What is your idea of perfect happiness?

This a paraphrased synopsis of a speech Pope Francis recently gave. I could not come up with better words, so here ya go!

“Contrary to what the world around us would have us believe, being happy is not having a sky without storm, a road without accidents, a job without effort, a relationship without disappointments.

“To be truly happy is to stop feeling like a victim and become the author of your own fate. You CAN give leadership to your own thoughts. It’s walking through deserts but being able to find an oasis deep in the soul. It’s thanking God every morning for the miracle of life. It’s kissing your children, cuddling your parents, having poetic moments with your friends, even when they hurt you.

“Being happy is letting the creature that lives in each of us live free, joyfully, and simply. Being happy is having the maturity to be able to say, “I’ve made mistakes”. It’s having the courage to say, “I’m sorry.” It’s having the sense to say, “I need you.” It’s having the ability to say, “I love you.”

“May your life become a garden of opportunities for happiness, that in spring you may be a lover of joy and in winter a lover of wisdom.

“And when you make a mistake, start over. Because only then will you be in love with life. You’ll discover that being happy isn’t having a perfect life.

“Use your tears to irrigate tolerance.
Use your defeats to train your patience.
Use your mistakes with the serenity of the sculptor.
Use your pain to tune into pleasure.
Use your obstacles to open the windows of intelligence.

“Never give up.
Above all never give up on the people that love you.
Never give up on being happy because life is an incredible spectacle.”

First Date

by mia hinkle

The first time I ever saw Karl was in late January 1981. He was watching the Super Bowl in the basement of my parents’ Chanhassen home. My sister, Holly, was married to the Road Manager of the band Karl was with and had invited them over to watch the game. The Wright Brothers played a lot of venues in Minneapolis over the years, but this time they were midway thru a weeks-long engagement at the Carlton Backstage Lounge. 

I was 26 years old and could not have cared less about the Super Bowl. Truth is, I couldn’t tell a Raider from an Eagle if you held a gun to my head. I had planned to be out all day and I assumed the band would be long-gone by the time I got home from tending to my horses: fixing fence, chipping ice out of the water tank, hauling bags of grain and bails of hay into the barn. It was the kind of hard work that made my fingers freeze while sweat ran down my back and steam rose from my tuque.

In my memory, I came in through the garage and scurried up the stairs to see what my mom had rustled up for supper. (Karl’s memory of this moment is different; you’ll have to ask him.) On the family dinner table at the top of the stairs were the leftovers from a delicious game-day spread my mom had prepared. I was starving. As I changed my barn clothes and washed up, Karl made his way upstairs to the table and was visiting with my mom. I later learned that he too could not tell a Raider from an Eagle.

I’m not sure I even said “hi” as I sat down, grabbed an entire turkey leg and began to devour it like I had been stranded on a desert island, turkey grease running down my chin. In no time flat, only the bone remained and I headed off to bed, Mom trying to be polite enough for both of us. The fact is that my false impression of those guys was that they thought they were big shots, celebrities, or some such, and that was enough to make me want to stay clear.  

Fast forward to July 1981, the band was back in town for a few weeks. Holly kept asking me to come out and watch the band, saying they were really good and that the place was sold out every night. I kept turning her down as I had no interest in hanging out in some smokey bar listening to some country band. Then one hot day she invited the band members out to Chanhassen for a picnic and fun at the Lotus Lake beach lot. Holly remembers that they tried to water ski and they had canoe races (which Holly and Tim lost big time as their canoe spun in circles). Karl remembers that I came to the beach in a purple off-the-shoulder swimsuit (I have no memory of this). Later in the day, when the party moved back to the house, I remember walking into my bedroom to see Karl sitting on my bed, dressed in his dead grandfather’s black polyester dress pants and a long-sleeved plaid shirt buttoned up to the collar, sweating like crazy, a giant fan blowing in his face, trying to cool down.  He looked absolutely miserable! I convinced him that it was cooler outside and I asked if he’d like to go with me to feed the horses.

Conversation came easy to us and at one point he asked if I liked movies. It was opening week for Airplane and Raiders of the Lost Ark so we decided to go see the double feature at the Mann France Drive-In Theatre. We talked and laughed and laughed and talked some more. We later learned that not everyone laughs at every line in Airplane. But we did. I think we both were beginning to suspect that we were soulmates destined for each other.

Over the next couple of weeks, we had a few more dates on Karl’s days off.  Our first official date was to see some comedy and improv at Dudley Riggs Brave New Workshop downtown Minneapolis. I wore a pretty lavender sweater, tight white pants, high heels, and a dainty pearl necklace I borrowed from my sister, Solveig. I must have been fussing about being in a hurry — I was going to school full time, working full time, and taking care of my horses where I had them boarded. I was stressing about what I should wear and generally being a snappy grouch trying to get ready. When Karl arrived, I remember my mother taking him aside, gently grabbing him by the lapels and speaking into his face, “Have fun. And by the way, she is a much nicer person if you feed her.”

We arrived at Dudley Riggs early and stopped at the concession stand where, for some weird reason, I choose a large Dr. Pepper. Probably because I was still starving. As I went to sit down, I lost my grip and the entire tankard of Dr. Pepper ended up in my lap. On my foxy white pants. I am not kidding! The enormous cup was completely empty. There I sat in sticky brown liquid and ice. I remember thinking, “If he still thinks I’m cool after this debacle, we really ARE meant for each other.”

Later that week we visited the top floor of the Foshay Tower where there happened to be an exhibit about UFOs, Area 51, and aliens from outer space. Again, we both found this fascinating. Or maybe we just found each other’s company fascinating. Either way, we had a great time.

