a moment of silence


The Marysville Pilchuck High School shooting has taken the lives of five teenagers (children really - only just beginning high school) and left one other to heal from injuries both physical and emotional.  Hundreds of other children were directly impacted, and I do not exaggerate when I say thousands more emotionally torn. Their parents all got up and went about their day no differently than any other. If they had checked on the weather before heading out there would have been no storm warnings to prepare them for what was actually in the forecast. They did not know that just a few hours into their day, each of them, in an instant, would be swept up in the fearsome force of tragedy, altering the landscape of the lives.

When I answered the call from my daughter that morning the tone in her voice gave my stomach an immediate twist.  "MP is in lockdown Mom.  There's a shooter and it's not good.  Check the news.  I will call you when I know more."  That was at 10:48 a.m. just minutes after the shooting.  It took Social Media to broadcast in minutes what would have taken hours just a few years ago. When I dropped my son off that morning he said, "I forgot my phone.  Don't forget to pick me up - I won't be able to call you." That morning I was an advocate of no cell phones in the classroom.  Three hours later I'm making a mental note to assure that he never goes to school again without it.  It was a text that would inform me our neighbor, a fourteen year old student at Marysville Pilchuck, was on CNN. 

As I listened to his voice, now in transition to that of a man, my mind's eye pictured the little boy dressed as Spiderman a week before Halloween, then only four years old "invisible" under our dining room table. Holding on to a corner of our own childhood imagination we all made sure he would be successful in his return home across the street unscathed and undetected.  Spiderman, was now fourteen, pulling his girlfriend under the cafeteria table. The shots, the screams, the hysteria all so loud and yet there was a silent clarity in the midst of the confusion as the shooter, (this was his friend...right?), made eye contact with him (he can't actually see him - he's invisible...right?), and then turned and walked towards the doors. 

I knocked on Spiderman's door just a few hours later.  None of the students from Marysville Pilchuck had been released to their parents yet.  I was checking on his mother hoping she had word of his safety. The door opened and standing there was Spiderman himself.  He was home unscathed and undetected. How had he accomplished such a feat? (Of course....he had used the back door of the cafeteria and jumped the fence - Spiderman at his stealthy best). 

After a hug Spiderman slipped past me to talk to my son, his friend for as long as they can remember.  I continued my conversation with his mother.  Glancing across the street I could see our boys, both High School Freshmen now, sitting on front porch.  The rapids of life's river now raging before them.  My son in shock, watching in horror as his friends are pushed from the safety of its banks into the icy water and Spiderman trying to catch his breath after pulling himself out of those rapids back to the river's edge.

My youngest son attends the other Marysville High School.  "What a relief" you may say.  Yes, undeniably in the moment it was.  And yet, these were his peers.  He knew each of them, they all attended the same Middle School, he played football with them last year.  While Jaylin was voted Freshman class homecoming prince, my son had been nominated for the same at Getchell High School, whose homecoming was to have been that same Friday.  And then, of course, there is his connection with Spiderman.  He knows there will forever be difference a between Spiderman, who was in the cafeteria that day, and himself, who could only watch the events unfold. I sense my son carries a burden that came with these events that I can't quite understand yet.  I see the impact of this past week in his eyes during moments of silence.

MP was where I graduated from High School along with four of my children. I have lived in this community for 46 years. As a result I have struggled to write this post - give words to my thoughts - find peace myself.  I couldn't even bring myself to visit the memorial fence along the High School's outer field until five days had passed.  The events seemed so personal (even though I personally knew none of the victims or families), so visceral, so exploited, and so loud.

The first glimpse I caught of Peace was the quiet appearance of red and white ribbons all over town.  Along overpasses, surrounding local playgrounds, tied to the trees which line our streets so beautifully in the fall.  Main streets, side streets, back streets...they are everywhere.  A simple knot, tied by hands perhaps unknown and at the same time with a feeling of familiarity.  They whispered the call for healing, unity, forgiveness, and peace in midst of unimaginable turmoil.





