Saturday, June 29, 2013


I enjoy observing how people want others to know who they are and what they stand for through their use of stickers.  I've posted about this before.  On one driving trip up north, I tried to jot down some of the funnier ones I've seen.  Windshields and bumpers are the perfect place to put yourself out there.  As people drive by they get to know who you voted for (OBAMA/BIDEN), who you despise (IMPEACH OBAMA), what your causes are (AUTISM, SUPPORT, EDUCATE, ADVOCATE), occupation (TEACHERS DO IT WITH CLASS, PART-TIME ORGANIC CHEMIST/FULL TIME NINJA), hobbies (LIVE LOVE SURF), animals (I HEART MY WEINER DOG), places (I'D RATHER BE IN VIRGINIA), etc.

I have bee taking some pictures lately with my phone camera - SAFELY at stop lights.

I liked this one.  It's simple.  How could you argue with LOVE YOUR MOTHER?  Although I'm sure there are some who advocate the opposite at some level, you probably wouldn't see a sticker with LET'S TAKE ALL WE NEED FROM OUR MOTHER AND LET OUR CHILDREN DEAL WITH IT.  The Hawaiian turtles are a nice touch as well.  Single parent?  Three kids?  

It's interesting to see two seemingly opposing stickers on the same vehicle.  For example, I saw one with a Tinkerbell the other day.

Kind of sweet, right?  The family has probably driven to Disney World.  Surely they have kids and had a nice time.  The had their pictures made with Cinderella and Mickey Mouse, rode in those little teacups you see on TV.  On the other side of the glass was a SLAYER sticker.  I didn't get a photo of it with my iphone, but I it had a skull with its jaws open and blood spatters all over.  It was wearing a Nazi helmet from WWII and had the word SLAYER across the front of the helmet in blood red.  It just struck me as an interesting combo.

Another interesting blend of expressions was on the back of an SUV I pulled behind.

89.7 is our local contemporary Christian music station.  It's hard to read, but their slogan is family friendly.  And it is.  Christian pop with happy, friendly DJs (or whatever they are called these days) with a few brief testimonies thrown in.

On the other side was this proud display.  I'm not saying there is a mix of views presented here.  I'm pretty sure that Jesus would have been an NRA member and carried a concealed Glock.  I mean, one never knows, right?  I'm sure that whole 'turn the other cheek' thing was taken out of context.

Here's a sticker that has a lot going on...

With this one, you have the high heel of a mature, classy woman.  Someone with taste and flair.  The heart - the universal love symbol.  The two nine millimeters (or whatever) form the V.  This expression is complex.  Love at the shooting range?  His and hers killing machines?  Or is it an invitation - something like, looking for love with someone who also enjoys small arms.

This next one is sort of the counter to the previous gun stickers.

You've got to enjoy the freedom of living in a free country where people can express themselves openly.  The yin, the yang.  The contradictory and diametrically opposed driving right behind each other in theoretical harmony.   No lie, the other day I was at a light in downtown Lexington, SC (fumbling for my phone - no pictures, alas, the traffic started moving).  Right in front of me was a bumper sticker that read "DON'T BLAME ME, I VOTED FOR THE AMERICAN".  In the right lane (right next to the DON'T BLAME ME guy) was a bumper sticker that read ANOTHER OLD WHITE WOMAN FOR OBAMA.  Ah, America.  You gotta love all this freedom of expression.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

English Ivy

It seemed like such a good idea at the time.

I wonder how many times I’ve thought that in my life.  Probably far too many.  When we first moved to this quiet lakeside neighborhood (16 years ago?) the boys were just shrimps.  We wandered down the figure-eight shaped roads of our little addition and took in what our new neighbors had done with their property in the woods.  Some had immaculately kept lawns and bushes trimmed so tidy that they looked like they received weekly haircuts.  Other folks had very small footprints for their homes and let the forest be their yards.  Little trees came up here and there and branches overhung their houses. 

I liked this a lot.  Being a first time homeowner, I was not fond of the memories I had of mowing the lawn as a kid.  Sure, I like the smell of fresh cut grass as much as the next guy, but the idea of cutting all that grass didn’t appeal to me. 