I remember we went to the Skyway Theater downtown to see newly released Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. As we neared the top of the escalator, there was a young man on a ladder changing a light bulb. Out of the blue, Karl stopped and pointed at him, shouting with his great big voice, “Hey look out! That guy is stealing light bulbs!” I thought it was hilarious as patrons throughout lobby all turned to see the thief in action as we casually sauntered by.

Well, I know you’re dying to know if I ever went out to see the band perform at the Carlton Backstage. The answer is YES, and yes, they were really good! Holly was right. Even though my day was packed from 5 o’clock in the morning til my head hit the pillow at night, I would go to the club every night to listen to the band. One night after the show we went out to get something to eat at Hotel Sofitel on France Avenue. I remember thinking it was so fancy. For dessert I ordered cheesecake. He ordered Peach Melba. When the waiter set them down, I longingly looked at Karl’s more delicious choice. He caught the look in my eye and quietly asked, “Do you want to trade?” as he switched plates. Just one more sign that he was the one for me.

The band’s three-week engagement dragged along for the rest of the guys whose families were back in Indiana. But it flew by for Karl and me. And when they took off, there was a great big giant hole in my heart. A couple of weeks later, I made a road trip to Indiana to see him. The band sold out the Murat Theatre downtown Indianapolis, along with other engagements that week. All good reasons to get all gussied up and hang around backstage. This time it was even harder for me to leave, but I just had a couple of months before graduation, so back to Minnesota it was, the hole in my heart even bigger.

It had been quite a summer! But as August was drawing to a close, the love of my life was off playing music in Las Vegas and I was still stuck at home. Then very early one morning (I was heading off to school and Karl hadn’t been to bed yet) the phone rang. He asked me to marry him. I said yes. And that was that. We were married on December 21 and I moved to Indiana on Christmas Day 1981.

We had our first date in July, proposal in August, honeymoon in October, reception in November, and our wedding in December. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Girl with Many Names

There once was a tiny girl with many big names.

Her birth certificate said her name was Alexa Sage Hinkle,

But that was only the beginning.

She had one great big personality, but many names.

She had one giant heart of gold, but many many names.

She had one enormously loving spirit, but many many many names.

She had one strong and fast body, but many many many many names.

She had one exceptionally smart brain, but many many many many many names.

She had one especially brave soul, but many many many many many many names.

She had one radiant smile, but many many many many many many many names.

She had a dazzling sparkle in her eyes, but many many many many many many many many names.

For starters, she would answer to Sweetie Pie or Baby Cakes.

And sometimes Fancy Pants or Love Bunny.

She giggled when we called her Sweet Bundle Cakes or Sugar Berries.

Or Sugar Face or Cupcake or Lamb Chop or Sweet Tea Cakes or Short Cake or Chocolate Eyes or Pumpkin Cheeks or Berry Lips.

Her mommy liked to call her Sister or Sissy or just plain Sis.

Her daddy was especially silly and liked to call her Squirrely Squirm, Smeeky Smack, or Squirmy Worm.

Or sometimes just Worm.

He liked to call her Snack Attack, Sister Snacks, or just plain Snax.

On particularly giggly days he might call her Squidward, Squid, Squirm Burglar, Squirrely Squirm, Sister Slime, Slimy Girl, Cheeky Girl, or get this — Susan!

Alexa Sage Hinkle had many many names and with a twinkle in her eye, she happily answered to each and every one!


by mia hinkle

The summer of 1965, the year I turned 11 years old, my Mom put my nine-year-old sister and me on a Greyhound bus bound for Minneapolis—a four-hour bus trip all by ourselves. What was the occasion? Was it a family emergency? Some sort of medical crisis?

No, it was much bigger than that. It was a pilgrimage, the culmination of months of fanatical dedication and study and planning. We were going to see…the Beatles in concert at Metropolitan Stadium!

We had given the widow’s mite–all that we had–$4.50 for each ticket. My sister Holly and I were huge fans of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Even to the point of speaking with British accents. Imagine that! Little girls from west central Minnesota with Norwegian brogues imitating the Liverpool accent! We thought we were so cool.

We didn’t simply listen to She Loves You one time and accept that the Beatles were a good band. No, we couldn’t just leave it there. We listened to those records over and over and over and over again. Then we pooled our birthday money and allowance, so we could buy teen magazines in hopes of learning something very personal about our favorite Beatle. A 33 was $5.00, a 45 was $1.00, and we did odd jobs around the house to earn enough to buy the latest release. We dreamed of a marriage proposal and a fairytale life of celebrity. We were truly nutz about the Beatles!

Hour after hour and day after day, we listened and sang along, talked about them and read about them. We memorized lyrics and stats, and hoped for the day they would re-run Ed Sullivan. We were obsessed. And then we couldn’t wait to go out and share what we learned with friends, classmates, cousins, anyone who would listen.

Years later when we were grown, we often asked our mother, “Mom, just what WERE you thinking? Didn’t that sound just a teensy bit dangerous to you? Putting your little girls, 9 and 11, on a Greyhound bus, trusting we would be safe as it stopped in every little town and dive truck stop along US 55, 4 hours away, to the Bus Depot on First Avenue downtown Minneapolis?”

She would just say, “No, you were fine. I knew you would be okay.”

Our Uncle picked us up at the depot and we stayed with our cousins until the concert the next day. We were so excited! We found our seats up in the nose bleed section, and then we heard the first strum of the first song. Sadly, that was the last music we heard for the night as the stadium erupted with screams of teenage fan girls, drowning out the entire concert. Not to mention the Fab Four looked like tiny little dolls on that itty-bitty stage. We didn’t care. We loved every minute of it!

My name is Mia Hinkle and I am here to talk about CHOICES.

