The most important speech of my life

I have presented in many venues, to many groups over the years. But last week, I gave the most important speech of my life.

Last week I attended a service to commemorate my parents’ retirement from almost 42 years of service in ministry. The organization they have served for most of their lives, Village Missions, held their annual conference with the final part of their last night in honor of my parents, John and Gloria. For 24 years they lived and ministered in rural areas in order to provide a church for those who did not have one. Later, they became District Representatives and traveled thousands of miles to the many Village Missionaries’ homes to support, encourage, and guide their work and to work with the churches.

This special service included a time to share. Not being one to ever pass up the chance to speak or use a microphone, I spoke. I spoke to them. And, I spoke to those who have shared their lives in ministry.

Even more than the speech I gave at Gram’s funeral, this was the most important speech I have given. For here, I publicly named the honor and influence of my parents who sacrificed so much to live their calling in missionary service. I grew up churches in which my Dad preached, and both Mom and Dad ministered to the community. So, I spoke. Through some tear-laden parts, I spoke.

Here is what I said.


Thank you for inviting us to be a part of this important event. Obviously, it’s one of those soul-biting, heart-clenching times, where we are very happy to have them [John and Gloria/Dad and Mom] back – They’re ours again, they’re not yours.

But, we do know the role they have played in your lives. My brother and I literally grew up in Village Missions. We attended numbers of conferences and functions. And, hearing about your lives as you have probably heard many more stories than we realize about our lives.

And we’ve learned many things along the way.

Some of you may have worked with them while they were in one of their fields, while some of you may have only worked with them as District Representatives. Speaking on behalf of my brother, his family, and myself, we thank you for being their community – their spiritual community, their extended family, and their support system for so many years.

Mom and Dad took the mission and the vision of Village Missions very seriously. They took the vision of serving a community, not just as a task, but as their life and breath of every day. That’s what my brother and I saw, and lived, and observed throughout our lives.

Whether it was harvesting with farmers or gathering pigs, which Dad had not trained to do – he was there, because that was part of the community. And the community surrounding the church was the community they were there to serve. And this group became the “living community” and the “breathing community” that continues the mission beyond their tenure. Whether it was Mom’s hosting of after school clubs or women’s meetings, and even Dad joining the fire department, each time, they were fully present in the community, drawing others into a more spiritual community through their relationships. Nothing could be more evident of that relationship than upon leaving the field in Minnesota. Here, the community put on the farewell dinner. The community came together in their honor.

I was asked, “What was it like growing up like this and moving to all these places?”

It was that community was wherever you were, with whomever you were with, and whoever that included.

We learned that family was our support and our source of grace, and that included not only those who were kin, but those with whom we shared our space at any given time and any place.

We learned to be flexible. As you saw the lovely “Barn Church” which I lived in for a portion of time in college, after it was no longer a church. And I also lived in a laundry room in the new parsonage that was being built. So we learned and knew flexibility.

And we learned a lot of things specifically from Mom and Dad.

First of all, they instilled in us a deep sense of work ethic, because they lived and breathed their work – their passion, and that lives in us through our work. Their work in life was a calling, it was their daily breath.

We learned to hold our convictions very tightly even though  they didn’t always “jive” with some others. We learned that those convictions are the driving force behind our passion, our work, and our character. And we learned to hold them when they are the most inconvenient, because that’s when it’s clear that they are true convictions.

And, as I heard him preach over and over, my Dad taught me how to speak powerfully to people. Although I grew up thinking women could not be ministers, I’ve taken that passion, and I’ve presented for years, to multiple groups in multiple states. But this is the first time he’s heard me present.

Mom continues to show us the enduring love of family. So much so that when Jack was born, they sold their house, and moved within 10 minutes of him before that kid could walk. Now, they’d always traveled to see Nathan and me, but not one time had the house gone up for sale – until Jack was born. Now they live 10 minutes away from him.

And now, we are also seeing n how hard it is to close a chapter of their life that they have lived so faithfully for the majority of their lives.

But not everything is serious – there are many funny and memorable things. Probably the most memorable is that they taught us how to move – literally – to many different places. Six churches in all.   As many of you know, Dad is nothing if he is not organized, precise, insisting on doing it once well… measure twice, cut once… Make sure it all fits.

