While in God confiding, I cannot but rejoice



Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pastor, theologian, prophet, spy
I read the last page of Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer last night. A slow reader who avoids horror stories, it took six months to brave the rise and ruins of Hitler’s holocaust. My bedtime reading often morphed into pitiful dreams about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his mother, Paula.
Why did I submit my psyche and time to learn the Bonhoeffer family history, their deaths ordered by Der FΓΌhrer’s bloodlust?
Perhaps a subliminal desire to acknowledge a childhood fear embedded in post-WWII murmurs. Concentration camps. Smokestacks. Gas chambers.
In 1954, the words followed me from my safe haven in Kentucky’s McCoy Bottom to my sister’s elementary school in our new Detroit neighborhood. There, the grisly whispers possessed the smokestack towering above the brick building. My dear mother didn’t know I cried because Sisser and I were about to be burned up with all the children.
Such was and is the reach of Adolf Hitler’s hatred—his mutated swastika and National Socialism. The submission of the German church to the Nazi SS and Gestapo. The extermination of the Poles, Jews, handicapped, and their sympathizers.
Mind, I never heard a negative word against the German people during my childhood. Neither did I hear about men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer whose devotion to his country’s Christian community played a significant role in the German Resistance to the Third Reich.
On this side of the Atlantic, it seemed Hitler’s war to rule the world had never happened. I learned otherwise in sixth grade. 
Mr. Grieder, my teacher, gave a classmate detention for popping a stick of gum into her mouth seconds before the bell rang for dismissal. I reported the injustice to my mother.
“Mr. Grieder’s like Hitler,” I said.
Mom shot her dagger eye to mine. “Don’t ever say that again! Mr. Grieder is a good man and teacher.”
I wanted to believe my mother was right. I hope someday, in our Savior’s Glory, to kiss her for the rebuke. I hope to offer Mr. Grieder my apology and hand of fellowship. I hope to thank the Bonhoeffer family for their suffering and sacrifice—for Dietrich’s works Ethics and Cost of Discipleship.
Three months after the Nazis martyred Dietrich and his brother Klaus, Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer listened to the BBC broadcast of their sons’ memorial service from Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London.  
As I turned the concluding pages of three memorial sermons by men who loved the young theologian, pastor, and spy, I imagined Paula Bonhoeffer sitting beside her husband in their Berlin home. She had educated her children in the house of their nativity, planted them in her strong, Christian faith. How did she bear the loss of three of her four sons and one son-in-law to two world wars?  
The last speaker concluded with Dietrich’s words: “While in God confiding I cannot but rejoice.”
Dear Reader, Eric Mataxas wrote this final line: “When the service ended, Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer turned off the radio.”
Their son had spoken from his ashes.
I cannot but rejoice.

Cat on the Hill

Mo on the farm's hill last July
“Greeen graass!” shouted Goldie from the roosting pole.

Her four sisters awoke and ruffled their feathers.

“Buuock! You’ll give us a heart attaaack! I thought the house was on fire,” said Blondie.

Brownie yawned and stretched her wings. “I can’t belieeve it. Most of the snoow melted overnight.”

Blackie flew down from the roost for water and food. Silver followed. They pecked together at the grain.

Silver paused with a thought. “Maybe we’ll see Ooold Mo today. He doesn’t like snow, either.”

“Bock! I sure do miss that caat,” Blackie said. “Although he’s not very friendly, I’m glaad to see Ooold Mo follow Lem down the hill. I don’t feel soo isolated down here.”

“I know what you meean,” said Silver. “He’s the oonly other farm critter.”

Goldie, Brownie, and Blondie joined Blackie and Silver for breakfast. 

“I’m glaad we haave each other,” Brownie said. “There’s no other cat for Ooold Mo to talk to.”

“Remember the kittens and caats at the farm where Mother haatched us?” asked Goldie. “Wasn’t it fun to waatch them tumble together? Sometimes I wish I were a caat.”

“Cluck, cluck!” replied Silver. “They range wherever they waant. Hawks don’t eat them.”

“But they don’t lay eggs,” Brownie said. “Lem and Lee love our eggs.”

“Do you remember the sheeep and cooows at the other farm?” asked Blondie.

Blackie sighed. “Their bleeating and loowing at night was such sweet music.”

“Bock,” agreed Brownie. “Lem and Lee’s farm is too smaall for sheeep and coows. But there’s plenty space for another caat.”

“Ooold Mo’s never come close enough to us to say so, but I think he would like some company,” Goldie said.

“He’s a caat of few words,” Silver observed.

“Imagine that," Goldie replied.

"Cackle, cackle, cackle!” the five sisters burst out laughing, for they talked from sunup to sundown. Sometimes before and after.

Just then, they heard Lem open the door.

“Hello! You girls happy about this warm weather? Why aren’t you outside?”

“Buuock!” the hens answered and gathered at the screen door between them and Lem.

He lifted the lid to the grain can for the oatmeal bag and opened the screen door. “Here you go, girls. Lee said to say ‘Hello.’”

The hens gobbled up their treat while Lem replaced their water container with a fresh one. He scooped more grain from the can and filled their feeder.

“There’s more snow coming, girls,” Lem said and closed the door.
Blondie about to take another dust bath

The hens squawked in disapproval of the news. They went through the chute and into the pen to watch Lem walk up the green hill.

“Silver,” Blackie said, “you have the keenest eyes. Can you see Ooold Mo on the hill?”

“Baarely. I see something blaack and white on a boulder.”

“Poor caat,” said Goldie. “He needs a compaanion.”

“I’m glaad I’m a chicken,” Blondie said.

“Bock bock!” said her sisters.

Blondie disappeared under the hen house for an overdue dust bath.

The five hens scratched and pecked what they could before snow fell again, all the while talking and laughing the day away.