One of the friendliest guys in our new area had English ivy all over the front of their home.  I liked the dark green leaves.  They were so shiny, and symmetrical.  They were tenacious too.  They were climbing right up his trees, reaching for the sunlight at the top.  Their front “yard” was almost all ivy, dark and luscious.  They had a tiny bit of grass in the back, but Ray never had to mow the front at all.  And the ivy never turned brown – it was evergreen. 

Our yard had to be bigger because of a septic system.  We needed grass.  So, over the years I have gotten to love getting out the mower, firing it up, and pushing it all around the yard.  I have a pattern for mowing that I follow – different little sections at a time, concentric shapes that grow smaller and smaller as I travel.  I have spots in the woods at which I dump the cuttings.  I like working up the sweat it takes and the grassy dust on my legs and shoes.  I like how everything looks all freshly mowed.  I know it’s corny, but it is one of those simple pleasures.  You take something shaggy and unkempt and in about 90 minutes… voila!  Neat and tidy.   (Almost) instant gratification. 

But I still envied those folks their ivy.  I found some growing out in our woods and pulled out some of those vines and cut them into little pieces.  I made little cuts around the spots where leaves joined the vines.  I planted each of these rhizomes in special places around the property, hoping to get some to make a patch of ivy here and there, thinking we could train some to climb up some of our trees.

It worked all right.  In a few years we had English ivy all over the place.  In one spot I had planted some of the vines under some large hardwood trees in front of our house.  We already had some vines five or six feet up some other trees.  “Are you sure you want to do that?” our neighbor Randy asked me one day.  “I’m not sure… [this usually prefaced something he was absolutely sure of], but that might not be so good for your trees.”

“Really?”  I was loving the look of that ivy.  I was sure he was envious of the way it sort of spoked out all over those oaks and sweetgums.

“You may want to look that up, but it might choke out those trees in the long run.” 

I did look it up.  He was right.  English ivy is a non-native species (duh!).  It does choke out the native species.   

Hedera helix grows by spreading runners which climb over and smother anything and everything in their path including buildings, shrubs, and trees.
If you’re a homeowner, you REALLY do not want this plant climbing up your walls. The rootlets will burrow into masonry, eventually weakening them to the point of collapse. On wooden siding the dense cover retains moisture, which causes fungus and decay, while the rootlets pry apart siding and eventually rip your outer walls apart.
As a ground cover, the quick growth and dense cover shade out native plants and suppress their growth. In tree canopies, the enormous weight of the Ivy will eventually topple each tree. The rootlets burrow under the bark, causing fungus and decay while creating opportunities for disease to enter.  (

So now I am stuck with having this plant all over the place!  It’s covering my woodpile, climbing my trees, all over our swing in the forest, climbing through our beds, etc.  And some of it I invited.  I spent hours cultivating those little bits, watering it, even carrying big watering cans out beyond where our hose reached.

I wish there was some moral to this story, some metaphor to make it more of a life lesson than simple idiocy.  Nope.  But now I’ll have something else to do in all of my spare time… pulling up that ivy that I so lovingly raised.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Colbert's Tribute to His Mom

I don't watch much TV.  A little news.  One or two shows regularly.  I do try to catch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report every once in a while too.  It is clear to anyone who watches Stephen Colbert that he is a mama's boy.  He regularly speaks with love about his mom.  Mrs. Colbert died last week.  She was 92.  She had 11 kids.  He was heartbroken.  Here is his heartfelt tribute.  I admit getting teary when I watched.  He hit on some of the same emotions I had when my mom died last year.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Rwanda Again

This is a piece I posted on my first blog.  It is about a life changing trip I took to Rwanda 6 years ago.  I was asked to write for a journal called Seedlings, a monthly newsletter from an organization called Mustard Seed.  So I pulled from that blog, copied some pictures from that time, and put it out there.  

If you have read that old blog of mine, not much has changed in this version.  It is about 2,000 words (far longer than most bloggers like to read).  It's OK to pass on by if you don't have the time.  But I'll be writing again soon now that I am on summer break.  

