In Spain, every building had windows with Juliet balconies.  A Juliet balcony is a ‘half balcony’ outside a window, like the one where Juliet stood when Romeo wooed her from the ground.

“Just like unit 508,”  I remembered.

In April, before our May trip, we heard that our dream unit at Driftwood Sands was going to go on the market.  We owned a beautiful unit, but this one, on the top floor, directly faced the Gulf.   Two of the bedrooms overlooked the pool, with  Juliet balconies.

“Make an offer!”  our realtor friend enthusiastically prompted.  “Let the owner know you want it.  I know two other friends who are interested, too.  It won’t last.”

We’re shy.  Her advice sounded too pushy.  But we had seen inside 508.  A workman had invited us to peek in while he was making a repair.   We quickly walked through, as nervous as two undercover spies.

“What’d you think?”  Duane asked me, once safely back in our own unit, 307.

“It’s perfect for us,”  I answered.  I had ‘that’ feeling.   I had had it before when we had bought a house: a peaceful excitement that this would be perfect for us.  I wondered what Duane thought.

“I agree,”  he nodded.

That meant something.  Duane doesn’t like to move.

We try to specifically pray about every detail of life.  Especially houses.  It becomes a home.   Our place to talk, share dinners, watch old World War II movies, make and eat chocolate chip cookies, tell about our day, laugh, cry, and care for each other.

We also consider our home a place to share with our family and friends.  When house hunting, we look for a spot big enough for our extension dining room table, a living room big enough to host our small group, and a cozy guest bedroom.  Unit 508 made the cut.  We dug out the owner’s email address.

“Do you think this sounds right?”  Duane asked, reading aloud his carefully worded email regarding our interest in 508.   His finger hovered over the ‘send’ button.  Then he pushed it.

A week passed, with no response.  People are busy.  We kept praying about it.  Then Duane sent the same offer in a text.  A few more days went by.  We were going to Spain, leaving the country, in another week.

Maybe the sale of 508 was just a rumor.

“I’m so disappointed,”  I said to Duane.  “When we both have that feeling, and keep praying, I think it’s what God has for us.”

A few days later, Duane called the owner.

“You’re talking to Kevin!?”  I whispered, while he was on the phone.  I was in shock.  Duane doesn’t like to bother anyone.

“Yes, we’re thinking about selling,”  Duane had put Kevin on speaker.  “I’ll get back to you.”

We were thrilled.  It wasn’t a rumor, after all.  Days and more days passed.

In 2017 we had bought and remodeled a condo at Driftwood Sands.  Our dream at that time was that this would be a weekend place for us, and our family.  Mike and Elizabeth bought it with us.  Jeff and Heather, in Jacksonville, weren’t too far away to come for weekends.  We imagined family times of fun there.

For the next two years, Duane and I enjoyed it mostly by ourselves.  Our kids and their kids had busy lives of their own.

Before April, with our plans for Spain all set, we decided it was time to downsize to one place.  Sell the house.  We didn’t want to care for a pool.  Or climb on ladders to trim bushes.  We owned more square feet than we needed.   We listed our house in Oldsmar for sale.

We left for Spain, wondering if we would be moving to 307, or 508 when we got home.   We liked 307, but we loved 508.  The floor plan would work better for us as full time residents.  The configuration of the master bedroom and bathroom was better.  The kitchen was bigger.

508 had more light.  I love the light that shines in windows. At the same amount of square feet as 307. 508 had bigger windows and a direct view of the Gulf of Mexico in the master bedroom.


It was good to be in Spain in May.  I thought of 508, with it’s Juliet balconies, every time I saw one.  But Kevin hadn’t called back, so I figured we would be moving to 307 when we got home.  Except, Duane and I had both had that sense that God planned 508 for us.  Usually I start mentally arranging furniture and picking out wall colors before a move.  But without being sure of where we were going, I couldn’t dream.

We continued to ask God where he wanted us to be.   When we arrived home at the end of May, we signed the papers on a contract to sell our house at the end of June.  That same week I overheard a Board meeting at our condo say,

“So and so is making an offer on 508, but the wife doesn’t want to sell.”

Every day the dream of living in unit 508 drifted farther away.  Busy with packing and putting some things in storage, we kept getting ready to move to 307.  We began to plan how to make our beach condo our new home.   We made trips to IKEA to buy storage units so we could fit the items that sparked joy, thank you Marie Kondo, into 307.

It was just that 307 didn’t seem exactly right.  It was hard not to complain to God.

“We thought you wanted us to have unit 508!”

I read the verse, “Lead me in the right path, O LORD, or my enemies will conquer me.  Make your way plain for me to follow.”  (Psalm 5:8)  In the past, when we had moved, I was so excited for our next place, all my thoughts were focused on how I was going to nest in the new digs.  Moving was fun.  Now I wondered if we were doing the right thing.  Or maybe our timing was off.  Maybe God wanted us to wait to move until we knew we could buy 508.

“Maybe the buyers will back out of our house contract,”  I reasoned, “Then that will be a sign from God that we shouldn’t sell our house and move to 307.”

But the house passed inspection.  The house appraised at the right price.  The process for the house sale moved continuously forward as steadily as the minutes on a clock .  God kept pushing us into 307.  Packing continued as each day and week passed.  I kept my Bitty Baby doll, because even when my granddaughters don’t play with her, she brings me joy.

Then one Sunday morning I woke up to see Duane, beside me,  listening to a message on his iPhone.

“What’s that?”  I asked with my head still on the pillow.

“It’s Kevin,”  he answered.  “He’s offering to sell us 508.  Are we still interested?”

“Yes!”  I threw off the covers.

We met Kevin and Amy at 508 that afternoon, and by Monday night had signed a contract to close on the unit August 1.

Yesterday Duane and I walked into our new adventure.  We’re both excited.  We’re thinking about new flooring, and I’m considering which white to paint the walls.

“What’s the difference?”  Duane teases.  He knows the truth.  There are a gazillion whites and then there’s different brands of paint with varying amounts of pigments to choose.  So many decisions.

How to make the right one?  Pray and plan, plan and pray.   In one of mother’s notebooks she had written Psalm 16:3, “Commit your actions to the LORD, and your plans will succeed.”  Caveat:  There’s a line in the movie “Gone With The Wind” that comes to mind at times when I ask God for something.  Mammy, with down to earth wisdom, harrumphs to one of Scarlett’s numerous selfish desires, “Askin’ ain’t gettin’!”  Often God does say no.  Or wait.  Or yes.  God’s mysterious at times.  Looking back, a year from now, we’ll better understand why he’s placed us in 508.

After weeks that turned into several months of confusion and doubts, the path ahead seems… filled with more praying and planning.  Our new condo is top floor closest to the beach on the right side. The fainter rainbow in the picture points onto our bedroom.



For the first time, I cried as I drove away from a house.  On Friday June 28, we sold 4851 Cross Pointe, our address since October 31, 2005.  A long time record for us.

Our first home:  a third floor one bedroom apartment in, as Pam said, “the poverty section” of Broadview, Illinois.  Duane was in medical school.

When Duane graduated, we couldn’t wait to move.  We bought our first condo, in Rochester, Minnesota.  Two bedrooms, with new carpeting and no cockroaches! Unit ‘D’, was the second floor left half of the building on Viking Drive.

Mike, then Jeff’s first home.

Duane graduated from the Mayo Clinic Pediatric residency, and we moved to Milwaukee for two years to serve the Indian population with the Public Health Service.  We rented a duplex for the temporary assignment.

In July 1984 Duane joined Southdale Pediatrics in Edina.  We bought our first house at 7209 West Shore Drive.  I painted the kitchen cupboards white.  We tiled the countertops.  Ripped out the perfect condition olive green carpet because olive is a horrible shade of green and hardwood floors hid underneath.

After a few years, I dreamed of fixing up a house on Lake Cornelia, a few blocks away.  I biked or walked past potential homes in that neighborhood regularly.  One day a “For Sale” sign was posted outside a painted white brick rambler.  I happily ditched the house on West Shore.   We moved less than a mile away to 6700 Cornelia.


I’d never seen pink plush carpet in a kitchen.  It’s ugly, but soft on bare feet.  The pink stove was from the 50’s (I should have kept that),  Pink boomerang formica covered the countertops.  The dark cupboards had to go, too.

I got tennis elbow stripping the brown oak, then stained them white.  We chiseled out the Mexican tile in the great room and replaced that and the pink carpet with hardwood.

Minnesota winters pushed us into a new dream:  Florida.  We prayed and planned over our new stairway to heaven for over a year.  In January 1995, I joyfully shoved my dirty down coat in a garbage can at the Minneapolis airport before we flew south.  The pool house we bought in Clearwater was Party Central.    Jack Piquette surrounded by the church youth group.

Then Mike and Jeff graduated from high school and went to Wheaton.  We were ready for peaceful sunsets overlooking the beach and gulf.   We sold the house and bought a 15th floor condo on Sand Key.

