Dear Mom,

This post has taken me a long time to write.  That’s telling really.  You and I were a difficult puzzle.

But I remember:  We were sitting across the table from one another, at that Italian place for lunch, in Hemet, California.  The year was 1989.  I had just remembered the abuse, in the first flashback, which  I wrote about in #metoo post.  I told you what I had remembered, what Sherwood had done.  And you looked at me with sadness and love and said, “I am so sorry that happened to you.”  You believed me, right there, across from me over the basket of bread, dish of olive oil.  You validated me with that look and those words.  That day began my recovery.

Ours was a complex relationship, Mom.  Did you know a counselor I had called ours an emotionally incestuous relationship?  You had me carry emotional burdens for you, which dad ought to have shouldered.  But I think he was a guy of projects, dreams, visions, which you mostly supported, and was not as available to listen.  He was also gone A LOT for days out in the field. And I was there at home.

Palm Sunday 1959, March 22nd was my birthday.  You baked two boysenberry pies that morning, having stayed home from church.  You arrived at the hospital at 7:30 pm that evening and I arrived 2 hours later, 9# and 22″ in length.  You were there for 5 nights after I was born- such a different world from today when moms come home the same day! In a letter to my siblings, who were staying with Grandma and Grandpa Power (your parents) up in Livermore, you wrote:

“It’s very quiet up here right now, but not too long ago twin girls arrived (both 5#) and surprised the doctor and the mother who had one girl and 2 boys at home(!).  Just think what that would have been like if Brian had been twins!  Well, I assure you, he is one, healthy, husky boy for a newborn, but he is still one armful but will look tiny to you after seeing each other.  He likes what his mama has for him — the first few days all he gets is a yellowish liquid but by tomorrow the milk should be in my breasts and he can begin to fill up.  He’s very placid and even when unsatisfied, he just roots around and tries to eat before he finally begins to cry — a funny, high pitched cry that reminds me of all you others. His head is looking very pretty today and he has finally started to open his blue eyes and look at the world.  I don’t think he’s convinced its worthwhile yet.  I found a scale down the hall and I am just a few pounds off of what I weighed last summer so you will have your energetic Mama back soon.”

I love that description of yourself, Mom: “Your energetic Mama.”  I think that’s what you had hoped!  And you were that prior to my arrival, I know!  You played the piano with zest. You loved singing and laughing and being alive. You helped on dad’s many projects– like the fence you two were building together just weeks before my arrival.

But the emotional pain that hit you soon after I arrived surprised you as well.  Your mom was a powerful, strong woman, with a name like Faith Power, what might we expect?  I think she was the kindest person I ever met, but know that you and she didn’t always see eye to eye.  My favorite picture of her and grandpa was from their wedding day.  There is nothing but joy in this shot:  

There came a family pain that had broken your family. Your older brother Calvin had died of an ear infection as a seven-year-old when you were three. He died August 27, 1927.  Your family didn’t really process the grief of this loss but carried the pain on into the decades that followed. Your Grandma Wyatt wrote poem after poem lamenting his death.  For your mom a river of fear coursed beneath the surface of life:  What if I lose another child?  

By the time you hit your 30s that pain was still being carried by you. That’s what happens when the parents don’t shoulder their own pain, the kids end up carrying it.   And that became a wall between you and your mom.  There was an animosity there and you yourself were volatile emotionally.  You would cry after talking to her on the phone, sometimes.

I remember one time, vividly.  Jesus took me back to that time.  Here’s what happened as Jesus described it to me:

“Son, you had been playing on the floor in the family room. You had a dirty diaper. Your mom had just gotten off the phone with her mom and was angry at her mom but the anger felt like it came at you. She was not angry about the diaper, but you felt in trouble for having a need. She changed the diaper but was crying and crying, and crying. Nothing was settling those tears. And she was mad. You felt her anger and you got scared. She went to wash out the diaper and placed you on the floor. You were scared of her. Scared of her tears. Scared of the sadness. Scared of the feelings in the house. There was tension there, and you decided to run.”

As Jesus described this, the event played out before me, like a video. I saw the scenes. Felt the tension. Felt my fear, tears running down my adult face, and the relief as I walked out that back door.

“You simply walked to the family room, and out the back door, down the stairs and started across the grass to the field, barefooted and just in your diaper. It had been plowed so you began to hop from one levy to the next levy. She discovered you had gone after you were halfway across the field. She yelled at you and began to come, but you were making better progress than she could hope to make across that field. She ran and got her purse and keys, and drove the light blue Chevrolet station wagon around the block, up Hawkeye, left onto Johnson Avenue, and left again into the parking lot of the Evangelical Free Church and met you in the parking lot on the other side.”

“Remember child?” Jesus asked me.

I responded, “Not very well, Jesus.”

“Remember this, then: she picked you up and shook you and shook you. She was sobbing. You were still scared of her and you were crying. Then, she hugged you and swatted you, then hugged you again and crying said,

‘Don’t ever, ever, ever do that again! Don’t, Brian! Don’t run! Don’t you know? I need you? I need you! My mom and I, we will work things out. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I need you here for me, honey.’

“She used words of need, and something in your heart claimed that as your identity. To stay near her and help her was what you wanted to do after that day.”

My identity then settled into the idea of helping you, Mom.  It was a bowing of my will to a strong woman.  It was my job to help you process emotions.  It was my job to help your life find peace.  And that’s when our relationship took on a twist.

You’d tell me your feelings about dad, about how he never took us on decent vacations, about wishing he made more money, and I’d take it all in.  Those were your two most oft-repeated complaints.

Remember after he died, with all of us standing in the choir room at First Presbyterian waiting for when we would enter the church for his funeral service, you buckled over, arms hugging your waist, and cried and wept out loud saying, “I failed him. I failed him. I failed him.”  I went to you and said,

“Mom, how did you fail?”

You said:  “I’ve spent too much of life complaining about what I didn’t have, rather than being grateful for what I had.”

A truer word was never spoken.

“I complained that he never took us on vacations, yet, we had many great trips. And now I will have all the money and all the time to travel I could want, (my dad’s military life insurance meant she now had a large inheritance) but can no longer go anyplace with him.  It is a bitter, bitter pill.”

You sobbed and sobbed, buckled over, hands grasping you waist, gasping for breath.

You continued,

“And I have failed all of you! None of you are in the Faith.”

I was a bit dismayed.  None? Indeed, two of us were Methodists, at that time, not Presbyterians, a clear desertion, and the other two were wandering a bit, as far as the Christian faith was concerned, but that was not the point.

“Mom,” I said, “We are in various places with faith, but you haven’t failed. Our choices are ours, not yours.  You and dad did all you could.”

But there is no answer to grief.  There is just the feeling of it.  And as this pain and regret swept through you, all of us came to your side. We hugged you. We cried there, together, and then it was time to enter into the church and take our seats for dad’s goodbye celebration in the packed church.

That outburst of yours, Mom, told me much about how you had recorded those years of life that I too had recorded.  They were tough years. It seemed like you had looked at much of life by concentrating on what was missing.  Whereas Dad saw life from the perspective of all he had to enjoy.  For you it was scarcity and for him, it was abundance.  And like Michal who viewed the dancing King David from her window with contempt, so it felt like you viewed Dad because of what you thought you lacked with disdain (see:  2 Samuel 6:16ff).

Dad worked hard and played hard.  He made the kayak and then immediately turned around and built a 400 sq foot addition on our small Hawkeye Ave house. All this before google, youtube or even DIY books. He rebuilt engines with Roger and John. He flew planes. I remember riding beside him in the twin-seater Cessna and waving at you out in the yard as we flew over the house.  He led the way for our 2-week family backpacking trip.  He led the boy scout troop. And yet, a guy that did all those things also tried many things that didn’t work.  I remember the old, decaying box of Amway SA8 laundry detergent sitting on the window sill of the back porch, a sign, a symbol perhaps of dreams that never materialized.  I never really knew that story, but always felt like it pictured his and somehow felt would picture my own “failure.”

Remember how upset you were that he had sold some stock and invested $10,000 with some guy who promised a good return?  I don’t know how he had come by that kind of stock in the early 1960s but it was gone. “That man will never repay it,” you told me more than once. Another bitter pill. You never seemed to forgive Dad for that. I’m certain you and Jesus and dad have worked that out!  I don’t know how much you two talked about it, I only know that you talked a lot about it with me.

You tried some things outside the house, too.  I remember you ran for a city government position when I was 8, seeking a fuller life perhaps, putting us on posters all over town, but you lost. How did you record all these parts of life?

