The Anniversary

I very specifically intended not to write about the anniversary of 9/11.

My reasons seem rational to me. First, I believe wholeheartedly that there are many individuals who have worthwhile things to say about that moment, and I am not particularly one of them. Second, I believe there are far too many individuals just talking. I don’t want to talk for the sake of talking. Third, this year has been a difficult one for me, and if you recall, I sometimes stumble into periods of having ridiculous awful (and realistic) nightmares; I quite sincerely did not want to flood my senses with thoughts and sights and feelings and memories of that day.


…you can’t ignore the world around you.

So here I am… and I’m about to do some reflecting that may be more uncomfortable than I’m willing to admit.

One of the few things I have actually contemplated in the last forty-eight hours is that 9/11 is, now, actually history. It’s a remarkable transition. It’s almost impossible for those of us who remember it so vividly to even comprehend a generation who is just now learning about it in school. It’s unfathomable. And did you hear about the Mattress Sale? Unbelievable.

For those of us who lived that moment in our nation’s history, it won’t matter how many years pass. Fifteen…fifty…if we were still here in five hundred years, we would still recall the day with a clarity unmatched by any other moment in our lives. Ask anyone. No one will forget where they were; no one will forget what they were doing; no one will forget how they felt; no one will forget the live footage. And the trauma of those memories are magnified three-thousand-fold, I’m sure, for those who experienced the attacks firsthand. The smell, I’ve heard, lingered in the nostrils of Americans long after the air cleared. The sights and sounds were just as intractable.

I suppose it is the logical progression of time, though. We cannot stop it. It may break our hearts to realize that the younger generations don’t realize what an enormous and profound turning point that was in this nation (and in the world). Maybe some of that is our fault, for not remembering as we promised we would; but maybe some of that is simply a nation learning again to live and growing somewhat naive about the peril we still face. Maybe it’s that we don’t want to call anyone or anything “evil” anymore. Maybe it’s that we’ve grown so concerned with not offending anyone that we cannot speak openly about the dangers of radical ideologies. Maybe it’s that we are so wrapped up in ourselves and our 24/7-wired existence that we can’t even recognize how the world is changing at this very moment. I don’t know, friends. I don’t know.

But as I’ve wrestled with these thoughts yesterday and today, I’ve realized something that is really shaking me up.

I am someone’s younger generation.

I’m sure there are many instances of threats and dangers that my parents and grandparents actually lived through that I simply viewed as a moment in history, a multiple choice answer on a high school history test. The easy, obvious example, certainly, is Nazi Germany. I think of my grandfather, who served in the US Army in World War II. What a loving man he was when I knew him! I know his life prior to my arrival was not always easy, and he wasn’t always as gentle and affectionate as I knew him. But I can’t help now but wish that I could talk with him tonight…take him out for coffee and ask him about his time in Germany during that perilous moment in history. Not the facts…we know the facts. I want to hear his memories–the sights, the sounds, the smells, the emotions–the things you don’t read in a history book, the things you don’t take away from a memorial etched with names and dates, the things they spoke to one another in those moments.

What are the things he swore he’d never forget?

What are the things he recognized that I and my siblings didn’t understand?

What lessons did he hope to pass on to us from those experiences?

I have to confess, I’ve never been particularly offended by the expression “Grammar Nazi.” It seems light-hearted and good-humored. But I wonder now if it would have offended my Grandfather? The man who told me not to say “got to.” The man who taught me to know and respect the Statue of Liberty. The man who wore red, white, and blue suspenders. Would he have found it funny that we compared someone finicky about grammar with a Nazi?

Somehow…I doubt it. And I say that now, not as a gal who can’t take a joke, but as a gal who realizes how inappropriate she would find it if someone called a poor driver a “jihadist.” It’s just not funny, and it kind of minimizes the very real struggle that others have lived and experienced firsthand.

So what is my point in all of this? Is this just a blog where the Barefooted Semmie tells you which historical moments you can joke about? No; that’s not my business. You can think and joke about whatever you want.

My point is self-realization: I am someone’s younger generation. I am someone who thinks of historical moments as dates and names and events when people I have known and loved lived the experience.

How very much history we are losing for lack of storytellers.

All of this, my dear friends, to encourage you (however hypocritical it seems, after I’ve told you that I have no desire to share my memories of 9/11)… tell your story.

Speak every word of it.

Use ink.

Use paint.

Use clay.

Use words.

Use sound.

Use blog.

Use photo.

Use dance.

Use theatre.

Use carrier pigeon.

Use synchronized swimming.