He and Mom taught us how to move swiftly, in an organized fashion, with caution not to break things – and always make sure before you have folks come to help you pack your truck,  you have pulled out your washer, dryer, AND refrigerator and scrubbed behind them so they don’t think you left a gross mess and you never cleaned your house. We were taught that the largest boxes SHALL NEVER contain books. And that, in our family, Dad’s primary job in the moving process was standing in the moving van to ensure that all boxes were in the exact right place so we didn’t break anything. They also ingrained in us the understanding that you only move in the hottest parts of the year. So I’m proud to say that between my brother and myself, we’ve moved as many times if not more than we did as a family – insisting that we move on THE hottest day and that Dad indeed is part of renting the truck, packing the truck, and driving the truck.

But as this chapter closes, I can’t say that I understand the feeling they have about how one’s life’s work, and passion, and belief shifts. I don’t understand that.

But I do know that in all these years, they have learned from, revered, and honored some of the most visionary people in this organization. These people shaped their vision which has led them to support you.  I remember them talking so much about these influential people when I was young – The Reverend and Mrs. Duff, Dr. Jack and Norma Canady, their many District Representatives who served them, and the relationship with Stonecroft. They knew the importance of Stonecroft, Mrs. Baugh and Ms. Clark, and how all of you have shaped their vision.

I am reminded of the writing of Sir Isaac Newton who said, “If I have seen further, it is because I have stood upon the shoulders of giants.” I think they would say that their work was only possible because of those who went before. And now they leave another layer on which the legacy can continue and reach higher levels.

And I think we can all say that we can see further because of their work.


Thank you.


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Filed under Family, Personal Reflections


I’m finished (or as finished as any writing or project can be at a given time) —

After reading 379 children’s books (yes, I read EVERY ONE OF THEM), I am finished with the suggested reading lists for Pre-k-5th grade.

I can’t believe it. Months of reading, choosing, re-choosing, reworking, re-reading, and making heart-breaking decisions about some books, the lists are finished… It took FOREVER for me to choose that LAST book to add to the 5th Grade list. I read 15-20 books to find the “just right” one to add. I won’t tell you which one it is… you will have to guess:)

The books for the older grades were hardest for me. First, I have less experience in these grades. Next, there is such a wide variety of content, type, and variety. Finally, they are just a lot longer, with less white space, smaller letters, and a LOT of words. These were the hardest to choose. So, I found myself choosing books I could share with my mom. If there were questionable topics, I did not include them on a list to be distributed and clearly “sanctioned” by a district. There are SO many great books that were not included because of profanity, topics, and innuendo. Many of these left-off-the-list books are award winners, but I thought about my mom… would she have been “ok” with me reading this book alone or out loud with her when I was ten, or eleven, or twelve? If not, it went into a different pile.

Let me clarify… My mom is great. She read a pile of my intermediate level books while she was here helping me after my recent surgery. She cried when reading Mick Harte Was Here (who wouldn’t?? For all of you who took my reading classes, you know what I’m talking about because you all had to read it too!). She really liked the Alcatraz books (who can NOT want to read a book called Al Capone Does My Shirts???). My dad even enjoyed them and also read How to Steal a Dog. Mom’s not too protective, but she did (and still does) keep an eye on me. So, I kept her in mind as I had to sort through books I LIKED and even books I LOVED to find those that would give a good range for readers in a certain age, provide enjoyable books, and appropriate content.

Of course kids are exposed to much more, but I am cautious of those condoned and advocated by schools or experts – they need to good enough to read alone — or with a caring family member without going too far. This does not mean that all the books are just rainbows, sunshine, and silly grins. They deal with real topics and challenges.

I’m already pondering my next project(s), and hope to share more about some of the other books, the 379 books, that I read and some new ones I am anxious to try.

So, I’m sharing with you… I hope you find some you and your family can enjoy.

Happy Reading!

All grades final

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Filed under Children's Books, Family, Personal Reflections, Recommended Books

Recommended Family Reading List: Prekindergarten

Who knew I would post this so quickly??!!!

Here is the first of seven lists on their way — I will be posting these to the district website as well as providing to all schools to share with families… but who better to share with FIRST than those who read my blog?

Feel free to leave a comment, share an idea, recommend other books to consider… I’m sure this is just the beginning of an ongoing journey… And if you have an interest in great books for young children – here’s a start…

Here  is the link to the PDF version (which prints equally well in b/w as color): Prekindergarten Recommended List 2014 FINAL

Happy reading, all.

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Filed under Children's Books, Family, Recommended Books

Books! Books! Books! The Journey of Selecting Books for our Students

I am coming to the conclusion of creating “Recommended Family Reading Lists” for each grade in our district. This arduous task started a few months ago as the “idea” was raised at a community literacy meeting and in response to the local library staff mentioning they had a very outdated “Summer Reading List.” When I asked for a copy, I was shocked. It was indeed very outdated. Our families were still using and asking for these lists. It was certainly time to provide something current and well designed.