I remember during that race, you came home proud of your new frosted hairstyle, but 8-year-old me, looked up from where I was seated on the floor, playing with a puzzle, and burst into tears exclaiming, “You are not my mother!”

Sorry for that welcome Mom! I know now how much hair and the mail response matters.  Recently I was with our 2.5-year-old grandson Theo, when his own mom, our daughter Susanna, walked out ready to go run errands, and that little man shouted out, “Mom!  You look Awesome!” She blushed with joy.  I was dumbfounded! Now, that’s how to respond.  It perhaps would have helped you that day!  But that’s not what I did.

Must have been a trip to engage with a kid like me, Mom!  My apologies.  I had my own tortuous demons within that I wrestled with unbeknownst to you.

I recorded all these things along the way, but I think I poorly interpreted what I had recorded.  Instead of allowing what you said and how you lived to be about your view of yourself, I made it about me.  I remember being 10 and feeling uncertain how to move forward.  How could I become a man, when you seemed to hate dad and he was a man?  And how could I become a woman, when, I clearly was not one?  That much I was clear on.  But what I decided was I could be neither, which meant my teen years were a mess of seeking and not finding my identity.  Confusion was part of that identity which reigned at times until I was in my 40s.

I remember coming in from school, in 8th grade, and you were on the phone to Anna Margaret from church, and you were yelling into the receiver:

“I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”

And with that, you slammed down the receiver.

(Yes, that was in the era when the only phones around had a cord and a handle and a base.  You could actually slam the receiver down onto the base to dramatically hang up!  Such dramatic ‘hang-ups’ are not as possible on cell phones for certain!  We use emojis for that, perhaps!)

I was blown away by seeing this, yet it felt fairly familiar. You were emotionally high strung at times.  As I stood there, you burst into tears and ran to your room, weeping.  I am certain Anna Margaret had done the same.  I never knew what had happened, nor looking back have I any idea what you felt that knee-jerk, reactive kind of emotional outburst was supposed to achieve.  But there it was.

Strangely, that day changed our relationship.  You didn’t let me care for you, which would have felt normal for me, but instead processed on your own. Soon after that, I began to seek to care for other strong women, girls at school especially.  I seemed to attach myself to some of the most unhealthy ones at first.  I was addicted to being needed.

Years later — after Dad had died, you had traveled much and then had contracted Parkinson’s disease and over the next 10 years, went downhill.  You eventually moved from your house into an assisted living situation in Turlock. You began to develop dementia but still had your sense of humor.  You knew how to laugh, although I haven’t recorded much of that in this.  I remember calling you once after they had had to call 911 because you had fainted. You told me:

“Brian, it was wonderful, to wake up in the strong, muscular arms of a handsome, young man, his face looking into mine!”

I hooted.  I think you would have planned more of those “faints” if you could have!

We eventually moved you to Brandel Manor for your final weeks of life.  You took many fantasy flights from there, telling me on the phone about a trip to London or China when you had not left the facility.  After our family had stopped to visit you en route back to Oregon, in August 2000, a week later, I felt a strong prompt to go back an see you.  So, I booked a flight, rented a car, and went for two nights.  I helped you eat.  I listened to the stories of your recent adventures at a Bible Study in Patterson (attended by many people I knew had already died) and answered your questions about my life.  You knew who I was but were unclear about your own life.

When it came time to leave, I had said goodbye and leaned over to kiss you, when suddenly you were lucid and clear.  You reached up from your bed, placed your hand upon my cheek and prayed, “Lord, bless my son.”

It was so significant mom.  The moment passed as quickly as it had arrived and you were no longer there.  I left, tears in my eyes, knowing I would not see you again.  One week later two nurses were assisting you to walk to your lunch.  You were alive on one side of the threshold of your doorway but as they helped you step into the hallway, you died, right there, of a massive heart attack.

It was not until years after you had died when I had reconnected with my cousin Chris, that I encountered another side to you.  I learned that in this same period and beyond, that Chris found a mom in you to whom she could relate and from whom she received a great deal of mothering.

She said, “Anytime I would need to talk to a Mom, it was your mom that I called. And she listened, asked me questions and helped me sort out my life.”  Sometimes in our lives, the remarkable stuff bypasses our senses because we are too involved in our own desperate search for significance.  Chris’ testimony about you helped my heart immensely.

It lets me remember a child’s perspective, and child’s interpretation can be skewed by many factors.  You were remarkable in many ways.  Remember the trip to Ostrander Lake?  This backpacking trip came when I was about 11 after Roger had graduated from high school.  It was a challenging, steep hike up a grade out of the valley for miles.  We all were doing great except you.  You were really struggling, winded, and sat down at one point and began to sob:  “I’m not going to make it, my heart is beating out of my chest.”

We stopped, and Roger said, “Mom, let us help you carry your stuff to lighten your load.”  And with that, we opened your back, and you were packing in a pie to surprise us!

“A homemade apple pie in a glass pie plate!  Mom, no wonder your pack is so heavy!”  Roger exclaimed.  So we unpacked your pack and shared it with Dad, John, Roger and me.  With that, we hiked the rest of the way.  One of us carrying that beautiful pie which we enjoyed that night after a fish fry.

I forgive you for the places you failed mom and thank you for all that I gained by knowing you and walking with you in life.  And one of the greatest gifts was that on that day in Hemet, at the Italian place, you didn’t argue for Sherwood’s innocence but simply believed me.  Thank you.












Posted in Encouragement, Faith, family, Fellowship, hope, Presence, Steps, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Dear Dad,

Dear Dad,

Yesterday your great grandson was born and he shares your name – Burton! When I read that Susanna and Collin had named him Gregory Burton, it struck me that, if you were still around, you’d be 96 this year, and you would have loved meeting him. When I heard his name,  I began thinking about you, and about you and me, and had to write.

You died such a long time ago, Dad, the year I turned 23 — February 1982.  I never felt like I got to know you much. So many things got in the way of our relationship. And, since you died,  you’ve missed so much of my life– and the lives of your grandchildren and great grandchildren.

I remember when you and mom called me about the cancer.  It was July 12, 1981. It was about 10 in the morning at the University Religious Center, at UC Santa Barbara,  where I served as caretaker located in in Isla Vista. I was in the living room with its drab, brown, indoor-outdoor carpet, when the phone rang. It was unusual to have both of you on the line. You’d been dialing all us kids that morning to let us know you’d been diagnosed with lung cancer. You and mom said you’d put together a new chaise lounge the night before, both of you weeping, for somehow after 33 years of marriage, you both knew, this was it.

After we had hung up, I had knelt down by the side of my bed, also in the living room, and asked one question: “Papa, is my dad going to die?”  “Yes, child,” was the answer.  “How should I pray, then?” And again with crystal clarity I had heard, “Pray for healing.”  That day I had learned that healing stretched beyond the physical body.  Indeed, it seemed God was working on many of us as you were dying those short six months.

I know you loved me, you just couldn’t understand me.  It is interesting that in this picture below both you and Mom are looking at me.  I see love in your face, Dad, but it is also characteristic of me that I sought and garnered lots of attention.  My sister and brothers are looking straight ahead – Nancy self-confident and assured, Roger on left looking his carefree self, and John, a bit bewildered.  My arrival did displace John from his youngest place, and it took years to recover.

I know too you had great ideals for a “Christian home,” for you preached messages in church on laity Sundays more than one year. I still have those messages you preached during the 1950s.

You spoke sincerely about the importance of the presence of the father in the home, the presence of prayer, the presence of play in life. And you sincerely sought to live out those values but I couldn’t receive much from you. I don’t remember much expression of faith from either you or Mom – I don’t remember prayer 🙏 as part of our lives, except at meals, or scripture, except at Christmas. You lived out faith more by connection to church, by serving others, by serving everyplace you both could – choir, the church session, Boy Scouts, loving the stranger

I remember being with you and being terrified when you pulled your truck over on the highway and picked up a hitch hiker. You treated him as if he’d been a long lost friend. Shook hands across me, shared names, asked about his life and where he was headed.  I don’t think you ever met a stranger Dad, and the same has been said of me.  Maybe I know you somewhat in me?

Also, you loved food and life. I remember that at Thanksgiving, you’d push back your chair after that time of food and lively conversation and laughter and you’d fold your hands across your strong frame and say one word “Delightful!”followed by that winning smile of yours.

Thanksgiving expressed your desire to be surrounded by family. Your sister, Ruth, and her family, husband Peter, and our cousins Chris and Pam would often be there. We always had other guests. You were a highways and byways person, inviting anyone who didn’t have a place to go, to come.