When I look back now at that on that crazy experience and the choice my mother made to arrange this outing for us, I just shake my head. What was she thinking? I have an 11 year old grandson and it makes me nervous when he rides his bike to the neighborhood pool! THE POOL IS ONLY ONE HOUSE AWAY!

It turns out that my mother made that choice based on her confidence in us, that we would follow her direction, and stay on the bus, and NOT get off until we saw our uncle at the bus station. And it worked out. We stayed safe because we followed her words. And the reward is that we have a legendary story to tell all these years later!

I believe God calls us to a great and legendary adventure if he can trust us to choose to follow his instructions. Some of the most amazing things can happen when we follow God’s plan for our lives.

Unlike plants that simply grow, drop a seed, and then grow some more, and unlike the animal world driven by instinct, God has given mankind the privilege and the responsibility to make our own choices. Life is full of choices and we are called to make them all day every day. Making choices are part of the privilege God has given us, part of our God-like character as it says in (Gen 2:19) “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.”

Free will and the ability to make choices are gifts from a loving God. But along with privilege comes responsibility; a responsibility to make the choices we can AND a responsibility to bear the consequences. That’s where the rubber meets the road.

In my twenties I owned a couple of horses and rode western-style showing them in horse shows in timed events like barrel racing and pole-bending. A ballet in dusty boots. One balmy summer evening, I was practicing poles with my quick little Arabian mare whose registered name was Lucky Lola. Looking back, I should have quit while I was ahead. The best pole benders know there is usually only one good run for a horse and rider on any given day.

Normally Lola and I would glide between those poles, switching leads like a Lipizzaner; barely a breath from each one, floating on the wind. But that day, the sun was going down and it had been a long day. Lola was getting tired. I was pressing my luck. We were both loosing focus. As if to let me know she was done for the day, her here-to-for nimble weaving between the 6 poles just 21 feet apart, turned into a straight line race that slammed my knees against each of those poles at a break-neck speed.

Like I said, I should have quit while I was ahead. Instead, in a flash of pain and frustration, I planted my spur into her left shoulder and yanked the reins to the right to let her know I didn’t want her to hit another pole with my kneecap.

Well, I must have pulled those reins way too far and down we went! I had pulled her head right out from under her, just like in the TV westerns when the rider gets an arrow in his thigh.

Consequently, she went into a forward roll at a full gallop. Needless to say I was not ready for THAT, and as she went down, I flew from the saddle right into her path, breaking our collective fall with the crown of my head on the hard packed dirt. I held on to the reins and she rolled right over me – all 900 pounds of her. I don’t know how long I lay there as she stood over me. The next thing I remember I was leading her around and around the edge of the arena trying to cool her down. Later that night, I ended up in the emergency room with a concussion.

There were definitely consequences when I chose to ignore all the signs and keep pushing when I should have quit while I was ahead.

I could have broken my neck!

It has been said that if you want to know what is really important in a person’s life, take a look at their day planner and their checkbook. How we spent our time and our money is the key to what we treasure. Our choices tell where our values lie. Our choices tell what is really important to us, what our desires really are. Our choices tell where our hope is.

Our daily choices tell where we are heading. Each choice takes us down a road. Perhaps it is the first step in a new direction or it may be building on previous choices. Little choices can very easily lead to habits – good and bad.

Unfortunately, sometimes our choices are based simply on the path of least resistance.

Let me tell you a story about a day I followed the path of least resistance and rushed through something I should have taken my time with.

It was a crisp cold Saturday in the dead of winter. Yes, it was Minnesota, but we were die-hards and rode horseback in winter and summer just the same. We had purchased a pure bred Arabian stud colt as a yearling and we counted the days until he turned two and we could begin to break him for riding. He was high strung and gorgeous, dark dapple grey with striking confirmation. Finally, in late winter he was old enough to ride. I was lighter so I got the honors. I put the saddle on him inside the barn and cinched it up tight. I knew better, but I was in a hurry and my fingers were cold.

Horsemanship 101 or just plain common sense teaches you to tighten the cinch a little at a time, walking the colt around a little bit between each tightening. Remember this is a brand new sensation for a young horse, and it’s best to take it easy the first time if you want to have a second.

Anyway, I cinched up that saddle as tight as I could and led him outside. I remember hearing the hard packed snow squeak beneath his hooves, but his steps were halting and stiff. I hadn’t realized that he had filled his lungs with air and was holding his breath like a little kid throwing a temper tantrum. It really wasn’t working for him to walk and hold his breath at the same time. I felt like I was dragging him with each step.

In his panic when he finally took a breath, he seemed to just explode — rearing up on his hind legs and throwing his head from side to side. I was at the end of the lead rope and knew I could not let go of this young stallion. A stud loose on a horse farm will cause mayhem with a capital M. In other words, his very basic instincts would take over! If you know what I mean.

We were just a few steps outside the barn door when he reared up and I flew thru the air like a rag doll at the end of the lead rope. When I landed in a snowdrift on my back, his two front hooves landed firmly on my sternum. He stood there stiff legged for what seemed like forever; his full weight planted just below my throat. I was holding on so tight, I could feel his hot breath on my face.

I was saved that day by the grace of God … and cold weather. I had on two sweatshirts, a down vest, a down jacket, and insulated coveralls. Providence must have known all those layers weren’t quite enough to save me from harm, so I mysteriously landed in a foot of freshly fallen snow, and not on the icy driveway just a few feet away. Not a scratch on me.

My choice to take the path of least resistance and rush though the cinching process could have taken my life on that bright blue winter day!

It is true, some things are out of our hands. God has some influence. People and situations have some degree of control over us. But there are still plenty of choices we are called to make for ourselves. Some are big life altering decisions like whether to marry, who to marry, where to go to school, whether to have children, which job to accept, where to live. Those are the big ones.

