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And what will you do with your one wild and precious life

by davesandel on January 9th, 2022


Sunday, January 9, 2002                                           (today’s lectionary)

The Baptism of the Lord

And what will you do with your one wild and precious life

There are five trees growing tall and straight in the back yard of Mom and Dad’s house. They planted them when they built their house in 1976. And there are several other trees, still growing tall and straight, which Grandma and Grandpa Sandel planted when they moved in decades before. There was no hurry for these trees to grow, right? In the spring their leaves will fill out for yet another year.

My joy has been made complete. He must increase, and I must decrease.

By 2022, all four human beings from those two generations have passed on. The trees still stand. So as I sit and watch them (and perhaps they too are watching me) I’m grateful for their company, knowing they should still be here when I die too.

Looking through one of Mom’s many scrapbooks yesterday we found several of her poems. I knew she loved poetry; I didn’t know she wrote poetry and over her lifetime won $700 in prize money for her writing. She called her style “moody and free flowing.”

The music played,

Challenging my heart with every note

Whether I should submit to its beauty

Or remain unmoved.

But beauty reigned.

I could not concentrate on work,

My present world was all a blur;

I could not change.

The music ceased.

I did not know it for awhile;

It left me shaken, wild with joy

Not easily concealed.

A voice cries out in the desert, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.

I spent parts of two days “shadowing” Mom in the house where she lived for forty-five years. Walking and talking with John and Mary Kay, together we kept finding clues to who Mom was and who she became over so many years. I’m looking forward to more of these discoveries next month on my trip back to Illinois. God willing.

In his novel A Christmas Blizzard, Garrison Keillor’s protagonist James Sparrow meets an old friend who has become a friendly gray wolf, named Ralph. Ralph shares with James the moment that transformed his life. He had drowned and was dead, but he bussed tables at Denny’s and no one ever spoke to him.

Until one night a woman came in and sat in a back booth and asked me to bring her a bowl of rice and beans. She wore a blue suit with a gold badge that said A.T.F. And she was frightening to behold but beautiful. She said, “Your old life is over and your new life has begun. You will spend a time grieving and treading the paths of your old life and seeing everything with clear eyes,” she said. And she waved a hand in my direction and I became as you see me, a gray wolf.

And so I have lived in the creek bed where we used to camp, observing my people whom I dearly loved, and who, though they are foolish, wasteful, of limited intelligence, and habitually cruel, I now love even more tenderly. The wolf came over to James and lay his head on James’s leg.

And of course this story of transformation changed James too, to the core.

John said, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire … Jesus had been baptized by John, and was praying. Then heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven saying, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Another one of Mom’s poems caught my eye, and caught my heart. The genetic introspection on her father’s side of the family lent itself to relentless bouts with depression, soothed mostly by hard work on the farms where the Brummers lived. Sometimes it caught up with Mom, too.


How could I fancy Life to be all grim and gray?

Only last night, nothing seemed worth the trouble.

Why – tonight, everything is shining with sublimity.

Even the drab curtains on the wall speak to me of possibilities and hopes

To be won.

Oh, Life – can you not bend us to your will,

To keep us free from our moody habitats?

Bring us to the light, where we can see ourselves

Faithful, resolute – and we shall fulfill all things.

When that scarecrow of death with his black robe and shiny scythe reached up for Mom, she fought with it. And much of that battle, she fought with words. And then, after all, she lived for 99 years before the scythe finally cut her down. A bright and shining life.

Bless the Lord, O my soul. We look to you to give us food in due time. When you give it, we gather it, when you open your hand, we are filled with good things. When you send forth your spirit, we are created, and you renew the face of the earth.

(Isaiah 42, Isaiah 40, Psalm 29, Psalm 104, Acts 10, Titus 2, Mark 9, Luke 3)

 (posted at


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