Sunday, December 18, 2011

Rutledge Family Christmas Letter 2011

Dear Friends and Family:

The semester has come to a close and I finally have time to sit down and write the annual letter. All in all, this has been a very good year for our little family. We started the year grieving as Burt’s best friend from high school, Shane Cox, lost his battle with brain cancer a few days before Christmas in 2010. He left behind a devoted family and, as we are in that 1 year anniversary time period, we are reminded daily of what we were doing this time last year and feeling his loss in a significant way.

Shane, however, was a godly man who embraced his path with a never wavering faith and, as he left this earthly journey, he blessed us with his love and example. Burt was especially moved and inspired by the time he was able to spend with Shane a few days before his passing and that, combined with a number of other things, led to some very tangible improvements in his health.

We were very excited in late September / early October when he was able to have the feeding tube removed. He has been eating “normally” and, while he is still a bit underweight, has been gaining consistently. We were even more excited after Thanksgiving when he was able to come completely off the Fentynal pain patch he has been on for 5 or so years. He had been gradually coming down all year. He started out on 200 micrograms and was down to 25 before the last cut. He is still in pain and on other pain medication but that particular one is particularly nasty and removing it from his system has done a great deal for improving his functionality.
He is doing so well, as a matter of fact, that we have begun to explore possibilities as it pertains to going back to work. At this point he is planning on taking a couple of classes at Rochester in the Spring (winter) semester to see how things go. If all goes well, he will take a bunch of science classes beginning in Fall 2012 and apply for the new nursing program at the college in Fall 2013.

Daniel is now “officially” in 5th grade though some of his coursework is more in line with the 4th grade. We continue to meet with our home school group 3 Fridays a month and with a couple other families for history every Monday. We love the relationships that continue to grow there and feel truly blessed by an amazing and supportive community.

I continue to run one of the residence halls at Rochester College, oversee the residence life program, teach about 15 hours a semester and do photography on the side on an intermittent basis … no changes there for me. I think I write the same thing every year. I still enjoy it all even if there are times that I wish I could just do one or the other.

Some of the highlights of our year activity wise included:
• Two trips for Debi to Arizona to visit friends, one in January just to visit and one in July to photograph a wedding. We would have loved for all three of us to go but it just was not feasible with the cost and Burt’s health at the time. The next trip we plan to have all of us go … and I am shooting for a winter visit as opposed to a summer one. I definitely enjoyed the January weather a lot more than the late July weather!

• Another May Michigan vacation with my folks from Indiana and my brother, Tim. This year we stayed in Cheboygan and explored Mackinac Island, Sault Ste. Marie, and the Cheboygan area. It was a lovely trip and we plan to return in 2012.

• Lots of summer fun with friends. The college provides a wonderful backdrop for young people to enjoy summer fun with lots of room to roam and a river for swimming. It seemed like we had people over a couple days a week in June and July and we loved it. Additionally, Daniel went the MCYC for his second year of camp and participated in VBS at both Rochester church of Christ and Meadowbrook Christian church with many of his friends from church and the home school group.

• In October Burt & Daniel made a somewhat impromptu trip to Florida with my brother, Tim, to see the folks there. I was sad that I was not able to make the trip but I had to teach and really needed to be in the residence hall and the boys had a very nice time having “guy time.” One of my favorite parts was that Dad & Jeanie did not know that Burt and Daniel were coming. They were just expecting Tim so it was quite the surprise when he showed up with “extras.”

• In November we made our annual trek to Tennessee for Thanksgiving. One major highlight of that trip for me was participating in the 5 mile Boulevard Bolt in Nashville on Thanksgiving morning. All four “sisters” ran along with two of the nieces and it was a great time. I finished the “run” in about an hour and ten minutes and was very pleased with that time.

We also finally got family pictures done in November which was actually great fun. My friend, Sarah Robinson, is a photographer. I liked her work enough to actually pay her to do ours (and if you know me, that’s a pretty big deal) and we could not be more pleased. The family picture with the letter was taken by Sarah. The portrait of Daniel I did myself.