Use balloon animals.

If you don’t tell your story, it will be lost.

And if none of us tell our stories, 9/11 will be forgotten…and it will become just another day and event for high school kids to study before the big test.

Tell the stories. Speak the names. Never forget.

And though I still have no desire to blog the details, I must follow my own advice. So I leave you with the one name I have determined to carry with me to my last breath.

Douglas Oelschlager.

I remember you, Douglas. God rest your soul. May He grant continued peace to those you left behind. May He fill their hearts–those empty places that still yearn for your voice and your embrace and your presence–with a stillness and knowledge that you were, and are, and always will be the very best of what America represents.

Pax Christe.


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Sunflowers & Prose

Writing is hard work. It requires time, planning, dedication, and effort.

It’s like gardening, in a sense. It’s especially like gardening in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. You can’t just throw seeds in the ground and walk away, expecting a lovely, fragrant, healthy garden to magically appear. It is almost year-round preparation in some cases–even Autumn sometimes needs the soil to be turned and leaves or compost worked into the ground in anticipation of Spring. I cannot speak for everyone, but I know that in this household, we spend our Winter months comparing seed varieties and reviews, now that we’ve started using more heirloom seeds. We usually make our first order of heirloom seeds in late January. And here? In Upper Michigan? Many flowers and crops cannot be direct-sown into the ground, mainly because the Spring is too cold. Peas do fine, to be sure, but many others require weeks (sometimes months) of indoor greenhouse time.

Gardening is hard work. It is never as simple as plant-water-BOOM!-A-FLOWER. Even in cases where it really is that simple (marigolds, for example), there’s always a question of where they will be planted. There’s a selection of seed. And when the flowers dry, there is collecting the seed for future planting. So even when it’s simple, it requires time and attention.

Writing really is the same way.

I’ve been contemplating recently the matter of voice. One thing my favorite authors all share in common is that they have a strong and distinct voice in their writing. Reading Lewis, I have said more than a few times in my life, always feels to me like I am sitting in his office and we are conversing about some lofty matter that he must help me get to, inch upon inch. His voice is very clear. Finding voice in your own written words can be something of a struggle. I’m sure there are writers out there who have a very natural gift, and their voice pours out of their writing without much effort, but I am definitely not one of them. My blog is mostly unedited ramble; my other writing, even letter writing, I work very hard to create and maintain my voice.

The last, oh, eighteen months have thrown me for loop after loop, and one of the tragedies of it has been silence. In many ways, I feel I’ve lost my voice. And so, I’ve been contemplating. And I’ve been struggling. And I’ve been digging deep into the fissures of my spirit to find whether there is any lingering sound of the voice I once had. Or thought I had. Or pretended to have. Or something. Maybe, I thought–maybe there would be some lingering resonance deep within.

Aaaaand there wasn’t. The sound had silenced. Complete stop.

I have been struggling, since I realized that, to find the note again. And it has been a lot of hard work. A lot of planning. A lot of editing. A lot of pruning. A lot of turning the soil. A lot of scrubbing dirt out from beneath my fingernails.

But there’s something remarkable about both writing and gardening.

You know, this year, I purchased sunflower seeds. I did. I was so excited to plant them and grow beautiful, tall sunflowers. But guess what happened? They died. (Complete stop.) After all the effort and work and desire and hope…they died. Just like that.

And then something crazy happened, which I understand has happened to many others time and again–but it was certainly a first for me!–I guess some seed fell from one of the birdfeeders in the yard. And there in front of my marigolds, with no plan of my own, without even my knowledge or care, a seed tumbled to the earth, broke itself open, dug its roots down, and blossomed a beautiful sunflower.

Without my help.


As for my writing voice…

I started a new project recently–one that I didn’t really intend to start. And before I had even determined that it was worth continuing, I found myself thoroughly immersed in what I was writing. I re-read my first few pages and realized–just like that sunflower–I had stumbled back onto that note, my voice, quite by accident. Quite beyond intent. Whether it will resonate is another question altogether, but for the moment–I’m content to be astounded.

So here’s a word of encouragement, to gardeners and writers alike: Work hard, give it all you have to give, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty…

…but remember…

…seeds don’t always need your help in becoming flowers.

It’s what they were meant to do.

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Reunion Stuffs

If you’ve followed my blog for some time, you’ll remember that in 2013, I was anxiously planning the first Schmitzer Family Reunion of my lifetime. I think back on those weeks and months leading up to the Big Hoorah, and there are so many moments, so many thoughts, so many conversations that were never recorded. So many tidbits began in beautiful fashion, with well-defined shapes and edges that sparkled and held us captive, only to melt away in the palm of our hand. We lose so much. So quickly.