October 24th also marked the anniversary of another Marysville tragedy.  It was not one be heard across the nation as the shots in the cafeteria were.  Yet the quiet response of our community at a time of loss was just as powerful.  This also involved High School children and the sudden tragic loss of life.  As I reflected upon that experience in 2011 I was reminded that Peace is found in the small, silent expressions made to give voice to the feelings of our heart.

Life's river will have many rapids, and a walk along it's rocky edge may mean at times we find ourselves in the midst of its turbulence.  The water's are loud and fear invoking as we are reminded that we cannot control all things - often those things we have felt most secure in.  For more than 300 years "a moment of silence" has been practiced by people of diverse ethnic and religous backgrounds as means of coming together in what I believe is a universal recognition of the need for quiet and connection in times of turmoil.  An expression of the fact that even though we are all so very different, we are also all very much the same.  That no matter how tough we are and how in control we may appear... the time will surely come when we are also vulnerable and without control. 

I would not want any child, any family, any community to experience tragedy the way ours did this past week.  That being said, I know its force will sweep through each life in one form or another. Our attempts to shield ourselves or our children from it are futile at best.  There are the obvious rough waters we put up warning signs for (as we should) in our best effort to protect those who will walk the path we have marked, yet we simply cannot see what lies around each bend in the river of life.

For three years now in the summer my family has enjoyed an end of the Season river float.  Eastern Washington sunshine and inflatables to relax on are all we need for the days adventure.  Last year as I was floating along, day dreaming, the peaceful quiet of the river gave me no warning of the current which was pulling me quickly towards what my family could see would be a toss in the water.  Wait for it...wait for it...there she goes!!  Mom (who had kept herself remarkedly dry - was soaking wet!) Everyone got a good laugh at my expense. (No surprise in that fact.)

I have reflected upon that river float many times - daily since the shootings.  The quiet rush of the water around me when I slipped below the surface was so peaceful.  I had gained a completely different perspective of the river in that moment of silence.  Peace is always within our reach - even in life's turbulence. My son and Spiderman will be shaped by tragic events not of their choosing throughout their lives. We all will. None of us immune from adversity.  Life is hard work. Peace is our co-worker always ready to give us a different perspective of our surroundings.

For those of us fortunate enough to remain safely along the river's edge (this time), our job is to not be afraid to get our feet wet. Peace is there tying a ribbon with you in the NW wind and rain.  Peace is there when you prepare a warm meal or pick up that pizza to deliver.  A kind word, a hug that lingers just a bit longer, a listening ear, a hand to hold, a message that says "I do care.  I am here. You are not forgotten." Peace will whisper what work needs to be done in a moment of silence.

Shhh....can you hear it?

When I looked across the street that first day at my son and Spiderman sitting on the porch I saw their childhood shadows "fishing" at the base of our small waterfall in the front garden with a stick and a string.  In my heart I hold them there.  A simple time.  Quiet waters.  This past week in my moment of silence I grabbed onto a red and white ribbon.  When I reached the river's edge there holding onto the other end was my son and Spiderman.  Their strength a testament to the ability of our youth to power through adversity and find Peace in the process.






Life's a Weed...Make a Wish

"Next time slow down!" he yelled at me through the passenger window of his Smart car.  "Really??!" I returned.  This was accompanied with an age old hand gesture not befitting a 50 year-old mother of six and self proclaimed Peace pursuer.  I mean come on - the man obviously had mid-sized suv envy!  With his tiny car sandwiched in between two 4x4's we neither one could see each other.  He was the one who nearly hit me.  He was the one holding on to all that rage.  He was obviously over reacting.  I had been the good citizen driver.  I simply shook off the fact that he nearly backed into me and continued towards a parking spot nearby.   He was the one who sat and waited for us to get out of our car so he could yell at us...this was all his fault.  

Your with me here right? None of this was my fault.

