compassion. Tears flowed freely from sadness and loss, but also from conviction of what my life should be like. “Susan, it’s not about you.”

After the service was over, I waited for the crowds to empty the buildings; some were going on to Grapevine High School for the reception. I walked up the street to Wilhoite’s and turned north up Main St. While I waited for Darrell to come pick me up at the gazebo, out of town visitors were there giving out prizes to their corporate group – lots of laugh and cheers. On the way home, Darrell asked me, “What was the most important message you brought back from the service?” and before I could put my jumbled thoughts into words he said “It’s not about you!” Our connected thoughts voiced out loud, took my breath away.

A few weeks before when we experienced an unprecedented string of snow/ice/no school days, Darrell and I had spent our indoor time reading books and watching movies. One movie that enthralled me was Social Network. The musical score and fast paced script accentuated the story (based on a true story) that is also an allegorical comment on the society of our times. Critics acclaim “the tale of power, fame, betrayal, revenge and responsibility” (Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter) with the “protagonist a character drawn in a Shakespearean mode, a high-achieving individual who carries within him the seeds of his own destruction” (Rob Mondello, NPR) and they say that the movie was “an unlikely thriller which makes business ethics, class distinctions and intellectual property arguments sexy.” All of the characters (real people) portray the worst of all human traits – we all have these natural tendencies: arrogance, selfishness, pride and fear.

So how do we resolve our own conflicts which come from these challenges to our self-will as we coexist with other self-willed humans in our world? As thirteen years olds are known to be particularly living with a me-first attitude, I come across these conflicts often in my work as a middle school math teacher. I have patience with the children because they are not yet fully developed – they are a work in progress. I find the condescension harder to tolerate from their parents, whom I consider old enough to have learned common courtesy and respect for the individual. Arrogance is not limited to the hallways of public schools – it’s repeatedly seen when just driving down the street – someone cuts into your lane and narrowly misses taking out your car and then flips you off. A life-long friend decides you are no longer worthy of her time, and cuts you off – do not call or email, this relationship is over. A respected supervisor unexpectedly unleashes a verbal attack calling you worthless and easily replaceable. A cop refuses to leave his traffic duties and answer pleas to break up a fight he can clearly see in the adjacent parking lot. As a child of God, how do I respond to these people?

Richard Foster in his classic book, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, reports that “Pride takes over because we come to believe that we are the right kind of people. Fear takes over because we dread losing control.” He also uses scripture to guide us to understanding, reminding us that God can “take over our inner spirit and transform the ingrained habit patterns of our lives.” When we seek him, he gives us his grace and we learn to respond in kind with “the fruit of the Spirit- which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”. Galatians 5:22-23

So all this rambling narrative is to say, we are all a work in progress and I have adopted Ken’s wise words as my mantra, “It’s not about me.”

Friday, March 11, 2011

Charitable Contributions

Matthew 10:8 Freely you have received, freely give.

When I was a little girl, my world changed dramatically at age 6. My family moved from Royse City to Carrollton and I started public school; therefore, my personal world was greatly enlarged. One of my first grade friends was Kathleen Dye. Her family lived one street over from me – Baxley Dr. to Hood St. and her mom was our Brownie Scout leader. Kathleen was enjoyably spunky and unnaturally small – her size was stymied by the medication she had to take to relieve the pain of her childhood rheumatoid arthritis. The disease caused her to miss long spurts from school and our Brownie troop would often make treats to take to her and the other patients at Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas. The Dye family moved away from the neighborhood before our elementary school days were over so I don’t know how the story of their family progressed through the years, but their influence carried on through the passing years. When a loved one passes away or when I want to honor someone with a gift and they are the type of person who “already has everything”, I remember the good that the people at Scottish – Rite do for children like my friend, Kathleen, and I make a donation to their continued work. Why do I choose them? I choose them because I was taught about their service from my early days and I remember.

When working toward my Master’s Degree I was assigned a roommate who was young enough to be my daughter – she was a young woman of faith, intelligence, beauty, wit and athletic energy. Although our trips between DFW and San Marcos were often tiresome, I loved learning from each other – Jackie Arato (Killion), you are a blessed spirit! During our travels, I heard stories of Jackie’s real life roommate who I never met but knew I would like based on the Jackie tales. She (the roommate) was also a teacher, also a Christian believer, also from Oklahoma and studying to become a school counselor. Around this time frame my school needed to fill a position for counselor – so I told Jackie – who told her roommate – who applied and was hired – I met the new school counselor and she was the beloved friend of a friend. God works so beautifully to connect us to the right people at the right time!

Our counselor, Leslie, connected immediately with the students and staff – she was genuine! She had a goal to do a triathlon and she planned to participate in one that raised funds for the Luekemia/Lymphoma society. Her passion and compassion carried over to the school where we adopted this charity as our group project for the spring. Leslie has moved on to serve as counselor at one of our high schools but the seed that she planted is still growing and thriving at our school. The various student groups have taken on roles in organizing this charitable campaign – Teen Leadership classes, National Jr. Honor Society, Student Council, PALS – with video, announcements, posters, Student-Faculty basketball game, and a 3-on-3 basketball tournament – championing the worthy cause of Pennies for Pasta. Thank you to the Nathmans and others who brought the local situation of the middle-schooler, Griffin, to the hearts of our students. Thank you to Judy Drury and Suzanne Barker for sharing stories of family members affected by the disease. Thank you to Patti Seeker and Karen Boyse for overseeing the funds and the student roles. Thank you for giving me the right context of sharing with my students the sudden shocking loss of my pastor due to complications from undiagnosed leukemia.

Our 5th period classes were the groups designated as the collecting points for this charity – we were challenged to live up to our student developed social contract which included the goal of “selflessness”.

My 5th period class always starts out as a rowdy bunch, coming into class loudly from the lunch room social time. In contrast from their usual me-first attitudes, they were quiet and thoughtful during the introduction of the needs of this charity. I committed to write a check to honor the memory of Dr. Ken Diehm and many of them pulled out money left over from lunch and put it in the box that day. One girl cleaned out her wallet of her allowance money; one boy brought in a Ziploc bag full of change where he had emptied his piggy bank; others brought tens and twenties that their parents gave them after they told them about this cause. This after-lunch-bunch who often struggle with learning math and have trouble even keeping up with a pencil by that time of the day came through admirably when asked to think about others a little more than themselves. They were commended on the announcements for being among the top fundraising classes and will be treated at some time in the future with a pizza party. Witnessing caring hearts in teenagers is an encouraging moment in life.

My prayer is that there will come a day for them in adulthood that they will remember giving to the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society. They will have a need to honor a person who “already has everything” with a gift or they will want to commemorate the memory of a loved one who has passed – they will remember and they will know what to do, they will remember where to give.