After three years, we understood the real estate maxim:  “If you have to ask if it’s too far, it’s too far.”  We moved back ‘into town’ to a 2 bedroom villa on a quiet street overlooking a lagoon in Oldsmar.

Then Mike and Jeff got married, and my parents moved to Florida.  Our family was growing.  I thought we needed another bedroom, a pool, and more garage space for Duane’s bikes.  Duane wasn’t sure. “We’re not moving unless we see the perfect house on the perfect lot.”  We prayed for several months, and asked a realtor to keep her eyes open for us.

When we walked into 4851, we knew immediately.  The windows admitted more than sunshine.  They highlighted a sparkling pool.  Beyond that, oak trees framed a lagoon and golf course.   We signed a contract that day.

4851 needed work.  The pool was edged in black and white tiles.

The owner chose black countertops in the master bathroom to complement the yellow walls?

We replaced all the black countertops, painted every room, and refinished the pool.  It was the perfect house for us.  The right size for the days it was just Duane and I, with room to expand for family and friends.

Then Ethan, Addi, Sophie and Henry arrived.  Whenever they burst in the front door, our home became as festive as Joseph’s coat of many colors.

Baby days with a crib, stocks of diapers and naps.


Dinners at the kitchen table with telephone books on folding chairs, melamine plates, and spilled milk.

Cartoon watching instead of naps so Nana could have a break.

4851 threw its arms around more family.  Nieces.


Grandparents, aunts and uncles.

We stayed put almost fourteen years.   Was that because 4851 was prettier than our other houses?  It wasn’t.  Or because of the great times with family and friends?   Our other houses were filled with family and friends.  The house on West Shore Drive.

The house on Cornelia Drive.

Our condo on Sand Key was a great family gathering place.

In my surprising new reticence about our move to our condo on Indian Rocks Beach, I fell into the story of Jacob.

Last Wednesday afternoon I stood at the kitchen counter of our condo, alone, after leaving 4851 for the last time.  I had spent the previous three days cleaning the house for the final ‘walk through’ before the closing.   I started to cry.  Duane was at the office.  His place of employment hasn’t changed.  Mine has.  I missed that house.  The light shining through the new window we had recently added.

But I missed more than pretty lighting.   I miss my parents, who enjoyed the house with us.


I’m still grieving that loss.  Truth be told, and the truth is always our best friend, the grandchildren and Mike and Jeff and their families are growing up and away, too.   Addi’s in a Science Olympiad now, Ethan swims on a team, and Sophie flings her body over all kinds of bars and beams in a busy gymnastics schedule.  Henry’s just plain busy.  A distance  replaces those early grand parenting days when the grandkids were with us often.

“Occasionally, weep deeply over the life you hoped would be.  Grieve the losses.  Then wash your face.  Trust God and embrace the life you have.”  – John Piper

God stepped in to comfort me.  For ‘some reason’, I started reading about Jacob’s life in Genesis.  For the first time, I realized that when Jacob ran to Laban’s house, it was a long distance.  A big move, away from family.  Jacob never saw his mother again.  In a time of fear and loss, God spoke to Jacob.

“At the top of the stairway stood the LORD, and he said, “I am the LORD, the God of your grandfather Abraham and the God of your father, Isaac.  The ground you are lying on belongs to you.  I am giving it to you and your descendants… all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.  What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go.”  Genesis 28: 13-15

“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!”   Jacob said.

Jacob hadn’t asked God for anything, but there was God, reaching out to him with good promises.

I remember meeting Jacob in a Bible Study Fellowship class at Christ Presbyterian Church when we moved to the house on West Shore Drive.  It was my first year in BSF. We were studying Genesis.  I was blown away when we got to chapter 32, where Jacob wrestles with the Angel of God.

“… Jacob was all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break.  When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket.  Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”   But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

And God did bless him. (verse 29)

Sharing Night, at the end of the  BSF year,  is an opportunity for whoever would like, to briefly tell what has been most meaningful to them during the study.  With heart pounding, I stood up in front of  the class of four hundred women, gathered in the sanctuary.

“Jacob’s words, “I will not let You go until you bless me,” is the kind of faith in God I want to have.”  That idea, a desire for God’s blessing, is what I still want, all these years, and houses, later.  In seasons of loss.  Or new beginnings.

God’s blessing means I have his approval, no matter what challenges face me.   And when Jacob was 130 (!), God told him to move again.    “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt…I will go with you …. and I will bring you back again.”   Genesis 46:3

In our new home, some mornings I wake with a disoriented jolt, wondering,  “Which bedroom am I in?”  Today, after daily phone calls to the delivery service, Duane’s Wall Street Journal finally found its way to our door.

God is here, in all our changes, at 2618 Gulf Boulevard, unit 307, just as he was at 4851.


Until August 1.  Then we move to unit 508, in the same building.  But that’s another story…


“… And Jacob named the place Bethel (which means ‘house of God’) because God had spoken to him there.”

-Genesis 35:15

“Jacob always had an unquenchable desire for God’s blessing.  Blessing enables, enhances, and enriches life.  Blessing is issued publicly by a benefactor and provides power for prosperity and success….All blessings have their source in God’s love.”        from the NLT Study Bible notes, “Blessing.”

“The LORD did not set his heart on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other nations, for you were the smallest of nations!  Rather, it was simply that the LORD loves you, and he was keeping the oath he had sworn to your ancestors.  That is why the LORD rescued you with such a strong hand from your slavery and from the oppressive hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.”  Deuteronomy 7:7-8





That’s me in the khaki trench coat at Victoria Station in London.  One hand raised in the air, the other grasps the red and green suitcases, both carry on.  We travel light.

When I graduated from high school, my parents’ gift was a suitcase.  The message wasn’t, “We don’t love you anymore, get out!”  Mother and Dad were being practical.  I was going away to college.  But the pastel blue Samsonite luggage also urged,  “Time to move forward.”

Two years ago Duane and I bought a condo in Indian Rocks Beach, thinking the condo would be a great family gathering place, and in the back of our minds, maybe thought about retiring there.  We’ve loved it!  We’re here all the time.

“Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”   – Ferris Bueller

As we consider Ferris’ wisdom,  we’re wondering why we own a condo and a house.   So Duane suggested, yes, Duane, not me, the usual instigator of moving to a new place, “Maybe we should sell the house and move to the condo.”

I’ve always been thrilled to move to a new place.  It’s the fun of  painting on a blank canvas, creating a new nest. Ecclesiastes 3, the chapter on the different times or seasons of life, calls it,  “a time for the gathering of stones.”  Build something.

But for the first time in my life, I’m hesitant.  I’m usually “the cockeyed optimist,” like Nellie in “South Pacific.”  Even Nellie, who confidently sings, “I’m a dope for that thing called hope,” also later sings wistfully:

“…wonder how I’d feel, living on an island (actual lyric ‘hillside’), gazing at an ocean beautiful and still.”

One reason I may be hesitant for this move is that ‘downsizing,’ at 64 years of age, may be our last intentional move.  Death, the enemy, looms.  Maybe some people our age stay in their houses to prove that death is not around the corner.

The second half of Ecclesiastes 3:5 describes a “time for scattering of stones.”  All the stuff we’ve accumulated in 64 years has ties to memories.   Much would have to go in order to live in a 1200 square foot condo.

I’m re-reading Marie Kondo’s book, “the life changing magic of tidying up.”  It thrilled me, a person whose life motto is, “Let’s Get Organized,”  two years ago when it was first published.  According to Marie, Duane and I start by answering the question, “What does your ideal lifestyle look like?”

My ideal lifestyle would be to live in a no maintenance condo, decorated in an ‘old’ Ocean City vibe.  Views of the sky from every window.   A pine dinner table small enough when it’s just Duane and I, but with leaves we can add when family and friends visit.  A desk, so I can continue my present writing project:  “Andy Telford, A Twentieth Century Caleb.”  I’m collecting and studying his sermons, letters and books.

A place close enough for Duane to keep working and close, still, to our church, Clearwater Community.  Our condo in Indian Rocks Beach has that potential.

Marie Kondo’s major point is that we need to know what we’re aiming for.  It’s a creative challenge to put a dream for the vague ‘something better’ into a specific reality.  The next step:  item by item, figuring out what to keep for the new dream and which things go.  The hardest belongings for me to shed are the ones that have sentimental ties.  Things like Jeffrey’s Sleepytime Care Bear, an item I’ve carted from closet to closet for 30 years.   Marie’s book helped with that, too.

“When you come across something hard to discard… reassess the role it plays in your life.  Every object has a different role to play.  You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role.  Acknowledge their contribution and let them go with gratitude.”

Let them go.  “…a time to scatter stones.”   As I walk through the living room and kitchen of our house in my bare feet, the wood floors feel cool and smooth.  I look around at the walls I painted, myself, Benjamin Moore’s OC19, Sandpearl.  Some of the memories are sad.  I remember cleaning blood out of the white carpet in the guest bedroom when Dad visited because the heart medicine he had to take meant the slightest bump dripped red.

