The key to communication found MIA

So last night I had a dream in which Ryan was talking to a group of men about the challenges of communicating with women. He was acting out the roles, the way he can be toodling along in a conversation and then suddenly blind-sided by a sharp question from his wife. POW! Ryan staggered around acting out how this feels and all the men started choking up, getting tears in their eyes.

I mean whaddya say? It’s one of those questions where every answer gets your head cut off.

Oh yeah man, that cuts deep.

Someone in the audience tried to read aloud a passage from a helpful book (I think it was this board book that belongs to my son, brightly colored and with googly eyes on the cover)

children's book

but he couldn’t talk past the lump in his throat and passed it to a friend, who hemmed and hawed trying to get himself under control so he could share its profound wisdom with the class.

Sadly, the dream ended before anyone read the enlightening words that would have made sense of it all and offered a way forward.


I guess you will have to write them yourself… What say?


His name was Heinz Gaugel. He died in 2000 at 73 years of age, but I met him five years before that, when I was an innocent and starry-eyed twelve.

When I entered the studio, he sat with his back to me. A canvas road stretched away from him, with horses and buggies scattered along it and bare trees crowding close. He was calling out the leaves, daubing a sharp tool into the paint on his easel, mixing and smearing and pressing the color into his work. The leaves were yellow and orange against the sunset, and then all shades as they faded into the dusk: blue, red, green, purple.

I watched, mesmerized.

My family hurried me on, but I sneaked back into his studio to watch, dizzy with exhilaration. I felt that anything could happen, really, with such talent in the world.

He painted on, accustomed to watchers and unaware of my presence.

I took a deep breath.

“When did you make your first painting to sell?” I asked timidly.

Shari, Shari. Ever the dreamer.

He stopped painting and turned completely around in his chair. His chin was tipped up and his eyes smiling. But he answered with a question.

“How old are you?” he asked.

“Twelve,” I said.

He turned and began daubing more colors. “That’s just how old I was.”

“When I was twelve,” he said, in his delightful old-Germany accent, “I had a little job, and when I got some money, the first thing I did was to go and buy some paints. With these I made my first oil painting to sell.”

He daubed. “Do you like to paint?”

“Yes!” I said, caught up in joy, and then rather crestfallen. “But I’m not good at it.”

“No, no. Keep at it,” he said. “Don’t let anyone stop you. If people criticize you, you tell them to go away and make their own mistakes. That’s the time when they shouldn’t criticize, they should praise.”

My brother showed up in the studio doorway. “Our tour guide’s here. Time to go,” he said.

We toured the Behalt, Mr. Gaugel’s 265-foot mural-in-the-round, his 14-year labor of love, his place of remembrance. We saw the red years of persecution, and the golden age of peace. We saw the amazing eyes of Jesus, that followed you around the room. We saw White Jonas, the man who expected the Lord’s imminent return, and prepared for it by wearing clothes of pure white and building a chair for Christ to sit in when he came to rule the world. There sat the chair, waiting still. White Jonas was long gone, but grafted into my own family tree: grandfather to my step-grandma.

When the tour was done I bought a postcard for twenty-five cents and went to see if Mr. Gaugel would autograph it for me. What an interrupted morning he was having! how brusque he could have been, for sure! but I was only twelve, and my eyes were shining. “Make sure to ask what you owe him,” my mother said.

Mr. Gaugel stood up from his painting, crossed the room, and sat down on his loveseat. I perched beside him.

“What is your name?” he asked.


“And how do you spell it?”

When he was done I said obediently, “How much do I owe you?”

He began to laugh. “How much do you owe me?! Nothing. Just take good care of it.” He walked with me to the door, his arm on my shoulders. My mother and sister were there. “Keep painting, sweetheart,” he said.

I went home and filled nine pages of my journal with him.

The postcard says “To Shari with Best Wishes. Heinz Gaugel. 9-12-95”

I would have liked to see him again, just to say thank you. Kindness to a small and foolish girl is an unexpected gift; and now that I am grown I see that perhaps to a man coolly assessed by many for his masterpieces and his cash value, my foolish starriness was also a gift.

I like to think so.

Truth and chaff

I awoke one morning heavy, a weight of bad dreams pressing me into the mattress, the voice of the Accuser echoing in the room, hissing, taunting, blaming. His words were lies, all lies. I rose to shake them off, and yet—

There was that small grain of truth.

Satan is a coward and a cheat. He can never speak outright until he knows we’re buying it, and he can never come up with his own ideas: he slinks along behind the truth-speakers, inflating their words out of all recognition and proportion. It is an old and simple trick—“Did God really say you can’t eat from all the trees in the garden?”

