Category Archives: Generations (family stuff)

When Postcards are more than paper

This isn’t really science related, but it does help you to understand a little more about me! My friend and the ScienceOnline co-founder, Anton Zuiker, organized a narrative storytelling event that he called Talk Story. He asked me to tell the story of the postcards that I wrote to my mom during the last months of her life. Here is that story.

Redux: Tell the Stories

I dug this post up from my previous blog because Mark and I have recently been re-inspired to tell the stories of our adventures together. Mark has especially been bitten by the storytelling bug of late. He recounted a particularly painful crush he had in high school at The Monti StorySlam in Durham earlier this month. You can see it on his blog. Now he is planning to podcast some of his brand of story (this is quite appropriate since his father was a radio DJ starting in the 50’s and 60’s and was able to spin quite a few yarns of his own on the air).

Last week one of our friends at grad school was surprised to find that an old high school picture had found its way onto the cover of the weekly student news bulletin. In an effort to console him, I brought some of our old wedding photos in to show him that our “old pictures” were more embarrassing than his.

As a result of showing the photos, Mark started to tell some of the stories about our wedding (e.g. day-glo blue icing on the wedding cake). As I listened, it occurred to me that some of the stories were probably not even known by our daughters. How unfortunate! So, to remedy that situation, and to encourage others to “tell the stories” to those around them, here’s one snippet…

When we were engaged, we were living in the inner-city of St. Louis, working with a group that often took homeless people in for emergency housing. Each person working at the organization had a bedroom with a room-mate from the organization team and also some extra beds. Those extra beds were used for the “housing guests.” You never knew who you might have sleeping in the room with you. For a period of time Mark was host to an Native American guy whom we all really enjoyed getting to know. One day he up and left… leaving no note, address, or sign of himself except his boots. We were disappointed that he had left so suddenly, but Mark was glad to inherit his boots. They were a really nice pair of boots, and, hey! we were dirt poor! So they became his trademark shoes. In fact, he wore them at our wedding.

But, the really interesting part of the story is that not long after our friend left, the FBI showed up asking about his whereabouts. Turns out that he was wanted by the FBI for being involved in the 1973 Wounded Knee uprising. Yikes! Nevertheless, undaunted by the shady (and potentially criminal) past of their previous owner, Mark continued to proudly wear those boots. We even had to have them re-soled a few times. Unfortunately, somewhere along the adventure of our life we have lost track of those boots (probably in a garage sale some time ago). But we got to keep the story!

So, in honor of those boots, we share some of our wedding photos with you (for those of you trying to guess… 1977).


A picture is better than a thousand words. ‘Tis true. Look at the light in their eyes!

Ethan & Maggie light their menorah
Photo by John Free (our son-in-law).

As we celebrate Chanukah and anticipate Christmas, I’m also reading and hope to get some reviews up soon. Stay tuned!

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program…

I try to keep the subject matter of this blog free from too many personal posts or cute family photos. So, please forgive this intrusion into the typical line-up of content. I want to give some brief information about the events of this past week that may affect my blogging over the next few months.

Just a few days after returning home from SBL, my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer (T3). These things often come as a surprise, but we knew that because of family history, this was always a risk for Mark. Fortunately, we live just down the road (literally) from Duke and they have one of the best cancer centers in the US. Mark will be undergoing daily radiation for 5 1/2 weeks, along with chemotherapy to target the tumor and make it more sensitive to the radiation. After a break from the radiation, he will undergo surgery to remove the section of his colon with the cancer. So far there is no indication that the cancer has spread to lymph nodes. We are very grateful that we will be able to travel, as planned, for Christmas to see friends and family and that the radiation treatment won’t have to begin until January 4.

I’m not going to journal about this on my blog. I won’t be giving updates or “processing” here. If you are so inclined, you can check out the Facebook group that Mark is keeping updated with details (and some pretty hilarious gallows humor).

This post was just the easiest way to let my readers know that the next few months will probably hold some uncertainty for my work, research and writing. But I won’t be completely offline and I’m still working on projects. Life goes on, and both Mark and I know that we want to keep moving forward with projects, life, and family even as we have some unwelcomed doctors’ appointments on the calendar for the next few months. We do appreciate the care and encouragement that friends have shared with us.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled blog.


