Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Guns in the manse--an Iowa story


All of this happened just about the same time as Dominie Hendrick Scholte led 850 men, women, and children out of the Netherlands to central Iowa, an area (and a name--Pella) they'd chosen already before the left Holland. They weren't poor, thanks to Scholte's own personal fortune. In fact, they'd contracted to have log houses built before they got to the Iowa prairie--only to find they weren't. 

The Community of True Inspiration came to Iowa just a few years later and chose another name, Amana, for their society's colony of pietists. They'd settled near Buffalo, NY, about 1500 of them, a band of German folks, deeply religious, who grew so large they needed more land and found it, promisingly priced, in central Iowa, rich soils and abundant resources.

Religious visions were everywhere on the frontier in the wake of the Second Great Awakening. Boom towns may well have been hell holes--Deadwood was quite possibly exactly that. But the sagas we far more rarely hear stars men and women whose determination to live on the prairie was inspired by the unfailing belief that they were carrying out marching orders from on high.

Tabor, Iowa, is one of those places, one of those stories. It's sits on a bluff far above the Missouri river, the highest point of Fremont County, Iowa's southwestern-most corner. Whether or not the town will make it is a question locals need to answer, not someone like me, just driving through and looking around. My opinion?--barring some wildcat discovery of something as hot as natural gas, I'd be wary of putting any money whatsoever on Tabor. 

But it's a town with a past that's epic, created when a group of abolitionist Congregationalists determined that successive flooding at their original location, closer to the Missouri, was going to get them nowhere. They climbed to higher ground. They were visionaries too, like Scholte and the Amana colonists.

That picture up top is the Reverend John Ross House, in the 1850s a well-marked stop on the Underground Railroad, often the port of entry to runaway slaves who'd left their shackles behind when they left Missouri, but weren't free until they could be protected from vigilante slave-holders and northerners looking to make some quick cash by way of substantial bounties. Slaves were property. When they'd walk away from cotton fields, the economic effects on landowners were worse than what he might suffer losing horses or cattle. 

And there was a slippery slope--if Ben runs away, then why not Margaret and Seth and Samson and Billy? What people called "the peculiar institution," slavery, was under attack in America, and Southerners didn't take kindly to losing their fortunes or their rights. 

When he came up the Missouri River to found the town, Rev. Ross got into a discussion about slavery that soon became, well, heated. Once the other passengers on the river vessel detected an abolitionist in their midst, he wanted Ross's scalp. "Shoot him," someone yelled. "Kill him." One of them entered his cabin door and called Ross a "damned abolitionist" and said if had any right to him, he'd trade him for a dog, then shoot the dog. Ross says he learned later that the man was "a minister of the gospel from Missouri."

What separated Iowa Congregationalists from Iowa Quakers was not a deep-seeded hatred for "the peculiar institution"; both Quakers and Congregationalists despised slavery, thought it an abomination, a mortal sin, maybe even America's "original sin." What separated the two abolitionist believers was a commitment that included violence. The Quakers said no. Rev. John Ross and his Congregationalists said yes.

Behind this doorway is a stairway to the basement of the old house, a stairway made for a man like John Ross, who was just about five and a half feet tall and wore maybe size six shoes.The stairway is not for me. But I had to go downstairs.  

Because, as the sign out front of the house boldly witnesses, the Reverend John Moss had, once upon a time, a basement full of Sharpes rifles, not to mention a canon in his barn, armaments for war he thought about to begin in "Bleeding Kansas."

Both sides of the slavery question had mobilized support when the Congress had passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, throwing the new state's decision about slavery into the hands of the voters. Hundreds--even thousands--of pro and anti-slavery people poured into eastern Kansas igniting violence that some historians claim marks the true beginning of the Civil War. 

Today, what's in the basement of the Reverend John Ross House in Tabor, Iowa? Nothing really. No cement floor, just piles of dirt, a humming dehumidifier, random stones, bricks. That basement was never meant wasn't to be lived in. It was a root cellar, maybe a place to hide when the prairie sky started to look fierce or foreboding. 