Yet most memories are happy: the family parties, quiet nights watching TV together, the grandchildren playing in the pool.

The light shining across the bed from the new window in the bedroom.

The memories won’t go away, just because I don’t own the object anymore, according to Marie.  And Mother’s quote, “It’s people, not things” reinforces Marie’s truth.

My sister Pam and husband Greg downsized into 1200 square feet a few years ago.  That’s when her design business took off.  Freed from the burdens of  stuff, they were able to focus their energy on activities that were most meaningful to them.

That inspires me.  Time to focus on new beginnings.

We’re still not exact in the timing of our move. We continue to ask God for wisdom.  In the stacks of my grandfather’s letters I found a sermon about how safe we are in God’s hands.  That truth brings security.

The hazy path ahead beckons.

“Life moves pretty fast…”  Ferris said.    A counselor once told us that in our 60’s we should make plans about where we intended to live.

“Once you’re in your 70’s it’ll be difficult physically to make a change.”

We’ve started packing, with a plan to travel light.

“It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance.  He went without knowing where he was going.  And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith – for he was like a foreigner, living out of a suitcase.”  Hebrews 11: 8-9 (Jill Rommel translation)




“I found one!” I shouted to Duane.

A letter my grandmother, May Telford, wrote, dated November 9, 1934, fell out of the soft as velvet manila envelope Uncle Paul had sent me.

I was eager to find May’s letters.  Pastor Archie McGilvary,  my grandfather’s biographer, introduced me to them in his pages on Andy’s colorful life.

“Among the young people in the Bible church at Bronte, was an attractive girl by the name of May Clifford.  All during the years of service in WWI Andy wrote to her faithfully.   When he was at Moody Bible Institute they continued to exchange letters.  When he went to South America the mail routes were kept busy with their letters.”  (May, white blouse with thin black bow, seated at Andy’s right in the center of the picture ‘leaving for South America, 1922.’)

Archie continued: “May’s oldest daughter in Philadelphia, Marian, has those letters.  They would make interesting reading and could be the basis for another book!”

Marian died two years ago, and my mother Ruth four years ago, so I’d been harassing her younger brothers, Tommy and Paul,  “Where are they?!!”  No one could find them.  This letter was not one of those, penned between 1917-1924, the year Andy and May married.  The letter Paul sent was written during their second pastorate in Ottawa, Canada, to their friends at their first church in Three Rivers, Michigan.  I was elated to receive it, like an orphan discovering her biological mother.

I held the yellowing pages in my hands, the same pages that May had held in her hands 85 years ago, and began reading, stopping on page 8:

“…Mrs. Gintzler will be lonesome after living so long in Three Rivers –  I know how it goes.  But in our work  one soon becomes engrossed in the new work  and people.”

In our work.  Andy and May.  (in their first pastorate, Three Rivers)

Archie’s book, “A Twentieth Century Caleb,”  describing Andy Telford’s conversion and ministry, doesn’t contain many paragraphs about May.

“Mrs. May Telford was the ideal preacher’s wife.  No matter the occasion or circumstances, she was never perturbed or upset.  She had a sweet, calm, placid disposition that always steadied the family.

 The home was a bee hive of activity with no end of visitors and guests, some of whom arrived unexpectedly and unannounced.  It was a regular thing on a Sunday morning after service for Andy to invite people over for dinner, even though Mrs. Telford knew nothing of the plans.”

A few paragraphs aren’t enough for one of God’s warriors, Erie May Telford.  2 Samuel 23 lists the names and specific accomplishments of the thirty ‘mighty men’ who fought alongside David.  The chapter reminds us that God ‘delights in every detail’ of his faithful follower’s lives.  (Psalm 37:23)  The heart of Andy’s ministry was May.

I began investigating May’s story.  Her name, itself, was a surprise: legally,  ‘Erie May.’


Erie May Clifford and her fraternal twin, Sadie, were born in Oakville, Canada, March 25, 1900 to Patrick and Erie Elizabeth Clifford.  May’s grandfather had died in Lake Erie in 1899 which would explain her unusual name.  I never heard anyone call her “Erie May”  in my life.

Andy and May married on July 31, 1924, in Bronte, Canada.  Andy planned to take May back to South America with him  for mission work after the wedding. (Groom Andy and bride May seated in front of the large wedding gathering.)

  Her friends gave her this little card, as a parting gift, showing the ship they would sail across the ocean.

Inside a poem read:

“Come join us as we pray.  On the day we say, For we now must send A dear mutual friend Very far away- ‘Our Andy’s Own May…”

However, May didn’t pass the mission’s physical.  They had to cancel their plans.  Andy took a pastorate in Three Rivers, Michigan.  May became a pastor’s wife.  Marian and Ruth were born there, in 1926 and 1929, American citizens.

In 1932 Andy, May and family moved back to Canada, to Ottawa to build, literally and spiritually, the Metropolitan Tabernacle on Bank Street.  Paul was born in 1934 and Tommy in 1936.  They were Canadian citizens, like their parents.

In addition to pastoring,  Andy traveled to speak at Bible Conferences around Canada and the northeast United States. May accompanied him on these trips to  Maranatha, Gull Lake, Sandy Cove, Pinebrook, and so many others.

This introduced Andy and May to friendships with other Christian pastors and leaders.  Andy was invited to become the pastor of Berachah Church in Philadelphia.

May wrote on the back of this picture:  “Dad – with new Buick Church gave him on our arrival in Philadelphia – Sept. ’43”

May’s life centered on home and family.  Most evenings of the week,  Andy was out teaching.  On Mondays he taught at Washington Bible College, in D.C.  He rode the train, arriving home at midnight.  Tuesday and Wednesday he taught at Philadelphia College of the Bible.  Friday nights he led a popular Bible class at church.  Andy graced the pulpits at youth rallies on Saturdays.  Sundays: church.  Andy spent mornings, from 8 til noon, in his study.  After lunch, he did yard and garden work.  He and May both loved flowers and gardens.

May was independent, a trait cultivated during  seven years of separation and letter writing in their courtship.  May was intelligent.  As a pastor’s wife, May taught a ladies’ Bible class each Sunday morning and was on the board of Regions Beyond Missions Union.   Her letter from Ottawa shows a confident spiritual maturity:

“I am going to the ladies’ prayer meeting this afternoon.  We have it every Wednesday.  We are always sorry to hear things are not going so well at the Bible Church (in Bronte).  Pat (her brother) thought things were pretty bad.  He doesn’t say much about where the blame lies.  Andy has his opinion of course.  But I think all are to blame.  Mr. G. may have his faults, who hasn’t.  But I don’t think the people are doing their part either.  We are all so fond of our own way.”

Andy and May were a team, but not mirror images of each other.  Andy had grown up a farmer.  May was a lady.

At Camp Manor, an annual summer Bible conference outside Philadelphia, May drew the line.  Conference guests stayed in cream colored canvas tents in the woods in Lancaster.    The first time May arrived at Camp Manor, she stayed for the morning and afternoon meetings, then told Andy he needed to take her the bus so she could go home.  May was no camper.

Every week Andy wrote a letter to May’s twin sister’s husband, Roy, also a pastor.  A  July 1959 letter, illustrates more differences:

“Dear Roy:

Here I am in Ocean City (N.J.) sitting at the door of our apartment just two blocks from the Ocean.  I preached at Berachah in the morning – then in the afternoon May and I drove down here.  We had supper here and I preached last night.  I am here all week.

May bought a new bathing suit – so she is all set for the “Water Pool.”  And the price of that Modern Bathing Suit.  I remember when we could have bought a cow for what she paid for it.   We could have bred the cow – she would have had a calf and then milked her for 7 months and made a little profit.  This high-priced bathing suit, I am afraid will go down in price and finally be a total loss – These women sure can spend.  I haven’t bought a pocket handkerchief for over a year.”

Andy and May shared the unique challenges of parents in ministry.  In the first part of the century,  God came first and the family second.   He and May took God seriously, and believed Andy’s packed schedule of Bible teaching honored God.   I’m trying to find a nice way to explain why their children, especially Paul and Tommy, were not Sunday School poster children.  May was on the front lines, often alone.

Andy’s Mother’s Day sermon notes of 1949 are really a tribute to May’s parenting.  “Proverbs 31:28.  Theme: “Your Mother.”  Of all the lives that endear themselves to the hearts of boys and girls, none stand above the one who gave them birth – their mother.  Before I am through I will show you how a child with a Christ loving mother is part way on the road to heaven when he starts the journey of life.  In true Motherhood we see:

“She never raised her voice or yelled at us,”  I heard Uncle Paul remark, with a shade of awe.  My Dad often said the same thing, adding, “She was a saint.”  He had lived in the Telford home and witnessed Paul and Tommy’s shenanigans, legal and illegal.  Like the time… no.  I won’t go there.