But there are plenty of choices that might seem minor, but ultimately add up to having a significant impact on our lives. Have you ever worked with a plum line; you know that little chalk string you snap against the drywall when you are building something? If you are off just a little tiny bit at the top of the wall, you will be off by a lot at the bottom of the wall. Little daily choices add up.

God has called us to be decision makers. To allow others to make decisions for us – those that we should be making ourselves – is not being what God has called us to. We need to actively accept responsibility for the choices we are called to make. We may seek input from others. We may ask for God’s guidance. And then we follow through and make the choice. Here is an example of allowing others to make decisions for us.

Back at the stable, I was helping my horse trainer boyfriend with a thoroughbred that was really fast but had a problem with the starting gate. He was scared to death of that tiny space and would not get in. So the trainer got the bright idea to take both my horse, Lucky Lola, and this new one he was training to the racetrack during off hours, thinking my little Arabian would have a calming effect on this spooky race horse.

Me: Are you sure this will work?
Trainer: Of course it will, trust me.

The thoroughbred had been soured at the track in his previous life, so when he stepped out of the trailer at the track, his entire countenance ratcheted up a few notches. Ears straight forward … nostrils flaring … fighting the lead rope, he knew where he was and didn’t like it one bit. We trotted around for a while to get the lay of the land and eventually it turned out my seasoned little mare DID have a calming influence on that flighty thoroughbred after all.

We approached the back side of the starting gate. I remember thinking that I agreed with the race horse; it looked really tiny.

Me: “Are you sure this is a good idea? It looks a little dangerous.”
Trainer: “No it will be fine, just ease her on in there. You go first.”

Lola had never seen anything like it, so, no reason to be frightened she walked right inside the gate with me on her back. The thoroughbred saw Lola walk in unafraid and so he did the same. For an instant, there they both stood as if they were in their stalls waiting for supper. But when the gate shut behind us with a loud CLANK, Lola began to freak out, snorting and pawing the ground beneath us. I swear she was trying to get down and crawl out on her knees. She became more and more agitated – again banging my knees against the teensy metal cage. Note to self: starting gates are not made for people in western saddles.

Finally the bell rang and the front gates flew open. My little grey mare shot out like a watermelon seed on the Fourth of July on to the racetrack and barreled around the curve like she thought she was Secretariat.


I’m not sure how to describe the scene, except with the imagery made famous by Saturday morning cartoon characters. You know the ones … where Wiley Coyote hangs in midair for several seconds looking terrified before he plummets to the bottom of the canyon to his violent demise.

There I hung in midair … my trusty steed becoming smaller and smaller as she barreled around the track … until suddenly and with great impact, my tailbone slammed onto the track with a dull thud and I slid to a stop on my back in a cloud of dust.

The mix of sand and clay found its way into every crease and crevice of my 20something year old body. When my head stopped spinning, my ears were ringing and I could taste blood and dirt. There was sand in my boots. There was sand in my bra. There was sand in my underpants and where the sun don’t shine! I feel like I may have been taller before that day … like my spine was compressed just a little with the impact.

When I regained my bearings, I looked around to see that goofy thoroughbred just standing inside the starting gate looking around. The trainer was encouraging him with whip and spurs to spring forth, but I think that race horse was just too stunned at the sight of greased lightning resembling a little grey Arabian mare disappearing down the track, while her rider, the big-eyed Wiley Coyote suspended in midair before crashing to the ground, little birds circling my blonde head with their maniacal chirping.

I could have easily been paralyzed.

This is what can happen when you allow others to make decisions for you, when you clearly know better and should have taken a different path.

I went on my Discipleship Walk (#3, Table of Mary) in 1989, 33 years ago this month. I learned a couple of things that weekend.

First, the world of God’s people is much bigger than the church I attended or the one I grew up in. People from several different denominations attended that weekend. In this room today, there are women from nearly 20 different churches, ranging from very traditional to very charismatic. Some of us are still looking for that good fit and are between churches right now. Rest assured, God will meet you right where you are this weekend.

Secondly I learned it’s nearly impossible to have an effective Christian walk without Community. That is without a good church and Godly people you can connect with and learn from.

Third, I learned about Accountability Groups, small groups consisting of a few women with whom you can enjoy authentic relationship. These are women who love you just the way you are. These are women who hold you accountable when you start to get a little squirrely. These are women who are there for you, love you, and care for you.

My Accountability Group has been there for one another since 1998. I can’t take the time here this morning to tell you all the ways they have been there for me in good times and in tragic. I can’t imagine life without them.

Over the next couple of days, we will present you with many ideas and testimonies.

We want you to listen to each speaker with an open and discerning mind.

Only you can make the final decision about how the things presented this weekend may apply to you.

God has given you the privilege and responsibility of CHOICE.

The next steps are up to you.

Walk in Love

What is some of the best advice your mother ever gave you?

Our mom was full of sound advice. When we were growing up, I remember hearing a lot of “stand up straight” and “get that hair out of your pretty face.” As teenagers, we heard, “you don’t have a curfew but just remember, nothing good happens after midnight.” When the grandchildren began arriving, I remember her saying, “it’s impossible to spoil a child by loving him/her.” And one of my favorites, “Happiness lies not the absence of challenges, but in how we respond to those challenges.”

After we grew up, she used to call us at our jobs very early in the morning, long before we showed up for work; she was an early morning riser. She would leave us voice mail messages which we listen to as soon as we clocked in. Her voice was a comfort and those little nuggets of wisdom were a great way to begin the workday.