Reno Unger came more than one year. He was a distant cousin of yours, stationed in the navy in San Diego, who, when he discovered he had family just 10 hours away, came. I remember him looking all impressive in his white navy uniform that first year.  He was tall, lanky, with dark hair and a huge laugh. And like you, Reno laughed and joked lots!

We always laughed plenty at Thanksgiving, playing sardines, chess, scrabble, and eating great meals, but that year, with Reno there, it was like the lights came on anew. What life and joy he brought. Sardines had never been quite that adventuresome nor fun.

Then another year he was back with his now 7 to 8 months pregnant wife, Nancy. We played sardines again and remember? And Nancy got stuck under my sister Nancy’s bed!

Do you remember, dad?

Sardines was always the best game. Did you teach us that game?  It always seemed like our family’s game. But maybe Reno brought it with him.

We’d search for whomever had hid in the darkened rooms of the house and once we’d found them we’d hide with or near where they’d hidden. We’d be all quiet and giggly, then begin to whisper- “Are we all here?” And eventually, we would know we were and all come out of the places we’d hidden.

That night Nancy Unger got stuck we were all squeezed under Nancy’s high bed frame, and a couple people were in the closet when we realized we were all there.  We had all come back to the lit family room ready to have the next person hide, when we heard this muffled voice, call:


Then we realized no Nancy Unger! We went back to look and there she was, against the wall, under the bed, with that big stomach with the baby inside, she were stuck fast.

You and Reno lifted that big, wooden, brown high posted bed frame off her so she could slide out. And all of us laughed and laughed.

Laughter and Music. Dad, you loved to laugh, but I think some of the laughter was squelched by other things in life.  Nancy, my sister, remembered that before I arrived, you and mom would often have friends over for parties filled with laughter and lots of music.  Mom was a great pianist and you both loved to sing. After I arrived those gatherings perhaps still happened, but less frequently.  I don’t remember any.  It was like after I arrived some of the music and laughter diminished.

There was one musical event when I turned 3 that marked my life   Your church choir produced the Operetta “Amahl and the Night Visitors.”  There’s a picture I couldn’t find for this post of me peeking out from your robe.  You played Balthazar, one of the Kings.  More than the event, the music of this play lived on in my life.  You and Mom would randomly launch into refrains from this play.  The story is rooted deeply in my heart.  I cannot watch it without weeping. I think I’d get frustrated with the sung sentences growing up, but, I miss them now.  You’ve marked my life with hope.

I remember when Nancy, my big sister, saw a Black Widow spider in her room one night. She had screamed and you had come in, turned on the light, gotten a stick, and swung that spider around and around by that spider’s tough silk until she was at the end of that stick. Then you deftly dealt with that spider. 🕷You were laughing the whole time. Nancy was not amused.

You enjoyed scaring her a bit, I think, but do you know what I saw?

Dad: You were fearless.

Remember the boat you built? Before google, before YouTube, before classes at local clubs, back in 1960 you decided to build a kayak. This would be no ordinary kayak, however. It would easily hold all six of us and you wanted it to be an unsinkable kayak, and yours truly was.

You created your own frame with various kinds and sizes of wood. You used fiberglass webbing on the outside and painted and painted resin over this. Layer upon layer. This was no lightweight boat! The garage stunk so much! I only got to see this from a distance as a toddler

Nancy, Roger, and John all helped. You were such a great leader of your kids that all three believed they each helped the most.

Roger remembered how you had to tilt the finished frame on end in order to pour in a kind of liquid foam that would harden into a kind of floatation styrofoam. He told me that he and Johnny helped you do this. The end of the kayak went up into the rafters of the garage that night, and then you’d pour in the smelly mixture.

I wish I had had the ability to really know your ingenuity like Roger and John did. At that I age and then as teenagers they worked side by side with you on many projects, even fixing and repairing their cars.

It’s not that I didn’t have the opportunity, after all, when I was 16, you and I did putty and shape the fender and repaint the whole VW beetle I bought from our neighbor.  He had had that thing sitting in his field with the “For Sale: $500” on it. But my heart was so shut down, compromised, (see my post titled #metoo) by then, that I never really connected with you during that time.

That kayak was incredible, though, Dad! The maiden voyage was at Turlock Lake in the foothills. I was still a toddler but you had the other three out in it encouraging them to try to flip it, which they hardly managed. Then to try to sink it. Eventually the four of you were all in that boat, it was filled with water, but, unlike the Titanic on her maiden voyage, it proved unsinkable.

We took that boat to many lakes and on many adventures. I remember when we all were in it on our church’s pool one evening to demonstrate lifesaving techniques for the class of lifeguards   We feined an emergency, rough water and flipped it so we all could flounder in the water and be rescued. This was all before I turned 8.  Dad, you had so much life

Dad, I wish I could have known you, better.

John and Roger still build things.  Roger designed and built his own house with Dorothy years back in Elk Grove, CA.  He built hardwood cabinets from scratch in their current house.  I remember as John described how he decided “a staircase would look great here,” in one of his houses, then cut the hole in the ceiling and built the staircase.  He completely remodeled the kitchen of another house:  adding doors, windows, whatever he chose.  It’s like they got the inventive genius, brilliant know-how gene from you, Dad.  For you were super-creative and adventuresome.  You also had added on a room to our Hawkeye house, mixed, poured and built steps to the front also. I admire all you could do and they can do, design, create, build.  It is remarkable and through them I get to touch and see some of your genius.  Dad, you were a marvel.

They say things to me like – “Just check YouTube.  Google it! You could do this.”  But there’s more to it than that.  It’s like they got this know-how from you, while I got a super big dose of your joy.

There’s more that I know about you, Dad, you loved the outdoors.

I think mom never totally appreciated this about you, but the backcountry, to be in the wild, that was vacation for you.  Before I could fully remember the years of the abuse (see my post: #metoo) I could only recall one childhood memory.  It was the summer Nancy graduated from high school, you planned and took us all including a friend of Nancy’s, on a two week backpacking trip.  It was called the Ten Lake trail and looped through ten backcountry lakes in the High Sierras above Yosemite Valley.  It’s amazing how many snapshots are in my memories from that trip.

I remember the hot, dusty hike up, up, up out of The Valley at the start and how fast John and Roger could hike!  I remember at one point you pointed out where a bear had reached up high on an old tree trunk to mark his territory. You noted how tall that bear had been and were unafraid.  That was by this beautiful stream.

I remember fishing in one of the lakes, catching my first rainbow trout, and frying fish for dinner. I remember skinny dipping with the family.  Don’t think Mom did that.  I remember trying to compete with my brothers to be bravest by jumping into the freezing lakes.  They were braver than me!

Nancy reminded me of one memory I hadn’t remembered. While we were hiking along one of the super high ridges, about 20’ across with drop offs on both sides, suddenly I’d disappeared. Everyone panicked, searching, yelling, and looking.  They feared I’d fallen over the edge   But actually I had hidden just for fun behind one of the big boulders   No one was amused when I popped out.

“We were furious with you!” Nancy told me.

I only remember one time that you were really mad at me, Dad.  Do you remember? It was some special time when we had visitors at the house and I was going to church with you but didn’t really want to go.  You agreed to pick me up at the corner of Johnson St. And Hawkeye Ave. I don’t remember why that was but I was to wait there.  However, instead I’d climbed up in the tree at that corner, intently observing the ground, and stayed up there, telling you later I hadn’t been hiding but been watching a bug crawling along the ground! 🤔 You’d arrived, not seen me, couldn’t wait and so went on without me.  You were so mad when you got home.  When I made my lame excuse, you were even angrier.  You chased me through the house, which I made into a game.  Somehow I escaped punishment. Sorry Dad, I just feared going to church sometimes.

Nancy described you as the most loving, brilliant, fair, kind, and decent human.  There was so much to admire.  I want to admit that I have spent years not appreciating you. Indeed, for  years I determined to not be like you – something left over from the other hurts I experienced as a kid.  I was not going to look like you – but I have your frame and body.  Like you I also still weigh the same as when I was in high school.  I sing like you – so cousin Chris has told me.  I laugh like you.  My face has the same multiple wrinkles like yours did.  People also have said I have a megawatt smile, like my dad.  So, thank you Dad for doing your best, loving me, holding me, playing with me, even when you didn’t get all the difficult stuff going on within me.  Thank you.  I’m the me I am because of you. And I’m doing my best to pass on faith, joy, blessing, love and that quality of joyous inclusion you always showed as I live this life, and as I love your namesake Gregory Burton. He’s all wrinkly just like you and me..