Driving Miss Iris

My dog Sweetie, sister Libby, & Dad, Warren O'Brien, Jan 1968, CMU
My quest for independence and higher education coincided with my parents’ divorce fifty years ago. The second of their five daughters, I kissed my mother good-bye and carried my clothes and toiletries to Dad’s 1965 Chrysler.
           My younger sister Libby and dog Sweetie tagged along to CMU. They followed me to my suite occupied with two roommates who hadn’t yet returned from semester break.
Dad nodded to three large photos taped to the wall above a record player. “Looks like you have women of color for roommates,” he said.
“I don’t think so, Dad. That’s a poster of Diana Ross and the Supremes,” I explained.
“Oh.”
Before Dad and Libby left me standing alone in newfound freedom, Nellie, my first roommate other than my sisters or Aunt Goldie, arrived. We introduced ourselves and returned outside Woldt Hall where Libby snapped our photo with Dad and Sweetie. 
Wanting them to linger, I snapped a picture I hoped to remember forever. Dad dressed in a suit holding his car keys. Libby in her camel coat. They look down to Sweetie who looks up to me with her sad Cocker Spaniel eyes.
When Dad drove away, I didn't anticipate the sinking feeling that crashed like a wrecking ball upon my confidence. What was I thinking? What would I do without Sweetie, my confidant?
That separation imposed my first lesson in independence and higher education. Both come with a price.
A homebody without a home, I found a housecleaning job for a professor’s wife. Dr. Kipfmueller arrived at 8 a.m. sharp Saturday mornings before my dorm. Sometimes he brought their little guy John along. We rode in silence to their large house in downtown Mt. Pleasant.

Sweetie, Nellie my room mate, me, & Dad

I worked for Mrs. Kipfmueller during and after her pregnancy with Maggie, one of their six children. My $10 paycheck covered Sunday meals and other necessities.
After we married in 1970, Mel and I carpooled to work in his 1966 Mustang. Three years later, I inherited the Mustang when Mel’s new job with Proctor & Gamble included a company car.
I’ve since lived the typical American upward mobility stay-at-home Mom lifestyle, working part time around our children’s school and work schedules. After the youngest graduated from high school, I drove to Oakland Community College and Oakland University and earned my bachelor’s degree before my fiftieth birthday.

I’ve driven Ireland’s roads solo. I know the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains and the hairpin turns of Italy’s Dolomites.
These experiences meant nothing last June 26 after a three-second syncope episode claimed I shouldn't drive for six months. In other words, I lost consciousness while sitting in my writing chair and Mel became my chauffer—his first unofficial, unpaid job—driving Ms Iris.                   
Six months into his retirement from forty-seven years as an outside salesman, Mel fit the role like a pro. We adapted to my dependency upon him for transport to my plethora of doctor’s appointments and tests, writing groups, and volunteer commitments. 
In the process, we discovered A Taste of Europe Crepes on Auburn Road. And grocery shopping is much more fun with Mel. I’ve grown fond of his valet service.
Dear Reader, the doctors have no explanation for my fainting spell, so I’m on the road again. From my perspective, independence and higher education seem overrated.
I see the need for companionship bound within dependence, an enduring benefit often sacrificed in my pursuit of individuality.
After fifty years, I'm learning the price I’ve paid.

My Calendar Speaks




As a young mother, I kept a large calendar on the kitchen wall. The year belonged beside the phone, a pencil tied to a string and hung from a hook.

Baby checkups, co-op preschool, and elementary school activities occupied the months in my life.


During those four brief years in our Berkley bungalow, our firstborn walked to Oxford school and returned home for lunch. One of our favorites was a fried bologna sandwich with mayo, lettuce, and tomato. When the calendar said Mel wasn’t working out of town, he’d joined us.


In summertime, he took a dip in our above ground pool before he drove back to work. Our middle daughter learned to swim with her Daddy.


After the birth of our third daughter in fall 1976, I filled the weeks with doctor’s appointments before and after her emergency surgery at four months old. Be sure I praised God when I later turned October’s page and anticipated celebrating Ruth’s first birthday November 13.


My four fertile sisters produced a total of thirteen nieces and nephews whose names I scribed on my calendar in their birthdates. There was always a baby shower or birthday in cue.


In the peak of our extended family’s population including grandparents and great-grandparents, every month of the year offered one or more birthdays and anniversaries.


All the stars aligned one special Christmas to gather my entire family within our mother’s Kentucky home. She was in her glory to see her offspring safely lodged in every bed and on each sofa.


In hindsight, it seems that summit of family gatherings lasted a minute. Our children grew up overnight and left home. One by one, names and birthdays disappeared from the twelve months displayed in my kitchen.


In fall 1994, I installed my 386 computer on my firstborn’s vanity table in our kitchen and commenced my journalism career and journal writing workshops. I moved my phone and calendar to the computer table.


March 1995 my father passed. Death claimed our firstborn in July 1996, then Granny the following March. I logged this exodus of beloveds best I could in personal journals. My calendars of those stricken years did not survive.


Yet, meaningful ritual is not easily cast away. We yearn for the truth and life it speaks.


I needed the visual year before me as I had for the assignments of three daughters. The daily frames brought tangible duty to each sunrise, rest upon the Sabbath, and experience at month’s end to revise and achieve my goals.


As I review 2017 from January to December, I am reminded that only two uncles and one aunt remain of my Kentucky kin.


Dear Reader, my calendar speaks who and what matters most to me. Sometimes I am rebuked. Even so, I’m encouraged because I have faith and hope in God’s love to guide me through this pilgrimage.


As an older mother, I keep 2018 before me upon my desk. On it I have written birthdays, anniversaries, and appointments.


God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.