Years before Facebook made sharing our points of view so convenient, when Mark Zuckerberg was still in diapers, our mom was sharing nuggets of wisdom with her kids thru voicemail messages and cards sent via snail mail.  Here is a sampling of the stuff she thought was important enough to leave for us. I am certain there were more, but these 30 ended up on a memorial photo of her created by Solveig’s friends, Pam and Bill Corrigan.

Live beneath your means.

Buy whatever kids are selling on card tables in their front yards.

Treat everyone you meet as you want to be treated.

Admit your mistakes.

Be brave. Even if you’re not, pretend to be. No one can tell the difference.

Don’t spread yourself too thin. Learn to say ‘no’ politely and quickly.

Don’t expect life to be fair.

Never underestimate the power of forgiveness.

Beware of the person who has nothing to lose.

Instead of using the word “problem” try using the word “opportunity.”

Never walk out on a quarrel with your spouse.

Give yourself a year and read the Bible cover to cover.

Be bold and courageous. When you look back on your life, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did.

Forget committees. New noble world changing ideas usually come from one person working alone.

Learn to listen. Opportunity sometimes knocks very softly.

Donate two pints of blood every year.

Make new friends but cherish the old ones.

Street musicians are a treasure. Stop for a moment and listen, then leave a small donation.

Pray not for things, but for wisdom and courage.

Wage war against littering.

Never take action when you’re angry.

Have good posture. Enter a room with purpose and confidence.

Don’t procrastinate. Do what needs doing when it needs to be done.

Get your priorities straight. No one ever said on their deathbed, “Gee, I wish I had spent more time at the office.

Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”

Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m sorry.”

Make a list of 25 things you want to experience before you die. Carry it in your wallet. Refer to it often.

Overtip breakfast waitresses.

Watch a sunrise at least once a year.

Compliment three people each day.

Sunfish, Caesar Salad, & Freeze-Dried Food

by mia hinkle

What is the best meal you’ve ever had? THAT is a hard question. Throughout my 68 years I have probably eaten over 75,000 meals. I love all kinds of food, so I probably loved most of them. There are, however, a few culinary memories that stand out.

When I was little and we lived on the farm, our folks liked to have parties. Friends and family, lots of people, music, laughter, and good food. On warm summer evenings, the party would often include smoked sunfish. Preparations were a family affair. In the days leading up to the gathering, our Grandpa Tody would take my brothers, Hans and Dickie, fishing for sunnies from a wooden boat on Lobster Lake in Douglas County. On the day of the gathering, before the guests would arrive, my mom would hand me a feed sack filled with freshly picked corn-on-the-cob and guide us outside to pull the husks and silk off. It was a big job for a little kid with little fingers. Meanwhile my dad would drag out the 55-gallon drum (probably an empty DDT drum; he was a crop duster) and set it near the swing set in the shade. He would place dry corn cobs on a custom-made grate, set them on fire, spray a little water on them, and once they began to smoke lower them deep into the barrel. There were a blue million sunfish, scales off, skin on, which were then lowered on an identical grate into the barrel. He then covered the barrel and left the little fishes there to smoke. When we finally were allowed to “come and get it,” each mouthful melded into the perfect blend of summertime flavors. Corn-on-the-cob with melted butter and salt. Potato Salad made with boiled new potatoes from my mom’s garden. Home grown cucumbers and onion in a sweet vinegar dressing (still a standard in my kitchen). And a bunch of little smoked sunfish with crispy skin. Each bite better than the last. We kids sat cross legged in the grass giving no care to wiping our chins between bites. Fireflies flickered around us bringing the “show” portion of “dinner and a show.” Just one of those magical childhood memories.

Another culinary memory involves the Opryland Hotel, Caesar Salad, and Bananas Foster. This experience is very different than smoked sunfish in the grass. I was 27 and had just fallen for the love of my life that summer. We were in Nashville staying at the Opryland Hotel and the Country Music Awards were happening all around us.  Everything was new for me that fall. I was in love for the first time, I was weeks from finishing up my accounting degree in Minneapolis, Karl was in a band who had recently signed a recording contract with Warner Brothers and had a song on Billboard’s Top 40. They had been traveling to lots of upscale places, but that week they were playing at the Opryland Hotel, perhaps the most opulent place I had ever laid eyes on (excluding Europe). It was a hope-filled and exciting chapter of our lives. We just KNEW that it would be The Wright Brothers who would next year be accepting a CMA award! It didn’t turn out that way.  Anyway, we made reservations at the Old Hickory Room which was the fanciest restaurant in the Hotel.  Karl and I ordered Caesar Salad for two and we watched in amazement as it was created at our tableside. It was 1981 and I guess Caesar dressing in a bottle had not been invented yet. So it began: a dark wooden cart loaded with all the ingredients sidled up to our table. The chef began to assemble the ingredients in a large wooden bowl beginning with smashing anchovies and garlic cloves into a paste, spooning in Dijon mustard, a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper, a couple of splashes of Worcestershire Sauce, two raw egg yolks, the juice of a lime, and a generous handful of grated Parmesan Cheese. He smashed it all together with a teak fried spatula, then slowly drizzled in extra virgin olive oil while continuing to mix the dressing. I remember how good it smelled. I had never seen anything like it; it was like he was working a magic trick right in front of us using the most unlikely of elements to create something wondrous. Romaine leaves left whole, washed and dried thoroughly, were added to the large wooden bowl where they were gingerly and completely coated with the fragrant dressing. Toss in a few large croutons and voilà! Caesar Salad! How could the lowly romaine leaf be so delicious that I can still recall it 4 decades later? I don’t remember which expensive steak I had, but when it came time for dessert, we ordered Bananas Foster and it came to our table ON FIRE! What an amazing meal! What an amazing weekend! What an amazing beginning to our life together. I cried like a baby when it came time to board my flight for home.