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Jesus and $2.75

img_2629This came from a friend, Rebecca, who with her husband Brian was at Fred Meyer’s, a local department store recently.  She shared this on Facebook and after reading it, I asked her if I could share it on this blog.

She is a woman with a deep love for Jesus and a simple desire: to be obedient.

What this reminded me of was this – that our lives are a walk, a Camino, if you will. And every interaction has the opportunity to bless, enhance, transform, touch another with the love we have experienced. It is a simple story. May it bless your heart today as it blessed mine.

In the following, I’m placing the whole of this in quotes for it is Rebecca speaking.  So, Brian and Rebecca were just doing some shopping when…

“This young boy walks passed me with this woman in a disability scooter.”

“I felt this immediate sense of brokenness, so I paused and listened in on their conversation a bit.  The woman was scolding the young boy heavily, but the child ‘felt’ broken to me, already.”

“The woman looked very angry and a bit overpowering for sure.”

“I asked Brian for a dollar, after checking my pockets, for I felt like I needed to give him a dollar. But, I wondered, how was this gonna happen? Was I just to walk up and say:  ‘Hi! I’m Rebecca.  Here’s a dollar…cheer up?'”

“Brian says to me, ‘What’s the plan?'”

“I tell him, ‘I don’t know, but we’re going to follow them.’ LOL.”

“I tell Brian, ‘Pretend you’re busy looking at something down this aisle.'”

“I pray in my head to Jesus and say ‘Help me because this don’t look good!'”

“The woman on the scooter is still scolding the kid and she’s throwing stuff in her basket, yet Jesus wants me to give a dollar?”

“I think, ‘Yikes!'”

“So, I take a deep breath and notice I’m standing in front of the donut section.  They are on sale 2 for $3 bucks or a package sleeve for $1.00.”img_2628

“So, I blurt out to the kid, ‘I can’t decide. Chocolate or Powdered Sugar?'”

“He looks up at me, like ‘Huh?'”

“So, I say again, ‘I just can’t decide!  I love them both but donuts don’t love me.'”

“He giggles.”

“The woman answers, ‘Powdered Sugar is my favorite!’ She has a huge grin on her face now.”

“I say,  ‘What about you, kiddo?'”

“He says, ‘Definitely chocolate!’ with a huge grin.”

“The woman’s heart has changed. She says, ‘Okay, let’s get donuts!’ So they add one of each to the cart.”

“I say to the boy, ‘Let me buy yours.'”

“The lady was thrilled.”

“The kid overwhelmed with amazement.”

“I needed a bit more money as they weren’t the dollar packages.”

“The woman tells me she’s just the neighbor. She’s helping the family out. His mom has cancer. He has 3 other siblings and one is a young baby. She mentioned that this boy was excited because for Christmas he found a bike someone left by the garbage can that just needed new tires.”

“I asked the boy if I could shake his hand and I held it. I asked if he was 10. He said he was. His name was Carter.”

“I boldly say to him, ‘Carter do you believe in God?'”

“He says, ‘Yes, I do.'”

“I say, ‘God sent me to you. He wants me to tell you that He knows things are heavy right now, but He is leaving you gifts every day but you need to look for them now. Your eyes will be opened so you can show other people.  Things will be heavy for a while, but you must look for God like little packages that appear for you.”

“I told Carter to write it all down.”

“The woman on the scooter believed it all. Oddly, but not oddly, she said she was going to take him to the dollar tree to get him a journal. She said she was telling Carter that God left him the bike earlier that day, so what I said supported her ‘gift’ appearing thought.”

“Then she said, ‘This woman is speaking through God to you!’”

“It was AMAZING how that dollar, that boldness, and obedience and partnership with Jesus transformed her heart. That boy was taking on the weight of his entire family plus his disabled grumpy neighbor. All they needed was an interruption from Christ to remind them of how loved and valuable they were.”

“The negativity left. It evaporated like fog when the sun appears. And the young boy lifted his shoulders.”

“I never have instructions or a plan, when something like this happens. But my heart is overflowing with love for broken people. I get to hear hearts with permission from Jesus. I admit, I don’t always like it but Jesus gave me this gift and one day maybe, I’ll figure it out. But then again, I probably won’t figure this out. If I ever did, then Jesus would just move in another way in my heart, and say, ‘Okay, child, now try this!’”

“Such a gracious Father! Anyway, felt like I should share that and it cost me time and $2.75.”

I’m blessed by this friend’s account — her transparency, her willingness to follow her heart and the prompts of Jesus, and the impact made.  She’s a shining light with her family in Beaverton, Oregon.  20293091_10212371957989967_3376976319885461506_n



Posted in camino, Encouragement, Faith, family, Fellowship, follow, God speaks, God with us, hope, Jesus, Joy, Presence, Provision, Steps, Trust, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What Embraces”

mary poppins

A couple weeks back now, I published #metoo. It brought up plenty of pain for me as I wrote it, even though I have done a ton of healing.  It brought up some pain for people who read it.  One person’s story sometimes does that!  My love to those that hurt!  I find it is amazing how much pain the heart can hold!

In that post, I told how God had used the movie Mary Poppins in my 5-year-old heart to protect and guard me in the middle of the suffering I was enduring. If you missed that post and want to connect with the background, click here.  Clearly, this movie meant a lot to me, but people didn’t own movies in that era.  So, I had not seen it nor thought much about it over the years.

After my Junior year at UC Santa Barbara, on May 23, 1980, Mary Poppins was rereleased. I was then 21.  I remember how excited I was to see it again, not even knowing why.

What I didn’t know then, but I clearly see now, it was the 5-year-old little boy inside of me who was over the moon about seeing that movie again.  Check out this post by a dear brother for more unpacking on the kid inside connecting to the adult outside.

I didn’t know anything then, except, in the dark ages of my childhood I had seen and loved this movie.  And also I knew, I wanted to take my then girlfriend Karen to see it.  I was so excited and thought it would be a great “end of finals” date.  So, invited Karen, made plans, and picked her up after her last final.

Karen had just written what she would tell you was the most brilliant essay of her college career on John Milton’s masterpiece Paradise Lost, comparing and contrasting it to another piece of literature. She felt great about her writing and achievement, as was appropriate. It had been an intellectually stimulating and a deeply meaningful, albeit exhausting, experience.

In contrast to her day, I had finished my finals days earlier and had spent the day focused and SO EXCITED to see this movie.  With the same carefree joy of Herbie the Love Bug, I drove my little, light blue, 1968 VW bug up to the campus to pick her up, oblivious to the thought that she might not share my enthusiasm.  She was spent intellectually and fulfilled, but really more ready for a picnic on the beach than any movie.  But here I was intent on sharing a favorite childhood moment with her.  So, we drove to downtown Santa Barbara on this bright, sunshine day to the State Street theater.

Unlike my first experience of seeing that movie when the line went around the block, this time, very few people were there.  We were the only young adults in the theater, and other than us, there were some parents with small kids attending the movie.  Perhaps adults who had loved Mary Poppins as children and were now sharing this classic!

As the movie began and got into the story, I remember feeling confused.  I could feel that Karen was clearly not enjoying it. I was loving it, but she was not.  Have you ever looked back and realized you had placed expectations on someone else to respond in a certain way to give you permission to like or enjoy something?  I think I had wanted Karen to like it to affirm 5-year-old Brian’s joy.  Had she known that, I know she would have!  But I didn’t even know that.

And clearly, she didn’t like it.  Face it, there’s no comparison between John Milton’s brilliance and Disney’s Mary Poppins! When she didn’t like it, something broke in me.  It was one of those moments when I told the little kid in my heart to just back down, shut up, and drop it.  Saying: “This movie wasn’t that important after all.”

For precious Karen, it was like she had been yanked from the sublime to the ridiculous, from this immense intellectual triumph to something that felt inane.  I know she tried to find a way to be present and like it, but it was all wrong.  She needed a space to tell of her victory, not a movie that asked her to enjoy chalk drawings.

The power of that experience was immense.  We had a very difficult conversation, perhaps even an argument(?), afterward.  And that was the last time I saw the movie.  When it was possible to own movies, we didn’t buy it.  Karen’s sister recorded it for us once on her TV but I never sat and watched it with the kids.  Like the memories of the abuse, this movie, that had been a saving moment for me, got locked up too.

I didn’t realize all this until this past May when I came back to it and realized just how significantly God had used that movie.  That may sound crazy to someone for whom the movie was just an inane jaunt.  But it is true, and choosing to like it is about one thing:  honoring 5-year-old old Brian who is still with me!

