lessons from a common day, a grumpy old minister, a FitBit, and a man called Ove

January 22, 2016 | 29 comments

This is what happened on a common day in January. Except that it wasn’t common at all.

I woke to my big yard, hibernating under a duvet of snow that looked like it had been studded with diamonds. I would not have noticed it that morning. At least I don’t think so. But my friend Christin was here. She doesn’t have snow where she lives, so she kept saying how beautiful it was. She stood at the windows longer than I typically do, watching how sunlight glinted off flakes to make it look like some clumsy cloud spilled the contents of a jewelry box.

Christin had been here for her second night. And while I made yogurt parfaits for our girls, she came around the corner with a hug. We traded sentences about how we slept, laughed about some inside jokes only we knew the punchlines to. (And if she reads this, she alone will see the humor in the fact that I’ve ended a sentence with a preposition.) These are the kind of jokes that happen between friends in the span of two days, the kind of jokes we all need because there are other times where tears flow more than one intends.

And then — just like that — it was time to go. We drank last sips of coffee. Lifted her bags into the back of the Explorer. Talked about how it all went “too fast.”

Anna snapped a photo of us, shivering side by side in the snow — this brutal but beautiful snow that I had come to curse on account of getting stuck in it with my car a few days earlier. But on this day, I had declared it beautiful, incandescent really.

And then she was gone. It was 8 a.m. I only had 582 steps on my FitBit, but hundreds of miles to travel.

Anna had an appointment at 9 a.m. with a doctor who has been helping us figure out what made her so sick last year. So, I drove to Sioux Falls, toward a children’s hospital that looks like a castle. A hospital dressed up like a castle makes the needles and X-ray rooms seem less scary.

They took four vials of blood, and both Scott and I kept telling Anna how proud we were of her. We all left feeling buoyed a little and believed the doctor when she told us, “We’ll keep an eye on things.”

It was 10:30 a.m.

2,234 steps — and miles to go.


Scott took Anna back to school, but I headed for the interstate, then due east for Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. My Dad was there for a consultation, on account of a bum leg and a bad infection.

As I drove, I’m thinking about what it meant to live in the sandwich generation – where people my age are raising children of their own while helping with the needs of their aging parents. This is not a complaint. Only a fact. And I couldn’t have been more privileged to drive between the two slices of bread on that sandwich – a castle in Sioux Falls and a world-class clinic in Rochester.

My FitBit counter did not move for hours.

When I got to Mayo, I found Mom, Dad, and my sister in a waiting area. We traded sentences about how the drive was. We laughed some inside jokes that only we know the punchlines to – the kind of jokes that happen between families in the span of decades. These are the kinds of jokes you need because, sometimes, it’s your sense of humor that will save you on your hardest days. My hilarious and whip-smart friend Amanda calls it “finding the funny.”

It was 2 p.m. There were appointments. We asked a lot of questions. I took down every word from one of the doctors. My forehead was creased for a whole hour.

I left later than I had intended. That’s because Gordon Vickery came to see us all at Mayo. He calls himself a grumpy old minister. But he’s actually quite kind, in his blue sweater and snappy suspenders. It’s been a very long time since I’d seen him. I always thought he looked a little like Abraham Lincoln, and it seems like he’s immortal, because when I was a little girl, I thought he was an impossibly old man.

But only now is he that very old man I imagined him to be.

Before I left to head for home, we were all in the waiting room – me, my sister, Mom, Dad in his wheelchair, and the the not-grumpy old minister with his wife. He told us of a day in 1972 when he held in his arms. I was exactly two months old. He sprinkled water on my forehead and baptized me in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

“Then,” he said, “I kissed you on your forehead.”

I was standing in front of him, just then. And he tugged me by my wrist, the one with the FitBit.

“Come here,” he said.

And the good reverend planted a kiss on my forehead.

It was like getting baptized all over again — except without the altar or the fancy words.

I walked to the car, checked my steps, through a slight blur of tears. Only 5,542 – far short of the recommended 10,000.