In retrospect I'm not so sure my kids would agree.  My 14 year-old son was mortified to have been in close proximity to such a public display by his mother. His mother.  That was of course was until he realized he could replay the comedic details at my expense for many years to come.  He knew this because his siblings replay similar hand gesture events from my bad-mom-days of their youth - "the little darlings." (That was actually a shout out to my brother. His affectionate term for my kids when questioning my need for six of them.) I can only hope that the humor comes from their understanding that it is out of step with my normal daily inter-personal communication skill set.  However, this has always been quite a private affair - never before had my bad-mom ways become so public.

Who was that woman disguised as me in the parking lot? 

How did I get here? Where was Peace to be found in this life moment?

I put a good deal of effort into looking for a way to find Peace in the brief moments and small nuances of my everyday life.  Quite frankly, this past week I haven't noticed Peace in the routine of my everyday.   As I mentally reviewed the days I could actually see myself avoiding eye contact with the very Peace I was now so desperate for. I had consistently tossed Peace aside all week.  I had no time for such nonsense. I had been so sure that what I needed was to feel justified for each argument I engaged in, each slight I was sure of, each ounce of under appreciated indifference, and every drop of negative energy I was allowing into my daily cup.  It's no wonder then that my arm was flaying about that day in the parking lot- I was trying to keep from drowning in the overflow. 

I am responsible for what I fill the cup with from which I drink in life.

Our personal reservoirs are filled with each days actions, reactions, and interactions.  It is from this well we draw our emotional, spiritual and on many days even physical strength.  It is where we can find a reserve of Peace on the very worst days.  Or not.   I best be honest here - flipping somebody off is a pretty good indicator that I needed to check my tank.

I knew from experience the concept of three good things would be a good place for me to start re-filling.  At dinner that night I had to admit my recent short comings and asked for everyone's good things from the day also sharing my own.  We had a good laugh at my expense as Matthew shared our parking lot experience.  Then my husband suggested we take a walk together.  For all of the day's struggles the evening was perfect.  The sun was setting, the company was great, and I was hopeful that with my blinders off I wouldn't have too work to hard to find Peace along the roadside that evening. 

As we were walking my grand daughter plucked a dandelion wish ball from the path and she resolutely announced, "I wish for nothing!" Then with great joy she blew her wishes into the evening breeze. 

Watching those tiny "wish- for- nothings" drift to where they would find root and give life to new sunny yellow beauties for future wish makers, we were all caught up in the profound wisdom in her words. 

My grand daughter loves picking dandelions and presenting them as a precious gift to those she loves most.  This she does in the footsteps of generations of children before her.  To her it is a sunny yellow beauty with which we have been blessed in abundance.  A weed?  Certainly not!

When do dandelions become noxious weeds rather than the beautiful flowers we so loving shared? Isn't their annoying resilience actually just evidence of their deep roots and ability to against all odds reach upwards through the rain to bask in the summer sunshine?  Too often during the day I wish for "something" rather than simply taking in what is right within my reach and "wish for nothing" instead.

It's easy to let the labor of our everyday become a noxious weed.  When in reality that labor is life itself.  It is our perception of life's foliage that determines which bouquet we will hold - childish weeds of no value or glorious yellow future wish makers.

By now I was falling behind on our walk that evening.  I took a deep breath.  I needed to breathe in deep this moment and fill my cup with something better.  The various conversations about nothing, the random bursts of laughter, the cottonwood floating in the breeze all added to the beauty of my grand daughter's "wishes".  In the distance I could see her running ahead on the sidewalk.  For an instant I thought she was going to step out into the street and I nearly yelled for her to stop.  Suddenly she plopped herself down, crossed her legs, and taking a deep breath raised her arms above her head and gently brought them down in front of her into a Dhyana Yoga pose. 

It would have been so easy to have rejected an evening walk that day. To think I might have missed it all a few hours ago -   the value in wishing for nothing, fuel for the soul hand gestures, and Peace at the curbs edge.


