My Treasured Friend – Marilyn Crosland

I’ve decided that it is impossible to say good-bye to a woman who has left such a profound impact upon my life. What began as a ‘business’ agreement to teach piano to Debralyn, and later Josh, turned into a deep connection between two women. And even though her life on earth has ended, her fingerprints in mine will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Wednesdays. 9am. A place for this busy homeschool mom to exhale and listen to the beautiful music Marilyn helped Debralyn and Josh create. Without realizing it, this little space on a couch in her living room began to fill a ‘mom-shaped’ hole in my heart.

She scampered around the room doing all she could to help my kids ‘feel’ the music. I’d never seen such a dedicated and creative teacher. But, I had also never seen a woman who could open her heart to so many people and welcome them inside of it.

Lessons never began at the piano. They began with her pausing long enough to check in with ‘mother.’ She wanted to know what I was teaching the kids. What I was knitting. What I was making for supper. What I had loved about living on the farm. What I was going to do on April Fool’s Day. What were those tears in my eyes?

She just seemed to be able to read the nuances of my life like she could read the nuances of a piece of music.

So each week, Wednesdays at 9, I showed up. The errands that needed to be run during lessons always waited. Why on earth would I miss a chance to ‘be’ in her presence?

Years passed. We marked the seasons together by noticing the fallish breeze as she stood at the door waving good-bye. She entered into my joy anytime a snowstorm was on the horizon. We marveled at the perfect peony bloom that she placed on her coffee table.

More importantly, she asked me how I was handling the changes in our family. As child after child headed off to college or fell in love, she anticipated my heart and knew exactly how to encourage me. She empathized without telling me how to feel. She had the uncanny ability to paint a picture of the beauty that was ahead of me without discounting how I felt in that moment.

And then I became her student. No longer was I sitting on the couch. I was seated on her piano bench. I felt vulnerable and small. She infused me with confidence and together we began to bring out the music that she had seen deep within me. A  part of me came to life again!

She introduced me to Bach in a way that I had never known him. She placed my hands upon hers so I could feel the movement. I ALWAYS left with my spirits high – not just for the music – it was because I had been with her.

It was during one of my private lessons that she brought me deeply into the world that she was living.

Aphasia. A cruel disease that was taking away her ability to find her words. The tears began to flow down my cheeks. She took my face and turned it to gaze outside.

“Look at that magnificent sky. Isn’t it the most beautiful color of blue? The sky will be the sky whether I can say the word or not. Isn’t that amazing? I have so much to be happy about!”

She bravely and enthusiastically jumped into the world of memory care. This brilliant, wise, adventurous woman was doing all she could do to keep exercising her mind. It wasn’t beneath her. It was something else for her to learn. She could have chosen bitterness. She chose gratitude.

Marilyn always loved to play duets with her students – and I was no exception. (We always ended my lesson time with a duet). She had to stop teaching, but I still stopped in to see her from time to time.  Last winter, as I was saying good-bye, she scurried to the piano telling me we had time for a duet. I’m so glad that I realized I could be late for my next appointment because that would turn out to be the last time we played together. She pulled out “Let there be Peace on Earth.” This was the first time that I had to ‘wait’ for her as we played. The tears flowed down my face as we created music because the moment felt so tender. I was looking for something profound to say when we finished, but she beat me to it.

“We’ve got to take this on the road, you know.”

Yep, that’s what she always said. Even now, that makes me smile.

I’ve heard it said that what’s inside of a person comes out more clearly as they age. When I saw Marilyn for the last time this summer, she could no longer find my name. But, no matter. She let me into her heart through her crystal blue eyes. They danced with delight. They knew me. They looked at every picture of my children and grandsons that I could show her.

She mustered up the phrase, “I’ve got so much. I’m so happy.” She was telling the truth. She gave and received love so generously. What more could a person need?

I didn’t want to leave her that day. There was no song for us to play together. But, I still stepped into her living room and looked at the couch where I had received so much.

Then I stood at the bottom of her stairs while she climbed up three so she could reach my face to give me a good-bye kiss.

She’s always been up ahead of me. And she always reached out to give me what I needed. Even then.

Yesterday was her memorial service, and I took this photo earlier that day.

“Look at the sky Marilyn. It’s still the sky whether you are saying it or not. It’s the perfect blue for the fall leaves. You’ve got all your words now. And I’ll keep looking at the sky.”