And then I drove the four-hour drive home. The snow was proof that beauty can be treacherous. I couldn’t always see the lines on the road.

All the way, I listened to A Man Called Ove on audiobook.

The narrator said some words that swirled around me.

“… all people at root are time optimists. We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.”

I thought about a lot of people right then. About Christin in my kitchen. About my girls. About people who hold on to words like ‘if.’ About Scott, and the way he kept calling to check on me as I drove through falling snow. I thought about a curmudgeonly man called Ove who would have been thoroughly annoyed with that ridiculous device on my arm that counts steps. Can’t one just walk these days, without having some little computer on one’s arm monitor one’s steps? (Don’t even get Ove started.) 

I thought about Mom and Dad. About a grumpy old minister. About my sister, and how we both took the stairs, on account of our anemic FitBits.

It was an ordinary day. It was a hard day. But it was a day where, at the end of it, I didn’t hold on to words like ‘if.’ Ove would have been proud, I think.

I went to bed, without any ifs.

The FitBit told me I didn’t have a lot to show for it. But a day without “ifs” is one of those immeasurable kinds of days with diamonds on snow, a castle, a kiss where once was made the sign of a cross.

And all of that?
It made a common day,
not so common at all.



post contains affiliate link

by | January 22, 2016 | 29 comments


  1. Ally | The Speckled Goat

    “Don’t get Ove started”- haha.

    Great post- and a good reminder to fill up days with the good things and enjoy the time we have.

    • dukeslee


      Have you read the book? It’s wonderful. You can’t help but come to love that curmudgeon named Ove.

  2. Anna Smit

    Loved this – a good reminder to slow and reflect more. So glad you could feel His Presence amidst your hard today.

    My sisters and my sister-in-law have a Fit-Bit and compete for the most steps (my SIL always wins!)….should send them your post- they’d have a good chuckle! Especially with this line: “Can’t one just walk these days, without having some little computer on one’s arm monitor one’s steps? (Don’t even get Ove started.)” My husband’s tried to convince me to track and upload my runs on Strava…I did it once to placate him! It just stresses me out, distracting me – my runs are for quiet reflection and time alone with God!

    • dukeslee


      I am so fascinated by the FitBit craze. I see one on almost every other wrist! I thought it would encourage me to walk more steps, and I guess in some ways, it does. I have tended to take the farther-away parking places, for instance. And it encourages me to step away from my writing mornings, to move around a bit. 🙂

      • Anna Smit

        Sounds like it’s been a good investment. My sister wants me to get one too! I keep pretty active though with biking six times a day for school pick-ups and drop-offs (eight times if my oldest ends up going to a friend after school!)…so different to my home country New Zealand where everyone travels by car…Here cycling is the norm: pregnant, the elderly, children…all bike!

  3. Beth Richardson

    My best friend just left town yesterday… on an epic road trip around the country before she settles somewhere new. I have such a hard time making friends, esp. as an adult, and having her for almost 10 years.. well.. this line really struck home, ““… all people at root are time optimists. We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.” I send lots of love to your girl, and your daddy. Thanks for being such an inspiration. My fitness tracker is telling me that I’ve been super lazy since I broke my wrist last month, and I’ve about had it with it’s sass! 😉

    • dukeslee

      Beth, That line really stuck with me … about being time optimists. Most of us are, aren’t we? Even the most pessimistic people might assume that they have more time to say the things they need to say. I don’t want to be a time pessimist either. I guess I want to be a time realist.

      Broken wrist! Yikes! How you holding up with that?

  4. Angela Howard

    Thank you for the reminder that the ordinary moments matter. Even though my own blog is named “No Ordinary Days” I still needed that reminder today because I too live in the sandwich generation. Connections matter, people matter and pausing the remember matters. You are a blessing!

