Monks with Brooms

The newspaper headline caught my eye last Thursday, because it sounded like the set-up to a late-night comedy sketch: “Monks brawl with brooms in Bethlehem.”

This has to be a joke, I thought. Just one year ago, I spent a couple of days with a group of monks, on a sort of silent retreat to a monastery deep in Oregon’s wine country. My monks were all beatific smiles and soft voices and gentle movements. Almost from the moment I set foot on their property, I felt all my worries being swept away in a flood of serenity.

Monks don’t go on rampages, I thought. Curious, I read on.

The story was no joke.


Today I am guest-posting for one of my favorite bloggers, the great Karen Spears Zacharias. I hope you’ll join us there for the rest of the story...



Last week, I purchased the Blu-ray edition of “Planet Earth.” We’d missed the series when it originally aired in the U.S. because at that time, I was still nursing my firstborn and was such a bleary, exhausted mess, the entire Ringling Brothers circus could have paraded through my living room and I wouldn’t have noticed.

But since my boys are out of diapers now, and since we’d recently acquired the prettiest TV on God’s green earth (a 47-inch LED) and a Blu-ray player, I figured this was the perfect time to view this series I’d heard so much about.

And, holy smokes.

After turning on the first episode, I found myself paralyzed, unable to tear my eyes from the screen. For the longest time I stood there, slack-jawed in the middle of the room, because I couldn’t glance down long enough to take a seat. For someone who’s developed a later-in-life love of all things science, this presentation is magical…breathtaking. I kid you not, it makes me weak in the knees.

Continue reading

Minka Disbrow

Update January 2, 2012 – To those of you who have made your way here from the AP article that went viral today…thank you so much for your interest in this story. My sweet Grandma (though very savvy) has no computer, but we are keeping her informed of all the interest and comments. She is more than thrilled that her story is touching so many people. Feel free to “share” on FB, Twitter…wherever. God bless you!

This summer, we visited my maternal grandmother in California. After a motel mishap left us stranded, I called Grandma and asked if we could “crash” at her small apartment near the ocean. When we drove up at dusk, a few hours later, Grandma was just coming back from the grocery store, where she’d gone to stock up on food supplies for us.

Her place was as neat as a pin, as it has been for as far back as I can remember. That night, after I’d tucked all my boys in bed, I went into the living room to keep Grandma company. I sat down with a book. Grandma was filling out a word puzzle with a ballpoint pen.

“I like to do something like this before I go to bed,” Grandma said. “It helps me unwind.” About 45 minutes later I sleepily called it quits, leaving Grandma sitting in a small circle of lamplight, still working on her puzzle.

Sometimes I think this woman will outlive us all. Continue reading

Don’t Forget the Knox

By now, the story of my first few encounters with Knox McCoy is the stuff of legend.

If you’re one of the 312,398,205 Americans who haven’t yet heard the story, here’s the nutshell: I “discovered” Knox, and fell in love with his blog, at least three times – and then completely forgot him in between times. It’s as though The Adjustment Bureau kept coming in and resetting me. I don’t know how to explain this, except to blame it all on my boys, who have stripped most of the brain cells right out of my head.

Knox forgave my amnesia and actually went on to interview me, for his Residents of Awesometown series, and the experience was…well…awesome.

Knox writes about faith and life and pop culture, and he is smart and hilarious but also kind. Snark without the knives. He makes me giggle, out-loud, every time I read his stuff. (Since I am not a giggler, this feels a bit disconcerting.)

It is impossible to not adore Knox. Go ahead – spend some time on his site, and try to resist the adoration.

It can’t be done. Continue reading

Candles in Hurricanes

On a mid-summer evening in 1967, a healthy, active 17-year-old girl named Joni dove off a cliff into too-shallow waters, instantly breaking her neck. She survived, but she would never again move her legs, or her hands. She would never bear children. She would spend her life in a wheelchair, dependent on others to fix her food, and dress her, and change her colostomy bag.

For the rest of her life.

At first, Joni struggled and raged. She was suicidal. And then, slowly, she found acceptance. She began writing, and recording music, and drawing paintings, using pens held in her mouth. She became an inspirational speaker, and started a foundation for disabled people that she runs, to this day.

Most importantly, Joni found joy, and during the last forty years she has shared that joy with millions of people around the world. She insists that God is good, that life is good, no matter what. She says, “There are only two joys. One is having God answer all your prayers; the other is not receiving the answer to all your prayers. I believe this because I have found that God knows my needs infinitely better than I know them.”

I thought of Joni’s longsuffering recently while reading about another young woman who was struck down, this one by a strange, terminal disease that coiled throughout her body, causing her constant, intense pain. Sometimes the pain made her curl up and cry out when she was in the middle of conversations. For the last three years this woman, Sara Frankl, was confined to the four walls of her apartment, reaching out to others through a blog she kept.

Sometimes Sara could scarcely breathe. Sometimes she could hardly walk. But she radiated peace, and she shared joy with everyone she came in contact with.

She said, “I choose the joy. When something is going badly and I’m dwelling on it, I think instead of something for which I am grateful. I swear to you, it’s as simple as that. You just have to decide today, and again tomorrow. And before you know it, you’ll have an attitude of joy more than any other attitude you have at your disposal.”

Life slashes at everyone, sooner or later, as surely as the sunrise. But for most of us, times of great trouble are intersected by large swathes of ordinary life – times during which it’s all too easy to slide into dissatisfaction.

Life is unfair.

This is too hard.

I can’t believe he did that.

We slog through our days, feeling restless, burdened, impatient.

And then, occasionally, the road is illuminated, by one who is traveling the roughest patches of it. A fellow pilgrim stands in the midst of unspeakable circumstances, like a small candle glimmering in the middle of a hurricane, and speaks words of sweetness and life.

Reminding us.

Humbling us.

I cannot imagine being chained to a wheelchair, unable to run or roam or pace or escape. I can’t imagine being unable to care for myself, to fend for myself, to live for myself.

And I can’t imagine living with pervasive, unremitting pain. Pain that drives spikes through your wrists, and nails you to itself. Pain that has no end point and will accept no walking papers.

Sara and Joni. Two pilgrims enclosed in two very different prisons. One of whom could not set foot outside her apartment and one of whom can not set foot anywhere, at all. Two broken bodies encasing spirits that shine steadily in the darkest storm, casting beautiful light for the rest of us.

We who are so blessed.

We who can be so blind to our blessings.

A couple of weeks ago, the on-line world learned that Sara was dying. And certain corners of the blogosphere were suddenly filled with Sara’s words, her story. Reams of virtual paper were devoted to her odyssey, as famous friends paid tribute to her and hundreds of readers, learning of her for the first time, were stunned by her transcendent message.

Sara passed through to Heaven on September 24, at thirty-eight years old. She may have ended this life as a housebound invalid, un-rich, un-glamorous. But her light shone brighter and brighter as the end neared, spreading until it could have filled a stadium, until this world could not even contain it – and on and on she went.

Google Sara Frankl, and see how many results you get. By the end, she was no longer a candle – she was a comet. And in her story, through her words and through her shining spirit, she left behind enough light for us all.