We hope that your lives are filled with blessings and that, even in hard times, you feel the peace and love of God in the coming year!

With Love,
Burt, Debi & Daniel Rutledge

Sunday, July 24, 2011


I was watching the news last week and the opening story was about the famine in Somalia. The story was tragic and moving ... families who had not eaten in days going to refugee camps to get small rations of rice. Children dying on the journey. It was awful.And the very next story was about the NFL lock out and how owners and players were working on a agreement over how to divvy up the millions of dollars taken in every season and Bryan Williams cheerfully stated something to the effect that "I know many of us fans really want our football."

Really? I know the situation in Somalia is far more complicated than a drought causing famine and no one helping, but it gave me a start. How quickly we can jump from dire concern to “Wow, I sure I hope my fall leisure activities are not upset by multi-millionaires disagreeing over how to split the proceeds of the way we invest our discretionary income!”

Lord, please give me eyes that see, ears that hear, hands that serve and a heart willing to respond to your call!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Balancing the Important and the Urgent

It's the time of year for me when my life can easily become consumed by the urgent:  papers need graded for summer classes, syllabi need prepared for fall classes, forms need ordered for the residence halls, training needs to be planned, fall housing assignments need to be made, Daniel needs to learn grammar ... and math, and spelling.  And everything has a deadline.  The urgent can easily keep me busy from sun up to sun down.

But if I fill my days with the urgent then there is no time left for the important.  What, you ask, is important?  People.  Relationships.  All those little things that "interrupt" my busy schedule.  That is what is important.  Lately I have been reminded frequently of my days as a teenager in the youth group at church and I am so grateful for all of the people who made time for me as a youth because their time, thoughtfulness and hospitality helped to weave the fabric of who I am today.  As Daniel is getting older (he will officially be a pre-teen in September) I want to make sure that I am focusing on the important and not getting lost in the urgent.  

It is funny because what I believe to be truly important are not the things that will help me to advance in my career or will gain any status in the eyes of the world.  The last few weeks some of the most important things that I have done include hosting a teen / pre-teen night for our homeschool group and having a steady stream of 9 to 15 year olds in and out of my home.  I won't lie and tell you that there aren't times that I think "I just have too much to do today to have kids over (who always want to go swimming)" but then I remind myself that the time that I pour into them is of far more significance than getting the "urgent" things done right now.  The urgent will get done.  It always does.  But it does not need to be done at the expense of spending a couple of hours investing in relationships.

I am incredibly blessed to be in a situation where my job is live in.  This means that I am not bound by the constraints of a 9 to 5 day.  My apartment is certainly not luxurious but there is plenty of space for hospitality and I have access to resources on campus that most people don't have.  Additionally,  I only have one child so I am not in a place where my responsibilities to my own children require me to meed the needs of multiple people at different developmental levels.  These are all things that, when I look at them through the worlds eyes have sometimes seemed to be liabilities or regrets but when looking at them through God's eyes I see the opportunity to meet needs in a way that He has uniquely equipped me to do.

As you navigate your day to day lives I encourage you to look for ways that God has equipped you where you are and I encourage you to look for the important and trust that the urgent will, indeed, be taken care of as well.

Monday, May 9, 2011


It has been too long since I made a post.  My goal is to post once a week and I have fallen down on that since Easter.  The lenten season was, indeed, a wonderful clearing season for me.  It ended in the midst of crazy chaos, however, and I need to get back on track.  Graduation was last Saturday so we had that and all the craziness of move out in the residence hall.  Last week we closed on the house that we plan to "retire" to when I am finally ready to give up my live in position in the residence hall.  In the meantime, my best friend / sister and her kids will be taking care of it for us so we spent the weekend painting, prepping, and imagining ... and ignoring the work I needed to do to wrap up the school year.  I also started my first summer class last Monday night.

May is shaping up to be a month of joyful busy-ness with the house, vacation with my family coming up and all the normal happenings of early summer on campus.  I hope to begin to get a routine established this week so as to maximize my use of time to focus on what is really important while enjoying the slower pace of summer.

That's all I have for now ... no deep thoughts today :o)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Answered Prayers

I love to read inspirational stories about how God answers prayers in dramatic ways with exactly what His children need (or sometimes just desire).  Randy and Lisa Wilson in their book Celebrations of Faith tell the story of the family praying for a piano for their daughter Lauren over the course of two years.  Lauren's faith that God would provide a piano never wavered and one day  they received a call from a woman they did not know who wanted to give them her piano.  It is a wonderful and encouraging affirmation of faithfulness and persistence.

My experience of answered prayers tends to feel less dramatic than that but when I trace back through my history, perhaps it is not.  God's hand in the ordinary happenings of my life have led to the answering of many prayers over time -- quietly, subtly, like a gentle spring breeze.  The problem is that, just like the still, small voice, it is so easy to miss the gifts in the midst of living life every day.

Ten years ago my husband, Burt,  and I were in a financial mess.  We were up to our eyeballs in credit card and student loan debt.  My husband worked full time at a small, struggling, Christian College and I was teaching at the same college on an adjunct basis and doing therapy one day a week for a church in Flint, MI.  I was also pregnant with a baby for whom we had been praying for nearly 6 years.  We had impeccable credit but could not even begin to consider buying a house because no mortgage company would touch us because of our debt to income ratio.  Indeed, we really were not even sure how were were going to continue to make ends meet and provide for our new son. 

Shortly after our son was born our prayers were answered with full time job opportunity for me as a Resident Director for one of the residence halls at the college.  What was initially a temporary position  with a small stipend and an apartment to live in turned into a permanent, full time position with a salary and benefits.  Our immediate concerns about making ends meet and providing a home for our baby were solved.  A prayer was answered.

What we did not realize at the time was that God was answering needs that we did not know we were going to have with that position.   Around the same time that we were moving, Burt was experiencing increasing health issues which culminated in him having to leave his job and go on permanent disability in 2005.  The fact that we had been blessed with this amazing live-in position provided us with financial stability as well as a tremendous support system in our residents and neighbors during some very difficult years.   It also provide me with a great deal of personal growth and satisfaction as I was able to have the best of both worlds in terms of having a job / career that I enjoyed while at the same time still be able to be at home with my son and provide my husband the support he needed while struggling with poor health.

Over the past 10 years God has consistently answered prayers by providing us with support through family, church and friends.  Whenever we have had a need it has been answered.  Many times it has been difficult to identify specific ways that prayers have been answered because the support and prayer coverage has been constant.  At times the struggle has blinded us to the blessings. 

During that same time we have diligently tried to right our financial mistakes of the past.  We encountered Dave Ramsey and enrolled in his Financial Peace University course (twice ;).  Through God's grace and the help of many people at different points we eliminated all of our debt but the student loans.  We paid off our car and  began saving to replace it when the time comes, having been convicted that we do not ever want to have another car payment.  For the last several years we have been moving toward tithing to the church and have made a point to make that part of our first fruits as opposed to "if we can afford it after all the other responsibilities (and wants) are met." 

The end result has been that our attempts at faithfulness, however feeble at times, have been returned, pressed down and overflowing.  In spite of a disability that limits Burt's income and working for a non-profit college that cannot afford the most competitive wages we find ourselves in a position that 10 years ago we never thought we would be in ... we are looking at buying a modest home in a nice neighborhood and the mortgage company loves us now.  This is not something that we did.  It is an answer to many prayers.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


As I have prayed and studied during the Lenten season I have chosen meditation as a lenten practice.  I chose it because it is a spiritual discipline with which I have little experience and it seemed like a simple way to begin clearing a small amount of space in my spiritual wilderness.  Knowing my own limitations to be great in this area, my goal was to add five minutes of meditation to my daily devotion time -- and five minutes of very basic meditation at that.  My goal was simply to still my mind and listen for five minutes.  Seems simple enough, right?  Let me tell you that, for me, that five minutes of "quiet" requires nearly herculean effort on my part most days.

I entered this season with a hunger and great anticipation for spiritual growth.  I believe that growth is coming but the serene peace and deep spiritual satisfaction I anticipated would accompany it has been sorely missing.  What I have discovered int he last 30 days is how much noise fills my world.  Noise comes in many forms.  Some if of it is audible -- the television, itunes, the kids, video games, knocks on the door, the phone(s) ringing --but much of it is not:  the computer, the efforts at trying to buy a house,  email, papers, housing assignments, resident roommate drama, meals to prepare, national events, world events, demands, busy-ness, noise, noise, noise.  From the moment I wake until the moment I fall asleep I fill my day with so much noise that there is no time to reflect and little chance to hear the still small voice that will guide me in this wilderness of my soul.

Please don't misunderstand.  Much of the noise is good noise.  Indeed, put into proper context, it is a symphony of beautiful music but without times of quiet and reflection it becomes mere noise.  The irony of this to me is that the last week or so I have been incredibly tempted to "cheat" on my other Lenten practice.  Every year I take this time to, in a sense, cleanse and reset by abstaining from the senseless electronic games that I tend to fill my empty time with.   For the last week or so I have been wrestling with boredom and a desire to escape from the noise in my world by throwing myself into the mindless occupation of computer games -- Solitaire, Farmville, Angry Birds, etc -- any of them would pass the time and distract me from the noises that are pulling at me.

But where is the sense in that?  How can drowning one kind of noise out with another really help me grow?  Or be more effective?  Or love the people around me better?  The obvious answer is that it can't.  Indeed, the drive to run to mindless occupations really seems to be a desire to run from quiet and reflection that I so desperately need in my world.  What a strange paradox that what I think I desire is more time for the things that are important and less busy-ness and yet when I have it I frantically fight it and want to run away from it!

So my clearing season has not been panning out quite the way I had planned but I can see the growth coming.  I have cleared a tiny space and see new life sprouting from it.  As I enter the last two weeks of this season I look forward to more still and quiet times and hearing God's voice turn the noise into beautiful music.

Friday, March 18, 2011

My Father's Eyes

When I was in college I sang in a small A Capella singing group called Autumn.  My senior year one of the songs that I got to sing lead on was an Amy Grant song called "Father's Eyes."  I loved singing that song.  I loved it because it was pretty.  I loved the arrangement, especially the part where my friend Kevin and I had a little duet.  Mostly, however, I loved singing it because it was meaningful to me.  The words of the song are this:

I may not be every mother's dream for her little girl
And my face may not grace the mind of everyone in the world
But that's alright as long as I can have one wish I pray
When people look inside my life, I want to hear them say:

She's got her Father's eyes.  Her Father's eyes.
Eyes that find the good in things, when good is not around.
Eyes that find the source of help, when help just can't be found.
Eyes full of compassion, feeling every pain.
Knowing what your going through and feeling it the same.
Just like my Fathers eyes.

On that day when we will pay for all the deeds we have done.
Good and bad will all be had to be seen by everyone.
And when your called to stand and tell just what you saw in me
More than anything I know, I want your words to be

She had her Father's eyes.  Her Father's eyes.
Eyes that find the good in things, when good is not around.
Eyes that find the source of help, when help just can't be found.
Eyes full of compassion, feeling every pain.
Knowing what your going through and feeling it the same.
Just like my Fathers eyes.

The song really sums up the number one desire in my life.   I earned a degree in Marriage and Family Therapy because I love people and want to help.  I teach counseling classes for the same reason and  I work in the residence hall with college students because I hope, in some small way, I can show Jesus to those around me.

I fail often.   So many times I fill my world with "good" activities and commitments and then have no time left for people.  My family probably gets the worst end of the deal on this.  Recently I have become painfully aware of how often Daniel is trying to tell me something and I am too busy to listen.  Granted, what he is sharing with me may not be of earth shattering importance but it is important to him.  And, even when it is appropriate to redirect and set boundaries, do I do it in way that he can see my Father's eyes?  

My life has not taken the path that I anticipated.  Ten years of dealing with my husband's chronic illness has not always made marriage the joyride I had hoped and I suppose it would be easy to use that as an excuse for focusing inward instead of outward (heaven knows at times I do that plenty).  But to allow that to become my approach to life would just open the door for bitterness and anger to set in.  One huge advantage of seeing the world through my Father's eyes is that it is hard to feel to sorry for myself.   Pain, sadness, and difficult trials are all around.  Why should I be exempt?

I am grateful for the reminders that God gives me on a daily basis of His love and compassion.  I am grateful that He placed this song in my heart and that, even after all these years it continues to renew my spirit and focus my actions.    I am grateful that by seeing my life and trials through His eyes I can see beauty and blessings that, with my own eyes, I would probably miss.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Clearing Season

I grew up in the church of Christ and, in that context, we did not practice Lent -- in fact, I am not sure I even heard the term "Lent" until some time after college. The idea of a season for self sacrifice and reflection was never considered. Even today I have many friends, who I love and respect, who express frustration over the practice of Lent. I have heard more than once the question "Shouldn't we sacrifice and work to be closer to God all the time, not just during a certain time of year?"

While, in principle, I agree with that, in practice the intensity and focus that a clearing season like Lent can bring is not something that most people can maintain over a long period of time. It is certainly not something I can maintain and without out it I become buried in the day to day details and excess baggage in my world. Even Jesus withdrew for a clearing season of 40 days and 40 nights.

And so, though I fully respect and appreciate the right of believers to choose not to participate in a Lenten season, I choose to embrace it. My fervor for this clearing time has been growing and I first began practicing my own version of Lent about 4 years ago. I began simply -- I wanted to work up to a 40 day fast but knew that if I was ever going to get there I would need to start small. The first year I gave up my biggest time waster -- computer games -- and chose to fast one day a week. It was difficult, but very rewarding. I am far from a spiritual giant and cannot claim any great spiritual awakening but it ignited a spark of desire for more and, over the last few years, I have come to hunger for this time of year.

Last year I had high aspirations but just a week or two in Burt became gravely ill and my hope for a clearing season of spiritual growth became a fight for survival. I abandoned my efforts at spiritual discipline and just held on for dear life. God was ever faithful throughout this time and provided for our every need, even in my weakness.

This year Easter is really late and so, therefore, is Lent. Usually it sneaks up on me and I suddenly find it is Ash Wednesday and I have not thought about (much less prayerfully considered) how to best spend my clearing season. This year, I have been waiting with anxious anticipation -- praying and planning this time of reflection and focus. I am longing for a period of renewal and deepened focus in my relationship with God and with the people in my world.

If you are reading this, I ask for your prayers and encouragement as I enter into study and prayer. I fear we may encounter some rough waters in the next few weeks and I would really like to be able to keep my commitment, come what may. Lately I have seen rays of spiritual light that I have not glimpsed in many years. I feel a stirring deep in my soul of a part of myself that has been dormant for too long. I am excited and a little afraid of what may come in the next 40 days but I am ready to enter into my clearing season!

Monday, February 7, 2011

The "Best Super Bowl Party Ever"

We enjoy football in our house ... generally in a napping-doing other things kind of way, but we enjoy it. Most years we end up at a super bowl party somewhere but this year we decided to stay home. We spent Super Bowl Sunday going to church and bible class in the morning then after class we headed out to Sam's Club to do some grocery shopping and find some "Super bowl food." We walked around the store, sampled lots of different foods, and selected a variety of less-than-healthy food for our evening fare. We decided that we would grab a pizza slice for lunch (to top off all the samples we had tried) and then we would just snack for dinner. Daniel was thrilled and exclaimed that "this is going to be the best super bowl party ever!"

I have to agree that it was. We spent the afternoon watching pre-game while doing other things. We played a game of Minotaurus together (board games don't happen nearly often enough for us as a family). Daniel was delighted and Burt and I had a good time also. By the fourth quarter of the game Daniel was falling asleep so we put him in our bed and turned on the TV back there so he could "finish watching the game." He was asleep well before it was over. This morning when he got up he immediately asked me "Did the Packers win?"

It may not have been exciting and the food may not have been gourmet, but it was simple, it was us, and it was the Best Super Bowl Party Ever!