Commodes, Coyotes and Communicating with God...

"I knew you would come. I couldn't get my phone to work so I just prayed you here."

Dementia may take its toll on my mother's ability to navigate her cell phone but it certainly hasn't taken her faith.  One of the gifts of Dementia for my mother has been opening her "faith box" and finding exactly what she was looking for.  Prayer has become mom's go to method for communicating her needs and she repeatedly finds those needs met as a result. 

I don't remember what my mom needed that day.  It wasn't me who received the "phone call".  It was in the middle of my daughter's softball game somewhere between 2nd and 3rd base at Short that the call came through to her. The message was quiet but clear... "I need you."  In actual fact, she simply stated that during the game she got the feeling we needed to check on grandma.  So we did.  

It would only be a month later that I would experience my mother's communications with God in a much more personal manner.  She had fallen which put her in the hospital for a few days. She was back in her little apartment but required 24 hour care and supervision. Not wanting to disturb my sleep ( I was lying in bed next to her) she decided to get out of bed and use the comode sitting next to it without my assistnance. She simply could not remember nor understnd why her legs weren't working properly.  She fell.  

She wasn't injured but she was sure that she was paralyzed and I could not lift her dead weight without some assistance from her.  Thus we found ourselves  laying on the floor between the bed and the commode at 2:00 a.m.  30 minutes later I was exhausted from multiple attempts at lifting her and frustrated at her adamant belief she was unable to use her legs.

"Mom, your legs work!  I cannot lift you on my own!  Please, I need your help."  Silence was her answer in return...or so I thought.  She was not quite silent.  I leaned in close to hear her.  "Please God, please.  I am paralyzed.  Brenda needs my help.  Please, let me use my legs to help her.  Please make my legs work. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen."    My heart was instantly softened.  More, importantly, the simultaneous urge to once again use the commode was all that it took for her to once again have the use of her legs.  A coincidence? Some who read this will say that absolutely it was. I'm here to tell you it was not. It was plain and simple an answer to her humble plea. 

I have reflected on these events multiple times over the past two months as mom's physical and mental capabilities continue to decline at rapid rate.  I have noted the sincerity and humility and trust she now gives to god without hesitation.  There are no alternatives for her, no "handling the situation myself" possibilities.  A quiet calm can be seen in her eyes as fear retreats when Peace arrives to answer her call.

I have asked myself - would that be enough for me?  Could I accept an "everything will be alright" answer when I had asked for "details please...details!"  Perhaps, therein lies my answer - she no longer can take in the details - and so she more readily recognizes Peace as all the answer she needs.  

Over the past couple of months it became more and more apparent that my mom's physical and mental decline would require that she continue to have constant care. As a family we debated if it is was possible for us to begin that piece of her journey in our home. Where was our answer?  As we step into the unknown - will the path before us be illuminated? As I daily mourn the loss of my mother and work to welcome a stranger into my life - will I have the patience and compassion required?  Where were the answers I was seeking?  

That night next to the commode with my mother I realized that all of those questions and more had been bouncing around in my mind and yet I could not remember actually making a call to God.  A real call. A conversation.  I was and still am keenly aware of the fact that He is mindful of me and my needs - then why require that I literally ask?  He already knows what I need? I know what I need -  Answers!  Details! I don't have time for a conversation - just tell me what to do and how to get it done!  

It was time to make a call of my own.  I complained, shared my desires, whispered my fears and waited for a reply.  It came. It was exactly what I needed in order to clear my mind for the details which would follow in the coming weeks.  At some point before I even opened my eyes Peace had entered the room and snuggled right down next me on the floor.  "Everything will be all right."  

I still draw strength from that call when my quest for details weighs me down.

Three years ago I pushed "publish" and my first post was out there for the world to see.  That was preceded by another time of turmoil as I searched for answers (actually details) to moving forward in my personal life. Looking back now I can see that once again I equated my constant mental energy as enough of a "conversation."  I had plenty of answers - all of which included something I had no time for - writing.  Looking back on that post I was reminded that life's details would have kept me from moving forward many times.