Posted in Encouragement, Good-byes | 4 Comments

Writing and Spring Cleaning and Mom

I’m more than a little embarrassed to begin blogging again. It’s been nearly two years since I posted something for people to read. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to. It’s just than I haven’t known what to say. Or how to say it. The proof is in the number of unfinished ‘drafts’ I have.

My inner world has been cluttered and messy. Swirling emotions haven’t found their way  into words, even though I’ve tried to get clarity. I always have and always will engage with my world through words. However,  I must confess that it’s been easier to use a knitting pattern, yarn, and needles to fulfill my creativity streak rather than sift through the disorganized layers in my heart.

Where do I begin? I found myself really wanted to talk to my mom this morning. I’m sure it’s because Mother’s Day is coming – or because sometimes I just need my mom.

I began to do my version of spring cleaning this morning, and my thoughts meandered back in time to the days I helped my mom spring clean. Tagging along, I’m sure I talked nonstop about things that only a mom could care about. We shook out the winter dust and tucked away the quilts. Fresh cotton sheets soon hung in the breeze while the daffodils danced along. We folded, we scrubbed, we tossed, and we dusted. By the time we made supper, the house felt alive.

Mom never told me how to spring clean or even that it was a ‘thing.’  Yet, I found myself this morning, mimicking her steps and wishing we could be together so that I could once again talk about things that only a mom could care about. My mom had a special gift, better than most, where she could enter into my world to cheer me on to be all that I was created to be.

She often told me that I could do anything I set my mind to do. For years, that paralyzed me because I didn’t want to try something that I couldn’t do. I was, and still am,  terrified to fail.

But, this morning, as I scrubbed my kitchen floor, I ‘heard’ her say it again. It was her encouraging me to write. To sift through my heart’s ‘winter dust’ and put away the ‘heavy fear.’ Ok Mom. I’ll try.

Sometimes to write, I just have to do it. Even if everything doesn’t make sense, I have to start. Just like I didn’t spring clean the entire house all at once. It’s a process. Perhaps I need to give myself permission to just begin the process again. Ok Mom. I think I hear you.

This is the last picture I have of my mom – taken on Mother’s Day in 1984. She knew it would be her last one on earth. We all did.


Today, I’m looking at that smile as if she’s smiling still at me. Her voice of encouragement is speaking loudly to me. Thank you Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.



Posted in Encouragement | Leave a comment

On Noticing and Resting – A Thank You to my Dad


Photo by RV BryantHe’s 91 years old, but most wouldn’t believe it.  With the exception of faulty hearing and worn out knees, he still looks ready to head out to the field. His mind doesn’t miss a beat – it really never has. While he admits that ‘growing old ain’t for sissies,’ he’s done a mighty good job of embracing his season of life.

It felt like everyone was posting a status about their dad on Father’s Day. My dad’s fingers haven’t touched a computer keyboard, (and certainly he doesn’t know about Facebook) but I found myself wanting to jump into the newsfeed. So I posted this picture of my dad taken in the 70’s as he worked in his feed lot.

Photo by VJ Stott

That was the easy part. A farmer almost all of his life, he lived in his overalls, work boots, and a seed corn dealer hat. This is exactly how I picture him when I pull up scenes from my childhood.

It was much harder to condense his influence into a Facebook status, but I think I got pretty close when I landed here.

This man taught me the joy of noticing creation and the wisdom of resting on the Sabbath. For those things and many others, I am grateful to be Clyde’s daughter.

Most of my writing is rooted in the noticing of God’s fingerprints singing through a bird, blooming through a flower, or covering branches with a snowfall. His very livelihood depended dramatically upon the conditions of the earth, the rain that fell (or didn’t fall), and the changes occurring as we circled the sun.

He was the man who grabbed my hand to stand out on the front porch gazing west as the clouds darkened and the humidity rose. He wasn’t afraid (even after a tornado literally touched down on our farm), but was in awe of the power of God as it thundered and hailed all around us.

He was the man who quizzed me on what kind of bird was racing across the lane by the crick (a killdeer). He was the man who figured out a way to catch a dragonfly so that my insect collection would prove they are different than lacewings.

He was the man who encouraged me to plant an acorn to see what would grow. And yes, a little oak tree tried desperately to grow even though my dad kept running over it with the lawn mower.

He was the man that taught me to notice how subtle changes in the leaves and bird movements predicted a change of the weather. He taught me the names of wildflowers and trees and showed me how to forage for morel mushrooms at the base of dead elm trees under decomposing oak leaves.

