Sunday, June 22, 2014


Image from


I visited with friends the other day, but started my journey using my cell phone’s GPS. I was out in Evanston and needed to get to Naperville, during rush hour traffic on a Friday early evening. I knew it was going to take some time, and actually, knew in theory how to get from point A to point B, but thought the added assistance of my GPS would somehow get me there faster – technology makes things simpler – therefore faster. Right? Wrong.
It was hot and there was lots of traffic. I’m just tech savvy enough to be dangerous, but I thought no problem. I got this! The first leg of my trip getting over to 294 was no problem, but there was all of this traffic and did I mention it was hot and I told my friends, ‘Sure, I can get there in about hour and half…’.
But what’s that I hear? The voice on the GPS lady is speaking – I must hearken my ear, for it is she who has wisdom… Take 90 west. That’s going towards O’Hara ? But I haven’t gone south enough. Maybe, it’s found a quicker route without all of this traffic… Should I risk following my gut – what I know? Or do I follow that nice mechanical voice? She sounds like she knows so much more than I do… Sigh! No, I better not… That route just doesn’t make sense to me.
“Stick with what you know is true Nina” - speaks the inner voice of truth.
Traffic is just as backed up on 90 – I’ll stay put and go slow and steady…
…Without boring you with the details of my very long and very arduous trip – I did mention that it was hot – even with air conditioning… I made it to me destination nearly three hours later, with me fighting with the GPS. I’d go one way, she’d say go this way, but it wasn’t any better… I knew she was laughing hysterically at me with every turn, (driving the back roads to Naperville is not fun).
Moral of this story is: Look up and see life for yourself. Trust what you know to be true. If I had taken the advice of the GPS I believe I may yet be driving about. This isn’t to say that one should never listen to the advice of others, however, if you have an inkling that something just isn’t right, get the opinions of at least two other trusted friends. Trusted is the key word here and then make a final decision based upon common sense and of course, prayer, (this goes without saying).

 A picture of my friends and I taken with my cell phone, by a passerby, that Diane said to trust, because he was wearing a pastoral collar. :-)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Always Winter… Never Spring... But...

By Nina Benson
Truly, this is what people will say of winter 2013-14 – winter seemed to be never ending, with it’s howling winds, bone chilling gusts of snow and ice that pelted exposed faces and hands. No amount of moisturizer could protect these areas from dryness and cracking. The most conscientious fashionista gave up and looked like the rest us – like sta-puff marshmallow people braving the elements. We had snow days and blizzard days, and sub-zero days… Is it ever going to end?
Then last week, well into April, there were the sounds of spring. Funny we have to go with “sounds” of spring first. It’s like we have to accept that spring is coming by faith, because it didn’t ever feel like it and we certainly couldn’t see it. We just had the sound of birds chirping – something that we thought we heard, but surely no bird in their right mind would be up north, yet… But there it is again that sound. I couldn’t see them – early in the morning; when it was yet dark, and cold with wind still blowing, but I did hear them. Then I began to see them pecking at the hard ground – there’s no food there my fine feathered friends. The worms are buried many feet underground, but here have some bread.
Then as if to defy the beast of winter itself a shoot of green popped through the hard, dry earth and shouted, like Dr. Suess’ Whos from Whoville “We are here, we are here!” – “ Spring is here!”
This long awaited spring reminds me so much of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, where Mr. Tumnus exclaimed to Lucy, “The White Witch has made it always winter and never spring”. Such has been our wait for some change in the weather…Surely, some break would happen. The calendars claimed that it’s “spring”. The store have changed their mannequins to spring and summer wear – but who wants to buy summer clothes, when all I need now is another pair of mittens…
So we wait. What else can you do? (Actually, there is much to do)...
But we wait also for something else… Jesus return!
As we anticipate the coming spring – whenever it comes and settles in for a while; we also anticipate the return of Christ – especially with this season of lent.
With all the “birthing pains” of this life; Christians are saying more and more, surely "Jesus’ return is imminent…", “How much worse can it get?”, “Look at the weather!”, “Look at the wars!”, “Look at the persecution!”, "Look at to the heavens.",  “People have no regard for each other, let alone, God…”
But just like the coming of spring – Jesus’ return is anticipated by faith. NO ONE KNOWS THE DAY OR TIME – but He is coming.
He is risen! Hallelujah! He is risen indeed!