So, I embarked on a journey – a LONG journey – of assembling some great books for families to share together. I wanted this to be more than a “Summer Reading List” and I certainly did not want it to be a “Required” list. I was looking for a way to put together books that would draw families together, put reading and talking about books and stories as a part of daily life, and share some great literature. Whew. I had no idea.

I recalled the wise words of Katie Wood Ray when she shared how she started writing something new – she read everything she could that would give her guidance on HOW to write what she needed. I scoured the internet for similar types of lists. I called on my friends and colleagues – especially for the grade levels about which I was less familiar. My friends and colleagues were wonderful guides and some even sent me some books to check out. I started ordering books and taking notes.

And, I read.

I read. I read. I READ. I read books after books after books.

Over time, I compiled notes after notes after notes. Image

Finally, I found books for each level (prekindergarten, kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth, and fifth)…


My piano has not been THIS useful in YEARS!!! This was HARD. I shuffled books, moved them to new piles and removed some. I kept arranging and re-arranging these books in the attempt to create a well-rounded variety of books for readers of all ages – and families of many styles and types. I’m almost there…

And, I have piles (yes piles) of books that did not make the lists for this year… But, I have notes ready for more additions, revisions, and lists as time goes by.


So, I’m finalizing the lists and will post shortly…

Here’s what I’ve learned… (in no particular order):

— There are A LOT of great books; a few that I don’t care for, but still MANY that are extraordinary in many ways

— Finding only a few is harder than I imagined

— Classics and newer books are equally important and entertaining

— My favorite TYPES of books is too limiting (I like nonfiction and fiction, not as much graphic novels, overly fanciful, science fiction type books) and I had to try MANY books to capture the readers across our city (many of whom do not share my taste in books)

— Families need to choose books together – and a little “blurb” can help them find books that match their interests

— Families need to read TOGETHER – not just read TO children at young ages and then “assign” or even “listen” to readers at older ages – but reading needs to be and continue to be a shared experience — not just an assignment or something for the summer

— I have only scratched the surface of the amazing authors and illustrators out there…

So, I share all of this to give you a heads up that I will share the lists shortly… and to encourage you to share your favorites, ideas, and recommendations with me as I’m sure this is a project that will progress! Leave a comment, write me a note, and share your thoughts, ideas, and recommendations.

Before you ask, there are a lot of awesome books that did not make the list THIS TIME… Your favorite (and some of mine) are not on the lists… don’t be discouraged. Don’t be outraged. Imagine what amazing books we may not even realize exist. And, share your best with me.

I’m off to curl up with a new book right now. Happy reading, everyone… I will post some lists (starting with prekindergarten) shortly… I can’t wait to hear from you…

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May 27, 2014 · 2:54 am

A Long Walk to Water

This touching, wonderfully crafted book is based on the true story of one of the “Lost Boys” and the intertwining of lives years apart.

Linda Sue Park masterfully engages the reader in months of walking from refugee camp to refugee camp across Sudan, Ethiopia, and Kenya alongside the story do the daily walk for water.

This short book will settle in your soul.


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Filed under Adolescent Books

Out of My Mind

Here is an amazing book about Melody, a 5th grader with cerebral palsy who proves she is so much more than meets the eye.

This book will inspire, challenge, and tug at your heart… Amazing.

Check it out!

Written by Sharon M. Draper


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A more well-rounded reader

After completing one of those dreaded-yet-all-too-alluring Facebook quizzes that pop up when a “friend” takes the quiz, I found that while I far exceeded the BBC’s prediction of reading only 6 of the books, I did not have as many as some others.

Not to be immediately outdone, but not one to shy away from abandoning a cause, I devoted myself to listing and researching a number of the books.

I know why I did poorly on the quiz– I simply haven’t read many of the books. I didn’t read most books required in High School (also didn’t attend a lot of my senior year) and certainly didn’t read much in college until I found it was a perfect excuse to avoid studying. But I felt immediately challenged to be a more well-rounded reader.

I read up on the books I had not read.

There is a reason I have not read many of them — I’m not too interested in some and flat out not at all interested in others.

But, with the input of a few sage friends, I found a few I MIGHT like. It was probably a mistake to check them ALL out at the same time from the library. Other than the pride of carrying out a really full canvas bag, I have yet to be well rounded (by the books).

I have started (and by that I mean read the first couple pages) one book and I have carried it with me for the past few days. We’ll see. No promises.