A dear friend of mine named Liesl came to the 2013 Reunion as an honorary member of our Clan. With a good German family like ours, Liesl and I joked that if anyone asked who she was, she should just say, “Oh, Aunt Thekla! Don’t you remember me? I’m Johann’s girl!” And believe me, we have many Johann’s in the pages of our history. She looked the part, and if she’d played the part, no one would’ve been the wiser.

Liesl had a purpose, however. A woman with an impeccable eye and a habit of grabbing exquisite candids, she was there to capture the Reunion in photographs. And she did, quite well, I might add. When we arrived home, she asked me for a list of the names of everyone who attended the Reunion. She had been working on a lovely cross-stitch pattern depicting the cross of the Christian faith. As she continued working on it, she felt led to stitch a border around the piece, carefully spelling out the names of everyone who attended our first Reunion.

Blog Pic A

We framed Liesl’s beautiful work and I’ve been holding onto it, not sure where it belongs.

As we began really hunkering down on planning the 2016 Reunion, Mom suggested that we bring a photo of the group along with the framed cross-stitch as a sort of souvenir display of that first Reunion. As we talked more, we thought it would be nice, each year, to have one project or craft that commemorates the Reunion. I am sorry to say we didn’t do anything for 2014, but I may still have an idea–I’ll keep you posted on it. We didn’t hold a Reunion in 2015. And so we began poring over the interwebs to find a great idea for 2016. And boy, did we find it!

I stumbled into the idea when I was perusing Pinterest one evening. The original (found here) was used at a wedding, but I was so excited to apply this to our family heritage. I reached out to Jen, a friend of mine with amazing art skills, and she gave us a beautiful tree to adorn! The idea is to have everyone stamp their finger or thumb print somewhere on a branch of the tree, symbolizing our common heritage (the tree!) and ancestry (our roots!). I could tell you how it turned out, or I could show you and let you tell me how it turned out! I will say, I’m very pleased!

Blog Pic B

I would like some feedback from any friends or family or random passersby, however. This year, we lost two men in the family very close to the Reunion. I want to commemorate them, but it obviously doesn’t seem right to put them on a fingerprint leaf with everyone else. I thought it might be nice to do a few fingerprint hearts down near the base of the tree, and write in each one the name of someone who has passed on since our last gathering. I’ve made some on white paper just to set down and get an idea of how it would look. What do you think, gang?

Blog Pic C

And speaking of those we lost this year, I saw this memorial candle idea on Pinterest, also, and felt it would be a very comforting and appropriate way to honor not only the lives of those no longer with us, but also to recognize the sorry and struggle of gathering without them. As with most projects, I wanted to be sure that the sign had a personal touch to it, not a generic “I printed this ten minutes ago with TimesNewRoman font” feel. For this, I reached out to my amazing niece, Hannah Lynne, and asked her to draw something artsy but not over-the-top–just a nice sign to help us remember those we’ve lost. I dare say, she did a fantastic job. I’m very happy with how this turned out also, paired with an LED-candled lantern from W-mart (open flame candle in a beautiful, green, tree-filled park didn’t seem like a great plan).

Blog Pic D

I hope some of these ideas help anyone out there who’s planning a get-together. It’s so nice to have “props” to help tie everything together. We sometimes forget words, but images and tangibles help us with recall.





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150 Days in the Psalms

Most of you know that I’ve been working on a Psalms Project for some time now. I still have quite a ways to go with it, and every time I think I’m making progress, I find that I have so much more to learn. The Psalms have always been my favorite passages of Scripture because of the musicality and rhythm; the longing and gutwrenching honesty; and for the deep, rich theology. But in the midst of my studying and reading and writing for the Psalms Project, I confess that my time has become more studious than intimate. It has been so long since I’ve read the Psalms with the intent of simply praying and communing with God. So when my friend, Nicole, mentioned 150 Days in the Psalms, I knew I had to jump in, face first.

The plan, from the Mercy Is New blog, is this:

Each Day:

  • Read 1 Psalm.
  • Write 1 verse from that Psalm as your focus & prayer for the day.
  • Pray through the Psalm.
  • Journal through the Psalm.

Seems simple enough! If you’d like to participate, let me know! We begin August 1, and this journey will take us through the end of 2016. We have a small facebook group started where we can encourage one another, share any insights or prayers that God is impressing upon us. I will gladly add you to the group!

