Notes from Jan

Gonna Build Something?

November 1, 2020

Well, it’s been awhile since we talked.  However, it’s not your fault.  I just ran out of words. So I went back to winnowing and sorting through the stuff of my life.  And  I prayed. Some days I need reassurance God’s not given up on us. And maybe, more concerned, that we won’t give up on God or each other.

Like I said, my focus shifted to winnowing and sorting.  And every now and then, a reward showed up, like a piece written by Mike Barnicle in 1990. (I’m a little behind in the sift and ditch department.) Mike recounted the following glimpse into a kid from Roxbury:

“He wore only a short cloth coat zippered up to his neck to battle the winter weather.  He crossed the road at the construction site, and wandered up into an empty field where buildings once stood.   Slowly, he walked back and forth through the tall, uncut winter grass, occasionally bending over to pick up pieces of wood. ‘What’s the wood for?’ he was asked.  ‘Gonna build something,’ he said. The boy said he was twelve, the eldest of five. He planned to surprise his Mama with a footstool for Christmas.”

Thirty years later, I’m still challenged by these three words.  How?  Well, sometimes I feel  like we’re living in a strange place, “an empty field where buildings once stood.” What buildings?  Well, more like building blocks of a more civilized place. What’s happened to truth, democracy, moral codes and those long-held norms that keep a society from unraveling?  And when did respect for the flag, for some, become a weapon  to attack “liberty and justice for all”?

‘What’s the wood for?’ he was asked.  ‘Gonna build something,’ he said. The boy said he was twelve, the eldest of five. He planned to surprise his Mama with a footstool for Christmas.

Mike Barnicle

Perhaps, we need to summon the twelve year old in us, full of hope, who sees a vacant lot as a field of dreams, a place where treasures hide.  And then I wonder, “How can we encourage each other to ‘walk back and forth’ between the aisles that divide, and to ‘occasionally bend over to pick up’ discarded people and  broken promises?”  What if we came together to join in a holy hunt for sacred scraps?  They rest in pieces, abandoned building blocks among ‘the tall, uncut winter grasses.’

Christmas is coming.

And that is good news amid all the bad and disturbing words written,  tweeted or spoken. As I write, I’m reminded that the boy of twelve is now a man of 42, if he survived the tough area where he lived. But the same God who risked it all to enter our chaos as  a baby, Jesus, loves that boy and walked with him on their holy hunt to gather leftover lumber to make something useful and beautiful for his Mama. Love at work.

We’re living in a land that needs some healing rest?

Nothing heals like love or gives a leg up, like a footstool.

Love builds.

Wanna build something?


Love never gives up,  never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

(I Corinthians 13: 4-7 , NLT)

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  • Reply Caroline B Stogrin November 1, 2020 at 12:52 pm

    I’m new to your blog Jan. But I have every book your mama wrote and I read them over and over. So I thought I’d love to read what you write knowing if would be positive and uplifting. Thank you and God bless you!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 1, 2020 at 7:23 pm

      Thank you, Caroline, for taking the risk to read something my Mama didn’t write. Hope you’ll stop by again.

  • Reply Suzy Young November 1, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    We love you! David and Suzy

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 1, 2020 at 7:24 pm

      Well, it’s mutual, dear David and Suzy.

  • Reply Karen Langlais November 1, 2020 at 1:28 pm

    Worth waiting for, Jan! Love the challenge to build together, very timely with all our national angst. Hope somehow Mike Barnicle will see this piece; he was always a favorite columnist for me.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 1, 2020 at 7:25 pm

      Thank you, Karen. I, too enjoyed his columns.

  • Reply Randall Mathews November 1, 2020 at 2:09 pm

    Hi Jan:

    We have missed you so. So glad that you are back sharing your wisdom with the rest of us.

    Randy for the Mathews

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 1, 2020 at 7:26 pm

      Well, I’ve missed connecting with you and Alice and all the others. It wasn’t just that I was tired of words…I was having a problem with the blog site. My son came to the rescue today. Whew!

  • Reply Lisa November 1, 2020 at 2:53 pm


    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 1, 2020 at 7:28 pm

      As you know, Lisa, I love hearts. It’s the Scandinavian in me, I “tink.” Thanks for connecting even without words.

  • Reply Jeri November 1, 2020 at 3:06 pm

    We all need HOPE! For a vision. For something good. A way forward. I had a flash of Narnia just now, where it was always winter and never Christmas. Thank you for this timely reminder, Jan.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 1, 2020 at 7:31 pm

      It’s felt like we’ve been stuck in winter for too long. Christmas is coming. Turn up the volume on some Christmas carols. It helps.
      I started two days ago on a dark and blustery day. JOY to the world!!

  • Reply Niffy Williamson Dickinson November 1, 2020 at 7:02 pm

    I have missed your blog so much. I was so excited to see it pop up on my email. I always reserve a quiet time to read them. I’m so ready to see the rebuilding of our country and faith in humanity. Count me in to help build!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 1, 2020 at 7:34 pm

      Niffy! So good to see your name pop up. I’m so ready, too, to be part of the rebuilding what needs restoring and tearing down some walls that never should have been.
      Counting on North Carolina to help!

  • Reply Linda Campbell November 1, 2020 at 8:25 pm

    Thank Jan and fellow travelers! You all encourage me so!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 1, 2020 at 8:51 pm

      We need each other. Thanks for coming along, Linda, to help build something God honoring and people blessing.

  • Reply Wendy Lane November 2, 2020 at 9:25 am

    Loved reading your words Jan, and everyone’s comments. Your encouragement through your words is a huge part of building up each of us! So glad Chad was able to help you get this back up and running!! <3

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 2, 2020 at 9:44 am

      Me, too. Thanks for your encouragement, Wendy, over many years.

      • Reply Wendy Lane November 2, 2020 at 9:47 am

        ❤️ hugs

  • Reply Dale November 2, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    Welcome back Jan. God gives us memories and a memory, for most of our lives, so bring it back up. There is a good chance it will sound new to me! I am at our cottage, alone, for three days of fasting, reading and prayer. This is my “happy place” and where God reminds me that He is sovereign, and, by default, that I am not. Dale

    • Reply Jan Carlberg November 2, 2020 at 1:14 pm

      Peace and wisdom to and through you, Dale.

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