But in my pursuit of becoming “well-rounded” I realized the following:
-I’m pretty well rounded in other ways
-I completed my final degree and no longer need to read books because they are required
– After 40 years, I’m doing ok with my less-than-stellar list.

So, maybe I will be more rounded one day– maybe not. But no matter, I will read what I like, when I like. And, I will gladly and unashamedly abandon a book that just doesn’t suit me… And that may be my most well-rounded plan yet.

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Filed under Candor, Personal Reflections, Random Thoughts and Ideas

New Books on the Horizon

I just found a BUNCH of new books that I just have to see! If anyone knows these books, please let me know your thoughts or recommendations — You have my most prized opinions! 

Keep an eye out — as soon as have a chance to see these, I will provide a full report. 

Watermelon Seed by Pizzoli

Ball by Mary Sullivan

A Big Guy Took My Ball by Mo Willems

Penny and Her Marble by Kevin Henkes

Parrots over Puerto Rico by Roth & Trumbore

A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Peppin by Jen Bryant

Look Up! Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard by LeBlanc Cate

The Mad Potter: George E. Ohr, Eccentric Genius by Greenberg & Jordan

Counting by 7s by Sloan

Out of the Easy by Sepetys

Once Upon a Memory by Laden

Tea Party Rules Dyckman

Crabtree by Nichols

Nesreddine by Wenlersse

Henry’s Map by Elliot

Sophie’s Squash by Miller

The Silver Button by Graham

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Shea

Fall Walk by Snow

The Black Rabbit by Leathers

Odd Duck by Varon

Sidekicks by Santat

The Real Boy  by Ursu

Mister Max by Voigt 

Red Sings from Treetops 

Polar Bear Night 


WHOOOO — This is going to be so much fun! 

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Filed under Adolescent Books, Children's Books

Sharing the Glory of Books

This afternoon I had the privilege of meeting with a small group of educators for the long-awaited session, “What’s New in Children’s Literature.” What a truly great and diverse group of women connected as we inhaled the essence of exceptional books. Since you probably are wondering about what books were included, you can check out my list in an earlier post. These were the heart of the session.

We listened, talked, read, laughed, and the whole time shared our love of books and interest in helping to match students and teachers with the “just right book.” We acknowledged our bias for some genres and styles. We shared a passion for the touch, sights, words, and impression of text.

Maybe most importantly, we embraced different views and shared truthfully about common themes in the books. One of the clearest themes was “celebrating self” as many books showcased main characters who do not fit the mainstream, perhaps even odd.

How important to be immersed with others in the real-world talk and thinking. And, to learn from one another.

I can’t wait to do it again. I am already working on the next set of books! If you have any ideas, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear your recommendations.


Filed under Children's Books, Personal Reflections

March Memories

No book review today, folks, just some memories.

It’s March. For those of you who know me at all, March is sacred. March Madness is unlike any holiday in my book. I used to take off work just to watch hours of basketball. Now, thanks to great Apps and WatchESPN, I never miss a thing. It’s my mega holiday rolled into one happy “dance.” It’s also my mom’s birthday so she gets to be in the middle of the big celebrating, cheering, and fun.

But it’s more melancholy now as it is a time when Gramps would sometimes visit my house or we would call each other all the time to talk about our brackets. He should have entered a pool, as he always picked the winners. I always picked Pat Summitt (Lady Vols), C. Vivian Stringer (Rutgers’ Women), Coach K (Duke), Bobby Knight, and of course MIZZOU. It goes without saying that I ALWAYS had Kansas getting bounced out in the first round no matter who they played. I had a few wins, but Gramps picked the winners all the time. And then he would just grin and chuckle.

So, as I am reading and watching my – yes MY MIZZOU TIGERS – have a tough year, I think of Gramps. He would yell at the TV, think he was coaching (just like he did in every football game he watched — oh how he hated horizontal football plays when they needed to go forward), and then with color coded pens, he would fill in his brackets.

So, my memories flood back…

I think of how much fun we had at the MU/KU football games in KC MO (rain slickers, fire alarms, and all):


I think about how he would have loved this year’s family trip with Jack to Fayetteville to see MU win:


I think about how he would have loved the trip to the SEC football tournament and would have loved this sign:


Or how he would have been in complete bliss to see this sight at Mizzou Arena (oh, how he loved Truman):


But most of all I miss his spirit and love. So, in my favorite month of the year, I pay homage to one so dear… And sure hope he helps me when I fill out my bracket this year…


March Madness will never be quite the same without you. Hope you enjoy the “big dance” beside Gram.


Filed under Candor, Family, Personal Reflections