As lovely as that Opryland Hotel meal was, no gourmet meal has ever tasted as scrumptious as freeze-dried Chicken Noodle Casserole and Peach Cobbler over a campfire at the end of a long day paddling the sky blue waters in God’s country, i.e. the Boundary Waters Canoe Area at the border of Minnesota and Canada. What is it about eating outdoors that heightens the senses of taste and smell? Evolutionarily, we’re programmed to relax in nature. The landscape elicits a soft focus from us to calm our nervous system down after being in a fight-or-flight scenario (i.e., paddling for your life against the wind and lugging a canoe on your shoulders across long slippery portages.) When we are relaxed, our parasympathetic system, known as the “rest-and-digest” branch, kicks in. I was 25 years old when I took my first trip to the BWCA on a paddling, portaging, and hiking trip. I went 3 summers in a row with some really good girlfriends. We put in at Camp Tuscarora at the end of the Gunflint Trail. At day’s end, we would locate a campsite, set up the tent, gather firewood, build a fire, boil water from the lake, and add it to freeze dried packets of God knows what. When it finished cooking, it magically looked and tasted better than the real deal! Evening meals in the BWCA were, I believe, tied to the concepts and the physicality of sacrifice and reward. We had worked hard all day and were rewarded with a delicious meal. Everything tasted soo good.

As I wrap this up, it occurs to me that the one element tying these three experiences together are the people involved in each. Smoked sunfish with my family of origin. Caesar Salad with my soon-to-be husband and my newly created family. And freeze-dried food with good friends. People I love wove a slender silver thread through these memories and put a bow around some of the best meals I’ve ever had.

People Along the Way by mia hinkle

“It’s the people – the memorable people – who make certain places stick in our minds forever. Look for those people, wherever you go. How do their stories intersect with yours? Look for those people who make the room come alive. And write about them.” William Zinsser

Some people just seem to fill the room with their very presence. Such was the case with the legendary Johnny Cash. My husband Karl and I met him in 1981 in Minneapolis. In fact, Karl’s band sang back-up on the gospel song “Rain” at a performance at the Carlton Celebrity Room in Minneapolis. Johnny Cash had a knack for writing, choosing, and delivering a song in a way that connects one person with another on a deep and authentic level.

Growing up we had all heard about the Man in Black and listened to his music, or should I say poetry. We knew he was a star—a real celebrity—but nothing could have prepared us for that moment when we looked up and saw him walking through the door toward us.

The hotel was located between the airport and the Carlton Celebrity Room, along the I-494 belt. It was a bustling place. Businessmen, traveling salesmen, families, vacationers, conventioneers…all coming and going…all tending to the details of their day-to-days. Hurrying to meetings, grousing at the hotel clerks, grabbing a bite, running, running, running. A din of activity swirling about the lobby.

The door opened—it had incidentally been opening and closing all day, but none of us had given it a second glance until now. Suddenly a dark 6’2” shadow filled the doorway. There was no mistaking. It was Johnny Cash. As he moved toward the front desk, he leaned forward, as if walking into a strong north wind; his long black duster floated behind him in obedience. Black western shirt tucked into dress black slacks, black western boots, and black rimmed shades. There he was. He really was the Man in Black!

A hush fell over the room as all eyes watched him sidle up to the desk. It was an involuntary sort of hush, a deafening hush. Men with briefcases stopped. Women looked up from their magazines, eyes widening. Children stopped twirling and stared. Forks hung in the air in the dining room. Conversations paused mid-sentence. Clerks in the sundry shop lost count of change. Reservationists fell silent on the phone. For one brief moment in time, all of these divergent paths focused on the same point; time stood still as they memorized the moment. The whole room held its breath, waiting to exhale.

Then, just as quickly as he had appeared, he disappeared into the elevator. The doors closed and he was lifted somewhere to the upper floors—you know, those floors where you need a special key to get off.

The room took a collective breath, and gradually the volume of the lobby turned back up. The bustling returned, but the room had changed. We tried not to, but in time we moved past that magical moment and back to our day-to-day details.

In the years before and since, we brushed up against other celebrities a time or two, but none of them filled the room the same as Johnny Cash did for us that day. We never again heard his poetry in quite the same way. In that brief moment, we saw the true stuff of life that finds itself written on the heart and connects one person to another in a deep and authentic way.


Have You Ever Doubted Your Faith?

By mia hinkle

In his book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, Benjamin L. Corey asks, “But what if there’s really no such thing as a crisis of faith? … What if it just feels like everything is going wrong, but really that instance is a moment when everything is about to go right? … What if what we often call a faith crisis is actually a divine journey—not from God, or simply to God, but a journey with God?”

I wrote an essay in 1999. It had been quite a year for me to say the least. The title of the essay was CAN YOU TRUST GOD? Here it is.

Can you trust God? I think this is a two-part question. Can you trust God? And can you trust God?

First, can you trust GOD? In other words, is God trustworthy? Is God dependable in times of adversity? Does he really see the details of our lives and does he really care? The answer can be found by studying what the Scriptures say about the direct and personal connection between man and God throughout the ages. Has God been there for his people? What we find in even a cursory read of the Bible shows examples of God’s faithfulness appearing on virtually every page.

Secondly and just a critical, can YOU trust God? Do you have such a relation with God and such confidence in him that you believe he is with you in your adversity even though you do not see any evidence of his presence at the moment? Jerry Brides in his book, TRUSTING GOD EVEN WHEN LIFE HURTS, discusses this very question. This is where the rubber meets the road. God calls us to live trusting him in joy and in grace even in our darkest hour. When people would ask former hostage Terry Anderson how he endured spending six years and nine months in Beirut blindfolded in chains: “We can either live our lives in anger or in joy. If we keep the anger, we cannot have the joy.”

