Category Archives: Learning Opportunities

Consider the Canna Bulbs

We don’t always know value–or beauty–when we see them. Case in point:

canna bulbs.jpg

Did you know that this pile is a pile of canna flower bulbs? Until today, I certainly did not. If I had walked by Helma’s Garden (the garden at First Lutheran) on my own, I probably wouldn’t have noticed them at all. And if I had, I wouldn’t have known what they were. (Pro Tip: No one has ever mistaken me for a gardener.)

During the summer, the beauty of those cannas was obvious: bold and tall and fiery red, they stood proudly in the back row of the garden for all to see. Now that it’s fall, our gardeners have done their work and a few leaves on the ground are all that remain.

All, except for the bulbs. Small and unassuming, their value and beauty tucked safely within. Store them over the winter and plant them in the spring, my gardening friend assured me, and they will grow tall and fiery and boldly beautiful again.

There is something so comforting and hopeful about this: long months of waiting, then invisible change and growth inside the bulb and under the earth, and then . . . beauty and boldness unfurl. When we want to hurry through seasons of darkness, or ugliness, or pain–or when we feel overwhelmed by these things–let’s remember the canna bulbs.

Let’s rest in the dark.

Let’s wait.

Let’s trust that new life will come.

Image from page 34 of

What darkness are you sitting in right now? What is the new thing that you are waiting for?

P.S. If you would like to take some of this buried beauty home with you, come on over to Helma’s Garden and help yourself.

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Filed under Learning Opportunities, Ministry Matters

The Language of Love

Swinging London

 “What’s your love language?” my friend asked.

She didn’t bat her eyelashes at me when she asked, even though it sounds like that kind of question. In fact, it’s a question in the same realm as “What’s your Myers-Briggs type?” (Pro Tip: ENFP every dang time, obviously.) We were talking about Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages. It’s a little bit cheesy and a little bit gimmicky, but it’s a book I’ve found helpful in working with engaged couples and in thinking about my own relationships.

Chapman’s premise is that there are five main “love languages”–five ways that people give and receive love–and the way to sustain a relationship is to know both your own primary love language and the primary love language of your partner. (There’s a whole library of these books, of course–the principles can strengthen relationships with friends, children, pretty much anybody.)

The five “languages” are: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Quality Time, Physical Touch, and . . . . Continue reading

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Filed under Learning Opportunities, Thankful Hearts


Ski Emblems Decorate Door of Donovans, an Apres Ski Spot 02/1974

“We have to be at the doctor’s office at 7:45,” I said to Mike Tuesday night.

“7:45 in the morning?” he asked. If he were a cartoon character his jaw would have been on the floor.

Even though the Cumings kids are early risers (and, Pro Tip, no respecters of Saturday mornings, either), actually leaving the house early in the morning is not exactly one of their spiritual gifts. So, when we pulled up to the clinic at 7:47 AM on Wednesday, I was pretty proud of all three of us.

The appointments went pretty well, too. No one was injured despite robust use of the exam table as a play space; no fingers were crushed in the frequent opening and closing of the exam room door; we spilled some Trix on the floor but didn’t crush any of it underfoot.

So I’m pretty sure I earned my reward:

super sticker

Yep: a sticker. We each got one, and each wore them proudly all day long. (Or until we led a prayer service at the funeral home, because, Pro Tip: stickers are not actually professional wear.)

In my first call, I sometimes awarded imaginary stickers to my confirmation students when they had a really great answer. For a really, really great answer you might even get a sparkly one. This was a surprisingly effective motivational tool.

"Turn Off the Damn Lights" Stickers Mirrored the Seriousness of the Energy Situation in Oregon During the Fall of 1973. This Sticker, in a Portland Business Office, Was Used in Newspaper Ads as Well as on Television, Billboards and Car Bumpers 10/1973

So, what can we learn from this?

1. Recognition matters. When we acknowledge the small victories and the everyday successes, it makes a difference. It makes us happy and proud and motivates us to keep on keeping on.

2. We need more stickers. While I was writing this post, I remembered that today is recycling day. I filled the bin and rolled it around to the front of the house exactly in time for the recycling truck to collect it. Sure, an empty recycling bin is its own reward. But you know what would be the perfect thing to commemorate this mundane achievement? A sticker.

Make it a sparkly one, please.

What motivates or inspires you?

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Filed under Learning Opportunities, Marvelous Miscellany

Practically Perfect


Don’t feed the plants!