Even Marian, very social, and Ruth, worried them.  At age 18, my mother met and fell in love with my Dad.  Allan Mitchell, five years older, just released from the British Marines, wasn’t  interested in spiritual things.  They had met when  Allan and his parents had moved into the Telford home’s  third floor apartment.  Allan’s father Ralph was a pastor friend of Andy’s.  They needed a place to stay while he began a ministry in America.

Looking back, knowing my parent’s great marriage,  I can’t imagine what the problem was.  To Andy and May, it  was like a wolf stealing from the cradle.

Ruth and her parents leave their home on December 16, 1950, for the wedding!

Andy and May’s family grew.   They doted on their nine grandchildren: Andy, and Stephen (in the bow ties), Wendy, me, Jennifer (in the candy cane dresses), David (tie) and Susan (on May’s knee), and Brenda (leaning against May)  and Tommy (in Aunt Nancy’s arms).   Pam, grandchild #10, arrived two years after May died.  I’m the one leaning on my grandfather’s knee.  I’m still leaning on my grandfather.

We called May, “MomMom.”  I regret not being able to remember her voice.  I was only nine when she died.  Also, she didn’t talk a lot.  Andy, aside from the pulpit, was fairly quiet, too.  But I can still hear his confident, “Our Father,” as he leaned over the dining room table to give the blessing over Sunday dinners.   How MomMom taught a ladies’ Bible class that morning, attended the service,  then laid out a full roast beef meal for us and whichever missionary friends happened to be in town, is a miracle of time management.  And pressure cookers, which she used with skill.  After dinner we cousins were ‘excused’ from the table to play in their basement, which had a linoleum tile shuffleboard court floor.  We also liked to put on shows for them.

May died of a heart attack, August 11, 1964.  She and Andy were at Fair Haven Bible Conference, where Andy was the speaker.  A friend, Margaret, later wrote a letter to the Telfords about her afternoon at May’s bedside:

“…I thought the family would like to know what their mother said to me as I sat with her in her cabin:

“When Andy comes back from dinner I think he better get the doctor,”  May closed her eyes for a few moments, then she wanted to tell me all about her family.  I can hear her talking about Tommy, Paul, and their cars, Ruth and her nice home, new drapes and carpet, also Marian and her children, and how she liked to be with Andy, as she called you, at the conference.  When I’m at home, I’m alone.”

The Sunday after May died, two verses and a poem, “Unto Myself,”  were printed on the back of the church bulletin.

Erie May Telford was not well known, never earned a paycheck or even drove a car.  Uncle Tommy told me she had once attempted to steer Andy’s maroon Buick into the garage, but scratched the whole side of it.  That was the end of that.  Driving, money, or fame  weren’t things that meant anything to her anyway.

Her interest was Andy.  His weekly letters to Roy always mention her:

“Just a line while  May is getting breakfast for the ‘gang’ here at home, and also while she is getting dinner ready for 21.  The Propst family (all 9 of them) will join us…’

“May and I have just returned from my Bible class in Ephrata…”

“May and I attended a banquet last night…”

“May and I have just returned from ‘Old Mills Bible Conference…”

“…May went with me…”

The poem May cherished, “Unto Myself” states,  “…The end is sweet, tho’ bitter be the way…”   At the time of her death, age 64,  daughter Marian was in a difficult marriage.  Things looked rosier in my family; Dad was now the Sunday School Superintendent and Mother taught a College Age Bible class.  Paul and Tommy, married, with kids, were struggling to find their vocations.  Paul, who loved cars, went to vocational school, then Bible college and eventually Dallas Seminary.  He worked a day job and taught Bible classes at his church, but it was a long road.  Tommy drove a bus for the city of Philadelphia.  It wasn’t until after his mother died that he became a full time missions teacher and author, with United World Missions.

“If anyone ever needed anything, they would talk to Mother,”  Tommy said.    “The Christian life is all about relationships, and she was a master at it.”

I keep picking up May’s letter, addressed to “Dear Friends in Michigan.”  It’s mine now.

“… Well I didn’t get very far with my letter.  I don’t have much time for writing …  Two ladies came in after prayer meeting, one to see Paul (the new baby), the other to tell me her love life …

Pat (her brother) was here yesterday.  I think he was undecided whether or not to go back to Michigan.  I think he has a wonderful work there, some conversions of middle aged people.  Two men have gone to Bible school.  But Pat is worried about money.  He gets enough to live on but not to think of getting married.  I guess it looks hopeless … I tell him the Lord can undertake for him, it would be wrong for him to leave the work.

Andy is as busy as ever, every minute seems to be occupied.  He is teaching Ecclesiastes at Bible Study Friday night.  It is very good.  We have wonderful crowds…”

Erie May Telford, one of God’s Mighty Women.


“The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle.  All will share alike.”  I Samuel 30:24




Archie McGilvary, Andy’s lifelong friend, scrawled Andy’s life story of faith in Jesus Christ on pages of spiral notebook paper.  He titled it, “A Twentieth Century Caleb” because like Caleb, when pastor and Bible teacher Andy Telford was 85 years old, in 1980,  he was  “…still wholeheartedly following the Lord.”  (Joshua 14:10 – 14)

Andy Telford was not born into a Christian home, although his parents were good people.  But that’s not enough.

Archie’s notes begin:

“On January 8, 1881,  Thomas Telford and Rose Clark were united in marriage in Ballymena, Ireland.  The wedding ceremony was one of simplicity in every detail.

Life was rough and rugged for the young couple.  Thomas felt the urge to go west and seek his fortune in the new world, in Canada.  They settled on a farm on the north shore of Lake Ontario near Bronte.

Thomas and Rose had five children; four boys and a girl.  They lived frugally.  There was little social life in the home.   Mr. Telford was a strict disciplinarian.  He wouldn’t know the meaning of the word, but he saw to it that his children obeyed his every word.   Through the years, the Telfords took in 16  orphan children from the Barnardo Home in Toronto.  Thomas never allowed anyone to smoke, drink, play cards or to participate in any of the ‘ways of the world.’  Unnecessary chores were prohibited on the farm on Sundays.  He believed that if such things were permitted in his home, that the judgment of God would fall upon them for indulging in such sins.

Of their five children, a set of twins, Hugh and Andrew, were born, in 1895.  Without the pursuit of pleasure and frivolous pastimes, the main activity on the Telford farm was work and lots of it.  The twin boys worked hard, filling many a long day behind a plough.

There were Bibles in the home, but nobody ever read them, and grace was never spoken at the table.  Rose did have her children recite the Lord’s Prayer at bedtime.  They attended the Appleby School and were taught by the same teacher.   The 10 Commandments were painted on the wall behind the teacher’s desk.   Every Friday at noon, the students would stand at attention and quote them.

Andy  started school at the age of 7 and stopped at age 13.  For six years he faithfully quoted the Decalogue.  He knew what they meant; they were instilled in his mind and heart.  He had a deep sense of guilt whenever he did something wrong.  Each night he would kneel at his bedside and say the Lord’s Prayer.  He had a comforting feeling that this was a kind of covering for his sin, but the next day he would go about his work and repeat his lying and cheating.

Although Andy had very little schooling, he had great ability in handling the various jobs on a farm.  He was hired as a foreman to direct the business of a large farm of 1,000 acres, with 50 workers.  It was his responsibility to make the assignments of the work to be done each day and then drive over that acreage to see that all the work was cared for.  He enjoyed it.

In 1917,  Andy and his twin Hughie bought a horse, and a month later, Andy went back to see the man he purchased it from.  He was not home that evening, but his wife and her mother, visiting from Toronto, were.

During the visit, Andy said something about another man; that he was no good.  The lady from Toronto said to him, “What’s your name?”

“I’m Andy Telford.”

“Don’t you know, young man, that none of us are any good?”

He said to himself,  “She doesn’t know me.  I don’t smoke, drink, play cards or run around.  I say the Lord’s Prayer every night.  I think I’m pretty good.”

He said to the lady, “Can you prove that?”

She went into her room and brought out a Bible, opening it to Romans 3:10.  Putting her finger on the verse she said, “Can you read that?”

He said, “Yes.”  And read,  “There is none righteous, no not one.”  He closed the Book and handed it back to her.

“I guess you’re right.”

As he left the home that night she said, “I’ll be praying for you.”

On Thursday night  Andy had to go to the blacksmith’s shop to get some work done.  The shop was located in Bronte about 3 miles from where he lived.  The blacksmith was a Christian man.  He told Andy he was going to the Prayer Meeting over at the Baptist church.  It was a small church seating about 60 or 70 people.  He invited Andy to go with him.  That night there was an older man visiting from Toronto.  He brought a devotional message.  During the course of his remarks he mentioned the passing of his wife.  After the meeting was over, Andy went to him and expressed his sympathy at the loss of his wife and companion.