Job 5:7 tells us, “Man is born to adversity as sure as the sparks fly upward.” Can anybody say, AMEN?! It’s all around us. Chances are you either have experienced, are experiencing, or will experience some level of adversity in your life. As a matter of fact, in just my little corner of the world, the last year has been filled with tragedies and losses I never dreamed possible. I lost my mother to cancer in February, my boss to murder in July, my 20-year-old neighbor to a sudden infection in October, and Pastor Tommy to ALS in January. In March a good friend called me with news that her husband tried to kill her with a rifle as her little girls stood by. Her marriage in ruins and her husband in jail, she tries to make sense of it all. The list goes on. The death of a loved one, the diagnosis of a dreadful disease, the loss of a job, the crumbling of a marriage, and the betrayal of friendship. I am sure you have your own list, of those times in your Christian walk when you have cried out, “Can I really trust God? Where is the Lord in all this?” “I’ve been good, I’ve followed all the rules. Why is this happening to me?” I have felt the darkness and despair that fills the soul when we wonder if God sees us or cares about our plight.

Have you ever been absolutely certain you heard from God on an issue, only to see your world turned upside-down and blindsided by some unexpected tire iron? In 1986 Karl and I came very close to adopting a little girl. We were SURE God was directing our steps, but when the adoption derailed (we had the car seat and the little pink outfit in the car and were on our way to pick her up when we got the call) we were crushed.

How could God do this to us? How did we get this so wrong? How could we ever trust our discernment again? As we tearfully struggled through the days and weeks that followed, we saw no evidence of God’s presence or his power. But as time passed, we could sense the invisible hand of God as it comforted us and carried us through the valley. You see, if the adoption had NOT fallen through, we would not have pursued infertility treatments which revealed some major health risks, leading to a complete hysterectomy and the return of my excellent health.

So the question becomes, did we misunderstand God’s leading as he placed that baby girl on our hearts? I think not. I see now that God took us on that detour to heal my body and prepare us for the arrival of our two beautiful sons, Walker and Jackson, now 9 and 6.

As believers, our response to hard times needs to be rooted in the things the Bible teaches us about adversity: (a) God is completely sovereign, (b) God’s wisdom is infinite, and (c) God’s love is for us is perfect. Another thing we learn from Scripture is that God is full of surprises and that his heavenly perspective is more clearly focused than our earthly vantage point. We have a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, but God can see the entire journey and holds the map. This is where trust comes in.

Today I am here to tell you that I do trust our Heavenly Father because I have seen his hand at work, and I know the outcome is in his hands, just as surely as I know he knows the number of hairs on my head. The adversities we face are but temporary against the backdrop of his larger plan for us.
This is not to say trusting God is easy or a once-and-for-all decision. What’s more, trusting God in adversity looks ludicrous to the world around us. Forgive the man who murdered my boss? Show grace to the doctor who treated my mother for pneumonia for a month without an x-ray? Accept a medical community that stands by helplessly as septicemia and ALS tear loved ones from their families? Try to understand a husband who points a loaded gun at his wife in front of his little daughters? Sounds crazy!!

But as I wrestled with trusting God in the face of the last year, I realized that if I can not trust God in these tragic circumstances, then I have no testimony at all.

As Gerald Sittser states in his book, A GRACE DISGUISED, “It is not the experience of loss that becomes the defining moment of our lives, for loss is inevitable. It is how we respond that matters. Our response will largely determine the quality, the direction, and the impact of our lives.”

I was 45 when I wrote that essay and I am now closing in on seven decades. What has changed in 25 years? A lot and not so much. Those little boys, 6 and 9, have blossomed into loving and hard-working fathers. Adorable grandchildren have entered the picture. Karl lost both his parents and I lost my dad, one sister-in-law, and a niece. Karl came down with Parkinson’s Disease in 2016 and had to give up his music career. It seems that loss and adversity walk hand in hand with joy and grace. I must admit, there has been a little doubt peppered in along the way. That is probably the way it goes in this world, but doubt can never overshadow the obvious blessings showered upon my life since I took my first breath.

Satan (or the Bad Wolf as my 10-year-old grandson likes to call it) works long and hard at cultivating fear and doubt and hopelessness in mankind. But, as Christian can also tell you if you feed the Good Wolf, he is the one that grows big and strong. During times of loss, tragedy, and adversity, our tendency is to separate ourselves from community with other believers, stay home from church, watch mindless TV or social media, and let our Bibles get dusty. In hindsight, it is precisely during those times I purposed to draw closer to hope, joy, grace, and the people of God.

Don’t get me wrong, I still fantasize about hitting the road in an RV and running away from home. But so far, my roots are holding. I believe they are holding because the thing we call a crisis of faith or doubt is actually a divine journey—not from God, not to God, but a journey with God.”

Dear Laura,

Happy 60th birthday! I can’t imagine a neighbor in all the world better than the one God blessed me with a quarter century ago! Come to think of it, if you ask me, we have all been blessed with the greatest neighbors in all the land!

Sometimes when the stresses of life pile on and I feel pulled in a thousand different directions with big kid issues, illness, ageing, and just ordinary troubles, I reach deep into my memory bank and feel peace wash over me when I reflect on one of the best days EVER.

A vast canopy of an old Pin Oak tree.

Picture perfect weather. Early morning in early June.

Adirondack chairs in the grass facing a dirty blacktop driveway.

Two young moms sipping morning coffee.

Two little boys and two little girls happily playing close by, easy to keep an eye on.

Happy, energy-filled children. Running, skipping, shouting, giggling, teasing, dancing, twirling, creative, silly, strong, athletic, imaginative, lighthearted, spontaneous, free.