At the request of none other than John Brown, who stayed across the square in the home of Deacon George B. Gascon, a friend and member of Ross's church, a man who was also among the "Concert of Prayer for the Enslaved," the Reverend John Ross took on a house full of guns because he was a man of the cloth who could not abide that "peculiar institution," who argued that slaves had a more righteous reason for rebellion than did New England colonists a century before. 

If you look up in that basement mess, what you see is original timbers put there in 1853, when the Reverend John Ross built this home just west of the green in Tabor, Iowa. 


They're supported now, as you can see. All these years later, it's a wonder they're still there. 

But once upon a time, they looked down at instruments of war, lots of them. Once upon a time they were the ceiling of armory in a pastor's home. 

In his own memoir of that era, the Reverend John Ross, who became a prototype for an abolitionist preacher in Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, described himself and what happened back then in this way:
The parson had one brass canon on his hay mow, and another on wheels in his wagon shed. He had also boxes of clothing, boxes of ammunition, boxes of muskets, boxes of sabres, and twenty boxes of Sharps rifles stowed away in the cellar all winter. 
The Reverend John Ross was ready to fight in what he clearly envisioned as the War of the Lord. 

Was he righteous man or a sinner?  a madman or just pure of heart? a true patriot or a fundamentalist terrorist more than willing to die gloriously for a just cause? 

You'll have to get off the beaten track to find Tabor, Iowa, but it's still there. Call ahead. You can get into the Ross House only by appointment because not many Americans stop there anymore, if they ever did. 

But the Ross House is still there, the basement steps still beckon, and the memory of that time and place and the war it begat somehow seems more real when you stand there beneath those ancient beams on a dirt floor, where once a preacher readied himself for a war God meant to happen, a war to free the slaves.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Fancy Hairwork



Now should you think this piece of art decor is a hairpiece, you wouldn't be terribly wrong. Granted, someone who would wear such adornment might beckon deity from subterranean regions, one of those wild ones Young Goodman Brown stumbled on in the forest one fateful night. Then, maybe it could have crowned the head of footloose flapper from the Twenties.

It is neither, but it is hair, hard as that is to believe--or at least hard as it was to believe for me, never having heard of "hairwork," an art form now long gone but of great worth to ordinary, middle-class Americans of the 19th century. It is possible, even likely, that the hair in this monstrosity belonged to someone in the household of the Reverend John Todd, a firebrand Congregationalist preacher who picked up a lifelong dose of abolitionism from the years he spent at Oberlin College.

I'd never seen "hairwork" before, but ran into it first when walking through the modest bungalow built by the Reverend Todd, who talked politics frequently with none other than John Brown ("molderin'-in-the-grave" John Brown). This John Todd, whose beard could have decorated most of the walls of his family home in Tabor, Iowa, where he became, long after his death, the prototype of the firebrand abolitionist preacher in Marilynne Robinson's Gilead

We know this much: this piece of "hairwork" decorated the walls of Rev. Todd's bedroom, well, their bedroom, he and his wife's. The hair might well have been their own--some people did that. Giving up one's hair was sometimes held to be both an honor and a sacrifice. It's likely, however, that the hair in this wall-hanging (that's a difficult phrase to say, isn't it?) belonged to someone else, perhaps a friend or relative. Hairwork techniques, I guess, were sophisticated enough to make designs like this one from relatively short cuts of hair. In other words, you could donate even if you weren't a Nazarene.

Only the Todds likely know whose hair it is, and they're long gone.

Before you decide that such art was decidedly, even embarrassingly bourgeois, check this out:



This hanging still graces the truly aristocratic walls of General Crook House in old Fort Omaha, Nebraska. Major General George Crook was very definitely upper class, the Commander of the Army of the Platte, a  highly decorated military general. Visitors to his beautiful Italianate home included a number of Presidents, Crook being, even in his lifetime, one of the most celebrated Indian fighters of the era.