I’ve always loved theater. Best Friend Sarah and I were the writers, directors, actors, and marketers behind The Curved Curtain Theater. (I’m sure you’ve heard of it.) We took classes and performed in children’s theater productions.

In high school I did costumes and speech team. At church, I performed in many excellent Vacation Bible School skits. And of course I’ve been a great audience member all my life.

Ever since I moved to small town Minnesota, I’ve thought about community theater. But I was always leading a mission trip or having a baby or putting the baby to bed.

Until, last summer, I wasn’t. I did miss more kid bedtimes than I wanted to (because, pro tip: the number of kid bedtimes I want to miss is zero), but thanks to Mike’s graciousness, I made my glorious return to the stage in Little Shop of Horrors as Customer Number Two. Continue reading

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July 20, 2016 · 11:01 AM

How to Cure a Headache

Twelfth century headache - - 456584

1. Take four ibuprofen.

2. Drink one steaming hot cup of coffee.

3. Share holy communion and holy conversation with two great women.

4. Get a big hug from one charming preschooler.

5. Still have a headache?  A few more sips of that communion wine might do the trick.

Girl worker at lunch also absorbing California sunshine, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, Calif. (LOC)

I bet this “girl worker” does not have a headache.

What’s your favorite home remedy?


Filed under Learning Opportunities, Ministry Matters

Haunted House How To

Zoe loved being a (not at all scary) ladybug.

So far, Halloween as a parent is more fun every year.  (I assume this stops at some point, but let’s not worry about that today.)

This year, I thought visiting the Scouts’ Haunted House was a great idea.  From 5:30 to 6:30, the lights would be on.  The posters promised games that sounded fun for little kids.  So, Zoe and I made a date with her friend Sam and his mom.  What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, my friends.

For starters, “lights on” was a pretty loose concept.  It was dark up in there.

Also, there was spooky music.  And surprisingly scary and gory stuff around every corner.  (Way to go, Scouts!  Seriously, impressive work.)

Now, since this was a haunted house, I really had no excuse for being so surprised.  Heather and I hurried through the house of horrors as quickly as we could, clutching our frightened children to our chests and saying, “It’s just pretend!” over and over.

Amazingly, Zoe did not scream like the poor little girl in front of us.  (More amazingly, neither did I.)  I’d like to credit my awesome parental soothing skills, but I think the real hero was a fourth grader from Beckville.  As we entered the too-scary-but-too-late-now haunted house, one of the glowing skeletons waved at me.  “Pastor!” he whispered.

Relieved, I said, “Hi, Sam!  Look, Zoe, it’s our friend Sam from church!”  And sweet Sam lifted up his mask and grinned.  Zoe was still scared, but she was comforted.  There’s just a chance she isn’t scarred for life.

There’s a lesson here, team.  In fact, there are at least two:

1. Haunted houses are scary.

2. If you don’t want to be scared, ask the skeletons to lift up their masks.

If I had been a little faster, you might have seen Zoe’s face under the witch’s hat.

Do you like being scared?  What are your spookiest or silliest Halloween memories?


Filed under Learning Opportunities, Your Moment of Zoe

Advice for a Happy Marriage


Hello, friends!

Here’s one I meant to post before sister Claire’s wedding, but . . . I forgot.  So, now that the honeymoon’s over and Claire and Doug are back in Chicago, here is the marriage advice I clipped out of Jane magazine (remember Jane? remember when it was awesome?) in the spring of 2001.

It’s by Jane’s mom’s mom, “who’s talking from 68 years of marital experience, so take it from her”:

1. You are both in love.

2. You respect one another.

3. You agree on whether and when to have children.

4. You agree on how to manage your finances.

5. You listen to one another whether you agree or disagree.  If you disagree, think how important the issue will be a year hence.

6. You each should have a major interest outside of the marriage, such as a job, a hobby, volunteering, or one of the arts.

7. You laugh at the same things.

8. You are ready to share each other’s joys and disappointments.

9. Don’t marry with the thought that you can easily divorce if you disagree.

10. A long, happy marriage needs lots of work from both.

Good advice, right?  I think some of these tips are good for friendships and other relationships, too.

Bride and groom

What would you add?  What’s the best or worst advice you’ve gotten (or given) about marriage?


Filed under Learning Opportunities

Better with Age

You know those parents who buy their newborn baby a baseball glove?

Well, that’s not me.  (Pro Tip: That’s really, really not me.)