Nothing organized. Just good old-fashioned free play.

Soles of little feet more and more black with asphalt as the sun rolls across the blue sky.

Between sips of coffee, easy conversation. So much in common.

One runs in to whip up a quick lunch for the kids. More like a great big snack: whatever is on hand.

Random neighbors pop over to join in the conversation.

Sun high in the sky, more kids come and go; one off to Badger Field, another off to Smokey Row Pool, another off down the street. Soon some circle back to join in the lazy play.

I’m sure there are plenty of chores inside on this sunny Saturday; they can wait.

Ope, here comes a watermelon! Here comes half a sheet cake! Two more reasons to stay outside and not rush in to prepare dinner.

Husbands come and go, bringing sustenance to their families, happy to see their children scurrying to-and-fro and their wives relaxing. (That NEVER happens!)

Moms talking, laughing, crying, sharing, bonding.

Fully present in this ideal space.

And before we know it, the sun glows orange in the west.

And fireflies flicker. And bats dive-bomb mosquitos.

A chill settles into the air as we carry exhausted little angels into the house and directly to the bathtub, where we try our best to scrub the blacktop off their tiny feet before nestling them into their clean sheets.

Thank you, Laura, for taking the time to make this indelible memory with me. I believe God gives us sweet memories like this and good friends to carry us through the tough times in life. Thank you for being there for me over the years.

Love you forever, Mia

What were your favorite subjects in high school?

THE POWER OF GOOD TEACHERS by mia hinkle [June 2022]

I have been out of high school for 50 years this month. My favorite high school classes can easily be summed up in two names: Jan Baker and Jim Waletski.

Jan Baker taught English and Jim Waletski taught History. My interest in history and writing has buoyed me through these last five decades largely due to the impact of these two individuals. They were both more than teachers to their students; they were influences. I didn’t have much confidence in my scholastic abilities until I slid into their classes in the early 70s. But happily, that changed. Seeds were watered in their care.

Jan Baker was like no other person I had ever known. She was smart and sassy, plus I think she really liked working with teenagers! In her English class, students were allowed to choose a topic of study —- anything that interested them (I chose Woodstock). Then we were required to read about it, write about it, and present it to the class. Reading, writing, and speech all wrapped up into one class. GENIUS! Reading, writing, and speaking are life skills that all people need regardless of what line of work they end up pursuing.

As an aside, thirty years later when my sons were in elementary school, they came up with the brilliant idea to be pet owners. More specifically they wanted to own Green Chinese Water Dragons. Wait! What?! But instead of simply saying NO WAY, I asked them to go to the library and read books about lizards, then write a report on how to feed them and maintain their environment, then create a poster showing the steps, then rehearse a speech, and finally present it to three of our neighbors. Turns out I was wrong about thinking that my kids would not jump through these hoops! They eagerly engaged in the process, learned about lizards, and became the proud owners of reptiles the length of my forearm who slept on rocks under a heat lamp and gobbled up live crickets. In my house. Yikes!

Jan Baker was an old soul AND a kid at heart. I loved her assignments and did well in English because I felt heard in her class. It didn’t matter if you were a brainiac, a hippie, a jock, a drama nerd, a musician, marginalized, or popular, Ms. Baker always made you feel like you were the only student in the class and she was hanging on your every word.

When I was a senior, she directed West Side Story, quite an undertaking for a small-town high school drama and music department. I was the photographer and all my friends were in the play, in the tech crew, or in the orchestra. What an awesome experience! Ms. Baker brought to light confidence in her students, in my case, for the first time in my scholastic history. I am sure that many of my classmates would agree we owe Ms. Baker a great debt of gratitude for the diverse paths we took as we ventured out into the great big world out there!

Jim Waletski was our history teacher. Instead of rehashing dry facts about dusty old events featuring people with whom we had nothing in common, he taught us how to be curious about our past and how it affects our place in the world today. He taught us to question sources and authors and points of view, not just blindly swallow the versions of the stories we learned in grade school, versions which always seemed to show the development of America in the warm comfortable glow of nationalism, always on the right side, always the hero. Instead of just repeating the dry old stories we had grown up with, Mr. Waletski offered differing perspectives and encouraged us to consider an issue from varying pockets of our population. Long before I had ever heard of Howard Zinn, Mr. Waletski gave us permission to be inquisitive and to consider the perspectives of others. Howard Zinn wrote the well-researched book, A People’s History of the United States, which tells America’s story from the point of view of—and in the words of—America’s women, factory workers, African Americans, Native Americans, the working poor, and immigrant laborers. Zinn demonstrates that many of our country’s greatest battles were carried out at the grassroots level, many times against bloody resistance. He asserts that the elite minority of people in power were not always right, they just held all the cards. So, to honor history in its entirety, we must learn more than just easy reruns. We need to consider the larger scope and the roots of an event, reflecting how it still might affect our beliefs and actions and those of our fellow citizens. All textbooks contain omissions and misrepresentations of certain events. What we learned from Mr. Waletski was to consider many sides of an issue before drawing conclusions. Especially if our conclusions become our guiding light.

It is sad, but teachers have come under increased scrutiny as of late. Educators used to be the final authority in the classroom, but today they are sometimes criticized, disrespected, and in fact berated, by kids and their parents and especially some politicians. Communities and lawmakers are requiring more of teachers while providing fewer resources, while not trusting them to choose their own curriculum or relate to their own students. It must be hard to receive those nasty grams in your inbox when you’re just trying to teach children and serve your community in perhaps the most important way there is. They’re sure not in it for the money.

I thank God this wasn’t the case when I was growing up, because quality teachers like Ms. Baker and Mr. Waletski may have sought occupations elsewhere and we may never have had the benefit of knowing these two amazing gems.