The different colors of this one do more than suggest different pates. Family? Friends? We'll never know.

Still, today, it only makes me shudder. Anything's possible, of course, so I wouldn't doubt that somewhere across the face of this great nation a man or woman is plotting out his or her own hairwork art. But my first reaction, in the Todd house and in the Crook House, was "eeooouuu."

American business enterprise killed "hairwork art," I guess, because as soon as its production became an enterprise rather than folk art, people began to suspect that its raw materials were harvested from cemeteries. When entrepreneurs determined there was a buck to be made, they started turning them out, dime a dozen. That's when grave suspicions arose.

Thus it ended, the coffin sealed forever by unknown sources for fancy hairwork art you could just pick up from Sears Roebuck.

Once upon a time they were both high fashion and low. Today, they evoke little more than a shudder.

There's a sermon there. Or four. Or five. Please feel free to choose your own.

And how about this? All this fancy hairwork is being touted from the keyboard of a bald man.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Morning Thanks--Reunion


At her 50th class reunion yesterday, it was nigh unto impossible for me to imagine what some of those people looked like a half century ago. There's a ton more thickness all the way around, and lots and lots less hair. What there is of it is fifty shades of gray.

That's us. I don't think I even look like me. Put a crown of silver on her head, and she's the same woman. Still can't help but close her eyes when she smiles. Our daughter, our firstborn, is forty years old.

Most everyone at the renion used the handrails on the long flights of stairs we used to get up and down to the celebration, and there weren't half as many freckles on those arms as there were liver spots. Here and there bones creaked, and I don't doubt that some errant gases escaped when they shouldn't have; but had there been something public, most would have giggled. Been there, done that. 

Judging from the outside (I'm an in-law in that alumni family) a good time was had by all. None of that fearful judging that goes on at class reunions early in the game--who's making money, who's making waves, who's making whoopee? No pseudo-sophistication. No pseudo anything that I could tell. When the whole room is full of people pushing seventy, everyone plays it straight. You're free to be what you are and nothing more. Or less.

My high school reunion is coming up soon. I'll need a directory. But so did my wife.

I went to a public high school, so there'll be drinks served. I don't expect any spectacles. At our age, people tend to nod off easily enough the way it is. Besides, there'll be just about as many plainly religious people at OHS, class of '66-night, come August, as there were singing hymns yesterday on Sunday morning. There may even be a prayer somewhere along the line. Wouldn't be illegal or ill-advised. Entirely apropos.

But Barb went to a Christian high school, so yesterday's reunion centerpiece was worship, a regular church service with a preacher who wasn't a preacher, but who held forth quite charmingly, I thought. But then, even if he hadn't done well, no one would have stopped smiling.

He read from Psalm 90. I don't know about others, but I will forever associate that great psalm with funerals, which the reunion wasn't at all, even though more than a half-dozen classmates didn't make through all those fifty years. 

Psalm 90 ends with one of the most solicitous lines in the Bible, or so it seems to me. There's no accounting for taste, so I don't expect other people to agree with that assessment, but I've always felt that asking the Lord to "establish the work of our hands" is just plain extraordinarily human, in the very best sense. It seems to me that what we all want is to somehow make a difference. I've prayed that line ten thousand times, I'm sure, in a variety of adaptations.

When you're a kid or a young person like I was in that picture above, a teacher at a high school in Arizona, "establish the work of our hands, Lord" means you're asking the Lord to make things stick in the classroom, to help me to say what needs to be said to kids who need someone to say it. And this child too, our first. Make me a better father than I ever guessed I needed to be or now understand I can be. Establish the work of our hands, Lord, establish the work of our hands. Help me build something, Lord.

So yesterday we all said it again, a host of men and women in their late sixties, a ton of Vietnam vets, a gathering of actual saints and sinners. We repeated that verse again, years and years away from images like the one at the top of the page: Lord God almighty, establish the work of our hands.

It's different now. It's the same words, the same prayer, but now it's all said toward a rearview mirror, most all the establishing well behind us. 

