In the Palm of Many Hands

News | January 4, 2016

Smooth and unfinished, wooden palm crosses have touched the lives of countless St. Paul people and those they love. As the creator of these simple objects of faith begins to step into retirement, and their availability in the St. Paul Book Corner disappears, the stories of important life moments are emerging. Each has its own meaning and place in the hearts of those who experienced the tale.


I will be with you always

Our daughter, Katie, was nearly 8 months into her pregnancy. She and her husband eagerly anticipated the birth of their second child. My husband and I had moved into “early preparedness mode,” as we set things aside to pack for the trip to Denver. All we needed was the phone call to signal us to join them to share in the joy of the birth.

That phone call never came. Instead, a 2:30 a.m. jolt-in-the-middle-of-the-night ring pierced the early Palm Sunday silence. Within moments, Katie’s sobbing words pierced our hearts: “We lost the baby.”

The baby’s heartbeat had disappeared. So did our joy.

We couldn’t talk long since the hospital staff needed to prepare Katie for delivery of the lifeless infant. Within an hour, another phone call came. This time our son-in-law Dennis told my husband Mark and I that Katie had been rushed to surgery. During the attempted delivery of the baby, Katie’s uterus had ruptured. Her life was in danger.

For the next three hours, a burning candle and a palm cross comforted me as I prayed. In the stark silence of the night, I laced my fingers around the soft curves of the palm cross. I sensed the arms of Christ gently wrapping around me as I remembered the words, “I will be with you always.”

Gratefully, ever so gratefully, Katie survived the emergency middle-of-the-night surgery.

The memorial service for little Peyton Lynn Hardie was held on Easter Sunday afternoon. Around the Paschal candle we gathered, to look beyond our tears to the promises of our God, who cares deeply for each of us. I brought the carved wooden palm cross to pass around the circle of those who surrounded our family. Prayers, words of encouragement and support, and tears were shared as the cross journeyed from one hand to the next. Imprinted with the love of those gathered, that palm cross will forever remind us of the presence and compassion of God.

– Tammy Hermanson


He wasn’t done with it yet

I met Bob Buxbaum in 2006 when he moved into the apartment building that I manage. He was an executive chef at the Clinton Country Club. I got to know him pretty well – a friendship that continued as he moved to a new home in Rock Island, housing for people with AIDS.

Bob had become a lapsed Catholic because, he said, of the church’s attitudes towards people who are gay. But Bob had a lot of clues around his apartment that led me to believe that he still cared a great deal about his faith.

One day, I was in the St. Paul Book Corner and decided to get a palm cross for Bob. The wood on this particular palm cross had a small burl shaped like a heart. Bob loved it. I thought it was beautiful, too, and asked Bob if I could have it back someday to remember him by.

He wept when he told me that he had begun sleeping with it. It helped him a great deal in getting to sleep. He thanked me over and over and said it was the best gift ever.

In November 2012, Bob passed away in his sleep. At the visitation, the palm cross was in the casket with him. I had hoped to get it back, as a reminder of our friendship. But the funeral director declined to remove it from Bob’s hand. He would have had to break his fingers to do so, he said.

He wasn’t done with it yet.

– Peggy Crawford


Can’t you just feel the love?

A crew of St. Paul people arrived one day last fall at the home of an Appalachian woman named Theresa and her husband. The couple is raising her 5-year-old grandson, with a second grandchild on the way in January.

The woman’s daughter is in jail. State child welfare officials told the couple that they must add a bedroom to their mobile home in order to care for the new baby. So the crew got to work on the 8×12-foot addition – insulation, dry wall, electrical, and siding. As a bonus, they also built a play area for Kenny, the 5-year-old.

“The work ethic of Jim (Howell), Mary (Tjarks), Susan (Marty), Diane (Rittmer), and Carol (Seitz) was absolutely great,” said Jack Miller, team leader. The crew was one of several St. Paul groups working in Appalachia that week. “No matter what I asked, they were willing to do.

It was just a great trip.”

Jan Aplin, who led the trip, gave each team leader a palm cross and a Bible to give the family.

On the last work day, the family invited the St. Paul crew to a bonfire. “I brought the palm cross to the bonfire,” Jack said. “I explained that everyone on the crew had the opportunity to touch it and leave the oil from their hands on it. Theresa (the homeowner) was in tears. She said that it would go in the baby’s crib.”

Every day that week, Theresa expressed how thankful she was for the work completed, Mary said. At one point, Theresa walked into the addition and said, “Can’t you just feel the love in this room? I’m going to tell the baby how much love is in this room.”

The palm cross, the crew told Theresa, is meant to be handled – just as the crew did before they gave it to her.

“We left a little bit of ourselves with her,” Mary said.


Palm cross creator makes ministry from wood

In 1985, Ron Foht served as a lay leader for a three-day retreat. He carved a palm cross to symbolize the power of prayer for the team members who led at the retreat.

The cross was shaped from walnut wood, and Ron didn’t have time to apply a finish before the retreat. After the weekend, Ron saw that the character of the cross had changed as it passed from leader to leader – the wood had absorbed the oils from the hands of the many people who prayed with it.

In 1997, Ron’s employer faced downsizing. He started considering what to do, and applied for copyrights and trademarks for the PalmCross design, shape, and name. The orders for crosses started coming in.

At the 15-year mark, Ron and Elaine’s business had made 70,000 crosses. The business operates from a small building in the backyard of their Milan, Illinois, home.

Today, 30 years after the creation of the first palm cross, Ron is slowing down a bit.

Palm crosses will still be available through the company’s website, but since the company is phasing out filling wholesale orders, the crosses will be phased out from the St. Paul Book Corner.

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