Over the course of several weeks I would cross paths with a coyote. Yes, a coyote.  Standing in the distance looking at me again...and again...and again.  It became such a weird experience that I googled "What is the meaning of Coyote sightings?"  This was the answer I found

"The sighting of the Coyote was said to bring natural shifts in balance, causing an end (which, of course, simply makes way for new beginnings, and so on).  Essentially, the Coyote is like a "way maker" of new direction as it went about its symbolic role of representing the cycle of life/death in nature."  

I was at first embarrassed to admit that I was considering giving merit to this coyote in my life.   I shared the experience with my children and my husband because they were with me for two of the coyote crossings. They didn't seem too surprised by my thoughts (I wasn't sure I appreciated that at the time). I also shared with a girlfriend - just to check my sanity - and she said "I don't know about Coyotes.  But I do know that God has the ability to use whatever means he needs to in order to get your attention."  I have never forgotten her words.  In order to get your attention.  I have also remembered the summertime Coyotes which moved me forward with my writing not so long ago.  Her words, and the Coyotes, were all the detail that I really needed.  

There were no more Coyote sightings over the next three years. It's not that I didn't see the occasional coyote.  I did.  However, they were not looking at me - dare I say looking for me?  I would watch it walking across a distant field, waiting for it to glance my way.  Then feel silly for the thought.

That was until just three weeks ago.  

We knew we had only a small window of opportunity if we were to make the cross country trip to Wyoming for my mother to see her sister one last time. I picked a week for the trip that worked well with my life schedule. It was the perfect time to go, the work week was quiet, my son and daughter were both available to help with my mom, and it would leave 10 days before school started when we got home,  Perfect.  And yet, nothing fell into place for our travel and mom was having an extra hard week.  I let it go.  We would not make the trip.  There just wasn't enough time left.  

When my husband called me on that following, very busy Saturday and told me "You need to take your mom on Monday."  I actually yelled at him "Is God telling you this?!  This will be such a difficult trip now - God better have been the one to tell you that!"  As my answer reveals I had not been in the best space on a daily basis for my own God telling moments.

My son and I left on Monday for Wyoming.  We would arrive on Aunt Lou's 86th birthday. (A date we were unaware of)  Three other family members including two grandchildren would return from extended trips out of state the following day (Something we were unaware of.)  

Brian met up with us on Thursday.  That evening he asked me if I had seen any Coyotes this trip.  He was teasing me, but I felt something more in his words -  a belief that we were on more than a visit to see my Aunt. 

We were to visit Medicine Wheel, a sacred Native American site high atop the Big Horns.  It is now a National Historical Landmark.  It wasn't registered as such until 1969.  In the early 1930's when my mother lived "just down the hill" and played amongst those sacred stones on summer days there were no roads, gates, or fences.  She was just a child then. She would spend hours searching for just the right stones to replace those removed over the centuries.   Believed to be at least 700 years old, this medicine wheel has long been a place of meditation, vision quests, and prayer.  She was unaware as a child that she shared such a special connection with the great chiefs and warriors seeking guidance in the past.  It was there she would sit in the center cairn, seemingly atop of the world, she would close her eyes and try to imagine her place in such a vast landscape.   I imagined my mother's childhood whisper in the summer breeze "Hello....do you hear me?" 

As mom shared her childhood stories of "restoring this old wheel" with the rangers and a couple visiting from Australia, we all could feel her joy in returning.  "It's a good thing you didn't come last week," the Ranger remarked, "the site was closed for Native American ceremonies."  (Once again, something we were unaware of...I was beginning to sense a pattern of "coincidences" here.)

