I Keep Them


In my heart

If you would look

You’d see a baby who only lived a few minutes after birth

And her brave and hurting mother singing amidst her grief

You’d see

Dear friends in crisis, with no rescue coming

You’d see cold Texans

And worried mothers at the border

And my elderly neighbors with memory loss.

They are there and I keep them.

They are to make free use of my tears;

They have rights to my prayers.

I cannot help, but I keep them

I keep them in my heart.

Let It Die

Let It Die

It is okay to look Loss in the face

And reach out to run your hand along its cheek.

Sometimes it’s good to stare it in the eyes

And whisper “You wound, you always do.”

We drove past the family farm

A place we had no money to buy

And there it goes, to those with pockets deep and full

And I looked at Loss, my companion.

I lecture myself

To smother dreams, to stuff them away

To give no life to them

Do not look, do not hope

Let them die.

There was an 1800’s stone farmhouse on 10.5 acres

Deep windowsills, gleaming wood floors

A kitchen with a professional range

And long stone countertops.

I saw my children running through the woods

Playing in the stream

Curled up by the fireplace at night

I saw the scones lined up on that long counter

Tray after tray going into the oven

For the bed and breakfast guests the next morning.

The dream had curled around my heart

A dream I had no business having

I try you know

To stuff such into a box

But it’s hard to unwrap from my heart

To lift each tendril away when I’d rather embrace

The dream and move into it.

To box instead the sad Loss

And all of its shame and nausea

The way that it says

Nothing will change and you

Are pitiful. Ungrateful. Stupid.

I put the stone house

And all of its loveliness

And the scones, and the woods, and the crackle of the fire

Down into the box and

I let it die.

I don’t understand

And I don’t expect to

And more often than not I

Remember to live into the life I have with joy

But I will not pretend

That loss doesn’t stand beside me

And that my heart isn’t stacked

With boxes of dreams, dying.

I Didn’t Know THAT Was Going To Happen

I Didn’t Know THAT Was Going To Happen

I was a pretty proficient funeral director as a child.  The small mammals of our house were always laid to rest with soft tissues lining their checkbook box caskets.  I wept over them, sang my dirges, and laid flowers over their backyard graves.  I’d visit their plots, I’d agonize over them being in the cold, dark earth, all alone.

All of my love had nowhere to go, no furry heart to land on.  There was Murphy the Gerbil, Lougee the Mouse, and Blueberry the Hamster, plus a neighborhood bird with a broken wing.  If love could cure, they’d have lived forever.

I’ve read a new book, “Piggy In Heaven” by Melinda Johnson which gently and joyfully tells of a beloved guinea pig’s first day in Heaven.  He rolls in the grass, munches, and hops about, sans cage, and his new pig friends gradually reveal where he is and why.  When they’ve ever so tenderly explained to him that he died he responds, “I didn’t know that was going to happen!”  Isn’t that just the bewilderment that children experience when their pet dies?  How I wish I’d had this book as a grieving child!  It would have revealed to me that God too loves his creatures; that I was not alone in my love, nor my grief; that the end of earthly life means a beginning of eternal life.


What is perhaps most beautiful to me personally is the reminder that love is never wasted.  We do not need to hold back our fullest and deepest love in order that we might be less vulnerable to eventual losses.  We can live full-heartedly, and hope in God’s wonderful mercy that the ones we love might just be waiting for us on the other side.

So, if the little ones in your life are mourning the loss of a pet, consider this beautiful, hope-filled book, and if you’re crafty I’ve included a pattern I made with the help of my dear friend Kristina Wenger (Plush-Maker Extraordinaire!) for making a stuffed Piggy to go with it!


Materials needed:

  1. minky fabric, 1/4 yard in the color you like (you can make several piggies with this!)
  2. a small bit of felt, I chose light brown
  3. pink embroidery thread or a stuffed animal nose or button
  4. black beads or stuffed animal eyes on posts
  5. fiberfill
  6. needle and heavyweight thread
  7. Piggy Pattern printed (say that five times fast!)