So, this year, while staying for a week with my grandson Theo, my kids had a copy of Mary Poppins, so one night, after everyone was asleep, I watched it on my computer.  I laughed, sang and cried my way through.  And after that, decided this year, I needed it on my Christmas list.  And guess what, Karen bought it for me.  Come full circle– next, we need to watch it.

Now, the #metoo post I wrote last week got incredible responses.  These all were another kind of gift into my life. Thank you for all those beautiful, encouraging words you wrote.  Your presence and love are immensely important in this life.  We cannot walk our “Caminos” without one another.  It takes a village.

One brother in Christ, Dr. Kelly Flanagan, kelly

(Whose blog post I referenced above) living near Chicago wrote me this:

“This is probably the bravest thing I’ve ever read…. People have told me the bravery alone in my writing has been healing for them. Brian, if my bravery can be healing to a person, the level of bravery you show here can work miracles.”  
He ended with this:
“Thank you for being you, and refusing to let you be taken away from you.”
That last line, “refusing to let you be taken away from you,” got to me.  I’d love to live there more from the true “me.”  You’d like that too, right?  Too often in my experience that is not the case.  May it be more and more true for me and for you!
Shameless plug:  If you are not familiar with Kelly – check out his blog at He is that kind of real in all his writing. And his book, Loveable is super powerful as well.
To say the least by his and all your comments, I was staggered.  I don’t know what I expected, other than the fulfilled feeling of having done exactly what I was led to do.  But the support, the affirmation, the love, the honesty, that has been a boon in this life.

After I had published it and it automatically published on Facebook, I thought I ought to send the link to my siblings.  They didn’t know my story, although I had mentioned the fact of the abuse to my oldest brother, Roger, at one point.



Roger, Me, John

So, I first emailed it to my two older brothers. Roger (the oldest) phoned me the same day saying,

“Brian, I never knew. But this,” he took a breath, “this explains everything.  No wonder you behaved as you did as a child.”

He continued,  “You were just trying to let us know something was very, very wrong.  And Brian, I want to apologize for the way Johnny and I treated you as a kid.”  

That ball came in from left field.  I was shocked.  I told him,

“Oh Roger, that’s long forgiven!  But thank you.  That means so much to me to have you say it.” 

As a kid, from my perspective, my older brothers’ favorite game to play against me, joined by Kirk the neighbor kid, was “Ditch Brian.”  Seriously, the best thing they could figure to do with me was to get away from me.  Looking back, I don’t blame them!  I was fairly self-absorbed due to the abuse and my response to it.  And when I was especially riled up, and somehow got close to them, Roger would place the palm of his hand on my forehead and I’d be swinging my fists wildly at him, but my short arms against his longer, stronger, older arm were no match! He’d be laughing and then quickly duck away and run, and since I had been pressing the full weight of my body against his hand, well, I’d fall flat.

I received an email from my next older brother, John, that afternoon.  John wrote this:

“Dearest Brian,
I’m finished crying and think I can now type…
I knew nothing about this and would be hugging you with a relentless grip if you were that near me at this moment. I can only send you my love and care and tell you how proud I am to call you my brother. … I love you!”
What an immense word John had sent.  I read and reread his words.  The very way he phrased his language touched me.  And how he wrote he’d be hugging me “with a relentless grip” went right to my core.  He’s such a cool man.
I sent the same blog link to my sister, Nancy, in DC. She’s the oldest in the family, 10 years my senior for the next three months. Although, she would rather you think of her as only being 9 years older. My sister and I have not talked much in life.  She left the house when I was 8 to go to college.  Our longest conversation on record happened last month, lasted 90 minutes, and was delightful.  We were sharing stories about our upbringing. I have quizzed my siblings for I’ve wanted to check out my own memories of the ordinary parts of life.

Our cousin and my sister Nancy on the right (a few years back)

Nancy wrote back the next day with these words as part of her email:
“I am so, so very sorry that you had to experience something so awful and difficult—-so very hard for a child, and so horrible to have to endure such torture and torment for so many years. Too much to bear! … Thank God that you have Him and have worked through and been healed so much. So grateful that you have His light guiding you.
I am so sorry that you could not have had that support as a little one.”
I was grateful for her words.
My sister was closely connected to the guy who had abused me, Sherwood W.  In fact, she asked him to come and officiate her wedding in 1975. For that reason, I thought perhaps she would not believe me.  But she did. That meant so much.
At the time of her wedding, I was 16. It was the first time in 8 years that I had seen Sherwood.  I felt nothing.  I was internally totally disconnected. The abuse was buried, silenced within me.  In fact, most of my childhood was shrouded in fog at that point.  I knew nothing of what had happened.  I carried with me only two clear childhood memories: A backpacking trip that our family had taken the summer after I turned 8 and a vacation we had had at the family cabin.  But as I have been able to remember the hard stuff, the good memories have flowed back in as well.
For me, these weeks have been filled with such an outpouring of grace– like many embraces. That’s the way to leave 2017 and enter this new year, being embraced.  Thank you for doing so!  And, thanks for listening.  Happy New Year!
Posted in camino, Fellowship, follow, God speaks, God with us, sexual abuse, Steps, Thanksgiving, Trust, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment


I was speaking with some beloved colleagues last week about the whole #metoo phenomenon and how many people have facebooked #metoo, how the “People of the Year” are those who first courageously told their stories, and how this has overflowed into more people having the courage, to tell the truth about abuse currently happening. Even though I could add my name, I told them, I hadn’t for I felt like my story was already told in more than one place, and couldn’t see the purpose of adding another story to the list. But one of them said,

“You know, Brian, that’s true. But I also think we need more voices that speak out against the kind of toxic masculinity that creates and is involved in abuse.  For you to speak would help do that.”

The other colleague agreed.  So, because of that conversation, I’m blogging part of my story, it is a part of the “Camino” of this life that I continue to walk. The actions of one man did mar my soul, rip at my heart, caused me to lose touch with my identity, and left me in a wasteland for years, decades even. But Jesus knows all about wandering in deserts. He sought me out, even had an escape route planned.

For years I had had this image that would come to my mind. When I felt ashamed of something I had said or done, when I felt like a failure, when I felt afraid of something, when I felt abandoned, again and again, this was the image in my mind’s eye. It was the image of a dark room with a small boy curled up as tightly as he could in the far corner. He looked asleep and immensely sad. I’d see this and would beat myself up for this image, thinking I was giving into self-pity, just being stupid, thinking I had created this image just to feel sorry for myself.

In 2011, after a really tough church situation, when someone had betrayed me, lied about me, gathered allies against me and belittled me, I was left raw, hurting, determined to pack up my books and life and quit the ministry in which I had been involved for years. Instead, I spoke with my then DS Lowell Greathouse and he said,

“Next time you feel this bad and want to quit, send me a note and tell me, ‘It feels that bad.’  But, don’t quit.  What I want you to do this time is discover why this hurts as deeply as it does.”

His request made sense, so, I went to see my counselor and in the opening part of the conversation, she had a hunch and asked,

“Have you ever prayed through the actual memories of the abuse?”

“Never,” I said. “We’ve talked about it as a fact (for decades). I’ve done a ton of recovery work, and have prayed with countless people for their healings, and seen that happen, but I have never had anything more than the one flashback, back in 1988, or so. I really don’t think I could access them.”

“Do you want to see if Jesus wants to show you more today?” she asked. “I have a feeling this experience at church has cut that deep.”

“I am open to trying,” I told her, desperate for help.

I got comfortable, she prayed asking Jesus to use the pain I had experienced to open my eyes. I closed my eyes and immediately I saw that image of that little boy in the corner of the room.

But this time I didn’t fight against it, and the memory began to play, like a video before my eyes.  I saw what he had just endured.  Tears came to my eyes and I said,

“It’s working.  I guess it’s time…”

That day we prayed through four of these heinous memories, with Jesus meeting me in each, pulling me out, healing my heart, taking me to a safe place and helping me forgive. The following week, we prayed through a myriad of memories, image after image after image, and the whole story unpacked. I remembered and as I remembered I could forgive, I could release this boatload of anger, allow Jesus to touch and heal the place in my heart so long hidden.

So, as my #metoo here’s what I discovered.