Instead, I am the parent who, among many other silly things, was genuinely disappointed when her four-month-old missed the church trip to the Nelson Farm Pumpkin Festival because it conflicted with her nap.  Because she was, you know, four months old.

She could barely pause to pose for this one.

Pumpkins!  Pony rides!  Mini donuts!  What mother would not want to share these fall treats with her child?  Zoe missed out during our first fall in Litchfield, but we’ve been to the Nelson Farm every year since.  And every year, it’s better.

Not because the pumpkin festival changes–I’m pretty sure it’s substantially the same experience Mike and his brothers had when they were kids–but because Zoe does.

We were the first customers for the pony rides. Of course.

At age three and a quarter, Zoe can ride ponies, choose pumpkins, race through a mini corn maze, devour mini donuts, disappear into the long tunnels at the playground, and have a tantrum when it’s time to go home.  (Some things never change, right?)  It is such a joy to watch her explore, and to realize how much she’s grown since last year.

Especially lovely was sharing this year’s visit with my parents.  We had planned to do it last fall, but gathered around my dad’s hospital bed instead.  (Pro Tip: Cancer is no respecter of pumpkin festivals.)  Which just made watching my dad and Zoe petting baby chicks that much sweeter.

Grandma and Zoe “being flowers.”

What else is better with age?


Filed under Learning Opportunities, Thankful Hearts, Your Moment of Zoe

Four More Years!

I’m trying to figure out how to tell this story to you.

It’s not the story of who’s right and who’s wrong, of who has the moral high ground, of dueling yard signs and overlapping bumper stickers.

It’s the story of how a lifelong Democrat and a lifelong Republican fell in love and got married.

It’s the story of a crisp fall evening, October 2004.  Of learning, over a couple of really tasty malts, that the man you are having a really great second date with is planning on voting for The Other Guy.

And you are surprised.  You are stunned, really, because you just don’t hang around with anybody who is planning to do that.  And you think, maybe no more dates with this one.

But then you have a third date, and a fourth, and a fifth, and eventually you stop counting.

And here is what you learn:

1. When you actually engage in dialogue with someone who votes for The Other Guys, you are forced to examine your own beliefs, opinions, and understanding.

2. Just because someone votes for The Other Guys doesn’t mean you have no common ground.  If you are both Lutherans, and both nerds, you probably have quite a bit.

3. If your relationship can survive the 2004 election season, it can probably make it through 2008, 2012, and beyond.

Eight years and counting.  Here’s to the next four (and more)!

At a “Presidential Losers” themed election night party in 2008.


Filed under Learning Opportunities

What I Learned from My Sister’s Wedding

The Big Day has come and gone.  The happy couple is currently on a beach in Hawaii, and the rest of us are back in the real world, where we have to provide our own food and entertainment and wear our regular clothes again.

It was a spectacular weekend.  Here are some things I learned:

1. When “airbrushing and lashes” are included in the price of your professional make-up artist, it does not mean photoshopping and basic mascara.  It means getting your face sprayed with mysterious products and your lashes enhanced with false ones, glued on one by one.  (Pro Tip: I wear glasses because I cannot touch my eyes.  Guess which of these services I did not accept?)

2. You may be riding a bus around Chicago for the fabulous pre-wedding photo shoot, but you will still have to do a bunch of walking in those pretty but punishing shoes.  Wear your flip flops or lean heavily on the arm of the best man.  Do not lean heavily on the bride, who will not be amused when you stumble and nearly knock her to the ground.

3. You will cry.  You will tear up when you see your sister all gowned and veiled for the first time.  You will cry when you hug her before walking down the aisle.  You will cry when you walk down the aisle.  You will cry when she walks down the aisle.  Then, if you’re lucky, you will laugh when your mother’s heel gets impressively tangled in your sister’s cathedral length veil.  This is the stuff memories are made of.

4. In a weekend filled with sweet moments, one of the sweetest is standing in the lobby of the Newberry Library on a crisp September evening, gazing at the smiling, tear-stained faces of aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, and feeling the love and joy that glow as warmly as the candlelight.  (Pro Tip: This is a sentimental family.  What do you expect?)

5. How you know the wedding was a smashing success: the next morning, your three-year-old declares, “I don’t want to go home.  I want to go back to Aunt Claire’s wedding.  I want to be a flower girl two times.”  The praise of a preschooler is truly priceless.

Thanks for getting married, Claire and Doug.  We had a great time!

What are some of your favorite wedding memories?


Filed under Learning Opportunities, Thankful Hearts