To make, trace out the pattern pieces on minky fabric, or any other furry material that delights you, being aware that the fluffier it is, the harder it will be make the eyes and nose findable!  Make sure you flip the body pattern piece when you cut the second one so that you have the fur right side out on both sides.

I recommend cutting out the furry parts outside as you will indeed be covered in foof, and the pieces can be shook out to disperse the fluff out of doors rather than on your floors.  Also, you will now look like you’ve taken up another job at a pet grooming shop.IMG_8157

Cut out the ears from felt and pinch together and hand stitch to make a curved shape.

Clip open the ear slot and either machine or hand stitch the ear in place.  If using stuffed animal eyes, insert them now too.  If using beads as eyes you’ll attach them later.

Using a 1/4″ seam allowance, sew one side to the tummy panel (right sides facing) beginning and ending at the dots A and B on the pattern.  Sew the opposite side to the tummy panel as well.  Sew shut the back, leaving a 1.5″ gap for turning it right side out.  Double check all seams to make sure there are no holes.

It may be tricky to work the presser foot around the eye posts, so hand sewing that area may be necessary


Turn right  side out and if using a post nose, snip a tiny hole at the front and insert and secure from inside the piggy.

IMG_8177Stuff with desired fiber fill, hand stitch the hole shut.  For beaded eyes use heavy thread, doubled, and a long needle.  Position the needle and pull the thread through the face to the other side making sure the eyes will be even.  Add a bead and plunge back through, adding the other bead, and go back and forth until the eyes are quite secure.  Pull the thread slightly so that the eyes sink inward, forming the face shape  guinea pig style.  Double knot and snip threads close to the surface.  The same looping-pull is done if you used eye posts to give it a nice shape.  If you didn’t add a nose yet, use embroidery thread to add a pink triangle nose.


Have the eyes disappeared on you?  Time for fur-scaping!  Using sharp, small scissors trim away the surrounding fluff so that the eyes stand a chance of peering out at the world.


You are done!  Snuggle at will.



On Necrotizing Fasciitis And Such

We almost lost Kara.

She’d just given birth to a lovely baby girl.  A pain in her leg nagged on.  Suddenly emails and texts and phone calls were rapid fire; prayer chains linked together, and a whole family on their knees pleading for God to spare her life.

We probably all googled “necrotizing fasciitis”, because that was the enemy we were staring down in our prayers, that was the beast wreaking havoc on beloved Kara, flesh-eating bacteria trying to swallow her whole.  The prayers were first, “God please let them not have to take too much of her leg muscle”….then…”Oh, God, save her leg”….then…”Oh, God, save Kara”.


Baby came home, mama in an induced coma while surgeons cut away the death claiming her leg, trying to claim all of her.  Her husband, Mike, lived in two worlds, at his wife’s bedside and home with his two boys and new baby girl.  Meals came in.  In-laws moved in to care for the little ones.  A cousin and I came down for a few days to help.  It was a hard thing to see, fierce sorrow and fiercer love staring out of Mike’s eyes.


Talking to mama over Skype.


What do you say, when a mama who loves long walks in the countryside loses her leg?

What do you say when she asks for the baby to be lifted nearer the webcam so she can see her better and you can feel the ache in her arms to hold her daughter?

What do you say when life suddenly looks so drastically different and you can’t make it all better?


I’ve failed at the words.  I’ve tried to fix unfixable things.  I’m learning though.  We all need to, being always on the cusp of unexpected sorrows in our own lives and the lives of those we love.  We need to do better.

Here’s a few helps:

1)  Watch this and get this into your heart.  It will equip you to extend true and blessed empathy.

2)  Apply what you learned in #1.

3)  Pray.  Let the hurting know you’re praying, that even if their own words are stuck in their throats, raw and raspy, that other voices are interceding.