From the online Merriam-Webster dictionary:

Pronunciation: trə-ˈdi-shən
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English tradicioun, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French tradicion, from Latin tradition-, traditio action of handing over, tradition — more at treason
Date: 14th century

1 a : an inherited, established, or customary pattern of thought, action, or behavior (as a religious practice or a social custom) b : a belief or story or a body of beliefs or stories relating to the past that are commonly accepted as historical though not verifiable
2 : the handing down of information, beliefs, and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another without written instruction
3 : cultural continuity in social attitudes, customs, and institutions
4 : characteristic manner, method, or style

Advent is a tradition that my family has participated in since I was a child. It connects me to the river of other believers through history who have likewise used four candles (five, if you include the Christ candle of Christmas Eve) to retell the story of the coming of the Christ. It is a continuity. It is not really personal (except for my individual memories), it is more about community. And as Tevye, in “Fidder on the Roof,” came to understand, the traditions that I cling to as the “right” way to remember and live must be seen as something dynamic and living and changing. It is not so much about the details (e.g., colors of the candles, which candle to light first, what words are used to “name” each of the four advent candles) but more about the opportunity to share in community the anticipation and the retelling of the story.

For me, Advent is all about becoming hungry. Hungry for the rest of the story. Each week is an appetizer. By the time we get to the end of the month, I want to be aching for the celebration of Christmas! When I was a child the church was not decorated (save for the colors of the advent candles) until Christmas Eve. But oh, what delight when we entered at midnight on Christmas Eve! The whole sanctuary was full of the heady smell of greenery. Flowers filled the front (in memory of those who taught us our own traditions). And candles were everywhere. I can still feel and smell those memories in my mind’s eye. This is how the story was recounted for me.

As we begin this Advent season, anticipating Christmas (and that holiday’s own set of traditions!), I will look for ways to “hand down” my own “inherited” “beliefs” and “customs” to the younger generation of my family. And I’m sure they will teach me new ways of celebrating and participating in this time of retelling of the story.

Next Holiday

Thanksgiving is over, and our eyes are turning toward the next big family holiday. Our Sundays will be filled with Advent traditions, and the countdown to December 25th has begun. But don’t miss celebrating one more wonderful holiday that commemorates another miraculous provision of the Lord. Chanukah is just around the corner! You may already know some things about this 8-day celebration, the Feast of Lights, but over the next two weeks I’ll recount more of the history and traditions (and a little bit of Hebrew!) as we count down to the first night of Chanukah in 2009–Friday evening, December 11th!
Zebra Menorah: Chanukah!!

My father’s father’s father

I’m doing a bit of research right now that puts me into various genealogies listed in scripture. Many people have one of two reactions (or both) when encountering these passages–fear of trying to pronounce all the names and/or the need to keep poking themselves to stay awake while they read those sections. However, have you ever tried to pay close attention to the parallel lists? Have you ever noticed how inconsistent (names change from one list to another), ambiguous (is that person the father or the son? is that the daughter or son?), and downright confusing they are? I have! It definitely makes me wonder what in the world the purpose of some of these lists is.
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A Four-year-old’s View of Death

During last summer I wrote about Olivia (Philip’s little sister) and her diagnosis of brain cancer. Since that time she has undergone more surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy to battle the growth. It’s been a hard 6 months, but in spite of the difficult road, there was a good deal of hope. This past week, the family found out that the very aggressive cancer had spread through her brain and her spine, and that there really is nothing they can do. While Olivia, and her whole family (4 siblings, her parents, and Hannah, her sister-in-law) are believers, there is great sadness and sorrow as everyone deals with the knowledge that she will no longer be a part of their lives. Yet, there is hope of the resurrection.

Éva is seeing lots of family these days. And lots of tears. But not a lot of Olivia, her aunt who loves to share ballet with her. She’s been praying for Jesus to make Olivia better. What can a four-year-old grasp out of this situation? A lot more than you might think.

In the middle of dinner last night she looked up at everyone and said (rather matter-of-factly), “Olivia’s going to die. We’re all going to die. Olivia is going to go to heaven. Jesus will take her to heaven. I’m going to heaven.”

A bunch of stunned adults looked at her. She’s right. Olivia is going to die. And she’s also right that we are all going to die. That actually should come as no surprise, but we rarely live like we are going to die. Somehow we often think we are insulated from death. For Éva and for Olivia (and for all believers) the true sting of death has been removed by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Éva’s got her theology in place.

What she doesn’t have yet, is the experience of how sad it is for those who remain when a loved one is released from this fallen and cursed world to be welcomed by their Savior. There is great sadness. We can imagine for her all the things that she will never experience with Olivia. We can imagine all the memories that will not be made. That is where the sorrow lies.


But perhaps Éva is actually more wise than her four years might seem to hold. She is focusing on the inevitable death of the body, but also the definite hope of the resurrection. She doesn’t use the word “resurrection” but her words about heaven are much more real than some adults would express. She is (in a way) untainted by the experience of sorrow so that she can see clearly the hope in this situation.

I know she will eventually be sad as the reality of the days and years ahead unfold. But for now, I’m comforted and challenged as I sit at her feet and hear her talk about death and Jesus and heaven. Right now, she takes the cake over any theology class.

Please do pray for the Walden family as they walk through this time with Olivia. And pray that the medical team is able to relieve Olivia’s pain.