As we re-visited my mother's youth in the remote wilderness of the Big Horn and Pryor Mountains, we saw the places she now retreats to in her memories, we were also witness to the constant grandeur and peace of nature unchanged in nearly 80 years.  Our last day before heading home we drove 45 miles along dirt roads that much of the year are still inaccessible, where outlaws and homesteaders once found refuge, and wild horses and buffalos to this day run free. There my mom sat in the front seat of the pickup looking down upon the remains of the remote ranch that at age seventeen she had hated in the mountains that she loved.

The place where she pleaded for details in her life journey and recieved the answer "Everything will be all right." 80 years ago she answered back "Your damn right it will - I will make sure of that!"  Her road through life was much like the one we drove to get there.  Rough, rutted, and full of dips and climbs.

Now her response to that same answer is seen in her eyes...

"So good to hear from you.  Can you visit for awhile?"  

We had just made the turn for home when my cousin said "Will you look at that? Just standing there - like he wants to make sure we see him."  

There in the tall grass was a Coyote.

 My answer.  No details needed.  

We are riding life off road these days.










"I believe you" she told me with eye contact that made me pause for a moment.  "It actually looks pretty dark from your vantage point" I returned with a laugh.  "No, I really do believe you that there is a beautiful sunrise happening right now and I just can't see it from where I'm at.  Your telling me the sun will shine soon out there."

Commenting on the advantages of our early mornings,  I had just shared with the store clerk that my youngest son, Matthew, and I were witness to one of the most spectacular sunrises I had seen in years.  To that comment she glanced out the front windows of her store which faced due  west and smiled.  It was completely dark and actually quite a dreary winter Wednesday view for her.  I felt foolish for even mentioning the sunrise until I was caught off guard by the sincerity of her response.

I believe you.

I shared my experience with my oldest son that same day.  About a half an hour later I noticed him gazing out the window in deep thought.  I asked him what he was thinking about.  He stated that my interaction with the store clerk had reminded him of the day he climbed too high in Grandma's cherry tree and was then afraid to climb down.  He called out for help.  His dad and grandpa showed up from around the corner.  Jump and I will catch you his dad told him.  Taylor was terrified.  Jump - I will catch you - his dad repeated.  Taylor then related what he was thinking as a five year old at the time.  "I remember thinking to myself 'That's my dad.  He loves me.' I looked at dad again and I distinctly remember thinking 'I believe you - I will jump.' So I jumped."

I have spent some time considering to whom and with regards to what I make the statement "I believe you."  I speak often of the power words carry.  To consider the impact those three have had upon the history of the world is mind boggling really.  Spoken or not they are the hinges upon which the doors of our life are opened and closed each day.

Some doors swing on beliefs that are placed upon us, piled up over time through external sources.  These well greased hinges pivot back and forth freely with hardly a thought. 

There are also beliefs that come from the inside - the gut - a type of knowing which you may ignore (and perhaps often do) but cannot deny. These hinges are solid, sometimes rusty, but always able to carry the load of even the heaviest doors.

I  saw the Lego movie this past week with my family.  Central to it's theme was the concept of believing as a catalyst to building.  If you believed you were "the special" the "master builder" then that is what you became.  It didn't matter what world you were created in (or box you came from) - doors opened to new worlds as your belief in yourself became stronger.  A master builder could create anything from the pieces which lay around him. In one scene the statement "I know it sounds like a cat poster - but it's true - just believe."  I have struggled with this post for a few weeks now for that very same reason...sounding too much like a cat poster. 

I often find myself pacing in front of an open door.  Afraid to "jump" just like my son from the Cherry tree all those years ago.   I shared with my nephew once that I could write a book. (Note the careful choice of the word could rather than would)  He didn't laugh or criticize my naive notion rather he simply said, "I believe you.  Do it."  At the time I'm not sure what I wanted to hear, but it wasn't "I believe you"  because that meant "Do it."   I now write.  It's a lot of work but so much more fulfilling than the pacing was. 

It doesn't matter to the Hinge if the door swings open or closed.  It's job is simply to facilitate the action.  What doors would you venture through if you believed in the potential of waited for you on the other side?  What doors would you then close if you believed it was just that simple?