It’s been almost 6 years since I went to visit Rwanda with some folks who were strangers but became good friends.  I was led to Rwanda partly by reading Immaculee Ilibagiza’s amazing book of survival and forgiveness, Left to Tell.  It was one of the few books in my life that when I finished reading it (in tears) I immediately opened it and read it again.  Then my good friend Cindy Charles asked if I wanted to go to Rwanda with her and some others, including Immaculee.  While we were only there for about two weeks, the trip changed my life in some significant ways.  The people I met there are so beautiful and peaceful, the country so serene.  It was incredible to see the changes that occurred there in the 13 years since the genocide.  When I went there, in 1997, the people were well on their way to reconciling one of the most devastating genocides in history.  The forgiveness and grace in that place left me humbled.  It all makes me feel that if Rwanda can forgive then what can’t I forgive?

What follows are some excerpts from a journal I kept of my travels to Sonrise.

Sunday 7/8/07

We are now at Sonrise School in Musanze. Conditions are pretty rough here compared to American schools. The people are very nice and extremely welcoming. We toured Sonrise yesterday. Compared to US living standards the conditions for children seem bleak. Compared to the country as a whole, these children are very lucky.  Twelve kids to a room. Every child has a small plastic bin (maybe 1.5 cubic feet) for personal belongings as well as a small carry on size suitcase, which is kept at the foot of their beds. We toured the entire school from the kitchen to the dorms. Three fourths of these kids are the poorest of the poor, in a poor country. Most are from orphanages. Many of the younger ones were street kids, many of their parents died of AIDS.

When we got there it was Saturday evening. The sun had already begun to set (6:15 – 6:30). The kids were playing and socializing in their play area, which is simply a large clay courtyard. It was very slanted and filled with ruts. Many were playing soccer (futbol) with a homemade ball. It was made of old plastic bags tied and twisted together. All of the children have extremely short hair so it is difficult to tell the young boys from the girls unless they are wearing dresses. They go to school six days a week. The upper school kids study until nearly bedtime (lights out). Forty kids to a class. Two classes per grade level. Subjects are taught in English but the kids also learn French and already speak Kinyrwanda.

Joy, the woman who toured us, is very direct. Things are simple. Kids wash themselves outside (probably just the little ones). They wash their own clothes, make their own beds. I think they get a lot of visitors.

What they have done with what they have is nothing short of amazing. Their test scores have been among the top in the nation since they have been in existence – which is only a few years. They are truly saving these children and helping them to be the best and the brightest in the country. I am very impressed.

Sunday 12:50 PM
We just got back from a very long Sunday of church. First we went to Sonrise for the service conducted mostly by the students. There was almost an hour of the loudest and most spirited music I have ever been in the middle of. It ROCKED! It rattled my bones. There was a lot of dancing and swaying and stepping in place. The children sang from the depths of their souls. I mean it. I’ve never heard anything like it. Our church at its most prayerful and engaged was never anywhere even close to this. Someone would begin a song and in a few bars everyone in the place was singing in full voice. When the song ended, someone else would begin another. It was practically seamless.

The only song in English was “If You’re Happy and You Know It”. A translator came and sat down next to us and told us these phrases to translate some of the songs for us:
*When Jesus is in your heart all is well
*We will all be happy when Jesus returns
*We are thankful that the Lord is our savior
*All the good people in the world will be with him in Heaven

So much was lost in the translation! The walls of this place were shaking with the spirit of these children.

The sanctuary was very simple (as almost all things are, simple but elegant). The crosses on the wall were aluminum foil and construction paper. There were strings across us over our heads with dried flowers. The benches were simple wooden boards with legs. The only instruments were big skin drums. Animal fur still clung to the rims (goat?). The only fancy decoration was a glass cross on the table that served as an altar.
My most powerful memory was the joy and power that went into their worship. Can you imagine singing and dancing absolutely full blast for an hour before any words were even spoken at the service?

The service itself was in Kinyrwanda and English. I am not sure if it was because we were there or if they do that so that everyone can hear both languages together to reinforce their language skills. Once again I am left with this really uplifting feeling that the stuff in a place of worship really means nothing. The comfortable benches, nice lighting, stained glass windows and all of the finery means nothing without the spirit of God. It was in this place with these wonderful children. God was within these plane brick walls, in the sound of these worshipful voices and in the hearts of these children. Again, we have so much to learn from Rwanda.