I arrived Palm Sunday, March 22nd, 1959, the youngest of four kids, five years behind my next older brother, John.  Ours was not the easiest home life, and that will be another story.  My Mom loved the new pastor who arrived in late 1960 Dr. Frank H. They connected. She was struggling on many levels emotionally and psychologically mostly with her relationship with her mom. So she went to him a few times for counseling, then, after the church hired an assistant pastor, in March 1964, Rev. Sherwood W., she began to go to Frank for counseling every two weeks. Sherwood offered to watch me for the hour or so while she was in with Frank. It was convenient and Sherwood was a nice, charismatic, seemingly safe person.

When that first appointment came, the month I turned 5, Sherwood held me on his lap at his desk. He would run his fingers through my blond hair. He would kiss the top of my head. He would hold me to him. I liked the attention and he would let me use his markers and pens, read me stories and play there. That’s all it was. I enjoyed the time. It made my heart feel warm. I looked forward to going back. It was always special. I felt really cared for, loved even.

The visits with Sherwood continued, then, he said one day, after mom was in her session, “I want to show you something really special.” I was excited. The things he showed me had always been so cool.

We went to the education wing of the church to the nursery room, and there, he unzipped his pants pulling free his erection and encouraged me to touch him. And that day, I experienced what I later learned was oral sex. At first strange, and I liked that he liked it, but involving tastes, smells and feelings I didn’t expect.  My stomach hurt.  My head hurt.  It felt all wrong somehow, guilt washed over me. Yet, feelings too.  My chest filled with butterflies and nervousness.  I was bad, I knew, and shame came.  Confusion.  Fear.  And after it was over, I felt exhausted.  And he said, “You did great, Brian. Why don’t you lie here and rest? This is our little secret now.”

That confused me more. A secret? Adults didn’t usually say such things.  And when he left, it was like he was connected to me, but then, the connection snapped and I felt he had abandoned and rejected me. The pain inside me intensified and I cried and then slept. I wanted him close, and, I never wanted to see him again. Both. I wanted to throw him up. But, instead, I fell asleep in the corner of the room, with that taste of him in my mouth. Next thing I remember was mom coming to get me with Sherwood, who winked as she picked me up and left.

Week by week our routine was to begin by sitting at his desk, coloring, then, we would go to the nursery and play. First, we actually would play, so he could always tell the truth about what we had done, and then again, we did the same thing as on the first day. I didn’t like the pain I felt inside me afterward. I didn’t like the way he would touch my legs and rub me. That sent strange feelings through me. I began to not want to do that anymore. He began to hold my head harder against him. It hurt. I choked. It scared me. But when I would cry, he would tell me harshly, “This is special. I’m doing something special for you. Don’t ruin it by crying.” He was scary when he spoke like that.

Adults can be mean.

I began to be afraid to go back. By not wanting to go, I was trying to tell mom that something was wrong. But this was a signal that my mom didn’t know how to interpret. She was getting helped. She would get mad at me for trying to take her away from what was helping her. Still, I would struggle to go some days, but then Sherwood would reward me for coming. Every week he had something special for me – a piece of candy, a book, or another present like new markers. And then I knew we would go to the nursery room. The counseling was helping her cope with her life, process her pain at her mom, and come to grips more and more with how to be the woman she was called to be in this season of her life. But with the abuse, inside, I was dying.

That summer on August 29th, 1964, the movie Mary Poppins was released. It was the first movie that I got to go see in the theater. I was so excited, even though I didn’t know anything about it. My mom took Bruce G., who was my age and the son of her best friend Sylvia, and me to see it at the big State Theater in Modesto, CA.

When we got there the line wound all the way around the back of the theater. We got into line, standing in the alley, behind the theater in this long line of people that continued in front and soon lined up behind us. I had never seen a line that long. All those people were waiting to see that one movie. That was the era when there was only one movie shown at a time at a theater. And the State Theater was this huge square building made of brick that took up a prominent place on that city block. Mom was not certain we would even get to the box office before they sold out.

Bruce began to cry standing there on the black, coarse pavement in that alley by the two-story high windowless wall of the brick theater. He was afraid that we wouldn’t make it. For some reason, that day, I was so confident and therefore encouraged him, saying,

“You’ll see. We will get in. It will be alright and all work out.”

I don’t know why I believed that. But I think I had a Holy Spirit inspired confidence. There was a place in me and God was whispering, “I have something special for you.” And this something actually was special; it was good, unlike what was happening with Sherwood.

We did get into the packed theater. We got three of the last seats in the very front row. My mom said her neck hurt for days afterward from staring nearly straight up at the screen. As we sat down, the curtains parted, and the opening credits and music began. And there was soon Mary Poppins sitting on a cloud with her talking umbrella.

That movie was so incredible to me– about kids who had a great adventure; about kids not being hurt by adults; about adults who were magical and safe; about kids protected from their dad’s anger and abuse; about the dad discovering how valuable his children were and seeing them as important. For my little 5-year-old heart, it was a movie about hope. That movie astounded and thrilled me. It became this immensely important movie in my life. I would sing the songs. I would act it out. Years later, when I played piano, I learned the piano score associated with it.

This year in May 2017, I was remembering this memory of seeing that movie, and making the connections to it. I looked to see where Jesus had been in my memory. And I saw him there: I was sitting on his lap. He was holding me as I watched that movie in the theater. He was laughing and singing with me and letting me know how special I was to him. That day He reminded me of another memory that had occurred when I was 28.

It was in the summer of 1987 when I while standing in the side room of a small church in Louisiana, praying with a group of pastors associated with a good friend from seminary, David D., who was pastoring in that community.

One of the pastors in the group, as we prayed, abruptly stopped praying and spoke to me saying: “God began to call you into the ministry at age 5. ” He said a few other things, but that was the gist of what I remembered. At that point, in 1987, I had not remembered the abuse and had no memories of my childhood, or age 5, particularly, so didn’t know how remarkable his statement was. I thought I had been 23 not 5 when God began to call me.

When I first knew I had been abused at 29, and realized that even though a pastor had abused me, still I harbored no ill will toward the church or pastors in general, I knew God had worked. But I had not known how Jesus had done that, until this year, when I understood the timing of the movie Mary Poppins. That movie was an experience with Jesus that was safe. It laid the foundation of a call to keep kids safe, to love well, to do no harm, to lead others to such a haven. It was an early call to make a difference presented in color, with power and song. It was a message about hope, for me, and therefore about Jesus, with Mary Poppins and Bert being the saving figures, and about God in the middle of my dark time. And someplace deep within I heard it, from that front row of that darkened theater as I listened to the story, “Child, you will bring life and joy to My people.”

The abuse continued time after time while my mom received counsel, but expanded to other times whenever Sherwood managed to get me alone. Since he was so trusted, this was easily accomplished. One time was when I was with my older siblings on the youth snow trip into the mountains. I was there because my parents went as chaperones, and all three of my older siblings were on the trip.

Looking back, I’m not certain how, but I remember he got me alone. Back home, Sherwood just would make some excuse to get me alone. “Brian is going to show me the tree house,” he would say, and while we were there, we’d do something else as well. As he controlled the times more and more, his treatment became accompanied by threats. One day in the tree house, when I was 7, after hitting my shoulder, again and again, he said, “You ever tell and I will kill your dog.”

By then I had my own, favorite, big dog Benjamin, who had come to us as a pup when I was 5 and in a year had grown into this big, lumbering, black and white English lab. Sherwood knew how much I loved Benjamin. In my world, only Benjamin believed me. Benjamin knew what was happening. I had told him. Benjamin would sleep with a paw on my leg. That threat seared into my heart: “Never tell,” and I stopped trying to do so. Sherwood had me under his control.

The older I got, the more extensive the abuse got until oral sex became anal sex. It was painful. I hated it and felt the pleasure of it, and was buried under the shame of it. Shame and guilt filled my world. Just a small comment in other situations would crush me. I wanted it more. I didn’t want it at all. And I didn’t know of an escape. Sherwood ridiculed me and shamed me for my little boy’s body. He made fun of my gut. His words mattered and seared into my thinking the idea that I had to have a certain shape to be accepted, a shape I have never had! I don’t know how this would have continued had Sherwood stayed.

It was 1967. In March I turned 8 and Sherwood moved to another Presbyterian Church. Not long after Sherwood had moved, on a Sunday, I was at church already. Mom was at home still ready to leave for church to join us, when she heard a car skidding and a thud. She ran out and found Benjamin lying dead in the road.

