Many beautiful things

Lady in White Tea hosted by Connie (standing R)

Mitty jumped up on my bed this morning during my devotionals. Cuddles, Mitty’s sister, established this daily meeting when they were kittens. She aimed for my pen to chew on the cap which makes a scribbly mess in my journal. One morning several months ago, Mitty showed up on my bed instead for her turn to chew on my pen.

             It’s curious how the two cats respect the other’s alone-time with me and my puddle of books. It’s always the same: the cats rub their faces on the leather and paper bindings and covers. Most fascinating is the way they open their paws and pull the pen to their jaws. They’ll tire of my affection and lay against my legs for their first nap of the day. It is a beautiful thing to see a cat sleeping beside you.                

This morning, however, I could not linger. Of all blissful occasions, my friend Connie invited me to her home for tea.

Mind, Connie and her tea group take tea seriously, which means she sets a table with her unique personality and creative spirit. Of all possible ideas in her pretty little head, she decided to assign the “Lady in White” theme to today’s party.

“You can wear winter white,” she had complied.

This sent me to the basement yesterday to resurrect the most comfortable and outdated outfit on the planet. I.E., it resembles summer pajamas. Yet, the cream color met Connie’s criteria.

Spray starched and ironed, my clothing hung on the closet door as I roostered up. I packed my lavender lemon currant scones and cream and drove north to Connie’s home.

A sprinkling of purple crocuses greeted me and another guest who dressed in white lace from head to toe. I counted on my scones and cream to compensate for my poor excuse of a costume.

The lacy ladies in white arrived. The feast ensued. First course: Connie’s chicken-leek soup, scones, ambrosia salad. Second: egg salad and tuna salad sandwiches. Third: Quiche Lorraine with spinach.

To settle our food, Connie led us on a tour of her impeccably maintained vintage clothing collection spanning from her mother’s wedding gown, to her childhood Shirley Temple-like dress, to bell-bottoms.

Then she served dessert. Meringue drops and Seven Sisters Layer Cake. Giddy with sugar and caffeine, we posed for photos, another tea tradition upheld with hilarity.

Our hostess declined offers for help with dishes. “I have a dishwasher,” Connie said.

While driving home, I felt a letdown similar to after childbirth. I laid down on my bed before dinner, which I never do. Up jumped Mitty to snuggle.

Later, I recalled the beautiful things and ladies I met throughout the day, and the DVD a neighbor loaned me. Captivated from start to finish, I watched the exquisite documentary titled “Many Beautiful Things.”

Dear Reader, if you seek beauty, please watch this movie. I promise the story will open your spiritual eyes to meet beautiful things one by one, wholly and with joy.

Behold another risen season! The most beautiful of all things.

One man and seven women


When a series of three reading buddies recommend a book, I often buy it. However, several years ago, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2010), a New York Times bestseller by Eric Metaxas, came with concern. I don’t read horror, fiction or non-fiction.

And what could be more horrific than another graphic account of Hitler’s Third Reich seducing a nation into fascism while annihilating Europe’s Jews and their sympathizers by the millions? Weren’t The Diary of Anne Frank and The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom enough for me to comprehend the reach of tyranny’s cruelty and ruin?

“Trust me,” a friend said, “although tragic, Bonhoeffer tells an important, redemptive story relevant to us today. My husband and I read it to each other. That might help you make it to the end. You must finish the book.”

Having read and respected Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship (1937), I bought Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer upon my friend’s word. My husband and I read to one another until we reached mid-way its 542 pages.

“I need a break to read something lighter. I’ll finish Bonhoeffer later,” Mel said.

As I turned the pages to the end, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theological convictions publicly responded to Germany’s gradual spiritual, moral, and social decline. ‘Only those who believe obey’ is what we say to that part of a believer’s soul which obeys, and ‘only those who obey believe’ is what we say to that part of the soul of the obedient which believes. If the first half of the proposition stands alone, the believer is exposed to the danger of cheap grace, which is another word for damnation. If the second half stands alone, the believer is exposed to the danger of salvation through works, which is also another word for damnation.

Bonhoeffer’s belief and obedience led him to the executioner’s gallows. Corrie ten Boom’s belief and obedience followed her Lord’s deliverance from evil through the gates of Ravensbrück concentration camp back to her home in Haarlem, Holland. Afterwards, Corrie began a lifelong ministry as a “tramp for the Lord’, speaking her testimony of forgiveness throughout the earth.