But we're still asking for the same thing, aren't we?--just looking backward is all. 

Establish the work of our hands.

And smiling. Yesterday, her class reunion was a very good time, for which I'm thankful this morning.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday Morning Meds--"No good thing does he bestow"


“. . .the LORD bestows favor and honor; 
no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.”

According to news reports, a woman in Daphne, AL, in a rush of violent storms, was struck by lightning while she stood in her kitchen and asked God for her loved ones’ safety. You read that right. That she got hit was an answer to prayer.

Lightning blew her off her feet, burned up some linoleum, and left a blackened area on the concrete beneath. She apparently didn’t know up from down, but managed an “amen” before the room was engulfed in smoke and fire. A few minutes later she was found by her 14-year-old granddaughter. Outside, dime-sized hail and gusty winds moved through, as three inches of rain fell.

The 65-year-old woman, or so says the news, claims it was a blessing.

What she means is that she’s the one who got smacked and not her grandkids. Just the same, getting knocked down by lightning is no cup-of-tea blessing. I’m not sure I’d rank it high on any list of all-time best divine gifts, but I understand what she means. And she could be dead, after all.

It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess, isn’t it? If some crystal ball told that woman she was about to get hit by lightning, she might not have thought the bolt much of a blessing. But then again she wasn’t killed.

Once in a while, I might think my marriage doesn’t rank with the best-of-class; but when a friend’s is breaking down, I know I’m heavenly blessed. It’s all a matter of perspective.

All blessings aren’t created equal; but all things—even a bolt of lightning—can be a blessing, I suppose. Even death can. Some death at least. I think so anyway.

Ralph Waldo Emerson is likely to say at this point that faith is its own great reward. Whether or not the psalmist is telling the truth—that the righteous will be blessed by the Lord (“no good thing does he withhold), it’s really only one’s faith that makes it so. Grandma gets flattened by lightning, her kitchen floor gets torn up (and her backyard, according to the news), and she calls it all a blessing.

And she’s right. She may have been knocked dizzy, but she didn’t die and neither did those grandkids.

But it's faith that makes it so, not God. Look, Emerson would say, our faith creates paradigms by which we make meaning for the events of our lives, which means believers are blessed simply because they believe they are. That’s what Emerson would say. God has little to do with it. Why throw Him into the mix? Virtue is its own reward. Believe in the god that's in you.

I’m quite sure my life will run a whole lot more smoothly if I don’t punch my neighbor, cheat on my wife, or stick my hands in the cash drawer. But I’d also like to believe that if I try to do what’s right, if I seek justice and mercy, and if I try to give God my life in thanksgiving, I’ll be blessed because of what God almighty will do.

I believe that. Of course I do. That Alabama grandma is right--she is blessed to be alive. And isn’t that something—how her granddaughter found her there, helped her back to her feet? Isn’t she blessed? Sure, she is.

Did God do all of that? I believe so, and so does she, a grandma who's alive to tell the story to a granddaughter who's there to listen. 

Blessings are all God-things. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Morning thanks--repentance and forgiveness



There's so much to this story that's old news, so much that's so awful yet so obscenely ordinary, that the whole thing is almost predictable. To a point. 

At some D-1 university, some football players get drunk along with some maidens who've come for a party they really wouldn't wish on their worst enemy. Too much booze goes down, waaaay too much, and things go on that are beyond reprehensible, plain criminal. Rape goes on. Again and again.

Brenda Tracy, 24, a single mom, should not have been in the company of footballers from the local university, Oregon State, that night. She had her own life and the lives of her children to attend to. But she was. 

When she woke up, she was naked beneath a sheet. Something beyond imagination, worse than a nightmare had gone on.
The attack lasted more than six hours and as I went in and out of consciousness the things that they did to me are now burned into my memory, Like a piece of cattle I was branded, never to forget eight hands on me, inside me, their laughs as they high-fived each other in a congratulatory manner as they each took turns raping me. … Never to forget the next morning when I awoke to the smell of dried vomit in my hair, the stickiness of a condom stuck to my stomach, the food crumbs that left indentations on my skin as I lay face down on the apartment floor like a piece of garbage that someone forgot to pick up.
She decided to call the police. 