Benjamin had been hit and killed by a car. She was grief-stricken and couldn’t come to church. The driver helped get Benjamin off the road. She stayed home wondering how to tell me. At church, we wondered where she was. As I arrived home, I knew something horrible had happened. She and I sat on the front steps that my dad had built, her arm around me, tears streaming down her cheeks, and told me how Benjamin had died that day. I sobbed and sobbed, shouting, “No! No! No!” I was devastated. Not only had my friend died, my true confidante, but also I knew and knew deep in my heart, it was my fault Benjamin had died. I must have told. I felt responsible for Benjamin’s death. The secret I held about what Sherwood had done got buried deeper in my heart that day. I recorded this message: “Don’t tell anyone. Don’t talk about it. Don’t remember.”

Along with Benjamin, my childhood memories, my first years of life got buried that afternoon for years. But eventually, those memories returned. 21 years later the first flashback and PTSD type experience returned when triggered and suddenly was 7 again. And then again in 2011 and in the years between, a long, long walk learning to grow up and see the light, find the hope, experience the joy.

This past March marked 50 years since the abuse ended. Seriously this has been a long Camino. And I am still walking it. But that’s the truth about a Camino – you really need to keep walking it day after day, one step at a time.

Posted in Camino de Santiago, Faith, family, God speaks, Jesus, Joy, Presence, sexual abuse, silence, Steps | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Dresden, Germany

There’s always more to tell.  In the days the followed after Santiago, I visited Finisterra and Muxia, walking between the two, then returned to Ireland, where I eventually settled into a cottage for 18 days and painted day after day from up to 5.5 hours a day.  There was a weekend before I arrived at the cottage when I flew from Ireland to England for $20rt to visit friends in England, and then Karen, my wife, joined me there for a week in Ireland, and two weeks in England before returning home to the states on November 11th, 2016.  What a week that was in the states.  The election had been that week and there was rioting in Portland, Oregon.  We saw pictures of the bonfires burning in the streets of Portland on the TVs at the Dublin Airport while eating dinner there the night before our departure.  We were dismayed.  To what were we returning?

Re-entry was challenging for me.  If you want to read more on that, journey back to “Endings and Beginnings” Here and some of the posts from that season.  I’ve detailed much there. But something that happened just two days after I got home was a phone call.

It came from a good friend, Carolyn, from Simply the Story, a storytelling outreach I had been involved for 5 years, at that point.  She called to ask if I would join a team going to Dresden, Germany to work with Farsi speaking refugees from Iran.  “Yes,” I said. “I mean, I suppose I need to check with the church, but yes.”  My spirit had said yes and the word I had received from God on more than one occasion came back into my heart with this phone call,

“Just you wait for what I have planned.  You will be traveling…” God had said.

I did check with the church leadership and they were so onboard with this opportunity.  They knew how to get along without me!  Amidst the ice storms of January and after being down with double walking pneumonia for the two weeks prior to departure, I flew out on Saturday, January 14th for Oakland, my friend, Carolyn, met me, and then on Sunday evening we met with another friend at the San Francisco airport and the three of us boarded our Swiss Air flight for Zurich.

There was this unreal feeling in all this. The last time I had landed in Zurich, I had been 17 years old.  Crazy feeling to be back in that airport 40 years later.

After connecting in Zurich, we flew to Dresden and were met at the airport by the sweetest woman, our host for the week.  Christina had this joyful, round face, with rosy cheeks, and was married to Dieter, a solid, stout and jolly German.  Christina spoke fluent English while Dieter conversed with me easily in German, especially over a beer.  Here’s Dieter and I while on a walk through Dresden one evening.

One night Christina had said, “Dieter would love to be able to drink a beer and chat.  Would you be willing to do that?” So us men chatted in German over beer, while Christina made the meal.  That might make me sound fluent, far from it, but my vocabulary increased by leaps and bounds as my brain tapped into that once fluent language bucket!  It was like I had had 8 crayons to begin a picture but by the end, that number had increased to 148!

The stairs down from the living area to the street!

Their Christmas Tree was still up, much to our delight!

Dresden as a city was fascinating.  It was decimated during WWII, and only partially rebuilt under Soviet rule.  However, since the falling of the wall, the city has been beautifully rebuilt.

Our schedule while in Dresden was full.  We had some 16 hour days from the time we left our homestay, a full 45 minutes from where our group would meet and when we would arrive home after the tram ride, bus ride and tromping through the snow.  It was 20F with snow everywhere most of the time we were there that week.  Long icicles grew outside my third story window.

One evening Christina had prepared a special dinner for us which we arrived to eat at 9:30 pm!  Crazy long days. On Sunday she fixed a special traditional German meal for our evening meal, served on special dishes, and in their dining room.  Their son was in town and joined us for that meal.

We met with the group of students for this storytelling class in a coffee shop in downtown Dresden which boasted this beautiful mural of the Prodigal Son.  The coffee shop was owned and run by the church ministry outreaching to these precious souls.  Certainly, I had prayed for refugees many times, but to meet those who had been internationally displaced because of all kinds of reasons, was heart-wrenching for me.

As I met these beautiful, precious people, they would tell me their stories with tears brimming their eyes, remembering the separation from many family members, the loss of jobs, of education, of hope.  One young woman, 24, had traveled with her mom, dad, and younger brother, and she had had with her, her college degree certificate and her transcripts for electrical engineering.  However, at one stop, someone broke into their stuff and stole all her paperwork.  Without it, she had no proof that she had obtained that degree. There was no way to contact the school in Iran, for because she was a refugee, she had become a “nobody.”  She would need to begin all over again.  That was the story for many of the refugees.

The refugees were eager learners, as they discovered how they could learn from the stories of scripture by asking questions and how they then could share stories with others.  One of our students gathered a group of six of his Muslim neighbors one evening after class and told them three Bible stories and led in some discussion.  He was so excited, they all wanted to join him in the church that met in the coffee shop that Sunday.

We saw God move among these people.  One of our students had been diagnosed with lung cancer and had previously had some tests and was heading back for another test while we were there.  The whole class gathered around him and began to pray, fervently.  As we prayed I received a vision of the tumor actually shrinking with imagery that looked like it was burning.  Nyma, one of the refugees saw a very similar vision.  We both felt that God was saying this brother had been healed.  Indeed, after his doctor’s appointment, he brought us boxes of chocolates to celebrate and confirmed that the doctor had said the tumor was gone.  So, these brothers and sisters had immense hopelessness and yet, immense joy, hope and saw the loving action of God.

One young man asked that I pray for him, so I did so, asking God to bless him and work in and through him.  While praying, two others had lined up behind the first asking for prayer as well. They were eager for all that God could offer them.

There were others involved in this training, who spoke German and English, so they were split into a second group. At times both groups met together, for special experiences, or as they did for church on Sunday morning, when many others joined as well, and at which I was asked to speak.  That was a huge blessing.

On our last day, during a time of testimony, when the students can share how God had moved in and through them in this time of training in biblical storytelling, one of the Americans not on our team, but a missionary to Dresden, leaned over and whispered, “Could I talk to you for a moment?”

One glance at this young man and I knew my answer. He was visibly shaking with the stress he was carrying within him, and his eyes brimmed with tears.  But I saw few possibilities of “where” we could go within the building.  I noticed that the kitchen was accessible.  So, he and I crawled around people and walked to the kitchen.  As we did so, the Lord gave me a picture of this man, in my arms weeping while I held him.  I thought that was interesting and wondered when that might occur!

This kitchen was not an ideal counseling office.  The free floor space was an area of 6’x3′ surrounded by sinks, refrigerators, stoves, and with people coming in and going out bringing in dirty dishes and taking out clean ones. We stood facing one another, and I said, “Okay, what’s up?”

This beautiful black guy, with deep brown eyes, and a striking smile, looked at me with tears and said,

“I’ve misjudged you.”

Now of all the openers, that was not what I expected.

“Okay.  Tell me more.”  I said.

“We get people through here, usually older, white, males with beards (it frightened me a bit to be described as an ‘older’ guy!).  They come with an attitude, with an arrogance, with a racial prejudice in them and just want to prove how great they are,” he said, “and I thought you were just like them. But you aren’t like them at all. I have not treated you well nor thought rightly about you. That was wrong. I need your forgiveness.”

“Wow,” I responded, “I forgive you, Martin.*  But I get the sense there is something else going on.”

What followed was one of the most amazing 45 minutes in my life.  I was able to pray with him through some deep hurt and injury, see Jesus move in with healing and restoration. And I watched as the stress flowed from his body and his clouded eyes cleared.

As he shared and we prayed the Holy Spirit whispered, “He was sexually abused, as were you.  You will have an opportunity to tell him this.”

After we had prayed, he was now laughing and free, standing before me.  Seeing this new man, the Holy Spirit said, “Now,” so I said that there was one more thing I thought he ought to know.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“I also was sexually abused by the associate pastor of my home church.”