Within the bounty of God’s mercy, in the early 1970’s, Corrie ten Boom stood on the platform of Bethesda Missionary Church in Detroit. And there I sat amongst 2,000 people, moved that Corrie forgave the Nazi guards who beat and starved her and her sister Betsie, and millions of other women, men, and children.

Fifty-one years later, I’ve concluded Eric Metaxas’ book titled 7 Women (2015). Corrie ten Boom is listed in the cast with Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris, Rosa Parks, and Mother Teresa. All women who believed and obeyed, and obeyed and believed in the salvation of Jesus Christ, stood upon these first and second halves against oppression, and forgave their enemy.

Dear Reader, when we are tested, let us remember this great cloud of witnesses. Let us stand. Believe and obey. Obey and believe.

By the way, Mel finished Bonhoeffer.


Padriac Pearce, Irish poet, 1879-1916

I discovered the root of my love for poetry twenty years ago when traversing Ireland’s winding roads. A dominant charm of the Emerald Isle is the English language spoken by the Gaelic tongue. The cost of travel is worth the verse and cadence of conversation in boisterous pubs and beside cozy peat fires.

However, as my Midwest husband couldn’t understand my relatives’ speech upon his first visit to my Appalachia, neither could my ear follow the Irish brogue.

As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, I consider my McCoy-O’Brien agrarian ancestors and their way of storytelling. I remember my maternal grandmother’s three books: the Bible in her hands, and a hymnal and songbook kept on her piano’s music rack. She also read the daily newspaper to keep pace with her community and new recipes.

A preacher, Granny reprimanded me when I could read music just enough to plunk out Little Brown Jug on her piano keys. “Now, git down from my piana! Who taught you how to play that ole drinkin’ song?”

Guess Granny didn’t know I took violin lessons in school. As a child, I couldn’t perceive the cultural divide between her life and my family’s. And I dared not ask why the songbook sat beside the hymnal.

My parents didn’t read books when raising my four sisters and me. As Granny, they also religiously combed the news.

I acknowledge the responsibilities my parents carried: the midnight oil my mother burned with her Brothers sewing machine to clothe her five growing girls.

My parents’ reading habits reflected middle-class America in Post-WW II’s sprawling suburbs. Our city planners also overlooked the value of reading literature when they neglected to build libraries within our neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, nationwide, households traded family stories and literature for the television.

When my older sister and I entered high-school, Dad provided us with a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, an expensive and overwhelming feast of history and information too formidable to comfortably use.

Yet, God is good and put Miss Shingler into my path. My sophomore English teacher, she quickened the promise of poetry when she led our class in reading aloud poetry by Emily Dickinson and Shakespeare, to name a few.  

Dear Reader, today I pull a poetry anthology from my bookshelf and listen to an Irish voice from the early 1900’s.

THE REBEL by Padriac Pearse (1879-1916)

                I come of the seed of the people, the people that sorrow,

                That have no treasure but hope,

                No riches laid up but a memory

                Of an ancient glory.

                My mother bore me in bondage, in bondage my mother was born,

                I am the blood of serfs;

 The children with whom I have played, the men and women with    

                     whom I have eaten…

               Have worn shameful manacles, have been bitten as at the wrist

                     by manacles…

              I say to my people that they are holy…

             That they are greater than those that hold them, and stronger

                     and purer,

              That they have need of courage, and to call on the name of

                    their God,

              God the unforgetting, the dear God that loves the peoples for

                   whom He died naked, suffering shame.

Lessons from the birds and bees


(L to R) The henhouse, beehive platform, and greenhouse, March 7, 2021

It’s Sunday. I stand in the warm sunshine of our kitchen’s sliding glass door. Downhill, our Isa Browns peck and scratch in their pen. The foundation for my beehive stands beyond and between the henhouse and greenhouse­: three symbiotic structures indispensable to growing our favorite foods.

             The repurposed greenhouse built in 2006 for growing lavender plants now holds bee equipment, handy gardening tools, and straw for the chickens’ bedding.

Usually a congenial and often amusing view, today the coop is sadly less one resident. Since the April day we brought the flock of half a dozen home in our cats’ kennel, they’ve proved a dream come true. No cannibalism. No mites. No complaints.

And we appreciate their large, brown eggs with yummy orange yolks!

Mind, beekeeping is my idea. I’m determined to learn and overcome the trials and tribulations of housing these remarkable pollinators and harvesting their honey. One must roll up their sleeves to realize the benefits of the Apis mellifera to our natural world and personal health.