He must have noticed and then embraced and even more importantly, encouraged, my desire to learn as much as possible about all that was changing and growing around our farm in Millbrook.

I would not be who I am if not for those casual, meandering lessons in noticing.

And now for resting.

I always loved Sundays on the farm. I didn’t know why that was until I was in my late 30s and was exhausted, crabby, and fragile much of the time.

I heard some teaching on the Sabbath and then it hit me. My dad had endured with energy and passion about farming because he incorporated a Sabbath rhythm into his life. He never preached it at us, and I don’t remember a proclamation or even hearing the word Sabbath used in our home. Yet, I knew that Sunday afternoons were sacred.

I knew that he wouldn’t be heading to the field or doing any work at all (except for feeding the livestock). Instead, he would put his feet up in the recliner and relax during the Cubs game. He would read books, work on a jigsaw puzzle, or devour a big bowl of popcorn. And he napped ferociously.

Here is what was so beautiful about him taking a Sabbath – or at least this is what I have gleaned and incorporated into my life.

Dad had limits. He also had restraint. And he modeled faith in God’s provision.

If he had worked 7 days a week, he could have managed more acres. He would have bought more land. He then would have needed more equipment. Then he would have needed more acres to pay for the extra equipment he bought to work the extra land. See where this cycle is headed?

Instead, he had just enough land that he could work responsibly in 6 days a week. And that is where restraint served him so well.

I remember driving home from church on Sundays and nervously watching him watch the roadside fields more than the road. When he saw our neighbor out in the field planting corn, I know that I at times heard panic in his voice. “What if it rains before tomorrow, and I don’t get the corn in?”

But, he never caved. He never took the tractor to the field. And guess what? He always got his corn planted.  He always got his crops harvested too. Guess what else grew besides his crops? His faith. And that has rippled down to me.

I think that there is a necessary correlation between noticing and resting. I know that during my season of being too busy, I rarely could notice anything. The main way that I know if I am calibrated right these days is if I have the capacity to notice God’s whisper through creation. I also know that if I can’t do all that I am doing in 6 days, I am doing too much.

Thank you Dad for showing me how that is done. I can only pray that I continue that as well as you have.

Posted in Parenting, Reflections | 1 Comment

In a Wink of an Eye

A quick window into an afternoon with Carter. He’s learning how to wink!

Hope this makes you smile like it does me!


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Thank You Notes

I love Jimmy Fallon’s Friday night ‘Thank You Notes.” I’m always amazed at how a comedian sees the world just a little bit differently than the rest of us.

Debralyn’s knee deep in writing ‘Thank You Notes” now for shower gifts. These notes are simple gestures that represent a full and grateful heart.

Some special women are giving Debralyn a bridal shower on Saturday. I’m already feeling tender at the thought of women sharing their afternoon to celebrate and love on Debralyn. I’m already looking around at the faces of these women who have walked with me in the journey of raising this delightful, godly, and wise young woman. I guess I have some thank you notes inside of me.

Because of you, in your own way, she stands here with the man of her dreams.


Thank you for tenderly holding my newborn daughter even when your own arms were empty after a miscarriage. Your little baby would have been Debralyn’s age. You have never missed a chance to celebrate my daughter when many would have turned away.

Thank you for praying for my daughter – not just praying in solitude – but with follow-up to see how God is working.

Thank you for giving up your Sunday afternoons for 4 years to be her high school small group leader. For taking her shopping, for buying her burgers, and for creating a beautiful space for her to be herself.

Thank you for looking up from your yard work when my little ‘helmeted’ daughter rode her bike by your house. She fell in love with flowers at your side.

Thank you for showing up with flowers when she had an accident on the ice.

Thank you for not just being her teacher, but for being a woman who believed in her so deeply that she began to believe in herself.

Thank you for loving us every Wednesday morning while she sat at your piano to learn how to really make music. Your love permeated throughout our week.

Thank you for challenging me to be the mom that Debralyn needed.

Thank you for being the only woman I could think of to call when I sat in the ambulance not certain what the future held for Debralyn. You spread the word so that she (and all of us) were lifted to His throne.

Thank you for being a faithful friend to her.

Thank you for loving my daughter even when you lost yours.

Thank you for your physical care and affection during all the hours spent sitting in your office. She felt so safe in your care. Your program gave her a childhood and a foundation of health.

I could go on and on. But, for all of the women who show up, pray for, love on and invest in my daughter, thank you.

And for me, I was especially reminded to look around at the women in my life again. They may have a daughter who needs my unique and special touch. I hope you will be encouraged to do the same.