Spring "shoots" in our yard. Photo taken by Stephen, my husband

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Battle

The Battle
We do battle constantly.
We battle traffic. We fight colds. We have endless battles with our bulges. We battle taxes. We battle bad habits. We try to beat the clock. We fight inflation. We battle our children, co-workers, family members. …Lines at the stores… Other customers… Stuck doors…
We are often on the defense – passive aggressive, stealth like; or offense – attack – “Take no survivors”! We are conspiring and weighing our next move and/or blitz. When are we not considering the next thing – perhaps when sleeping. Sadly, I would wager that even in our dreams we are even fighting then, (ever wake up tired)… According to scripture there is a constant unseen war that wages about us 24/7. Perhaps we are more caught up in “spiritual” battle than we know – since we are the objects of that war, (but that is indeed, another subject).
And does any of the battles make a difference? Surely, when my side wins, or when I win, or when you win... When we champion right causes – that’s when there is a difference made. But by whose definition is it a right cause? Which another battle could ensue depending on which side of the fence you’re on.
Perhaps, why, what and when we battle, comes down to a moral code, and that is determined by… WHO? Our mindsets change with whatever is the newest fad or popular thought for the moment - Whoever is out there shaping the minds of the young and weak; the old and the stubborn; the lonely and the outspoken... The “WHO” sometimes is the one with the most toys, whistles, and funds to get their agenda in the faces of the public.
Does anyone THINK for themselves, truly?
For me, my battles are all God’s. I am not always in agreement – which I know is foolish – because after all God is – i, am not. Here’s a word picture: Me as a child at age two telling my mom what to do and doing what I want without  even listening.
For me God is omniscient and omnipresent, so it makes sense to be with the One who knows the outcome – of everything. This isn’t to say, (like I stated above, but here it is worded differently in case you missed it). I’m okay with it all, and I’m just looking for the next big thing to happen. I have major questions about life and what the **** is going on and WHY are things going on at all, and if I were in charge, I would so wipe the slate clean and never bother to start over again – but I’m not in charge – remember I’m the two year old – God is the adult in charge. I don’t know squat. I respectfully submit.
So, my battles are usually a result of those who are in opposition to these beliefs that I hold to be true, (that God is – i am not). So, my battles belong God. Simple for me – maybe not for you – but that is your battle if you care to take it on with all that you already have going on. J
Does this mindset make life better or easier? Sometimes yes, sometimes not. I still worry about battles that aren’t even mine, but are, because I look upon others as my brothers and sisters, so I empathize: with the missing Malaysian passengers of flight MH370; with jailed American Pastor Saeed Abedini in Iran; with the homeless man who “lives” at the bus enclosure just east of six corners; with human trafficking victims; with the old man at the nursing home who is always calling out; with the child who is loudly disrespecting their parent… These battles are God’s – all of them – I don’t have to fight in my own strength – I alone would surely loose.
Ephesians 6:10-18
“10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” 

Me at age 4

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Details of Life

Black History Month. President’s Day. Ground Hog Day. Mid Terms! Parent/Teacher Conferences… The list can go on and on…
…But, what is the big focus of the month? 
Thanks to advertisers, florists, chocolatiers and Hallmark – Valentine’s Day. At least, one day in the month,
It’s crazy that we need a day to help us, s to p and focus.
Love. What does this mean? A good Lutheran question. The answers are as numerous as there are hues of the color red; or better yet as numerous as there are colors for roses that are specifically grown to have certain meanings.
While love has many meanings to many different people, I want to address the details of love. The details that usually go totally unnoticed and in some cases not even remembered.
In the wee hours of a sleepless night, one’s mind may drift back in time to the things that our parents used to insist upon doing. At the time we didn’t take notice and if we did, it may have been viewed as an annoyance – their insistence of doing things their way:
“Why must I wear that scarf mom?” “Really!”
“You want me to do what when I get there…”
“Dad, can you please talk to your wife about her comments around my friends”
“What does it matter, if I do the dishes your way, as long as they get clean!?”
And of course there was the body language: the rolling eyes, the hand on the hip, the haughty eyes, the pursed lips… All because someone wanted to give you their best and/or got caught up in the details of what they had to give you.
I thought about the “details” the other day, when I opted to give the thicker, nicer napkin to my sons, when I was serving them breakfast in bed. Now, breakfast in bed is indeed an act of love and care, but I thought, as I was bringing their hot meal to them, to grab the really nice napkins instead of the single ply that came from the diner from the night before. As I was grabbing the nicer napkins I wondered – will they even notice. The youngest son, sometimes is annoyed when I serve him breakfast in bed. Perhaps, it’s too early.
Then there was the time when my mother insisted upon me wearing gloves that had “grip” instead of mittens when I drove, because she thought I could grab the steering wheel better. I was a new driver and the weather was turning cold and by golly, she just could imagine the wheel slipping through my hands if I wore mittens.
Funny, I think about it now, as I drive through the snow and ice and grip the wheel a little bit more tighter in my suede gloves. That was mom just saying in her way – the details of life – that she loved me.
What details do you do for your loved ones? Do you tuck them in bed when they come to visit, even though they’re 24? Do you take their glasses off for the umpteenth time because they fell asleep with them on again? Do you bring a little treat home every time you go to the grocery store? Do you stare at them at night as they sleep and say silent prayers? Do you go quietly throughout your day petering about doing small acts of kindness that go unnoticed?
Perhaps they’re not unnoticed. Perhaps, when the time is right – these detailed acts of love will come to mind like a bright light and shout – YOU ARE LOVED! YOU HAVE VALUE TO ME! YOU ARE SPECIAL TO ME. It doesn’t take Hallmark to remind us to do the details.