If Peace on a daily basis -  in the midst of the challenges and the everydayness of life - is what you seek you first must believe it can be found there.  Believing you can find what you are looking for does not exempt you from the search - it is the hinge that opens the window so you can see more clearly.  Believing the view from the top of the mountain is beautiful does not exempt you from the climb - it is the hinge that opens the door to the trailhead.



"Who the hell are you?"

"Do I know you?"  more frequently phrased as "Have we met before?" is a question my mother asks nearly everyday as the faces from her past now blend with those of the present.  It is always entertaining to watch the ensuing polite but persistent argument between mom and her acquaintance. "No I don't think we have."  ..."Yes. Yes, I am sure we have. I just am not sure where - what is your name?" After returning their name and a polite, "No, I don't think we know each other, but I am pleased meet you." My mother again assures them that they definitely have previously met.  Now how long this dialogue continues is completely dependant upon how important it is to the unsuspecting new comer to convince my mother of her err. Never one to admit defeat, mom always gets the last word as she comforts them with  "Well, it's ok if you can't remember, I don't remember most things these days." 

I have been engaged in a very similar dialogue with myself as of late.  Well, to be completely honest it might be more accurately phrased "Who the hell are you?" as I look in the mirror after a particularly "bad mom day" or "bad wife day" or simply a "bad day - day".  I know that even though I may not speak the phrase (most of the time) I certainly think it when my husband or teenage children have a personality morph right before my eyes.

As I had obviously spent some time considering this the past couple of weeks I decided to inquire of my family and friends as to their own dialogue along these lines. I found that all of them could relate to my conversations with myself and that they also had some other great insights.  For instance, those in the twenty-something category all agreed that others offering their unsolicited and unappreciated advice and opinions received the mental "and who the hell are you?"  My children were certain that it was actually my own personality morph not theirs hence a "who the hell are you? right back at you" look.

It was my husband who brought up another more "peaceful" side of this universal exchange.  The concept of approachability. He has also watched my mother completely confound new acquaintances with her insistence that they have previously met.  However, he also noticed that they were people that were "approachable", people who she associated with a past positive experience in her life. 

Shortly after this conversation we experienced the following exchange at a restaurant.  In the middle of dinner a man who had been sitting at a table across the room the from us walked over and placed his hand on my husband's shoulder and asked, "Are you a Johnson?" responding with a smile "Actually, No. No, I'm not." My husband then put the man at ease with a brief conversation that ended with the realization that it was actually one of our daughter's he had met a couple of years previous at a church activity.  Small world.  That daughter was sitting with us at the table - he didn't recognize her at all.

Hmmm...is there a lesson here to be learned?  I have been told that I can be unapproachable.  Really??  Is that why the my mental query is "Who the hell are you?" versus the much more approachable, "Have we met before?"  Have we met before's come when you don't just pass by those around you. They require a closer look - just to be certain.  Have we met before's are actually all about connection. 

It is my mother's desire for connection with others - a personal connection - that draws her to them in inquiry.  It brings joy to her and I can see it in the eyes of those willing to engage. Many days it is a foggy path my family travels with my mom.  Often I think that I must take the lead, and yet, again and again she is the teacher.  She is the one who shows us where Peace can be found along the wayside. 

I  decided I needed to on work on converting my "Who the hell are you's" into "Have we met before's" That very same day I recieved this text from my daughter away at school:

I smiled as I considered how appropriate "Have we met before?" seemed. 

And again a few days later as she returned from the local Rainbow Festival with her friends I recieved this picture text.  If you ran into this trio on the street what would you ask?  Believe me you'd be missing out if it wasn't "Have we met before?"