And then commit suicide, she told a reporter.

The men who'd done it were hauled in. Two of them were charged with sodomy, unlawful sexual entry, and sexual abuse. They claimed it was all consensual, of course, and their coach, Mike Riley, slapped a one-game suspension on them.

Then Brenda Tracy dropped charges. The heat was horrible--hate mail, death threats, backlash. The players were stars.  "They are really good guys who made a bad choice," Coach Riley said.

Later, when the entire story came out, Riley made clear that he deeply regretted what he'd done and not done, what he'd let the young men do, regretted it horribly.

So why tell this story again? Because there's more. The Washington Post featured it yesterday, but I can't believe my neighbors in Nebraska didn't know it long ago because Mike Riley is now coaching the Nebraska Cornhuskers and almost nothing that happens on that team gets by thousands of loyal Husker fans. 

Here's the not-to-be-believed chapter: Eighteen years later, Coach Mike Riley asked Brenda Tracy to come to Lincoln and talk to the Huskers herself. 

"I hated that man worse than my rapists," Brenda Tracy told an Oregon newspaper reporter. In the years that had passed since that awful night, she'd become a nurse, an advocate for rape victims, and even an employee of Oregon State, where she helped the institution prevent sexual assault. But her hatred for Mike Riley hadn't really subsided. He was, after all, the enabler. 

When the two of them met, he reached out and hugged her, let her cry on his shoulder. They talked for an hour, the two of them. "I feel like I put everything on the table and left it all there," she told a reporter from Omaha. “He answered everything."

Then, as requested, she talked to Riley's Huskers, told them every detail, then turned to the coach, the enabler. She said she felt 150 faces turn simultaneously. "This is what accountability looks like," she told them. "It's okay to say you're sorry."

Amazing story. Wonderful story. You can't beat repentance and forgiveness. 

Just can't beat it.

What happened, happened. Nothing will ever take it away, de-record it from memory. But 150 men witnessed something remarkable because repentance and forgiveness always is. 

We come near unto God, Abraham Kuyper says, when we try to do what we know he does.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Trump and the faith community



The intent of the confab, according to news sources, was love, to bring together hungry Christian conservatives with that rowdy Donald Trump, who doesn't talk a Christian, doesn't walk like one, and had never--before running for President--acted like one nor hung out a shingle to be one or be seen as one. He's a recent convert.

Last weekend Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke at the request of a circle of evangelicals who want badly to embrace him, despite his being him. They hoped he could persuade them to baptize him, and they want badly to do just that.

All of that according to Ralph Reed, who's been one of them for years and regularly speaks for them. NPR reported on the meeting, and, like others, explained that Trump had told the Christians not to pray for Obama, thereby thoughtlessly contradicting Christ's own dying words about enemies. Not surprising.

Reed tried to spin what Trump had said: "In the meeting that I was in, which was of the advisory group," Reed said, "he didn't say don't pray for your leaders. He said, you know, pray but you need to act. You need change, and this is your opportunity to see real change come to Washington."

Ralph Reed, who often glaringly lets his light shine before men, insists that the Donald is the Christians' "opportunity to see real change come to Washington." 

He's right. Donald Trump will be a President unlike any other. 

Reed went on:  "And, you know, I believe that, should Donald Trump be elected, he will disrupt the broken system in Washington, D.C., in a way that Hillary Clinton won't. And I think that message is likely to resonate. . .very powerfully in the faith community."

The bald arrogance of that assessment sickens me. Here's why.

Marcella is 90 years old, a Lakota nurse who gets emotional when she speaks of how the waters of the Missouri River covered her home fifty years ago when the government decided to create a series of dams through South Dakota to bring water to land that all too regularly had all too little.