The man said to him, “Do you attend Sunday School here?”

Andy said, “No,” and explained to him about all the work they had to do on the farm.  They had 30 grazing cattle and every Sunday morning they had to salt those cattle.  Then on another farm they had a number of horses that had to be attended to in the afternoon.

The man replied, “Well, that really isn’t important.  I want to ask you another question, Do you know that you are a sinner?”

At the age of 22,  Andy bowed his head and began to cry, at the consequences of his sin.  The Christian gentleman asked Andy if he had a Bible.

“Yes I do.”

“Then go home and read John chapter 5 verse 24 and I’ll pray for you.  What’s your address?”

Burdened with his sin and guilt, he went out behind the church and sobbed his heart out.  He was so broken up that he was ashamed to go back to the blacksmith’s shop where he had tied his horse.  He finally got control of himself.   He let the horse walk all the way home that night and sobbed from the depths of his heart, “O God, I’m bad, I want to be good.”  That’s all he knew.  No one had ever talked to him about Christ or Christianity or the Bible in all his life.  He had never heard a gospel sermon, but he knew he was not right before God.

That Saturday he received a letter from the man who had spoken to him at the Baptist church.

“Dear Andy,

I was pleased to meet you last night and the more so when I found that you wanted to settle matters with God.  In Jesus Christ alone can this be done. “There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)  Read John 5:24 and Romans 3:9 to the close of the chapter and ask God to show you the great meaning for yourself.

May you have the greatest possession; the pardon and promise of God.  Do not fail to confess Him before men.  Read Romans 10:17.  I have been a follower of Christ 53 years.  There is real fighting but sure victory and the promised presence of Christ.

I will never forget you and will pray for you.

Yours in the mercy of Christ,

E. Hooper”

All day Andy pondered the contents of that letter.  Sunday  morning he decided that the question must be settled once and for all.

Taking the letter and a Bible he went upstairs to his bedroom and locked the door.  Spreading the letter before him, he opened the Bible to  John 5:24.

“I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life.  They will never be condemned for their sins, but have already passed from death into life.”

He turned to Romans 3, reading from verse 9 till the end of the chapter.

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous.  He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.  For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin.  People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood… he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.”  (vs.23 – 26)

He knelt beside a chair and gave his heart and life to Jesus Christ.

He believed the Word of God.  The burden of his sin was gone.  Joy filled his soul.  He went downstairs and went out behind the barn and met a neighbor.  The neighbor asked, “Good morning, Andy.  How are you?”

There was his first opportunity to confess Christ.  “I’m fine.  I’ve just been saved, born again up in my bedroom.”

The neighbor said, “Well, I only hope that you’ll hold out.”

“Hold out?  I’ve just fallen in!  I’ve been born again!”

With a heart overflowing with the love of God, he began to cry tears of gratitude.

Thrilled with the certainty of his conversion, late on that same night, he got up and headed his horse and the buggy into Bronte.  He just had to tell some folks what had happened to him.

The first home he went to was the Town Magistrate.   Andy told him how the sentence of death had been lifted and how a guilty sinner had been pardoned.

The next midnight call was the blacksmith’s house.  He must have rejoiced , even at that late hour, to know that his invitation to a prayer meeting had played some part in the salvation of Andy Telford.

By now it was 1:30 a.m.  There was one more call to make.  He made his way over to the Post Office and wakened the Post Master.  As the Post Master heard the pounding on his door he must have wondered what great emergency had happened in  town.  No better news ever came in the mail than the good news of the Gospel.  It had brought another soul to the Savior.  The Post Master attended the little Methodist church.  Andy asked him if he could come to his Sunday School next Sunday afternoon and tell the boys and girls about his conversion.  This experience brought joy to his heart.

On Thursday night Andy went to the Prayer Meeting at the Baptist church and told his story.  Those early days of his new found life as a Christian were filled with the joy and blessing of witnessing for his Lord.  He faithfully attended the prayer meetings and services at the Baptist church.

He invited some of the young people at church to help him share the Gospel on a street corner in the center of town.  When he arrived at the arranged spot after the service, no one was there.   Undaunted, Andy stood alone and proclaimed the Good News to all the church members as they wended their way home from the churches.

Witnessing to strangers is one thing, but doing so in the home is another matter.   Even here, Andy wasn’t ashamed.

Later that week, a Salvation Army officer from Hamilton visited the Telford farm.   In the past, Andy’s father had given contributions to the work of the Salvation Army.  On this particular day the officer said to Thomas, “Mr. Telford, are you a Christian?”

“No, but my boy Andy is!  He reads his Bible, prays and says grace at the table.”

Archie’s story about his friend Andy, will continue … in another chapter.  (Bride and groom Andy and Erie May, seated, behind them, Thomas, sister ? and twin brother Hugh.)


After I read Archie’s story to my Uncle Tommy, named after his grandfather Thomas, he added the following:


“When I was grown up, Dad took me back to the farm where he had grown up in Bronte to visit his twin brother Hugh.  Dad wanted to share the Gospel, one more time, with Hugh, now in poor health.  It was a cordial visit, including lunch and a tour around the old farmhouse.  As we were walking down the front steps, Dad said to his brother,

“Hughie, God loves us and sent his Son to take our sin away, to forgive us and give us eternal life.  He’s given me a grand gift and I want that for you, too.”

Hugh mumbled something about not needing that.

“Well it was good to see you, Hugh,”  Dad said, with a warm handshake.  It was the last time he saw his brother.

“Thanks for showing us around,”  I said.   “Take it easy.”

Dad and I turned and walked back down the farmhouse path to the front gate.

It was the only time I saw Dad cry.”

                                                         “Oh the joy of those whose sins are forgiven.”  Psalm 32



Dear Valerie,

I loved your book!  I took four pages of notes.  It brought back vivid memories of you, Wheaton and my grandfather.  He, too, was a missionary in South America.   From a letter he wrote to a supporter in 1923:

“Within me rose a soul burning passion to reach the unreached of the most neglected continent of the world…So today finds me seated in a little 2 x 4 hut 1000 miles north of that grand city of Buenos Aires…to do this work, I will have to buy a good mule and saddle…(Some Indians have just killed a large snake outside of my hut.)…”

And your book brought memories of you, because we met at Wheaton when I was a freshman.  You were a sophomore.

“How blessed you are!” You and your roommate Donna announced as you marched joyfully into the room I shared with Rochelle, in Fisher Dorm on the first day of school.  “You have the room we had last year!”

A year later, we were in Concert Choir together.  Every time I hear the hymn “Beautiful Savior” I think of you singing the solo of the first verse on choir tour.

We traveled through England, studying Arthurian Legend and Dickens with Wheaton’s English Lit program in the summer of 1975.   I had just fallen in love with Duane that spring.

“Jill, Walt and I are engaged, but we don’t write as many letters as you do,” you said.

I received a letter from Duane every day.  I wrote to him every day, too.   I was surprised at how matter of factly, Valerie, you explained your love relationship, as we talked about love in your dorm room one afternoon.  I was a bundle of over the top emotional love.  I was devastated to be apart from Duane for one minute!  I remember your quiet smile, a response to my youthful exuberance for Duane. Well, you were one year older than me, and already engaged.

That summer, I was trying to get through the eleven weeks away from Duane, without thinking ahead.  The last week in August, when we returned from England,  Duane got our parent’s permission for me to vacation with his family at a cabin on Lake Chautauqua in New York.  One afternoon we stepped into a small boat and Duane rowed to the middle of the placid lake.

“I have it all figured out,”  He began.  “I’ve prayed about this a lot while you were gone.  From everything we’ve written to each other this summer, I know we’re supposed to be together.   It’s not going to be easy; we’re going to have to wait to get married.”

I was shocked to hear the ‘m’ word! I was only 20.

Reading “Devotedly” was like reliving that summer, and the next two years.  After the Wheaton in England summer program, I had to take off the fall semester.   We were apart again.  I was in Minnesota while he while he was at Wheaton.  Phone calls were long distance; rare and expensive.  We wrote letters.  And waited.  I remember Mother’s response to my moping.

“What do you think couples did during WW II?  Our friends Jack and Joan were separated for years!”

Her words did not console me.

Reading your parents’ words about waiting, did.  Looking back over forty years gives a different perspective.

“…Perhaps  you’re in one of those places where these insights of hers will speak with perfectly timed wisdom in your life,” you wrote.

And from your mom’s diary of September 7, 1950 “….Rather, my Father has quietly opened the way, often after much “sitting still on the part of his daughter; repeated disappointments, “hope deferred”; and finally, a revealing of some plan which does not at all fit my expectations….And in the meantime, while I am waiting, watching, praying, He gives quietness and peace.  He will never suffer me to be tempted above that I am able…So I go on, not knowing – I would not if I might.  I’d rather walk in the dark with God than go alone in the light.     Over and over I am impressed with the importance of walking alone with Him, following Him regardless of all else…”  – p. 116

Life continues to bring those times that need  waiting on God.  Your mom’s words encouraged me to trust God while I wait.