Posted in Encouragement, Parenting | 2 Comments

On Bedbugs and Bowls. And Grace.

Here’s some interesting (sobering) facts about bedbugs.

  • They can live up to a year without ‘feeding’.
  • A female may lay up to 5 eggs a day.
  • They can fit through a crevice thinner than a credit card.
  • They inject a numbing substance into their ‘subject’ so that they can linger over their meal for up to 10 minutes without said ‘subject’ awakening.

And yet, these tiny, almost invisible bedbugs were God’s way of showering me with grace.

Really, you ask?

Well, I could write the long story, but the short one will suffice.

Late last winter, Debralyn (who was away at college – not at home!) began awakening with odd welts on her skin. After too many trips to the health center, she finally found a little critter walking around on her bed. Mystery solved. Her room was treated…and then she came home….and then she had more bites once back at school….and her room was treated again. Case closed.

And then she got some new bites after sleeping at home.

Let me be clear, I normally wouldn’t have responded too well to that news. I was tired and ready to relax that evening. We had a couple of hours before Debralyn and Marc were heading back to school, and I’d been looking forward to being with them all day.

But, instead, Debralyn and I went into ‘bedbug elimination’ mode. I won’t go into details, but let me just say, we used up all of our garbage bags and used more than our fair share of natural gas running the dryer on high. No, we didn’t throw out her stuff – we just dried her bedding and clothing and then vacume sealed everything in bags. We actually began to laugh and cheer each other on as we bit by bit began to disassemble her childhood room.


Disassemble her childhood room. I wasn’t quite ready to set aside her ‘childish’ things, but bedbugs demanded that I did.

I hadn’t verbalized it aloud, but I really wasn’t ready to begin the process of watching her take her childhood apart. Even though I love who she is, who she is marrying, and watching her fly, her room is still….well, her room. We did life together in there. She caught me playing with her American Girl dolls when she was outside playing with her brothers. We had tea parties. Barbie weddings. Hair emergencies. Sick tummies. Broken hearts. Heart to hearts.

And God knew that my mother’s heart would be much better off ridding the room of bedbugs and as a side note, packing up her things. I never could have scripted His grace coming so abundantly toward me in that way.

His grace continues to find me. This time in a beautiful blue bowl that Debralyn just received at her last bridal shower from my aunt Bev.

It’s not just a blue bowl. It’s a bowl that my dad gave to my aunt after my mother died in 1984 and now 30 years later, she so thoughtfully and tenderly passed this bowl on to Debralyn. Even though she never met her grandma, she will now use her bowl.


My tears when I saw the gift were so much beyond a bowl. They were springing out of grace. All week, I’d missed my mom. There’s something about using her tablecloth, her china, and her silverware that makes me long even more deeply to have her with me. She would love celebrating Debralyn’s wedding – and I was so aware of my ‘mom hole’ in my heart all week.

But, because of grace, her presence was there in the shape of a bowl. Probably even before my emotions began to bubble up during the week, Aunt Bev had wrapped up a little gift of blue ceramic grace for my daughter.

And now that bowl has joined other shower gifts in Debralyn’s room. You know. That room that is pretty empty of childhood things and is quickly filling up with woman things. And it is all covered in grace.

Posted in Encouragement, Good-byes, Parenting | 2 Comments

April Fool’s 101

Ok — now that Valentine’s Day is behind us, I’m going to help you prepare for one of my favorite days of the year – April Fool’s Day! I’ve earned quite a reputation over the years, and I never tire of retelling some of my favorites.

I started pranking my children before they knew what ‘hit’ them. Even though they were pretty little when they first learned the definition of prank, it’s never too late to start!

So here are some of my favorites for younger children.

  • I hand sewed the bottom of their pjs shut. I loved the look on each of their faces when they got ready for bed that night and their feet got stuck. (Use a long basting stitch – it’s easier for you to take out!)
  • I made homemade nachos. Instead of the real deal, however, all you need to do is mix up some powdered sugar and water until it is the thickness of melted cheese. Now it gets tricky. Add drops of red and yellow food coloring to the powdered sugar until you get the correct color of cheddar cheese. Take it slow as you don’t want it to turn too bright or too dark. It will tend to thicken, so make sure when you drizzle it over the corn chips, there are no lumps. Microwave for just a few seconds to keep it ‘melty’ looking. Then watch their faces when they bite into ‘frosting’ covered chips. It works beautifully.