She's not fragile, never was. She was in Europe after D-Day, caring for American GIs on the long march to Berlin. She's a Lakota woman, an army nurse, a mom, a quilter, a grandma, a resident of the Cheyenne River reservation, where she still lives.

Not long ago, I told her I'd be privileged to help her write her story, which is only half truth. The whole truth is I'd love to hear it, love to know, love to understand, love to know more about just how she's lived her long and incredible life. So we're talking about that right now. It may happen, but don't hold your breath.

Yesterday, I needed to explain to a woman who, in some ways, is acting as her agent, that I am--for better and for worse--a Christian. She needed to know, if she hadn't expected it already, because my Christianity is in my work. She wanted to read the book I wrote about the Rehoboth Mission, so I sent it to her. I hadn't mentioned anything about my being a Christian, and I knew I needed to. I didn't know what faith, if any, this agent of hers might espouse, nor did I know about Marcella's. She hadn't mentioned anything in the stories I'd heard her tell at a Great Plains history conference.

I told the agent she needed to know that I was a believer but not a preacher, that I wasn't interested in crafting stories of people's lives into Sunday School lessons, and that I often felt I had to apologize when I explained that I am and remain a believer. 

"Not to worry," she told me when she responded. She told me she herself is a Unitarian Universalist, a religion she says harmonizes well with traditional Native religion. Marcella, she said, is Episcopalian, which is not surprising; the Episcopalians have a long history among the Sioux or Lakota people. Marcella's daughters, she said, who will be very important in my hearing the stories, aren't greatly taken with Christianity after what it did to their people, as many Native people aren't--with good reason. 

And then I heard Ralph Reed explain that he thought what Donald Trump promises will "resonate. . .very powerfully in 'the faith community.'"

It is sheer arrogance for him to assume that his is the faith community. In fact, it's exactly that pompous assessment that makes some of us apologize for being believers. What's more, it's that damning exclusivity that creates anger in the minds and hearts and souls of Marcella's daughters and many, many others.

Evangelical Christians who believe that they are the only "faith community" are the pagans, the idolaters. It's not God almighty they worship, but themselves. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

My story of her story (ii)


In typical Dutch fashion, here they are, on bikes--Diet Eman and Hein Sietsma. They were little more than kids when Hitler decided, the day after he said he wouldn't, to run over the Netherlands, blitzkrieg the entire country and simply take it for his own. 

"I was furious," she told me, time and time again, because there was no cause, no reason for those Nazi jackboots to flatten Rotterdam and march through the streets of every city in the country, including Den Haag, where she worked in a bank. What right had those Germans to to take over the lives of the Dutch? No right whatsoever.

And when the Queen left for England, she was furious again. "Why would 'our mother' just leave us behind?" she told me. She couldn't help wondering why she'd abandoned them.  Many wondered.

But all of that came out in her reminiscence only after that first thoughtfully considered and oh-so-professional question I'd asked her, a question meant not only to reveal character but also to try to establish my credentials as being "a writer," a title I'd hardly earned at that time in my life. I'd brought up the idea of my helping her in the afterglow of a story that had thrilled my heart and soul and mind. I'd asked her almost as if without thinking. I'd never done a book like this could be before. Never. What did I know? Really, nothing.

"What kind of guy is he?" I asked her, then offered some true-to-life options.

"Well," she said, "why don't you just read for yourself?" Matter-of-factly, she said it, as if the question was rhetorical.  "I've got his letters."

I had no idea. "You have his letters to you, letters he wrote?" I said, perfectly slack-jawed.

"And many of mine to him," she told me.

"You're serious?"

"And I have some of his diaries and all of my diaries too."

"You're not kidding?"

She looked at me as if I'd become a stranger. "No," she said, as if wondering why on earth I would doubt her.

Then the story came, the story that became the play. 

After she'd discovered that Hein would never return, after learning he'd died in January of 1945, just months from liberation, she'd taken all those precious notes and letters and locked them up in a metal box because, she told me, she had come to realize that it would be impossible to go on if she didn't try to become another person altogether. 