“Devotedly,”  also reminded me of my mother’s family.   I have to disagree with you on one point in the book.  In the Preface, you say, “I come from a ‘quite ordinary family.”  No.  My mother’s family, like your mother’s family, was a family with a uniquely rich spiritual heritage.  My mother’s father (the one who served God in South America) was now a pastor in the Philadelphia area and also taught at Philadelphia College of the Bible.   Your grandfather was the editor of the Sunday School Times.  Your mother grew up in an intelligent, gifted family that took God seriously.     “The godly people in the land are my heroes” – Psalm 16:3.

That secure, godly heritage blessed your mom.   Your mom’s letters radiate confidence in word and thought.  Your dad commented on this once, describing your mom as ‘the Woman with the Man’s Mind (all that from Wheaton)’ – p. 246.  I never saw, in any sentence, anything but your parents having a mutual respect for each other; in devotion to God, ability or intelligence.   The letters illustrate they talked over every detail of life and marriage; no thought or topic was off limits or not of interest to the other.  In the Christian culture of their time, and the continued controversy over male/female ‘roles’ in marital relationships, the tone and subjects of their letters are truly remarkable.

After reading “Devotedly,” I dug out one of Duane’s letters to me:

“…I wanted somebody to hear everything I was thinking – and I wanted to tell everything to you.  And then you sent me a few letters; one about money, and a couple about God giving us a hard go of it in our being apart to strengthen our character…”   Separation and letter writing might be the secret to a happy marriage!

“Devotedly,” reminded me of my love for Wheaton.  Loved the picture of your dad looking at a letter in the college post office.  He stands in front of the same boxes that were there when I was there!  I wish I had taken more pictures at Wheaton!  The memory of your mother and dad walking to the lagoon as Wheaton students took me back to one of the places Duane and I had our first picnic, when I cut a math test because it was Duane’s birthday.   Here we are at Duane’s graduation in front of Blanchard in 1976.

Your book isn’t primarily for lovers, although the title mentions, ‘love story.’  Your mother said, “life cannot be all love…” p. 198.  That made me smile.  She was clearly, deeply in love.  Knowing her practical personality, through her letters, I understand what she meant.   The book is mainly for all of us who have committed to follow God and might be discouraged in our waiting for him.  Or any of us who are seeking God’s guidance in a complicated situation.  Your parents’ letters illustrated how they kept moving ahead and carrying on with their lives, even when God’s ways seemed mysterious.

It’s for those of us in lonely times.  “Have no care for me, Jim, He alone is enough.”  (p.122)  With eerie foreshadowing of your mother’s life, ‘loneliness’ is often mentioned in their letters.

In spite of their difficulties, the letters aren’t somber.  Your mom and dad enthusiastically enjoyed life. It was fun to read of their interests in being outdoors, music, reading, and friends.  They didn’t take themselves too seriously, either.  “Let people think we are nuts,” your dad wrote.  (p. 111)   The letter your dad wrote describing his parents’ less than lukewarm impressions of your mom, was hilarious.  As you mention later in the book, he might have been a bit naive to have shared it with your mom, but reading it in ‘real time’ makes your dad all the more lovable.

I enjoyed so many ‘little things’ in the book:  the pictures of your parents’ artistic handwriting.   I liked the honesty.  In one letter, your dad wrote he was “…a tad too spiritual.”   He wanted to throw off legalism. (p. 52)  The daily details of their  experiences made me feel like I was on the journey with them, from your mom’s time at Prairie Bible Institute,  (“Mr. Maxwell asked all to stand who have not won a soul” – p. 66, horrors! ), to her service in a tenement mission in New York City.  Your dad’s name for his kids’ mission in the small Illinois river town, ‘Club 66′ was a funny misunderstanding between your mom and dad.

I knew some of your parents’ story.  But reading their letters in “Devotedly” encouraged… no, encouraged is not a strong enough word.  Jim and ‘Betts’ letters pulled me back up onto the path of  trusting and seeking God while I wait for Him.  The epilogue in your book spoke to me, too.  After over five years of waiting on God,  they married and settled in a house, following daily routines and continuing to follow God in Ecuador.  When your dad died, his life maybe seemed ordinary: he left house, wife, and baby albeit in the midst of a jungle mission station.  However, because of your parents’ faithful obedience and conscious intent to seek and wait on him, God’s plan to set the Aucas free with the Gospel was just beginning.  And your dad’s last words to your mother, “Teach the believers, darling!” prophetically announced her life’s work.

Which has blessed me and many thousands more.

“Take my life and let it be

Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.

Take my moments and my days,

Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Let them flow in ceaseless praise.”

– Frances Havergal



p.s.  I was going to name my first baby girl “Valerie” but I had two boys!



Sometimes I feel like my family is falling apart.

I comfort myself by skimming Mother’s Bible, one I gave her a few years ago, where she underlined some of the Psalms and Proverbs with red pencil.

Mother  occasionally added a family members’ initials, if the verse applied.  Interesting reading (?!).

Proverbs 12:7  was not underlined, but caught my attention: “…the family of the godly stands firm.”

I wonder if that’s a promise of God.  Our family’s pastor Leith Anderson once said, “If God said it, you can take it to the bank.”

Today, I’m not feeling it.

Juicy details:  none.  The same crap you’re dealing with: the death of parents and friends, job stress, major health issues, etc etc etc.  Big things.  Then the smaller things pile up: the deer just ate all the flowers I planted or Duane’s plantar fasciitis won’t heal.   A few families on Facebook do seem to have it all together.

I wonder how people cope, who don’t have loving family memories, like I do.  Remembering a picnic our family shared at Lake Cornelia Park in 1985, gives my mind a vacation from hard times.

Or I imagine myself standing in the kitchen of the house on Abbott Avenue, back in 1971.  I was a sophomore in high school then.  It’s a weeknight evening.

“Quick, get the tablecloth on!”  Mother flies into the kitchen from her bedroom.

The pound of ground beef for tomato soup casserole isn’t browning in the frying pan yet, but Mother’s plan to make it look like supper is imminent is to have the kitchen table set.  That meant a tablecloth.   Tablecloths weren’t only for company.   Every night the six of us: Dad, Mother, Wendy, Jennifer, Pam and me, ate dinner squeezed around a small kitchen table covered with a cloth.  Even on picnics or vacation, Mother always spread a tablecloth.

The most famous family tablecloth was green and covered with blooming white magnolias.  I don’t know where Mother got it or if she inherited it.  One hundred percent cotton, it could be thrown in the washer and then the dryer, without wrinkling. Mother ironed white linen tablecloths for Thanksgiving, Christmas and special company.  This tablecloth didn’t need it.

The cloth became a family vacation fixture, in spite of:

  1.  Mother’s favorite color wasn’t green.  She was more partial to gold, the color of our gingham kitchen wallpaper.  This cloth was a dark drab green, with white (magnolias) and brown (stems and centers).  Green/white/brown; yuck.
  2. Our dishes didn’t match the tablecloth.   The ‘everyday’ Stangl ‘Fruit’ pattern Mother chose featured cherries, peaches and grapes.  Back in that day, white dishes, which would have worked with it, weren’t popular.

Anyway, that family tablecloth covered our table, every night, at whichever duplex we rented, in Ocean City, New Jersey, year after year on summer vacations.

In the summer of 1980, six months after Mike was born, Duane and I joined Mother and Dad, along with the sisters who could make it, to 2126 Wesley Avenue, our four bedroom apartment in Ocean City.  Ocean City!  America’s Family Vacation Paradise!  That’s what it had always been to me.

I should have lowered my expectations.  My parents were wonderful parents, but they spent their days on the beach when I was expecting them to help with the baby so I could go to the beach.  Duane and Dad went off and played tennis at the public courts in the morning.  I was left alone at the apartment, to be there while Michael napped, or needed to be fed, or cried.  My toes hardly touched the sand.  Nights were worse.  Because we shared a bedroom with a six month old baby, no one got much sleep.  Mike’s nighttime schedule was a mess for the next year.

But I still treasure that great picture of Dad, sharing life with Mike over the green magnolia tablecloth.

Our family continued our treks to Ocean City, with the magnolia tablecloth.  In  2008, after our grandson Ethan was born, Duane and I rented a huge four bedroom duplex at 19th street, overlooking the Boardwalk.  Mother, Dad, Duane and I, Jeff and Heather, Mike and Elizabeth, and Jennifer shared a place where family dinners also included the six Sathers, staying nearby.   The adult girls of each family took turns coordinating and preparing dinner for 15 people each night.  Every fourth night, we ordered Mack and Manco pizza. Spots of tomato sauce stained the white magnolias.

After dinner we’d head to ‘walk the Boards’. Then with tired legs we arrived back to plop on chairs around the same table, to play games.  We’d compare stories of the treats we found on the Boardwalk, which, according to family rules, no one had to share.  Except for the Johnson Brothers caramel corn in plastic buckets, which we ate til we felt sick.