My husband I continued to consider the many opportuities we have for connection with those around us each day - and how many of them we let simply pass us by.  I remembered how frequently complete strangers would rub my belly in the grocery store check out line.  (Having been pregnant six times, this was a considerable amount of unsolicited connection).  Then as if on cue I received this picture text from another daughter:

Once again "Have we met before?" came to my mind.  Was it possible that my baby was actually having her baby number two?  It was then Peace whispered to me "Remember?" and I recalled the joy of being witness to her as a big sister connecting with an as of yet unborn sibling.  Was she thinking "Have we met before?"

Evidently puppies don't understand the concept of "Who the hell are you?" at all.Scout, our newest family member, meets each person who crosses his path throughout the day with an enthusiastic "Have we met before?"  He is a "Connection Magnet."  Spending his days with me at the office, our walks take us through an area with a fair amount of street people.  It seems the more down and out they are the more likely they are to connect with my furry companion. They are always kind, and friendly, and more than willing to share their pet memories. I can see that this "Have we met before?" moment takes them back to a better place and time in their lives.

My oldest son, Taylor, served his mission for our church in New York City.  He spent his days serving the people on the streets of that massive city.  People from all over the world.  Walking without fear in those inner city buildings where even the police would tell them that they were not safe. What was he thinking - a white boy in those neighborhoods?  And yet, he knew he was perfectly safe.  He was their to connect, to serve, to love and that transformed every "Who the hell are you?" into "Have we met before?"  My son wanted us to meet these people who had become his extended family.  

It was Mother's Day in 2009 when my husband and I came to pick him up and bring him home. We rode the Subway from Manhattan to East Brooklyn.  When we arrived at the platform Taylor wasn't there yet.  I called his cell phone and asked him if we should walk and meet him.  His reply was brief.  "Absolutely not.  Stay there I'm half a block away."  We stayed and looked out over the streets through a small window near the stairs.  Then in the distance I saw him. "Have we met before?" came to my mind.  Wasn't it a mere boy just out of high school we left at the airport?  Wait, had two years passed so quickly?   

We were to walk a few blocks to the church for a dinner his New York family had prepared in celebration of our arrival.  As we traveled the short distance I kept looking ahead for the church.  It was then Taylor stopped and said "Here we are."  It was an old brick building, no different than those all around us, except for the absence of grafitti.  A simple sign on the exterior was the only evidence that behind the aged door to our left was a church.  As the door closed behind us our surroundings were no longer foreign.  Indeed, a beautiful church was awaiting us inside.  In the kitchen food had been kept warm awaiting our arrival.  

The metal folding chairs we sat in that evening were truly seats of honor.  The meal was simple with the flare of the diverse ethic backgrounds of those in attendance.  They were giving us their very best. It was Mother's Day - would I have made the same sacrafice for someone else's son?  It was one of the children's birthday - that dinner was his party.  A service dog sat at my feet, his owner next to me a vietnam veteran, who told me my son had saved his life. There was laughter and tears and stories all around.  I was grateful for this "family" who had loved my son so well.  "Have we met before?" was in my heart that night.  Peace in it's most humble form was at the table with us for dinner.

The next day Taylor took us to the apartment of a homebound elderly woman he had grown to love deeply.  She wasn't there.  He couldn't understand why she would be gone.  We left and visited a few others.  On our way back he asked if we would mind stopping by the local hospital.  It was the only place he could think of where she might be.  Taylor went to the information desk and his fear was confirmed - she was there.  We rode the eleveator up to her floor.  My words can not express the joy on this woman's face when she saw my son in the doorway.  She was all alone there.  She told us God had brought her an angel that day. My son gently slid her over in the hospital bed and climbed up next to her to say goodbye.  They both knew it would be the last time they would connect on this earth.  As I reflect upon this moment I can still hear the distant whisper, "Have we met before?" 

I don't have the answers to many of the questions I find myself considering.  However, I know for sure that the question "Have we met before?" is a much more generous way to approach life.  It is a question Peace often will ask of you.  Always approachable and yet requiring a review of past interactions before you can make the determination that "Yes. Yes, I'm certain that we have.  I'm just not sure where - what is your name?" 

And therein lies the beginning of a great conversation.