We had lunch with bishop John Rucyahana.   He was very gracious and shared the considerable progress that has been made in Rwanda and how far they have to go. He was funny and endearing and really proud of the school. Visiting the school and worshipping with the children as well as the adults at the Cathedral brought home to me how very far Rwanda has come in thirteen years. Just thirteen years ago this area of the country was in complete turmoil. Richard told us that this was one of the most violent areas. Now people worship God together so completely. It’s amazing

At 4:00 we went back to Sonrise not really knowing what to expect. At first we sort of just hung around. I took some portraits of beautiful children. Then we split up into groups. Cindy and I were with the children who wanted to sing and dance. We went to the sanctuary where we attended church yesterday. We taught a pretty big group of girls some praise songs. “Open the Eyes of My Heart”, “Awesome God” and a few more. They learned them so quickly and sang them back more beautifully than you could imagine. Breathtaking. I played some blues and changed the tempo. I asked them to clap and to move along with the beat. Cindy taught a couple of line dances. They took to these quickly and naturally since singing and movement are both a part of song to them. Then they sang some songs for us. Most were in English, it was clear that they chose these especially for us as the songs they sang in church yesterday were in French and Kinyrwanda.

I videotaped them singing “Step By Step” by Rich Mullins. Inspiring. I can’t wait for you to hear and see it on tape. We left feeing real joy. It wasn’t that we developed any deep relationships – there wasn’t time for that, but because there was real fun and fellowship. And they were grateful enough to give back. And it was in the language of music.

Others in our group played soccer with the kids (futbol), told stories and did crafts with the children. We all had a good time, but I think Cindy and I really felt good about our connection today.

These children are so intelligent. We taught them the sign language for the chorus on “Love Can Build a Bridge” and they learned it in about 3 minutes. I’m not exaggerating. When I sang and taught them songs it seemed that they snatched the songs from my scrawny voice and gave them back ten times better, a hundred times better. Subtle harmonies, slightly changed melodies but, to me, even better than what I offered them. So many children shook my hand – which they do so often and sincerely here. They look right into your eyes. There is graciousness and sincerity and hope. It’s palpable.


Little did I know that one of the little children whom I met at Sonrise would become a long time friend.  Through the sponsorship program, Mustard Seed, I was able to reconnect with one of the children who sang for us in the small church.  Her name is Sophia and I have been sponsoring her for around 5 years.  It is an honor to know that in a very real way I can make a difference for her and for the people of Rwanda. 

When I am balancing my checking account and writing my checks for bills, it is a wonderful feeling to write my check out to Mustard Seed.  It is a concrete reminder that even when I feel some stress, I am so blessed.  I have SO much compared to so many in this world.  God has taken care of me and it is a pleasure to pass some of my many blessings on; to help take care of Sophia’s spiritual and educational needs.  Because she WILL grow up to change Rwanda.  And Rwanda is changing the world. 

I’ll end this article with another journal entry written the day after leaving Sonrise.  It reminds me of just how blessed I am.

Monday 7/9/07 7:00 AM
I woke up early. About 5:00. The birds here are really loud at this time. Mainly these huge white-breasted crows and plenty of roosters.
I woke up this morning to my little morning prayers. When I have said, “Bless those less fortunate than us,” in the past it was sort of rote. Not that it wasn’t sincere, it was. But I didn’t really know what I was talking about. Now I see a little Rwandan girl wearing a tattered dress and nothing else, standing in the cold mud while her mother toils away hoeing a vast field with a baby on her back. When I, “Bless those who are victims of violence and oppression,” now I think of a beautiful old woman who stayed at Mother Teresa’s orphanage with only one arm, or a man at the market with machete scars across his head, or Richard’s parents and sisters who died in a church or his brother who was murdered in front of him and him feeling helpless to do anything. Before I prayed for pictures on TV or in the newspaper or stories like Immaculee’s or The Bishop’s. Now I pray for Rwanda.

My prayers of gratitude are also stronger – better informed. Now when I get in my car to drive to work or to the store I will think of those lucky people here who have bikes to carry their heavy crops and wares. And those who must walk great distances every day to carry enough water on their heads to wash and cook. When I go to the grocery store and spend so much on food I will think of those whose food comes from the earth they till and of the hours of hard physical labor it takes to get the potatoes and beans they eat every day and are so grateful for. When I wake up to my beautiful family I will think of those who lost everyone they loved and had the strength and will to survive, go on with life and, especially those who can forgive. When I pray I will ask that the world may be more like Rwanda.