So she'd taken all those letters and notes and locked them in a cold, metal box because she had to stop seeing them, keep them out of her memory, had to quit reliving what had happened, pull herself away from a time that would never, ever return. She couldn't burn them, but neither could she leave them around. She locked them up.

She'd changed professions, went to nursing school, then determined to take a job that would take her out of the Netherlands altogether. Her painful past had to be abandoned. 

By the end of the 1940s she was working at a nurse in Venezuela at a Shell Oil compound full of European workers. She'd left behind everything that had happened to her during the war, all that adventure and intrigue and grief. She did what she could to clear her life of reference to a past she had to forget but really never could.

Years passed. She was fluent in Spanish, so she went on countless medical mission teams into faraway locales in Latin America, where she acted as a translator for people coming for help at make shift clinics created by North American doctors. Sometimes at night, in jungle compounds lit only by fire, she and other team members would tell stories. Slowly, she started to share what had happened to her--to them, to her and Hein--during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Slowly, the story was told, in bits and pieces.

Eventually, she was asked to tell the story before hundreds of people in a place called Sioux Center, Iowa. Then again, in 1991, at a college conference, same place, before hundreds more, where a man she'd never known before asked her if she'd like someone to help her write it. She told him she'd thought about it, told that man from Sioux Center that he wasn't the first to ask. But she'd always considered it somehow vainglorious or something to talk much about what they did in the war because she was no hero. She didn't do anything that hundreds didn't do. They'd done what they did because the Lord commanded it, didn't he? 

And wasn't it almost a little presumptuous to have your story out there like that, like Corrie? She knew Corrie Ten Boom, even worked for her relief organization, helping children who lost their parents during the war. Everything Corrie Ten Boom said had become scripture after The Hiding Place. That kind of adulation was improper because hundreds--literally, hundreds--had done what Corrie did--and more. And whatever Corrie says now gets almost to be like scripture? Is that right?

But the question that Sioux Center man had raised stuck with her, and one night in church she listened to the voice of the Lord in a line from a hymn, when it struck her that she owed it to her children to tell them, tell them everything, the whole story. That's when she called me. That's why she called me.

"I've got his letters and my letters and my journals and even his," she told me that first night I stayed with her.

I had absolutely no idea.

"And yesterday for the first time, I opened that box and read through them again," she said. For more than forty years those memories were locked up in a metal box she'd just opened the day before. 

For the next week, she talked and I listened. Memories rushed up from her beaten soul as if her mind was a scrapbook with no last page. I listened, as did my little tape recorder. I tried to shape things, to keep her memories clear and chronological. I handed her Kleenex when she cried, which she did often. I laughed when she did--and just as often. I wheedled when she seemed reluctant, when I thought there was more she wasn't telling. 

Her story came tumbling out for an entire week. Some days, just for a break, we'd take walks out in the field behind her house. But she never really stopped talking, ran through emotions that all came out in spades. And I listened.

Her story became Things We Couldn't Say. My story of her story became a readers theater presentation performed dozens and dozens of times twenty years ago, a 90-minute version of her story done in such a bare bones fashion that any church group could do it--that's what I wanted to create. I wanted to find a way to tell this story a thousand times to the glory of God.

It's been in mothballs now for a couple of decades, but Janie Van Dyke, at Unity Christian High, decided to pull it out once more and have a run at it. 

And it's been a joy to hear it again, to go back to an experience unlike anything else in my writing life. I was there the night after she had opened up that box of letters and notes for the first time since the end of the war. I was there when the whole story came out for the first time since she'd learned the painful news that her Hein, her lover, would never return.

That's my story of her story. 

If you're around, you might want to drop by the Knight Center in Orange City this weekend, where it's being done by gifted ordinary people who find it a privilege, just as I have, to tell her marvelous story. 
________________________

See Things We Couldn't Say at the Knight Center, Orange City, Iowa, Friday, June 24 or Saturday, June 25, at 7:30. General seating, $5 at the door.