And he came unhinged. “What? You too?  Really?  You did? How did you know? How did you forgive him?” And then he began to sob and I held him.

God, you are so good.

We parted and I made my way back to the group and Martin* to the bathroom, and put some stuff away in my pack and saw my anointing oil, and the Holy Spirit said, “I had you bring it for him.”

“Okay,” I thought, so went back to the bathroom and said to Martin* as he was washing his hands, “The Holy Spirit said I am supposed to anoint you with oil.” And Martin* again got all excited, and kept exclaiming,

“Oh Jesus! Jesus!  I was just standing here thinking, ‘O bummer. I wish I had had him anoint me.'” And there I was.

What a trip of miracles.  The thing that my heart believes is that God took me to Germany for the healing of Martin’s* heart. Certainly, there were other benefits, blessings, and gifts.  The time with the refugees was incredible, unrepeatable.  But alongside that blessing, it was God’s desire to see this man find the freedom he needed.  I was staggered at this thought and it fits into the reality of me yet being on this pilgrimage, this Camino, a walk that takes me across the street and around the world to see people blessed, healed, set free.

*this name changed

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Santiago de Compostela​

This was the first day I had not planned to travel anyplace in so long, it just felt weird.  Just to have arrived in Santiago felt weird.

Nannette and I went to the official Compostela office and got certificates. Tears came holding that document.  I’d dreamed of this and now I had achieved it.

Nannette went back to our place, while I went to meet Inese, Elizabeth, and Anna for breakfast at their place. We had the best time together, eating a simple meal in their room overlooking one of the small plazas in Santiago.  We had a joyful conversation sharing so much love.

Inese told how this one Spanish guy took a shine to her. She didn’t see it coming, at all. They had shared What’sUp contacts and when he realized they’d taken a bus and he’d not see her again, he took a taxi for 90€ to Arzúa in order to have dinner with them. He overnighted and then next morning got a taxi back.  All this to see them, well, her!!!

Then his What’sUp texts had been filled with language that revealed the way he felt for her. His desire for more of a relationship but she shared, “I don’t share the feeling.  What do I do?”

I said, “Well you can see by his actions the kind of value you have for him. Who heard of such a suitor? Who spends that much for one night without high hopes?  You’ll have to just tell him, I guess.”

When I said what value she had, she got tears in her eyes.  That spoke to her heart.

She then shared a text she had received at the mass. I don’t recall who sent it, but it stated: “Since God is the I AM, we mustn’t dwell in the past or the future but in the present, where God IS.” We shared this precious moment. Hugs all around I helped them down out of their room and they headed off for the bus to head home.  They sent pictures from the plane.
I returned to the room. Nannette had napped and we then went to the big mass. I found it hard to follow, boring even.  I was so low on food and water, which also lowered my energy and my focus. It was a difficult environment, as well, for during the mass there were tour groups constantly milling about. Met up there with Michaela from Germany and her friend from Spain.  He led us to the best place to watch the swinging of the huge censer. That was beautiful and worth the whole mass to experience.
We went into a side door and up the stairs to the statue of St James.  Pilgrims often come and hug him.  The man ahead of me, overcome with weeping did so.  It was touching to watch him.  I didn’t know what to do with the statue, but knew I certainly didn’t’ need to hug him!

I received a What’sUp from Nicole so went later to meet her and John for dinner.  En route to the place, we came across this orchestra warming up and got in on this symphony that was wonderful and soul refreshing. Then dinner a local, cheap and delicious place, which Nicole said was the best food of the Camino.  Claudio and Lorenzo joined us.  Afterwards, Claudio Lorenzo and Nannette and I went for drinks. We heard of their adventures and their walk to Finisterre. We made it home to our place at midnight and I slept late.  Nannette departed for home the next morning. Claudio and Lorenzo and I went to breakfast before they left, and I went to the English mass.

I had been asked by the local Camino chapter to pick up shells from an American who worked with the English mass at the cathedral to bring back to the states. We’d been in touch, but in trying to find the chapel for the English mass, I stumbled upon the Polish chapel.  I thought perhaps the English mass would follow so I waited, experienced this soul-filling music, a cappella by these four Polish youth.  It was a heavenly moment.
Then I walked out around the corner and found the English chapel and sat down for the mass.
The guest priest in leading this mass, a beautiful guy from Venezuela.  He had worked at the Cathedral for years, and his job is to hear confessions from morning to night daily.  And here he was filled with vitality.  He led with a sincerity and such joy. His eyes just shone with the light of Jesus.
He had us first introduce ourselves and where we were from.  There was a woman there who lived not 1/2 a mile from my house. We connected to chat afterward.  And I was sitting behind the Irish couple with whom I had walked a few days back.
We began with a couple really old hymns, Here I Am Lord and Lord, I have come to the Lakeshore from my days when I pastored years back in a small community church in Banks. The word, prayer, liturgy combined then to work on my soul in this place.  As the priest presented the host, blessed it and offered it to all, Catholics and non-Catholics, a dam broke within me.  I sobbed and sobbed. It had been so long since I had received communion. It had been so long since I had been in worship.  I wrote in my journal as tears ran down my cheeks and my nose ran, “It was rich, powerful, heartfelt.  I just want to say, you’ve touched me, blessed me, enriched me, Lord.  I love you.”
The man who worked there with helping to set up and run the mass, who was to meet up with me, found me after the mass and gave me my bag of shells.  That felt a bit James Bond style to me!  The handoff!
I had made an appointment for a haircut that afternoon.  So, after the mass I walked to my new digs.  I had booked an Airbnb outside of the old city of Santiago proper.  It turned out it was only 2 miles away.  There was a bus that stopped near the front door.  I walked there this first trip, however, which took about a half hour.
It felt a bit silly to be leaving the Old Town, but as I walked into the residential area where my digs were, I began to breathe easier.  It was so peaceful. Once inside the apartment, meeting my hostess, I celebrated my decision. I had a private room with a family. They had three cats, and I love cats.  There was a little girl whose careful Spanish I could easily understand.
It was beautiful when I got there, I sat in the sun for a while on their terrace to eat my lunch I had purchased at a local grocery.  I washed my clothes and rested.  Then I left to return back to the Old City for my haircut taking the bus as my hostess Susannah instructed.

The short walk back into the Old City was easy, I didn’t even get lost, which was a first for me.  The young barber was a delightful guy who had ridden four Caminos on his bike and ridden to Finisterre multiple times.  He stopped the haircut to show me his pictures and told me his favorite restaurant in Finisterre that I had to try.  This conversation was all in Spanish and a few English words thrown in, with gestures when nothing else worked.  We spent a lot of time laughing.

That night Nicole and I met for dinner at a quaint Italian place and had the best night sharing a bottle of wine, eating the most excellent foods and Chocolate Mousse for dessert.  We had a great conversation about life. She is a rich person of depth and authenticity. She was leaving soon for her 18-month journey around the southern hemisphere. I read her blog that evening, and found that she was tackling valuable stuff on worth and value.  If you want to check out her journey, click here.

After dinner, I walked back to the place to catch my bus.  I wasn’t certain on the place to stand, but waited. Then, when my numbered bus came, as I got on, the driver was the same one I had had that morning and as I tried to pronounce where I wanted to go, he remembered me and finished the sentence for me. Then he told me when to get off, and as I got off directed where to walk since the bus didn’t take the same route to get back to my place.  A woman witnessed his care for me, and I quipped back to her, “Mi Padre!”  This brought a gale of laughter from her, who knew he was not my dad, and to the bus driver, who was blessed.

After some fits and starts on the dark streets, I found my street and the apartment.  As I was about to enter, I glanced across the street and saw an ATM.  I had had trouble getting cash recently, so decided to try again here.  I went, and again the machine gave the message I had seen many times before:  “Unable to process your transaction.  Would you like a receipt?”  I said, “yes.”  And after receiving the receipt I walked across the street to the apartment door.  There was a man waiting to use the ATM behind me.
I was telling Susannah about my day when the doorbell rang.  She said, “Must be one of my girlfriends.”  But a male voice spoke through the intercom.  She opened the door and there stood the man who had been behind me at the ATM. They rattled off Spanish to one another.  He handed her a wad of bills, which she handed to me.  Apparently, the machine had decided to work, and this good samaritan had brought all my 300E across to me! He had seen which door I had entered and taken a chance on finding me.  “Someone else might have taken it,” he said. I was so grateful.  “God, you look out for me!”
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