Jesus says: I’d like to see you grow in this area, dear.

Satan whispers: And in this one and this one and this one. In fact your whole life is a mess. How can anyone put up with you? You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

A friend says: You are a talented woman with a gift to offer the world.

Satan says: Aren’t you glad you have a gift? It’s not everyone has a gift. You’re really something. You can be king of the world if you just bow d…

A friend says: What you said really hurt me.

Satan slips in: And nothing you do can ever mend it. Our relationship is on the rocks and I am through with you, you dirty rotten good-for-nothing.

Life says: Someone else can do a better job at this than you can.

Satan says: See? I told you you were worthless. Your work will never amount to anything unless you get busy clawing your way to the top.

The quiet voice of truth gets lost in the confusion.

The weak crumble beneath his accusations. The strong stand against his lies—and against the truth buried inside them. Perhaps one in a hundred sift through his chaff to find the grain of truth—the Jesus-bit he is trying to bury in fluff, to choke in nonsense, to drown in despair. First convicted by truth, then condemned by lies, then shaking off the one to return humbly to the other: we join with Jesus in casting down the Accuser.

Don’t blow the truth away with the chaff. Return to find it and take it in—so small, so easily lost in the shuffle, that grain gives nourishment and life and the power to grow.

Lord Jesus, may all your daughters be taught of you.


cup o joe

I awake in the darkness, my mind reaching desperately to remember the second thing—the second part, which made sense of the whole.

If I give myself a moment it will come back to me.

But it does not, and after a time I cannot recall the first part either, nor what it was part of, nor why this was all so terribly important.


Meanwhile there are lunches to pack, dishes to wash, milk jars to set out.

Tuesday morning at the Zooks.

On gardening and imperfection

Part A

Confession: Almost I would give up writing on any issue I care about, for the way in which I am tested in that area immediately afterwards.

I wrote about seeing work as play, and immediately began taking my own so seriously I could hardly stop to breathe.

I wrote about grace, and started coming down so hard on myself and others that I wondered if I knew the meaning of the word?

I wrote about marriage, and was handed a remarkably well-timed opportunity to come alongside The Boss in something I am terrified to do.

So today I am wondering about imperfection, and glimpses of glory to which we have not attained.

Part B

Confession: This is the time of year when I ask myself “Why do I garden?” and answer back “I have no idea, dear.” I adore planting. I drink it and eat it and sleep it. And I love harvesting—the satisfaction of fresh corn, new beans, rich tomatoes. But in between—!!

I was gardening yesterday, sloughing through weeds grown tall from neglect and too many days of rain. I hate weeding. Hate the endless, careful tending while doubting all the while that any fruit will come. It seems so ludicrous, after all, to believe that small wrinkled seeds and spindly stalks will yield anything tasty.

And I hate uprooting in one area what brings me joy in another—pulling violets and goldenrod and dandelions out by the roots when I actually like violets and goldenrod and dandelions. Just not here. Simultaneously I am babying volunteer potatoes and tomatoes that came up among my rows of corn, babying them though this is not quite their niche. Volunteering is a brave act and should be encouraged.

Then I walk out to my new-planted strawberries, and heartlessly nip every bud.

My dad says that many times, a dream God gives to a person must go through several deaths before coming to fruition. Jesus called the human heart a field, and I wonder about the stuff that comes up in mine. Does He smile a little when I offer to feed Him my first-year asparagus, bravely pushing out of the ground? Look, Lord—use this!

He smiles a little and waits. Not this year, dear.

Does He wince a little when he nips my earliest strawberry blooms? I won’t use them just yet. Send your roots deeper. Don’t get discouraged, girl.

He never uses the word immature with me, and only as I look back later do I see He could have.

Sometimes I send forth a profusion of verdure, half choking some in my effort to produce all. He lets it grow side by side, the useful and the misplaced, the pretty and the nondescript. In my best patches, ugly worms turn beneath the surface—jealousy, competition, reproach, self-gratification. If I allow them at the crops, they’ll chew the garden full of holes. But if I go on quietly growing the fruit, maybe they will turn out to be earthworms only, enriching the soil.

I don’t think He asks the fruit be perfect to be useable.

Maybe it’s okay that the upside and downside never quite match. Maybe some of life is potatoes, and the rather silly and nondescript plant dying halfway through the season is an essential part of the rich brown tubers beneath. Maybe some of life is corn, and the crazy shooting into height with almost no root at all bears a crop of gold.

So today I am wondering about imperfection, and glimpses of glory to which we have not attained.