“It’s your vacation, you can do what you want,” was one of Mother’s quotes.  That freedom made vacationing with our family easy and fun.

The family began to grow and change, with weddings, new girlfriends/boyfriends, new jobs, work moves, and grandchildren. It was getting harder to gather around the green magnolia tablecloth for family vacations.  So I would use it at home when family visited.

One year we were able to get most of the family together at a beach house outside Jacksonville.

The tablecloth was getting more worn and moth eaten, but it still meant the family was gathered for fun.


Now it’s nearly impossible to gather everyone in the family around that tablecloth, to share dinner,  with games afterwards. Mike and Elizabeth are here in Tampa with Ethan and Sophie, but Jeff and Heather, along with Addi and Henry, live in Jacksonville.   Wendy’s three girls are married; Kate and Marc live in New Jersey with their three children: Oliver, George and brand new baby Violet. Lee and John teach English and live in, literally, China, with son and daughter Harry and Eloise.  Sarah and Julian live in West Palm Beach.  Jennifer’s daughter Maggie works in Boulder, Colorado.  Pam and Greg live in Jacksonville, while sons Peter, Andrew and Tommy are scattered around Florida, with Jack in Chicago.

I’m realizing that each family, as it changes and grows, has to start its own vacation and family traditions.

But the sisters decided we can still get together.   Pam joined Wendy, Jennifer and me for a weekend at the condo Duane and I own in Indian Rocks Beach.  We arrived with our suitcases full since the January weather was cool, and we knew Wendy would be there.  She’s a fashionista, so the bar was set high.  Pam, a style maven herself, forgot to pack half of her clothes.

We ate stone crabs and talked at Salt Rock Grill Wednesday night, then stayed up too late talking.  Thursday morning over coffee we read verses to each other from Mother’s Bible.  We walked the beach while talking.  We soaked up the sun; I’m the only one who wears sunscreen.  We gave each other piles of advice, all unsolicited.  We watched “Leave It To Beaver” reruns Thursday afternoon, with Wendy commenting on June’s excellent choice of ‘statement’ jewelry.  We ate steaks at E & E Stakeout Thursday night and talked, and talked, and talked.

Friday afternoon, when our ‘sister time’ was over, Duane and Greg joined Pam and me at the condo with a few of the Sather boys.  I pulled out the green magnolia tablecloth for dinner.

“The tablecloth!”  Pam exclaimed.  It meant something special to her, too.

The green magnolia tablecloth stands for family and happy memories of us being together.   It reminds me of Mother and Dad and  how much they loved being with us.  We’re not perfect, and even the happy memories of the times around that tablecloth are a bit sugar coated, when I start remembering specifics.  But we love each other.

Mother taught, “It’s people that are important, not things.”  That is true.

But I’m glad I still have that green magnolia tablecloth.

“Be still my soul: thy God doth undertake to guide the future, as He has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake; All now mysterious shall be bright at last.”

– Katharina A. von Schlegel, 1752




“It could be worse.  You could be on the Bataan Death March.”

Mike and Jeff, one at Wheaton, one at Countryside High, were impossible to Christmas shop for at this age.  I was trying to warn them that the gifts under the tree this year might not be great.  Comparing that to the Bataan Death March, a  65 mile trek of prisoners of war through the Philippine jungle during World War II, is a psychological idea. View your own hard time with something far worse.  Presto, you feel better.

Most Christmases were delightful, and some memorable, like the year Jeffrey was born two days before Christmas.  And 29 years later to the day, our granddaughter Sophie was born!

Christmas 1990 was another.  We had moved into the house at 6700 Cornelia Drive.  Mike was 10.  His hobbies were ice skating at the Cornelia School rink, playing video games and collecting baseball cards.

Jeff, who turned 9 on December 23rd, collected baseball cards, too and sat right beside Mike, reading video game instructions to him while he pushed the buttons on the controller.  Jeff also loved reading comic books.

Duane’s dream for Christmas morning was seeing stacks of gifts under the tinseled glowing tree.  Every year we carefully planned weeks in advance what to give our kids.  One morning Duane spotted an ad in the newspaper.  A comic book collector was selling ten boxes filled with his pristine comic books for  $1000.

“A thousand dollars!”  Duane moaned.  He wanted to buy it.  Knew it was perfect for Jeffrey.  Every year we worked to make sure he didn’t feel deprived by his birthdate.

“At least go and look at it,”  I suggested.

Duane came home with ten clean white file size cardboard boxes.  Each held one hundred comic books, each in a plastic sleeve.  I didn’t read comic books as a kid, but I was impressed.

“Where are we going to hide it?”

We buried it in Jeff’s bedroom closet, under sheets.

We couldn’t wait for Christmas.

In our Edina life, we opened presents Christmas morning at 6105 Abbott Avenue with my parents.  Dad and Mother came to our house on Christmas Eve, then brought our presents in bags to put under their tree.  Mother and Dad’s  tree, always a real one, was so small it made the pile of presents look more massive.

Mother was the queen of gift giving.  She taught me:

  1.  A gift must be something that the person would really like or want.
  2. The gift must surprise them.

To combine those two is impossible.  Mother was a magician.  Most times, if we really want or like something, we’ve already bought it.  Mother’s style of gift giving eliminates our cursed culture’s habit of just going to the mall to ‘buy something.’  It also takes thought and love.  If you ever have someone ask you, “What gift do you want me to get for you?” – well, they are not holding up Mother’s Gold Standard.

When I was thirteen, on Christmas morning I opened a package with a tag scribbled ‘love Santa,’ which I knew was from Mother and Dad: a small tortoise shell case of blusher.  My first make up.  I was totally surprised.  I loved it.  And still remember it.

Amazingly, that Comic Book Christmas,  Jeffrey never looked through his closet.  We had just moved.  The house was a disaster for months, which may be the reason we got away with it.  For Christmas morning, Duane had wrapped up one of the 18 x 12 x 12 inch files of comic books and put it under the tree.

“Oh, wow!”  Jeff said, when he opened the present, and lifted the cardboard lid to find the neat but packed tight trove of comic books.

“They’re beautiful!”  He carefully pulled one, still in it’s plastic sleeve, from the box, to admire it.

Inside the box was a mysterious clue.  “There are more… but you have to find them…”   Duane had cooked up scavenger hunt clues that led Jeffrey, Mike close behind him, to his bedroom closet to find the rest of the treasure.

“What in the world?!  Dad, where did you get all these comics?!”  Jeff said when he found the remaining nine boxes.   He spent the next few years of his life carefully reading, sorting and arranging that comic collection.  Mike enjoyed them, too.

That was not a ‘Bataan Death March Christmas.’

Three years ago, Mother had a heart attack on December 19.  By Christmas Eve, she was not eating or drinking.  She wrote her sweet, “I love you all very much… and God loves you…” letter goodbye on the back of her menu at the rehabilitation facility a few days later.  She died December 30.  Mother was looking forward to seeing Jesus, but it was the first year Mother and Dad weren’t with us.  The Bataan Death March flitted through my thoughts.  A quiet loss circled opening presents that Christmas morning.

During the bombing of London, the English lived, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”  So, this November, when Duane and I became aware of a family crisis before leaving for a planned trip to England and France, we went anyway.  We wondered what kind of a trip it would be as we carried sadness along with our suitcases.  Christmas was on our minds as I like to shop in England for gifts because I see things I don’t see at Countryside Mall.  London lavished streets and shop windows with lights and festive decorations.

We walked London.  We had lots of time to talk and think about our ‘family situation’ – a euphemism for business that impacts me but isn’t my business to explain here.  How would our family celebrate this year?  TV ads and movies idolize family togetherness at Christmas.  Would that be our Christmas?

The first Sunday evening in London we had booked a concert of  Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols” at what we thought was a cathedral.  St. Stephen’s turned out to be an intimate, old church in Kensington.  We had purchased the ‘premium seats,’ which meant the front row, with a (very thin) cushion.

We even got a program included in the price, which had all the words to the pieces the Bromley Boy Singers were to perform.  I had chosen this concert because I had sung Britten’s ‘Carols’ when I was in a 9th grade madrigal group.  The young boys, in black pants and white shirts, filed into the nave and, intently watching their director, began singing when he lifted his hands.  The music as it bounced throughout the warm church lit up the words like fireworks.

“A Ceremony of Carols” is made up of eleven short songs describing Christ’s birth.  The seventh song, words by poet Robert Southwell,  shook me awake from our cultures’ fantasies, into the reality of what I do believe.

Christmas is about “This little Babe…”

I wanted to learn about the gilded life of such a deeply Christian poet.  Southwell was English, yes, but educated in Rome.  Became a Jesuit priest, and returned to a Protestant England.  Not good for him.  Tortured ten different times. He languished in prison the last two years of his life.  At age 34, he was beheaded, drawn and quartered.  A Bataan Death March Christmas for him.