On the other hand, my husband, who raised chickens (roosters too) with his twin brother when boys, prefers poultry.

“They don’t sting,” he says.

Matter of fact, he showed mercy upon his egg layers and let them out to range Thursday past. After a long winter, overcome with sympathy for his pullets, Mel tends to cave when they squawk for green pastures. It’s reminiscent of those years our young daughters cried, “Daddy, pleeease, can we go?”

Well, when Mel went to close the henhouse chute two nights ago, a Brown went AWOL. Not a feather left behind.

The following night, the doorbell rang. “I’m sorry, Mr. Underwood,” said a young neighbor down the road, “but I think our dog killed one of your chickens. I’d be happy to pay for it.”

Relieved to know the victim’s whereabouts, Mel shook his head. “These things happen when you care for animals.”

I admire the five reddish-brown hens, golden light upon their up-turned tail feathers, oblivious to their loss.

A human being, I know all too well the grief and disappointment of losing who and what you cherish. I recall two miserable weeks last summer fighting yellow jackets, searching for their nest in vain while the worker bees battled the robbers in relentless defense of their queen and colony.

In the end, I found three empty honey supers once filled with capped comb. Yet, the number of dead bees indicated the queen got the heck out of Dodge with her devotees.

Consoled my over-wintered hive may have survived, I remember what a fellow beekeeper said in church this morning. “I bait and trap yellow jackets with meat, water, and a bucket.”

Be sure, dear Reader, I took note of his methods. Soon, I’ll organize the greenhouse and assemble a hive for another season observing the most magnificent insect in flight and on the frames of honeycomb.

My goodness, there’s no place on this little farm the hens love to explore more than our cluttered greenhouse.

The light of mercy and service


Members of the Casa Maria Guild of Imlay City (Dolores Ganstine, back row, third from right)

This week, in the midst of a messy change from our long-term communications provider to another, something wonderful happened. Like a ray of sunshine, an email from Dolores Ganstine appeared in my inbox.

“Happy Happy Birthday Iris🎂🎁🍦 Hope you have a Wonderful day and year,” she wrote.

More than a decade ago, Dolores and her Casa Maria Guild invited me as their guest speaker for the Annual Spring Luncheon they host for Imlay City’s Maple Vista seniors.

There I met women who hold no agenda other than to lift the spirits of Maple Vista’s seniors with a delicious lunch, learn something new, and laugh at life’s ironies­.

In 2019, Dolores called with a request to speak for their April 2020 Spring Luncheon. “Just tell us stories,” she said.

I was thrilled to accept.

            On March 12, 2020, as the Guild’s President, Dolores emailed to cancel their April luncheon. “We’re really worried about bringing the Corona virus to the Maple Vista seniors and each other,” she explained.

Although disappointed, I understood.

I struck my pen through “Maple Vista Luncheon” noted on my calendar. I would miss engaging with this wise, cheerful band of women.

Having witnessed the bountiful mercy and love the Guild members poured upon the seniors, I hoped their group would soon resume their ministry.

When the earth thawed last March, I walked into my gardens and forgot Dolores, her Guild, and Maple Vista. Out of sight, out of mind.

A year later, it’s beyond my understanding how people survived 2020 unharmed without a trowel in their hand and a patch of earth under their feet.

Statistics of increased depression amongst our elderly, and a twenty-five percent rise in teenage suicide, indicate a good portion of America has not escaped pandemic seclusion without injury and death.

These reports validate what I’ve learned from the births of my children to the deathbeds of my parents: affectionate touch sustains life and offers a gentle release from it.

We need a pair of loving eyes to welcome us into this world, guide us through it, and release us when God calls us home.

Dolores later emailed this sad news. “I have been meaning to let you know that our Maple Vista ladies guild has disbanded. Most of the ladies had been members for 20 years or longer, and because of the Covid we couldn’t go there or do anything for the seniors. So no more Casa Maria Ladies Guild after 42 years.”

I composed myself and phoned Dolores. “I’m sorry to hear about your guild.”

“We’re all in our late seventies and eighties. Younger women aren’t interested in the Guild like we were twenty years ago. My daughter and I are going to do something for the seniors on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day anyway.”

Dear Reader, I’m thankful for the perfect timing of Dolores’ ray of sunshine. The Past President of the former Casa Maria Guild does not hide her light under a bushel, or a pandemic.

Light. The natural disinfectant. 

Note: recommended reading from the Washington Post: