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