    • dukeslee

      Hi Angela, I love the name of your blog. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Angela Howard

        Thank you Jennifer! You’re such an encouragement 😇

  5. Lynn D. Morrissey

    A beautiful post describing two beautiful ladies. I love Christin and you, and you both remain such encouragements to me. If only I lived closer to you both. That’s an if I can’t correct, but a good wish, nonetheless. You were there for Anna and for your dad, and that made it a good day. How I wish I had Daddy here still to attend to and love on. Ironically, some of the sweetest times were during his illness, because he had to remain still. He worked a lot (more than most father-providers), and he did it out of love. But it would have been lovely just to have had far more time with him. Turning a corner, I pray your dad is ok. He is in great hands–Gods, yours, and those dedicated Mayo physicians. I’ve been there as a patient twice, and have been amazed at the experience. My favorite part has been singing at the grand piano in the lobby. It’s so uplifting to hear all the music. Sending you love and more ordinarily beautiful days, jennifer.

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Lynn.

      I had the privilege of hearing Christin speak in Sioux City last night. She delivered a meaningful message. I am writing to you today from the “living room” of the nursing home where Dad is staying. 5,222 steps so far today. 😉

      • Lynn Morrissey

        Wow! Your Daddy is a marathoner, Jennifer. So glad to hear of this progress (Don’t you love Mayo….though I hate that he had to go). And Christin! What can we say?! How God has anointed her.

  6. Jill Clem

    It’s a small world Jennifer. I believe Gordon Vickery was the pastor at Rustin Ave. UMC in Sioux City IA years ago. I am currently the pastor there.

    • dukeslee

      Well. What do you know about that? I wish I could confirm that, but I have to believe that our Gordon Vickerys are one and the same. He was a pastor at our Methodist Church in the 1970s.

      • Jill Clem

        I’m going to show the picture you have from your blog to a couple of my older members and ask if it is the same pastor.

      • Jill Clem

        I showed the picture to the members and yes it is their former pastor. I asked them what year they thought he came to Rustin Ave. and they think it was sometime between 1974-1976. They asked me if I knew the name of the church that he was your pastor. And they loved seeing the picture of him and what you had written about him:)

  7. Martha Orlando

    Days without “ifs” are to be treasured, indeed! Praying for your family, Jennifer. May God bless you all!

    • dukeslee

      Martha, Thank you for your prayers. I so appreciate you.

  8. DeanneMoore

    And Jennifer was given a day and she lived it to the full in the common ways that make the common extraordinary.

    • dukeslee

      Oh friend. Thank you so much. xo

  9. Meghan Weyerbacher

    I love the “friends joking about prepositions at the end of sentences” part especially hehehe…

  10. Nancy Ruegg

    My, but you squeezed a lot of living into that one day, Jennifer–even using your drive time to feed your mind and spirit. Indeed, those steps of friendship, mothering, caring, fellowshipping, thinking, and praying count more than the ones that FitBit counts. You can catch up on those tomorrow!

    • dukeslee

      You know, it was a very full day. And it hasn’t stopped. We are at the nursing home today, hanging out with Dad and Mom. We’re having a little party here tonight. Ordering in Buffalo Wild Wings. 🙂 We know how to party and raise a ruckus on a Saturday night. 😉

  11. CM Hazelwood

    Dear Jennifer, thank you for the reminder. I got an email from a friend I haven’t seen for several years, only on facebook. (I’m grateful for facebook!) She said I was precious to her, and it struck me that I haven’t said that to her for a long time, so I told her. Clara

  12. Leah Adams

    So much in this post that pricks my heart. I hope your Daddy and your girlie are doing okay. Hold them all closely.

  13. Deborah Will

    What a beautiful day to savor Jennifer.

  14. Pam Ecrement

    Amen, Jennifer! I was so blessed by reading this! My parents are not at home with the Lord and somehow long before now, the Lord nudged me about being sure to not miss saying whatever I would want to say to someone if it were to be the last time I saw them. It has been a theme I have sought to live by up to the present (now a grandmother of 6 married for 51 years). Your post reminded me that was how the Lord was speaking to me about “ifs”. I may have missed a few over the course of 72 years, but I continue to seek to value each moment as a gift!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest