More Soulish Food | Hungry Souls Home

Issue 15-6

Curious People Bring Curious Gifts

Our friend, Sara Shimer, phoned sometime in May and said, “The doctor has given me two to three months to live.” And then she added, “If you’re going to travel overseas, you need to travel ASAP.”

David and I knew Sara’s cancer had returned, and we contacted her frequently to pray with her and to make sure she wasn’t back living in her car parked on the streets and in the byways of Washington, D.C., as had happened after her first bout with this illness. Sara, a former airline employee, had frequently given us passes to fly overseas. We used employee passes to visit our son, Jeremy, in China, for instance; and when he needed to fly home from Beijing for an interview for the University of Chicago master’s program, she found a roundtrip pass for him to meet with the social science faculty, then return to his teaching position at the Petroleum Institute in Dalian.

For the last five years, Sara has signed both David and me up for employee standby passes. That meant we could fly anywhere in the States and in the world, mostly free (except for some country taxes imposed on passengers by foreign countries) wherever this airline landed. We weren’t charged for checked-in luggage. In addition, by some quirk of technology, I even received a TSA PreCheck, which meant I could go through security in the faster lines, without removing shoes or jackets or taking out my makeup kit in its plastic see-through bag.

There are down sides to standby, certainly. You never know if you’re really going to catch that flight on which you’ve reserved a seat. (No matter how many times David and I have been given “the last place on the plane,” we still fight that nervous uncertainty as to whether our names will be called and our boarding passes reissued.) I have stayed overnight at SFO because there was no room on the evening flights, not even the red-eyes. I tried to sleep in a quiet corner as the cleaning crews polished the mostly empty hallways outside each gate, calling to one another and making ordinary conversation. Eventually, I’ve made peace (most of the time) with the mysteries of standby inscrutabilities. Being regularly assigned Economy Plus seating helps with that, of course.

Sometimes the overhead monitor in the gate area indicates the airplane manifold is full and there are no seats available. Coaching, however, from standby regulars, has taught me Rule Number One: Never leave the gate until the gangway doors have been closed. (Even then, hang around a little, just to make sure the names of everyone who didn’t make it are rolled over to the next scheduled departure.) People miss their planes. Other standbys change their plans. Taxis and buses get caught in traffic. One plane that was posted as full eventually loaded up with standby passengers waiting to be called—I was number 17.

I have been coached in standby lore by the professionals—one an international photographer who often worked for National Geographic and whose sister had provided an employee pass for him for his other freelance work. He taught me Rule #2: Travel with as little baggage as possible. Traveling with a carry-on allows you ultimate flexibility.

Standby passenger nervousness is inevitable—especially if you are trying to make a set appointment on the other end of the trip. So I’ve made up my own Rule #3: Give yourself enough leeway in case you don’t make the flight. Rule #4: Be flexible in schedule and in attitude. While waiting at the next gate, and the next, I’ve caught up on email and correspondence, finished books hauled out of the to-read pile for just such moments. And I’ve learned to relax about travel misses—some vehicle of some kind is going at some time to my destination. Traveling to San Francisco three times a year for board meetings, I learned to transit from the airport to Modesto (and other points) using the BART. “Don’t send anyone to pick me up. I’m not sure when I’ll get a standby flight. I’ll call when I reach the train platform.”

So thanks to Sara Shimer’s beneficence, David and I have traveled all over the States plus a trip to France, to London, to Germany, to Spain, to China, to Bulgaria—pretty much free of cost ($93 country tax to leave Bulgaria). Obviously, international travel is when we received the most financial benefit from the use of an employee pass. Hence Sara’s urging: “If you’re going to travel overseas, do it ASAP.” So we did. I booked passes on the employee reservation website, and David and I went to Barcelona for his 80th birthday in August. I figured Sara’s generosity saved us about $5000 for two roundtrip tickets.

Word came last week from a mutual friend that Sara had suffered a major stroke and was unconscious in ICU. We corresponded a bit about the history of our relationships to Sara. We agreed that Sara was a “quirky” personality. Here is a little that this mutual friend wrote in her e-mail to me:

    Sara, as quirky as she was, had a huge network of people who knew her—many of them internationals, here as well as abroad, many of them Muslim, possibly through Azizs’ (her former husband) connections, but her Muslim network was bigger than Moroccan (his nationality). She had local ties to three big church in the Washington, D.C. area. People just knew who she was. She complained bitterly about the church ("my Muslim friends are better to me than my Christian friends," she'd say--and some of them, Muslims, had indeed given her housing for months at a time). She was just…connected.
    Today I heard who was with Sara when she died: Kim, a woman who gave Sara virtually free housing for the past several years (in return for "cat sitting"). And an "Egyptian-American man" young enough to be her son who had driven down from NYC (apparently the former boyfriend of a Polish immigrant, a single mother, who was very attentive to Sara—also young enough to be Sara's daughter).
Sara was what I like to call “a curious soul.” Most of us have curious souls in our circle of acquaintances. These are people who are not like others. Sometimes they are annoying. Sometimes they are confounding. Sometimes they make us angry, hesitant, or careful. In my experience, most of these curious souls have rare gifts to bring to the world, curious gifts like employee business-class airline passes, or standby seats to travel anywhere the airline goes in the States or on international flights. (Or a marriage license for a man needing to acquire legal entry into the States.) I wonder if we all maybe need to stop avoiding the curious souls who cross our paths. I wonder if curious people aren’t provided by God exactly for the purpose of bringing us curious gifts.

Another thought about airplane passes. This week I received a letter from a woman (too dangerous to post her name) who ministers in Muslim countries whose governments are often hostile to Christian faith and Christian workers. This woman has an advanced degree in food science and has given her life helping people develop their capacity to be whole physically and spiritually. Her last prayer letter included a request for prayers for her aging father who is alone when she travels (although caregivers have stepped up to be a network of support). But one other request caught my eye: “Pray that I will not be too fatigued by the long flights and that I will be able to get enough exercise when we are in the air.”

It would be an extraordinary gift if some of you who are able, like my friend Sara, would provide employee passes for Christian workers. Not only would it save on the huge expense of international travel, often travelers with these passes are able to make the long journeys with complimentary comfortable seating—even Business and First-Class seats. Who knows?—you may be one of the curious souls bearing curious gifts.

Karen Mains


2016 Advent Retreat of Silence

If your soul is longing to bask in the presence of Divine love, please consider joining us for our intimate 2016 Advent Retreat of Silence. This year's theme will be "The Gift of Divine Love Made Alive in Me." This guided 8-hour retreat will be held at Turtle Creek Acres--a fully renovated 1920s dairy barn home in a peaceful farm setting. For more information and/or to register, click the link below. Know that space is limited to only 20 guests per retreat. Would love to have you join us!

Memoir-Writing Classes

In January 2017 I will offer two memoir-writing courses going forward for seven months to this Soulish Food list and to my “friends” of some 5000 folk on my Facebook page.

Opportunity 1: Teleconference Memoir Class
One will be a teleconference course so people from all over the States can participate. (Heads-up: We had trouble during last year’s cycle plugging Canadians in remote geographic areas into the teleconference system. If you want to join, we’ll do a teleconference test to see if you are in a compatible zone.)

There is room for eight people, time for me to coach two groups—four participants per group, and we will continue through August 2017. I must know your intentions by October 15 (before the holidays). At that time, a payment of $500 for the course must be made or a payment plan defined. To register, email Heather Ann Martinez, If you have further questions, contact me at Somehow, we find compatible meeting times and days after everyone has joined! This class will begin in January 2017.

Opportunity 2: Face-to-Face Memoir-Writing Class (November 2016 – July 2017)
The second class will be face-to-face meetings for those in the West Chicago, IL, area who would like to work on a memoir project they’ve had in mind, either outlined, or for which they’ve written some pieces.

This group will meet twice a month in my home. I will need a written description of your idea, or if you’ve read a memoir by someone who has stimulated your concept. I’d like to have an initial meeting in November, at which time you’ll make a written covenant with me, then convene twice a month starting in February. The fee for this will also be $500, to be paid in October. Register your intentions with Heather Ann Martinez, If you have questions, contact me at

Life being what it is, we will, of course, refund payments if unforeseen contingencies prevent you from participating. Usually, there is a waiting list, and we can advance someone else into the class to take a vacated spot.

Global Bag Project Christmas Donations


Would you (or your family, or your small group) consider making a Christmas gift this year of $100 toward the women in the bag-making cooperative in Nairobi, Kenya, who have been our partners in this micro-enterprise venture? Some 30 gifts of this size will enable us to underwrite the New Year capitalization of the purchasing and sewing cycles so that our friends will have work and we will have stateside products to sell.

Due to the use of volunteer hours, we attempt to return all margins from bag sales to the seamstresses who work to support their families through this bag-making cooperative. The Global Bag Project has its own Kenyan board and directs its own enterprise. Our approach is to support them in their efforts through bag parties, direct sales, the GBP Web sites and an annual fundraising campaign to underwrite capitalization.

Donations to Mainstay Ministries and directed to the Global Bag Project are fully tax-deductible and will be receipted.

If you’d like to arrange a holiday bag-party—a gift-buying two-hour venture with a social enterprise goal—email Heather Ann Martinez at For Chicagoland-area parties, we can arrange for a Global Bag Project “friend” to lead the party, or we can mail out a Party In A Box to those who are at other points in the country.


The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the biweekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to

Hungry Souls Contact Information

ADDRESS: 29W377 Hawthorne Lane
West Chicago, IL 60185
PHONE: 630-293-4500

Karen Mains

Karen Mains

I wonder if we all maybe need to stop avoiding the curious souls who cross our paths. I wonder if curious people aren’t provided by God exactly for the purpose of bringing us curious gifts.
Hillbilly Elegy:
A Memoir of a Family in a Culture of Crisis
by J.D. Vance

One of the good outcomes emerging from the 2016 contentious and sometimes ridiculous political election is the highlight on forgotten groups of Americans for whom Donald Trump has become some kind of advocate. Publications as diverse as The Atlantic, Mother Jones, TIME magazine and the Christian Science Monitor are turning excellent journalistic spotlights on the plight of those population centers often hidden from our national attention.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family in a Culture of Crisis is another voice, eloquent and personal, that deserves the attention of concerned people. It has become a New York Times Bestseller. Back-cover copy includes this praise from Amy Chua, the author of The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: “A beautifully and powerfully written memoir about the author’s journey from a troubled, addiction-torn Appalachian family to Yale Law School, Hillbilly Elegy is shocking, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and hysterically funny. It’s also a profoundly important book, one that opens a window on a part of America usually hidden from view and offers genuine hoe in the form of hard-hitting honesty. Hillbilly Elegy announces the arrival of a gifted and utterly original new writer and should be required reading for everyone who cares about what’s really happening in America.”

Highly recommended for those who seek to understand.

Copyright 2006-2016 Mainstay Ministries. All rights reserved.

More Soulish Food | Hungry Souls Home