And if you’re not sure what it means to “pray through” or “journal through” the Psalms, go subscribe to the Mercy Is New blog! It is packed with resources to help you learn how to pray Scripture and use journaling to grow your relationship with Christ. I am new to her blog myself, but I am loving it! She also provides a printable schedule for an easy reminder of which Psalm you should be on each day.

It has been so long since I’ve journaled Scripture. It has been so very long. I confess that I’m nervous about this. While I don’t think the journaling is mandatory, I want to really dig into this experience with all of my heart. It will be a good exercise for me after being so focused on the studying part for so long.

What do you say? Will you join me on this exciting journey?

Pax Christe.



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The RNC & the “is a vote for Hillary” Fallacy

Listen, I get it. I don’t want a Hillary presidency anymore than the next conservative. I hear the reasoning. I hear the concern in friends’ voices when they say, “yeah, but Hillary.” I really get it. I am there with you. And maybe the right thing to do is to vote against her. I’m open to that, but I’m sure not going to let that be my default position.

Over and over, folks have said that “a vote against Trump is a vote for Hillary.”

Uhm. No.

A vote for Hillary is a vote for Hillary. Voting one’s conscience should never be ridiculed because it doesn’t accomplish the agenda of someone (or a party) one cannot support. That’s ridiculous. Of course it’s not going to accomplish the agenda of the RNC if I vote Third Party! That’s exactly the point, America!

It’s like saying that if I don’t vote for Hillary, I am voting against a woman’s right to choose abortion. Well, uhm, yeah–I’m pro-life, so…I wouldn’t really align my vote with the Democratic Party’s agenda, there, would I?

The RNC has proven to me that it simply doesn’t desire my vote in the Presidential Election. Why is it my problem if they cannot, then, garner enough votes to prevent a Hillary presidency? That’s their problem, not mine. The very fact that I am considering a Third Party vote should clue-in the RNC to the fact that my agenda is not aligned with theirs. So if it’s their agenda to stop Hillary, go for it. Stop her. But don’t tell me it’s my fault if she wins, because my agenda, my conviction, is something far different than simply roadblocking a politician.

And I’ll note that the opposite isn’t true, either. A vote against Hillary is not a vote for Trump.

I understand. I really do. I am very aware of the fact that our Two Party system is not likely to see a Third Party in the White House any time soon. I struggle every day with the feeling that my vote will not affect any change. But it is change. It is changing. Our nation is changing, friends. And I don’t want my name to be on the wrong side of history with the changes we’re seeing.


Whichever side of the aisle you find yourself on today, if you think your side has the moral high ground, I hope you have a life preserver.

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On Sorrow & Grief

It’s important to grieve.

It’s natural to grieve.

It is good to grieve.

Many (particularly Christians, for some reason) try to coax a premature joy in the midst of sorrow–from each other as well as ourselves. I am terribly guilty of this lately. I hear myself saying to my closest friends and family that “I just want to get back to normal.” It comes, I’m sure, with the best of intentions. But sorrow does not mean the absence of peace. Grief does not mean we have refused joy. And joy is not always something we can conjure. It is something that comes in its time–in its appropriate time.

I think we mistake joy for a flame we can produce, like striking a match. And maybe in some moments, in some regards, we can.

In the midst of grief, however, I think joy comes more like the sunrise, an undeniable light and warmth and life after hours (or days…or weeks…or months…maybe even years) of the cold, dark, loneliness of night.

And how does the sun rise?

Does the sun appear instantly in the day sky, like someone flipped a switch?

No, the answer is in the question: The sun rises.

In our experience, it may occur quickly or it may occur slowly, but it always occurs from an earthbound vantage as rising. It comes upon our world bit by bit, inch by inch, until it covers all we know in the revelation of daylight.

I think–though I’ll be the first to confess to you that I don’t have extensive experience with joy as most people would express it–this is how joy comes upon us. Sorrow and grief are the dark hours of the night, and there is no sense in arguing about where the daylight is. We may have other lights to help us, to guide us, to give us hope and courage–the moon, the stars, the aurora, the galaxy (and perhaps in this we could talk about the moon being a reflection of the light for which we long; I’m sure there’s something there to discuss)–but none of that satisfies our longing for the risen sun. And even as it comes, it is a process. It is a subtle change from black to deep violet; from deep violet to an intense blue and a few less stars; a blue to a soft green, waking birds and critters from their reverie; a soft green to an amazing orange and pink; and then–yes, then–suddenly, a brilliant day sky.

And in that moment, I think we have a tendency to say one of two things (or maybe, sometimes, both). The first is, “Thank God! I survived the night!” The second is, “Beautiful!”