Eureka!  One of my Wheaton professors used to exclaim that when he discovered something brilliant.  Christmas is not about how many family members are in the room Christmas morning, or the state of my family, or my health or job or whatever burden I’m carrying.  It’s because of these troubles, our sometimes Bataan Death March life, that God sent his Son to earth. “Emmanuel.”  God with us.  His gift is like Mother’s gift giving:  just what we need and want and at the same time a wonderful surprise!

So, I’m buying gifts still for all those I love, and baking cookies, and putting up my Christmas tree.  (The truth is the trees were up before we left and everyone who knows us knows that.)   I’m thrilled this year that Jesus has come and is with our family and with me.  I found this felt creche in a Benedictine gift shop in Paris behind a Cathedral in Le Marais.

“… If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy, then flit not from this heavenly Boy.”

– Robert Southwell




Mother did not sew.

Mother cooked reluctantly, loved to iron, planted bright red geraniums in pots for the front step, changed the beds on Fridays, vacuumed, taught school, studied the Bible, taught the Bible, read TIME magazine, and all the assorted things that talented women do throughout life.

But Mother did not sew.

Dad had learned to sew in the Marines.  I can still see him sitting on the edge of their full size bed in white underpants, undershirt and brown socks, hunched over a pile of cloth in his lap.  His fingers hold a needle the way a conductor holds a baton as he stitches a button back onto his  shirt.

Mother never pumped gas, either.  In the days before self service gasoline stations, this wasn’t a problem.  When self service arrived, Dad took on the task of making sure Mother’s gas tank was filled.  Mother wasn’t lazy.  She just had standards.  She often quoted George Bernard Shaw:

“A woman should realize that as long as she insists on her equality, she has lost her superiority.”

Then one Christmas morning, Mother shocked my sisters and me.

“I have a special gift for each of you,”  Mother beamed as she reached under the evergreen tree covered with ornaments.   She lifted four similar sized presents, each hastily wrapped in bright red and green striped paper late the night before.  Mother was not a perfectionist, either.  She examined each tag, to make sure she matched the right gift to the right daughter.

“What is it?!”  we murmured, curious.  “Do we need to open them at the same time?”

“Just open them,”  Mother said with a wave of her hands.

I untied the bow on mine and pushed my thumb under the scotch tape to undo the wrapping.  When I opened the box, hidden inside white tissue paper lay a quilted angel, wearing a pink gingham gown.  Mother knew I loved the color pink and gingham.

“I made them,”  Mother announced.

That was impossible.  Mother did not sew.  And my angel wore a dress with a seam in it.  And a ruffle of white lace at the bottom which was not attached with a hot glue gun.

“Yes, I did it.  My friend Gail helped me,”  Mother worked to convince us she was telling the truth. “Look, Jennifer’s has Jennifer’s hair style.”   Indeed, her angel wore a page boy.

We admired each other’s angels.  They were cut from an identical pattern, but Mother had individualized each angel with unique fabric, buttons, ribbon and lace.  My angel had brown embroidery floss hair braided into pig tails.  The tiny white heart buttons  at the neck were exactly what I would have chosen.

“We started working on them back in July.”  Mother’s words sounded as if she was explaining the miracle to persuade herself.

I still have my angel.  Each November 1, when we put up our Christmas tree, that angel, now yellow and lightly crushed after spending months in a box, crowns the tree.  Every time I look at it, I remember that Mother made it for me, and I’m surprised.

Mother’s gift reminds me of God’s ‘hesed’ love.  My new favorite Hebrew word, ‘hesed’, knocks  ‘shalom’ into second place.  ‘Hesed,’ it is fun to hear out loud.  A loyal, boundless, never ending love.  God epitomizes that love.  And parents do, too.   Hesed love promises your kids, “I’ll never stop loving you.  I’ll do anything for you.”

Even sew.

“His hesed love endures forever.”  Psalm 136






After Duane read “A Wheaton Love Story,” my college memoir, he said, “You describe all the characters by their hair:  ‘Carol has long brown hair. .. Sue’s blond hair hung straight…’   It’s kind of boring.”

He was right.  People are more than hair.

“But you don’t understand how important hair is, to a girl,”  I argued.

I was right.

I grew up with three sisters.  Mother spent Saturday mornings at the beauty parlor getting her ‘hair done.  Wendy slept with her long brown hair wrapped around empty soup cans.  In high school, she stayed home on Saturday nights to do her hair.  First, she washed it, then she rolled it in prickly rollers, and imprisoned herself under a plastic cap hooked up to a small suitcase with a motor that blew hot air.    To keep the hair curled, she wore the rollers to bed, too, so her hair would look nice for church.


Like Peter Pan,  I didn’t want to grow up.  I wasn’t ready to pay the painful price for pretty hair.   I had the easy freedom of what was called “the pixie” haircut: short hair with bangs, until college.

In Junior high, I became aware that because of my hair style, something I chose, and the necessity for glasses, which I didn’t choose, I wasn’t pretty.  I won’t say I didn’t care.  I accepted that beauty was not going to be my forte.  I identified with the heroine in “Gone With The Wind”:  “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful,  but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm…”

The people who mattered most to me, my parents, put outward appearance in its proper place, like Luke 2:52, “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.”  A balanced life.

In the kitchen Mother hung a small bulletin board.  She had been an English teacher. Whenever she saw an inspirational quote or interesting thought, she clipped it out, or wrote it on a 3 x 5 card, and tacked it up for us to read.

“Think, girls, think!”  Dad frequently cajoled.  He and Mother wanted us to consider what was important in life.  What had meaning.  To be that kind of person would require effort.

‘You’re not going to turn that in,”  Mother said with a disapproving voice when she looked over my homework.  She didn’t feel I had spent much time on it .  Reluctantly I agreed.

The same went for outward appearance.  Mother carefully shopped for clothes that would help us look our best.    Dad was a tennis player and Mother walked regularly with a friend.  With love, we were reminded to have healthy habits.

“Stand up straight,”  Mother often pleaded with me.

“Be clean!”  Dad would say, as he trimmed and inspected our nails each week.

When I gained fifteen pounds after my freshman year of college, they sat me down for a talk.

“We don’t like seeing you look like this,”  they said gently.  “You’ve got to do something.

I started to cry.  “It’s so hard.”

They listened, but believed I could do better.

They had bigger dreams for us than what we looked like.  Mother and Dad’s goal was a college education for all four daughters, which was a financial challenge.   They encouraged us to have meaningful hobbies, work part time while in school, and be involved with family and friends.


Duane was, eerily, like my parents about having high expectations for me, and himself.  We had started dating in April 1975.

A few weeks later, as we sprawled on my red gingham blanket on Blanchard front lawn, Duane said:  “You know, I have something I want to talk to you about.”

I was all ears.  Duane’s mind fascinated me.  We had great talks.

“Sure, what it is it?”

He mentioned something about eating in the dining hall.  The dining hall was fun.  Wheaton had an ‘all you can eat’ meal plan.  Students pushed trays through a cafeteria line, picking out whatever looked good.  At breakfast, they served homemade hot donuts, with bowls of vanilla and fudge icing.  It was worth going to breakfast before an 8 o’clock class.

Then I realized he was telling me I ate too much.  I don’t remember being offended, just surprised.  I didn’t think I ate that much.  “Diplomacy is the art of telling someone to go to hell and making them happy to be on their way.”

His concern, again, like my parents, was that I would be the best ‘me’ I could be.  He had started running with college friends to get in shape.  And his aspirations for me were not only about health.

“It is a beauteous evening, calm and free…,”  he quoted the entire Wordsworth sonnet.  He had memorized it to share with me, as we walked around campus after dinner that spring.  When we took Professor Clyde Kilby’s Christian Fantasy writers’ class together, I realized I would have read all the assigned course work and attend all the lectures, because Duane did.

It was the beginning of 43 love filled years together.


At 63, I still struggle to keep my priorities in balance.    I’m back to the Pixie haircut, 2019 version: short but not too short.

I wish I had corrected my posture in youth, as Mother had suggested.     I watch what I eat, but for boring reasons like bone health.   Like those woven Chinese finger traps we played with as kids, I can still get stuck on my outward appearance.

At my sisters’ weddings, Mother asked me to sing a favorite hymn, “May the Mind of Christ My Savior.”

“May his beauty rest upon me, as I seek the lost to win,

and may they forget the channel, seeing only him.”

My knees shook as I sang, not from fear.  As I looked out over the gathering, I could see Mother smiling at me.  She always did when I sang a solo.  I trembled because the words inspired me.

A woman,Kate B. Wilkinson, wrote them.   Mother would mouth the words along with me as I sang.  She had memorized all six stanzas.  Me, too.  The truths free me from slavery to hair and outward beauty, the impossible dream imposed by our culture on people, especially girls.


“People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  I Samuel 16:7






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