4)  Resist claiming to know what God is up to, why He allowed the hard thing to happen, or offering any conjectures about good things to come from it.  Give their pain room to be what it is.

5)  Keep close to God, attentive to His promptings.  He may have specific tasks for you to do to bless the hurting ones.


“Those who have known pain profoundly are the ones most wary

of uttering cliches about suffering.  Experience with the mystery takes

one beyond the realm of ideas and produces finally a muteness

or at least a reticence to express in words the solace that can only

be expressed by an attitude of union with the sufferer.”

-John Howard Griffin

Roots, Wings, and Not Having It All


Grandpa Marvin Olson framed within the hay loft on the farm.

Two grandparents within a year’s span.  That’s entirely too much grieving for the soul to swallow without feeling swallowed.  Two times I boarded flights alone; one while carrying Henrik inside, one with Henrik in my arms.  He would never know the beautiful people being laid into the ground this side of Heaven.  How she loved babies, how tender her heart and hands were, for so strong and determined a woman.  How his cow call sounded, how much he loved napping on the floor after a big lunch, how his eyes were so twinkly.  Henrik wouldn’t understand what it meant to me as a child, to travel from my home state of Montana out to North Dakota, to the wide expanse of farmland, to the two farms that mattered most in this world.  We’d go for Christmases or Thanksgivings or summers that baked hot on the prairie.


Grandpa (left).


 On the farm.


The farmhouse.


 Great Grandma Sophie.


Grandpa Marvin and Grandma Violet.

It was easy to envy my cousins.  They were raised in North Dakota and saw my grandparents all the time it seemed.  They had more stories with them and I imagined how many more wild kittens they got to catch and how many more rope swing rides up in the hayloft they got and how many chicken eggs they got to collect in the tin bucket for Grandma O.

I didn’t want to live in North Dakota though; I loved Montana with its mountains and rivers and skiing and beautiful camping spots.  I just wanted to bundle up all that I loved in North Dakota and drag it into Montana, right next door would be nice.  I haven’t been able to shake that dream; I still want to do that, though my bundle would be ponderously large considering all the people and places I’ve fallen in love with.




Crossing the Dearborn River at our cabin.

God has given me wings.  Many times.  First it was to Pennsylvania, where my husband’s roots are (as he’d tell you proudly, all the way back to William Penn who gave his family their land deed).  Then to Saskatchewan, Canada so he could finish his degree in the more financially friendly north.  Then to Costa Rica to learn Spanish.  Then to Chile to serve as Christian missionaries.  Then to Pennsylvania once again, with flight plans ready to go to Honduras next.

Every home I’ve lived in I’ve bloomed right into.  I plant flowers, I tuck bulbs into the dark damp earth (some that I’d never see bloom).


In my garden beds in Chile.


My front beds in Pennsylvania.  This was all just grass when we moved in.

Maybe I understand why I explode into each home I’ve lived in.  Part of me wants it all to look like we’ve been here a while, like we’re going to make lots of memories here.  I want it to look and feel rooted.  Because flying is tiring and sometimes you just want to sink into the good dirt and stay awhile.

“Bloom where you’re planted”, they say, but I’d add, “And bloom wherever you’re blown too”.  If God leads you out of native bower, dare to bloom there.  If you miss family get-togethers and memories made with them, if you don’t get to have all that, grieve it and give it, give it into God’s hands.  He who willingly removed himself from God’s immediate presence and glory for 33 years can understand your longing for home.


Last visit with Grandma Gwendolyn before her death.

Life is both wonderful and painful and the staying or going doesn’t mitigate that.

If we can’t have it all this side of eternity, let us lean into our lot full heartedly.  Grieving that which isn’t ours to enjoy, but bursting wide with the joy of what we do have.  And you know my dream?  Of having all whom I love all together in one place?  Why, that just may happen, on the other side of when eyes close in death and awaken in truest life.