My niece helping at a nursing home

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Gumbo Story and Faith

The Gumbo Story and Faith
By Nina Benson

Once upon a time, a good friend asked about the history of why I make gumbo for New Years, a tradition in my family.
From somewhere in my mind, (I know not where), came these words…
My 2014 Gumbo
“Well, the small grains of rice represent a poor man’s meal, mixed with potatoes, (I don’t use okra – I have never developed a taste for the this vile vegetable and was forced to eat my life’s allotment, totally, as a child - nevermore), and carrots…  And we can’t forget the tears from the onions that represented a sorrowful past of generations of family that worked hard and never achieved as much as they had dared to dream – but had faith that with time.... When things got a tad better there was chicken to add to the mix, then pork, (which I exclude, because so many people don’t partake, but I do used smoked turkey sausage)… Oh, but things got even better for the man, as he worked harder and harder, so in time, he was able to add beef. Eventually, the man reached his pinnacle and was able to add an assortment of seafood to the mix….  But the meal is about having faith in the face of insurmountable odds that through the struggle and striving for something better, there is accomplishment. The gumbo is about the steadfastness of honest hard work and it’s rewards - The coming together of family and celebration of achievement…. ”
I had to confess to our friend some years later – I had no idea the truth of the words I spoke. They simply sounded good at the time and seemed to make sense. I asked my older sister about what I had said and she too had no clue about any “Gumbo Story”.
The “Gumbo Story” really did exist in the lives of my family, in theory… However, the “story” now exist, this made-up one; and I have faith that it will move forward in the family now that the words have been spoken, put to paper and given life.
I have faith.
Faith, like that of the generations in my “story”, really did exist. In my family life has always been about moving forward and upward – even when times appeared as if nothing was happening – when life’s waters were dark and stagnant – out of the depths, hope prevailed.
There has been a millennia of people with faith that something better will come out of hardship – that something good will come. It could start with faith as small as a mustard seed…
New Years are opportunities for reset, starting fresh, stepping out in faith and moving mountains. Seize the day, move forward…
Soli de Gloria

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Gift of Time

A quiet, chilly early morn

On most gift giving occasions my husband, and children ask me the proverbial question: "What do you want?" One time when I didn't answer, my children, when they were very young, got me marzipan pigs, because my husband was convinced that I liked marzipan. I've never eaten marzipan nor have I ever tasted it, but I must have to know that I don't like it.

I used to ask my mom what she wanted, but she eventually had everything... Clothes, jewelry, perfumes, vases, glass flowers, slippers, stuff for the house, my pottery, my paintings, my drawings, (see art stays with a parent long after the child is all grown up - those A papers, those A math test - GONE! But the art stayed:-). Still, after awhile, she didn't really want anything, but my time.

Time - a very precious commodity indeed.

Mr. Scott, our stepfather and dear mom
When my mom was yet with us, I admit, I was at times perturbed that mom always asked why I hadn't called her on any particular day, if I missed a day... She always wanted to know "when" I was coming next to see her - sometimes even before I had left from a visit... Oftentimes, she would delay my leaving by asking for some frivolous duty to be done, that would keep me by her side...  Now, I understand, why.

Time is very precious. You don't get to have it back, once it's spent. (I think I blogged about this before). Everyone gets only so much "time" to spend, but once it's spent it's gone - the moment is a memory or history or not or worst - wasted.

This season of giving - look to give what truly matters most - your precious time. Sit with someone, loved or just liked or an enemy or even a stranger and listen to what they have to say and insist that they listen to you too. Talk to them about what's important or even what's silly and make them laugh or let them cry with you. Don't stop the giving of your time with the end of this Christmas season, but get into the habit of "giving" your time - it's priceless - like Jesus.