As my children got older, I had to get sneakier.

  • Cream cheese looks just like stick deodorant. (Get it?)
  • After Jordan went away to Trinity, I had to get really creative. I actually drove to campus armed with several rolls of saran wrap and duct tape. Even though it was freezing cold with a blustery wind, I successfully wrapped his Explorer entirely in saran wrap. It was awesome! But, even more awesome was the phone call I got from Jordan later that day – “MOM, YOU ARE RIDICULOUS!”
  • During April Fools Day season, I don’t really worry about what people think of me. I wish you could have seen me at my neighborhood ‘Pack and Mail’ store trying to explain to the Korean owner that I wanted to borrow a barrel sized bag of packing peanuts. I think she just wanted to keep my business (or get me out of there) so she said I could ‘borrow’ it. Why? Well, when Josh and Debralyn were sleeping, I covered the outside of their bedroom doors with flattened garbage bags. In-between the plastic and the door, I poured all the packing peanuts – about 4 feet high! When each of them got up the next morning and opened their door, they were greeted with a gentle avalanche of packing peanuts. And yes – I cleaned them all up and returned them to the very confused woman at Pack and  Mail.
  • Jordan was now married and working at Trinity. Did that stop me? No. I found out when he would be out of his office (thanks to the Admissions Office conspirators!), and I arrived armed with foil and post-it notes. I think his co-workers thought I was a bit crazy, but remember, I didn’t care. I worked fast and furiously while others remained on look-out. I proceeded to cover his entire desk, chair, and every item on his desk with foil. (NOTE: NEVER COVER A LAP-TOP IN FOIL. Apparently, his was VERY hot upon his return! I was SO glad that he doesn’t have the pranking gene – he could have really messed with me.)


  • Toothpaste makes a great filling for Oreos. Jacqui LOVES Oreos – and before I left Jordan’s newly foiled and decorated office, I left a little plate of refitted Oreos for him to give her. Apparently she ate 2 or 3 before he snickered. Works wonderfully!
  • Debralyn was ‘foolish’ enough to go out on April Fool’s night. Josh and I worked feverishly to cover her bed with paper cups filled with water.


(Once we broke in her room – she had tried to lock me out. I have to give her a shout out because she had “April Fools” spelled out on her floor).


When she arrived home shortly before midnight, she was welcomed with a shower of confetti that I had wedged atop our front door – then she had to move all those cups of water. (Debralyn does have the pranking gene. When I came downstairs the next morning, every water-filled cup was lining the hallway. Nicely done, I thought! Not to be outdone in any way, she wedged a cup of confetti to shower me when I opened the cupboard to get my mug.)

  • Possibly, my all time best prank happened last year. It was months in the making. When I received a notice from the Illinois Tollway Department in October to get a new iPass transponder, I realized that envelope would hold the perfect prank for Josh. It honestly couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. In mid-March, Josh had driven north on I94 to spend the night with Jordan. On April 1st, I handed Josh the envelope (which I apologized for opening by mistake). In it was a VERY official looking moving violation – I had typed in the date that he had been on I94 – with his plate number – and even a number to contact to arrange payment. Oh was I proud! Josh immediately knew it was legit! He knew he had been there! His face reddened, and he was just about to call the number on the ticket. I repeated a few times that I didn’t think that the office would still be open on April 1st. I’ll never forget the moment when it dawned on him that it was a prank. I only let it go on for about a minute, but he was literally sweating! You never know when an envelope will come in handy!
  • I do have to be on the lookout on April Fool’s Day. Last year it fell on the day I teach middle school students. I saw the headmaster’s eyes glimmer suspiciously that morning. When I saw students blowing up balloons during lunch, I decided I better move my car. I figured that one of my kids had given her my security code. But, after I moved my car, I decided instead to return it to the parking lot and just change my security code. Oh, I wish I could have seen her glare when she knew that I was a step ahead of her. At least for a moment – because instead they just grabbed some yarn and covered my car with balloons! Well done!


  • Not wanting my students to feel unloved, I did make about 300 fake worms for them. Truly simple enough – you just make some red jello and add enough whipping cream to make it brownish. You then place straws (the bendy kind) upright in an empty container. Pour the jello into the straws and let them firm up. The tricky part is removing the jello worms. They looked pretty real, don’t you think?


I hope this inspires your pranking spirit. I’m also always on the lookout for good ideas! Would you mind sharing some of yours? April Fool’s will be here before you know it!

Posted in Giggles | 6 Comments