Isn’t it funny? The thing that we so long for, that so eludes us in our grief, that seems such a distant dream we may never attain–that, itself, is something we call beauty. Beauty comes out of mess and struggle and sorrow. Don’t ever forget.

It reminds me of one of my favorite passages in scripture (and the reason, primarily, that I dared to begin my Psalms Project).

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
    where morning dawns, where evening fades,
    you call forth songs of joy. (Psalm 65:8, NIV)

Morning and evening do not flip like a switch. Morning dawns. Evening fades. And where (not when, but where) those subtle changes occur, God calls forth songs of joy. This idea is repeated in the passage God showed me more than twenty years ago.

weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5, NIV)

Can we trust Him to bring us through our sorrow to that place where He fills us with irrepressible songs of joy? We can.

We must, friends. We must. For it is only in our sorrow, in our struggle, that we can recognize our deep need for His presence and joy. It is only in brokenness that we can yearn to be made whole. If we never experienced sorrow, joy would be our default; and while I grant you that this may be very nice, it would, I think, become so commonplace as to lose something in our estimation.

Maybe you view joy and sorrow differently than I–and that’s okay. I’m not here to judge you or say you’ve got it wrong. I’m here to encourage those who are grieving and who can’t yet find joy in the midst of it. If that’s you, if you’re caught in a struggle or despair that you can’t wrestle yourself out of, take heart.

Take heart.

Night does not last forever.

Joy is not a bird that flutters away each time you get close. It is a gift that is granted freely from a God who cherishes every hair on your head.

Sorrow may last for the night; joy comes in the morning. That is His promise–to you, to me, to all who love Him and are called by His name.

Do not fear your sorrows, for it is the blessing of grief that gives birth to the blessing of joy.

Pax Christe.


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On the Loss of a Dear Uncle

One week ago, I grieved after my uncle’s funeral.

Two weeks ago, my uncle died.

Three weeks ago, I held his hand and whispered my love and goodbyes to him.

It happens so quickly and in such a blur that sometimes it doesn’t even feel like reality. It’s more like an alternate reality. It’s as if you are suspended but time is still passing, and you don’t notice the disconnect until the alternate stops and you’re thrust back into your normal life and routine. It is no easy thing, to lose someone you love.

And that is as it should be, I suppose. The enormity of grief is a testament to relationship. Or perhaps more accurately, grief is a testament to love, for it is very well true that one may grieve for a person with whom she did not have a close relationship. I think, in particularly, of children who have estranged parents: There may be an unquenchable grief at losing a parent in such a case, simply because–though they loved one another–the relationship was broken and left unmended. Such a grief is likely greater than I can imagine. I do not envy it, and so I take this moment to remind myself and my friends: Do not leave wounds unmended; we only have so many opportunities to forgive.

My relationship with my uncle was one that grew out of my own brokenness. As a child, I didn’t know my mother’s family well. We didn’t see or hear much from them–and vice versa–because we were geographically removed. Her family thrived on a closeness of proximity, and that was something we lacked. I wrote to him, honestly, not desiring a relationship with him so much as I desired to know more about my grandfather who had died several years before my birth. I’m not sure I recognized it at the time, but I was greatly struggling with my identity–who I was, where I belonged–and somehow, he reached through all of those questions and touched my heart. “You belong with me,” he assured me over and over by his actions. And the amazing thing is, I believed him. I absolutely believed him.

There has not been a moment of my relationship with him when I’ve questioned his love for me. There has not been a moment when I’ve questioned whether I could call or write or show up on his doorstep and cry all over his shoulder. There has not been a moment when I’ve questioned whether he believed in me and my dreams. He brought hope and joy and laughter to a gal who was hurting and lost. These are the gifts of love. These are the gifts I will cherish and hold close to my heart for the rest of my life.

It doesn’t erase the sorrow of losing him. I suspect it never will. It does, however, allow a clear, obvious, logical, and satisfying resolution to a beautiful piece of music that has permeated my life. When we leave a relationship unmended and we lose the person, it’s like being cut off in the middle the symphony. We are left without a sense of finality, without the final chord that resolves all of the tension that has been slowly building over time.

In a couple of weeks, my family will be gathering for our Reunion. It is a time I always look forward to sharing with my dear uncle. It will be difficult for many of us, to be sure. I hope, however, that it will also be a balm to us, to embrace and remind one another that we are family and we love one another and we grieve together.

In the meantime, dear friends, remember that it’s okay to grieve.

Pax Christe.


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