Merry Christmas

Monday, November 4, 2013

Giving Thanks

In All Things Give Thanks

In this month, traditionally devoted to reflecting upon what has been given to us through no merit of our own; I have given some deep thought about times that I perceived as disadvantages that in reality were “open windows of opportunities as doors were closing”.
I only recently gave thought to open windows and closing doors concerning my career as the window opened at District 65 – Evanston, IL just as the door was closing at District 99 – Cicero, IL, seven years ago. I’ll never forget the day when Ms. Boyle, my principal at Unity, (our nations largest junior high divided into two separate campus – East and West. I worked on the west side), came to my classroom personally, and with an apologetic tone, in her voice, almost tearfully; told me that I was selected for RIF, (Reduction-in-force: A cost saving measure in corporations a.k.a. Last hired – first fired). I had just one more year before tenure, but the district was in trouble financially. They had taken on two additional assistant superintendents and needed to cut corners. They rescheduled the fine arts program and discovered they could make due with less teachers, so a tenure teacher was moving into my slot. DOOR!
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it.
The cold hard facts hit home when I stood before an unemployment clerk who exclaimed, “Oh, I can tell by the way you completed our application; you’re a good teacher”. I tried to maintain my composure, but something clicked in my head with the hearing of the words, “…you’re a good teacher”. I told the clerk through hot angry tears that being a “good teacher” was not enough. I turned on my heels and walked away.
I thought I had been a “good a teacher”. I had decorated my room with something different every rotation. I challenged my students to do things they had never done before – step outside the box of their little community and see the big wide wonderful world outside. Much to the chagrin of my colleagues. The entire floor had to come along as I organized field trips, (for nearly 200 students at a time), to galleries in Oak Park and got a restaurant to reduce their prices to provide a sit down meal with cloth napkins. It was one of those things everyone hated doing at the beginning, but thought it was the BEST by the end… I love taking the blinders off of students and staff who have been in the dark.
But this being pushed out of doors started even before Unity, when I was told by my then principal, Mr. Dziallo, of Wilson Elementary School, District 99 that I was being transferred from Wilson to Unity, after just one year. God! Hadn’t I done more than what was asked of me? Didn’t I bring art outside of the classroom. Didn’t I get great art on every floor. I arrived before my keycard let me into the building… I decorated the first floor with art on the windows with cellophane dragons that breathed fiery flames. I made even more dragons that wrapped completely around the art room… I did art shows with the students… I had the students create art from nothing, because I was met with no supplies, because somehow they all disappeared… It was indeed a magical time… But I stood before my principal crying, asking what had I done wrong… Pleading to be told what else I could have done to be more of what they wanted? I won’t forget the response. You don’t forget that look of, “Get a grip woman!” “You are being promoted… Your talents can be better used by the students and staff at Unity – this is a good move! Nina! This is not a punishment.” Exit door to the left…
Still, going through unknown windows is scary – especially, when doors that are familiar and seem to offer some solace from the storms; slam shut in your face. Nothing seems safe when your world is shaken. Then opportunity flickers like a small flame beckoning you to the window that is open…
When I taught English at the Illinois Youth Correctional Facility, St. Charles Boys Home – “You’re crazy! You want to dress up like a mime and have the students write… Can’t you just do the basics?!”… Slamming door
I remember my student teacher professor, (that was back in the dark ages). “You want to teach art to who? …The mentally retarded… Nina, you can’t do that…” DOOR CLOSED!
With each door there was an open window saying, “Opportunity this way…” At I.Y.C. St. Charles there was Ms. Miller who in all places, oddly encouraged creativity, (I remember that she had fiery red hair that was often teased to it’s heights, (this was the early 80’s)). There was Sue Cohen who gave into to my request and let me “teach” art at a Chicago Association for Retarded Citizens facility on the south side. They had a kiln that I learned to operate and I taught art between the small contract jobs.
To each of these closed doors I owe a debt of gratitude, because I learned skills, acquired a thicker hide, developed a tenacity about life, learned things about myself that I otherwise would have never learned, and more… Indeed, it was difficult going through the doors. I don’t naturally embrace change well. Particularly when the change comes  when I feel as if I'm doing what is most expected of me; when I believe my superiors are most pleased with my work. In this regard, I did not slack on my duties, or cause others distress. The door just came out of nowhere.
Still, after, (key word here), time, I am very thankful. Were it not for the circumstances of being pushed through the doors of life, I would undoubtedly be on the inside of some comfortable window seat, looking out on life, as it passed me by.
In all things, give thanks…
…I am okay
Nina Benson :-)
A door I photographed

I used this posting for my educational blog as we at: as it was appropriate in both settings. If you have time also visit my professional site, (it has lots of pictures of my art) at: