Archives for August 2013

12 Things I Learned in August

That Emily Freeman, such a talented and fun lady. She started a meme a couple of months ago that I’ve been dying to try, so this is my first entry for the link that goes up tomorrow. August started so very well and is ending . . . not so much.

Most of these pictures are from item #2 on this list, except for the wedding picture, the stained glass church window from Hanalei, Kauai, and the last 2 miscellaneous shots from the same paradise. 

1. A personal calendar is truly only effective if you LOOK AT IT. (The editors at A Deeper Story/Deeper Family are very kind people, who forgave my forgetfulness and inattention, even providing space for an essay written very late indeed. Thank you, Megan Tietz!)

2. Playing miniature golf in Kilauea, Kauai is a whole lot more fun than playing miniature golf almost anywhere else on planet earth. Yowza, it was beautiful. Who knew you could combine a mini-golf course with a botanical garden and SCORE with both.

3. Saying good-bye to paradise gets harder to do each time I do it. For the first time I can ever remember, I did not want to come home from vacation. Sigh.

4. Getting airline seats early enough to secure the 2-seats-by-the-emergency-exit-in-a-3-seat-section saves the day. Literally.

5. It is possible to undo 4 weeks of restful vacation time with 9 medical visits during the first 10 days you’re back home. NINE, people. Nine.

6. Making slight adjustments in the medications of a 92-year-old dementia patient can make a large difference in her happiness and your own.

7. Discovering that 27 adults in your congregation of about 300 people are willing to come to quarterly meetings in support of your children’s and student ministries team is one of the single most heartening things you can discover about your community. Wow.

8. Rediscovering that meeting with people for spiritual direction is a privilege, a joy and a challenge, all rolled up into one, helps soothe the trials and tribulations of re-entry. I met with my five directees this year within hours (well, really, it was days) of returning home and each one of them is a gift in my life.

9. Seeing the daughter of a dear friend and former colleague marry a good man – outdoors and in a park, no less – provides nourishment for the soul that lasts a long time.  (And the actual meal was delish, as well.) Also? Cowboy boots look grand with sassy coral-colored bridesmaids’ dresses!

10. If  you sit with someone for a Google+ chat, said chat can be videotaped and PUT ON FACEBOOK. Who knew?? Good thing I love Deidra Riggs, because she’s the one who put us out there. It was a privilege to talk with these four women about a film that touches on so much important stuff. (Lee Daniels’ The Butler)

11. Having dinner with all your children and all your grandchildren (including the ‘big boys’ who are now in college) is the best reward ever for anything. Such great people.

12. The Telluride Film Festival is a BIG DEAL and they keep their schedule tightly under wraps. But . . . I have a copy of it on my computer because. . . TA DA!!! . . . my #1 grandson got the film he was the cinematographer for into the festival! This is good news, my friends. And this ‘student’ film? One of the best short dramas I’ve ever seen anywhere. It is that good. (And it is featured Saturday and Sunday morning at the festival. YES!)

All in all, August has been a good month, despite all the medical crap in and around everything else. Every single test I had came back just fine – and there were a heckuva lot of those suckers. Thanks be to God – and to those vigilant doctors, too.

Couldn’t find a button of any kind, so just click here to jump over to Emily’s place and see that grand collection of posts all about what we learned in August.

iPhone Journaling: Just Write


For years I kept prayer journals, the only kind of journaling I’ve ever really done. I have never enjoyed handwriting, and now increasing joint pain makes it difficult. All the writing how-to books say you have to write longhand to get to the heart of things, however. Clearly, that is not working for me. So, I’ve adapted to technology just a little bit and have occasionally used the microphone system on my iPhone to get my musings written down. This is the most recent of those musings. Joining this with Heather’s JustWrite linky for the first time in months.

I watch them, has they wield their strollers past my car. Young, strong, beautiful. One stroller with two babes inside, maybe nine months separating them in age. Another with a single ten-month old.

They’re smiling at each other, laughing as they push their beautiful burdens up the hill. It’s funny how I don’t remember laughing very much as a mother to very young children. I’m sure I did. My children were delightful, smart, and funny. And much of that time in my life was, indeed, joyful.

But mostly what I remember now is the fatigue. And the doubt.  And all the questions about whether or not I was enough. I don’t remember having very many friends who had babes in strollers at the same time I did. I remember feeling alone, very alone.

We’d been gone for two years, So most of our college friends had moved on, going in other directions. I had one neighbor with young children, but she worked. I remember joining the food co-op, getting a weekly delivery of fruits and vegetables. And out of that group, a babysitting co-op grew, and there I did connect with others who were at the same stage of life.

Maybe that’s why I have a hard time relating to so many of the young moms who write in the blog-o-sphere, those who connect at a heart level with other mothers of children the same ages as their own. That kind of connection was very difficult for me to find, and if found, for a long list of reasons, very hard for me to continue.

What is it about me that resists friendship.? I have a lot of “friends” but how many know my heart? Thankfully, there are some. And at this juncture in my life story, I am finding it easier to connect via the internet than in real life. Why is that?

I’m sitting at the ocean, trying to sort through the mass of mixed feelings going on inside me right now. I carry my mom around with me most of the time. I carry my children, and my grandchildren. I’m looking at some fairly minimal, but still invasive health issues, and I always find that wearying and worrying. I need a Spiritual Director, and I’ve been looking for over a year. Pursued several different avenues, none of which have worked out thus far. Lord, whom shall I see? Who would you have me work with?

Today as I stare at the sea, this is what I see:

The ocean is relentless. It keeps coming. The waves roll, whether small or large, but they roll. The surface today is relatively calm, and the kelp beds are not moving much. Very few waterfowl today, either. I keep looking for pelicans, so far I see none.

I wonder if the dolphins will peek through the water with the tips of their fins; they always bring a sense of hope and a spirit of playfulness to my day. I think I could use a good dose of both right now.

Another day, another doctor’s visit. This one for my mother, she has a nasty bruise on her lower right calf and now, a low-grade fever. So we’ll go back to the doctor – we were just there five days ago, And two days before that. And in between her medical visits, I have my own. It’s funny how these medical events seem to come in seasons.

Make that ‘funny peculiar,’ not ‘funny ha-ha.’ There’s not a lot of ha-ha-ing going on just now. All of it together creates a sort of low-level sense of anxiety, sometimes for days in a row, and I always find that wearing.

I’m grateful for this parking space, and the sound of the waves. Now I see three pelicans, the holy trio winging their way further out to sea. No dolphins yet, but I remain hopeful.

The undulating water somehow centers my spirit, and calms my heart. I can feel my breathing slow down, and my muscles relax. This morning, everything is thick with fog, something I usually dislike intensely. But today, it suits my mood.

There’s something womblike about it, soothing, calming, Like a balm to my wounded self. Henri Nouwen talks a lot about wounded healers, and I believe him. I just don’t much enjoy the wounding part. I wait, with some sense of restlessness, for the emerging part of this process.

To emerge from the woundedness is a good and important thing. On the other side of this season of sadness, I look forward to offering words of hope and healing to others who find themselves where I am now. In the meantime, I will continue to drive down our hill, turn my car around in the middle-of-the-road, and park on the edge of the bluffs. I will roll my window down, push my seat back, and stare out at the sea.

And I will wait. I will wait for the movement of the Spirit, I will wait for the stirrings of hope. I will wait for what comes next.



The Beauty That Remains

My thanks to my good friend, Sherry Peterson, for this photo,
which she took as she was walking by us at The Samarkand. Sherry is lead chaplain there,
and mom told me she preached a powerful sermon this morning! 

We take the walker everywhere now;
her balance isn’t what it once was,
and we all feel just a bit more secure,
knowing she’s got support when she walks.

On Wednesdays, I join her for lunch.
And while the weather is as glorious
as it is right now,
we’re choosing to eat that lunch outdoors.

There’s a small cafe near the community swimming pool.
Sandwiches, salads, occasionally soup
and a hot choice.
And a small freezer full of ice cream delights. 

We don our pink hats, steer that walker towards the outdoors,
and wend our way over to the beautiful place,

the space where the sun shines and the breezes blow,
where we can talk if we wish,
or just sit and enjoy the distant mountain view.

We share a bottled Diet Coke
and laugh about the tickle-fizz of it,
and the sharp taste as it slides down our throats.
She always asks how my kids are doing.
And I say, “They’re doing just fine, Mom. Just fine.”

Conversation is harder to come by these days,
but we are relaxed about it.
She often surprises me with a small joke,
usually one that is self-deprecating.
We both laugh.

Sometimes, she seems aware of things
happening outside her increasingly small world.
We’ll touch on it gently,
and then she’ll say,
“Well, if they’d only ask us,
we could solve all the world’s problems, couldn’t we?”

That was a favorite line between us for years,
a sentiment that one or the other of us offered
whenever we spent any time lamenting
the current state of affairs in the world.

Somehow, it was a way to close off
that section of the conversation,
to move away from what sometimes
began to feel like constant complaining.

Neither of us can sit in complaint for long. 

This week she asked me something
that felt a bit as though it came from out of the blue.
I’m learning that things seldom are as random
as they might feel in this strange, half-lit world of dementia.

“Do you know this song?” she asked me.
“It’s been going through my head
 all the time lately.
It’s called, ‘Life Is Like a Mountain Railroad.’

“Nope, Mom. Never heard of it. Tell me how it goes.”

She’s a bit embarrassed to sing,
her once lovely alto quavery and weak
 these days.
She is 92 years old, I gently remind her,

and eventually, the words come out.

Life is like a mountain railroad,
with an engineer that’s brave;

We must make the run successful,
from the cradle to the grave;

Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels;
never falter, never fail;

Keep your hand upon the throttle,
and your eye upon the rail.

Bless’d Savior, Thou wilt guide us,
Till we reach that blissful shore;
Where the angels wait to join us
In Thy praise forevermore.

You will roll up grades of trial;
you will cross the bridge of strife;

See that Christ is your Conductor
on this lightning train of life;

Always mindful of obstruction,
do your duty, never fail;

Keep your hand upon the throttle,
and your eye upon the rail.


You will often find obstructions;
look for storms of wind and rain;

On a fill, or curve, or trestle,
they will almost ditch your train;

Put your trust alone in Jesus;
never falter, never fail;

Keep your hand upon the throttle,
and your eye upon the rail.


As you roll across the trestle,
spanning Jordan’s swelling tide,

You behold the Union Depot
into which your train will glide;

There you’ll meet the Superintendent,
God the Father, God the Son,

With the hearty, joyous, plaudit,
“Weary pilgrim, welcome home!”


–M.E. Abbey & Charles Davis Tillman

The words are close to kitsch
and they make me smile.

My momma remembers one verse and the chorus,
and I pull out my iPhone and find the rest
on Google, astounded as always,
by what you can find in 30 seconds
in this internet world.

Hearing it sung helps me to see
the church into which I was born,
the one where my mom and dad met and married.
That old brownstone in downtown Los Angeles,
whose nooks and crannies were as familiar
to me as my own home.
That place where I learned sometimes bad theology,
but a lot of absolutely magnificent ecclesiology,
where church was welcoming, warm,
even fun from time to time.
Where I went forward to receive communion
at the rail, while my dad played the piano,
and my mom sang in the choir.
That place where Jesus was near.

We never sang that song while I went there.
Oh, we sang lots of gospel music,
a gift for which I am deeply grateful.
But never this one.

Somehow, it feels perfect for this summer luncheon,
perfect for this old saint and her old daughter.
Thank God for the brave engineer,
the One who will carry her safe-home.

And me, too. 

Here is a link to Johnny Cash, the Carter Family and Earl Scruggs (among others) recording two verses of this old chestnut. (They use ‘railway’ rather than ‘railroad.’)

It’s perfect. 

“Life is Like a Mountain Railway”

Joining this one with all my friends on this lovely Sunday evening. Most of my writing efforts this week will be directed toward a small sermon, to be preached next Sunday in my mom’s ‘church,’ the chapel she can walk to from her room.

The Crazy Lady – A Deeper Family Post

Somehow, I managed to lose sight of the fact that the first Thursday of August was also the first day of the month. So, I blew my assigned date for the first time. However, my editor was gracious enough to allow me to fill in a blank spot on this month’s calendar. So for August 2013, I am posting on the THIRD Thursday rather than the first. Thanks, Megan! You can click here to read the rest of this rather strange essay. My husband says it sounds ever-so-slightly Sybilesque (as in the multiple personality case made into a book and a film many years ago). See what you think:

So, here’s the truth. Unvarnished, and throbbing.

Inside my head, there is a crazy person, a woman who runs around, wringing her hands, spouting out worst-case scenarios for every unknown thing in my life. I swear, there are days I can feel her stuttering footsteps banging against my brain, her worried hands dropping balled up pieces of Kleenex just behind the hippocampus.

I don’t like her much and I surely didn’t invite her in. But there she is, alive and well, thriving on all my insecurities, worries and deepest fears.

Did I mention I don’t like her?

And that fact does not seem to trouble her in the least. The woman never takes a hint. She is relentless, and surprisingly nimble. I’ve seen her leap over hurdles of monumental proportions. Hurdles like reason, intelligence, even clear evidence to the contrary of whatever it is she’s obsessing about at the moment.

And energy? This girl never sleeps! She inhabits my dreams, interrupts conversations, gets louder when I get quiet. To tell you the truth, she runs circles around me, and when she is doing her thing, I end up exhausted and empty.

She does take breaks now and again, and that’s always a relief. Earlier this year, in fact, I thought maybe — just maybe — she had moved out for good. I actually enjoyed several months of rest from that incessant jabbering in my head.

But this summer? Man, she showed up big-time, complete with roller bag and backpack. I think maybe she plans to stay a while and I’ve gotta tell you, I’m seriously bummed. Because this ‘guest?’ She is no friend of mine. I so enjoy practicing hospitality, but this one? I’d like to kick her to the curb. Hard.

In the middle of the most amazing family vacation we’ve taken in years, I turned around one day and there she was, earnestly trying to convince me that we were getting too old for this kind of thing, that our kids and grandkids no longer enjoyed our company, that we were on the outside when we desperately wanted to be on the inside. And oh, yeah, that I was the dorkiest grandmother of the century, big, awkward, loud and b-o-r-i-n-g.


Even if you DO think I’ve lost my mind, come on over and read the rest at A Deeper Family. It does get a little more hopeful. Really, it does.

A Necessary Lament

When we built our worship center nearly 10 years ago,
our community was in a time of transition.
A long-term senior pastor had recently left
to assume a denominational position,
a kind-hearted interim had come to guide us
through the building process,
and I was serving as general encourager and history-bearer for all of us.

Construction took a little over two years,
and as we neared the end of it all,
we invited the entire congregation to travel over
from the gymnasium
(our worship-home for ten years)
to the still rough-around-the-edges new space.

We handed out felt markers to everyone
and gave this word of instruction:
“Everywhere you see plain concrete beneath your feet,
take a marker and find a space that is yours alone.
Write down your name,
and if you have a family, write down their names, too.
Then, next to your names, write a favorite scripture verse
or other words of worship.”

For the next hour or so, about 300 people spread themselves
across the front of the sanctuary
and down the aisles, right into the foyer.
And everyone got down on the floor and wrote.
When it was finished, we had a wild looking collection of
words, names, dates and love.
There were hearts and flowers,
there were whole sections of scripture.
One adolescent who sang in choirs
wrote out the entire mass — in Latin.

It was a stunning and beautiful sight to see.

About six months later,
as all the final details were coming together,
we laid down some lovely, soft, green carpet over it all —
all the words, all the promises,
all the names of the body of Christ in this place at that point in time.

Anyone who was not a part of us then would not know this.
But those of us who are still here,
who cannot imagine being anywhere else —
we know it’s there.
And we thank God for it.
It is a beautiful picture, a hidden treasure,
a reminder of bedrock,
our foundation, the ground beneath our feet,
the place on which we stand.

When times get tough — as they always do —
we remind one another:
“Remember that Sunday? Remember those words?
Remember how blessed we were to see it all spread out like that?”
We carry that sweet, secret autograph party in our hearts, 
and when we need to, we pull it out and look at it, again and again.


We were not sad that day,
though we were feeling the weight of transition.
We were not fearful that day,
though we wondered what sadnesses
might lie ahead of us.

Since that time, surely not always or even very often,
we have indeed had occasion
to feel sad,
to feel fearful,
even to wonder where God is,
to sense an absence where once there was presence.

Such wonderings are a part of life, a necessary part of life,
providing a necessary season of lament from time to time.

Why necessary?
Why spend time in lament?

Because we all need to remember who we are,
and who we are not;
to remember that we need saving;
to remember that we cannot do this life well
by ourselves;
to remember that there is a Shepherd
who truly loves us crazy, lost sheep.


The broken ones,
the unhealthy ones,
the frightened ones,
the wandering ones,
the little ones.

The ones who fake it really well,
and the ones who don’t.
The ones with gigantic chips on their shoulders,
and the ones who always think somehow,
they’re to blame for something or for everything.

The ones who cheat on their taxes
or their spouses,
the ones who sit in judgment on everyone else.
The ones who cannot hold things
shared in confidence,
the ones who cannot find the courage
to share the things that matter.
The ones who bleed neediness,
the ones who don’t know
how truly needy they are.

ALL of us need to remember where help is found,
to remember again the things that are hidden.

We all need to know that we stand on the promises,
we stand on the Word,
we are loved and kept and saved,
even when all feels lost. 

“Restore us, O God;
make your face shine on us
that we may be saved.” 

 Three times, the psalmist cries out these words in Psalm 80.
In the midst of confusion,
loss, painful suffering and sin,
the only hope for the community of Israel
is God.
God alone.

The people are ‘eating tears,’
the vine of Israel is dying,
rotting away.
Where is God?

Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire;
    at your rebuke your people perish.
Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
    the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
Then we will not turn away from you;
    revive us, and we will call on your name.

 Even here, if we read with the eyes of the early church,
even here, buried in the ancient, worshipping words
of a traveling, tribal people,
we see signs of the Shepherd,
the one who tends the sheep and who is the vine,
the New Vine,
to whom we are grafted,
and in whom, we are found. 

The One to whom we cry out: “Restore us, O God.”

Restore us.


My thanks to Don Johnson for his fine sermon on this psalm this morning, to Bob Gross and Pam Herzog, our intentionally small worship team, to Jeanne Heckman and Martha Johnson, who fought back their natural urges to create an altarpiece with a dying vine, to Sherry Peterson who offered such beautiful words in prayer (many borrowed from Flora Slosson Wuellner – if you don’t know who she is, you should),
and to Jon Lemmond, who read scripture, powerful scripture,
for us to contemplate as we entered into the preaching time. 

Joining with Michelle, Jen, Laura, Jennifer, em, and Ann today:


Remembering Helen – Five Minute Friday

I’m not at all sure how this will come out, as the prompt this week brought to mind something that happened to me a couple of times lately — a memory was stirred. And having that happen twice in a week, well. . . it makes me think this is something I’m supposed to get down. So, I’ll try to do it in 5 minutes and link it up with Lisa-Jo and the gang this week:
Five Minute Friday

The view from that hill . . . a little closer to the sea.



The road winds up the hill, the hill that opens up to the sea. And every time I drive up that road, I remember Helen. She was such a small thing, dark-haired, pixie-eyed, full of sweetness and light. Byron asked me to go and see her. She was a friend of a friend and she was in Santa Barbara to receive a new treatment in her battle against lung cancer.

I was brand new to my job as Associate Pastor and I was pretty new to visitation, especially when the person was unknown to me and critically ill. But I went – how could I not? She was delightful – vibrant, open, seeking, devoted to her family and to her Lord. She wanted someone to talk to, to pray with, to help her face into the realities that were coming at her faster than a freight train.

Oh, how I loved her!

I met with her about a dozen times over the next few months. She would travel back and forth to her home in Arizona in between treatments, staying with friends when she was here. Eventually, she stayed for longer and longer periods of time and the family rented a house up on the bluff, a house with a distant view of the deep blue sea.

Each visit, she seemed smaller, shrinking into herself in some ways, but pouring herself out in others. Her eyes always sparkled, her smile never wavered. Oh, her voice got weaker and finally, she couldn’t walk very far at all, choosing to stay in bed or in a chair nearby. But her spirit? Indomitable.

She died quietly, here in Santa Barbara, and the family asked me to create a memorial service for her in our small chapel so that all those in this town who loved her could come and remember and worship together. 

That chapel was full, I’ll tell you. She was small, yes, she was. But her heart was huge and her sweet smiles and soft words reached out to dozens of friends. 

That was almost seventeen years ago. And every time I drive up that hill, I glance to my left, to the street that sloped up and around the bend. And I remember the gift of Helen, the first of many friends I walked with to the end of the road.


2 extra minutes

Day by Day – A Guest Post for Micha Boyett

When I was 17 years old and a recent high school graduate, waiting to both lose and find myself in a very large university setting, I spent a good part of that last carefree summer volunteering as a camp counselor. One weekend, my supervisor drove me down the mountain to her parents’ home so that we could do a little laundry and breathe more heavily oxygenated air for a day.

And as we swerved our way along that curvy mountain road, enjoying the view from her vintage VW Beetle, she taught me a song, one I had never heard before. It was an old Swedish hymn called “Day by Day,” and in a way, that sweet and simple melody became a kind of theme song for the rest of my life, even though I didn’t sing it again for a long time.

About 13 years, to be exact. The year I turned 30, my husband and I and our three young kids (ages 3, 5 and 7 at the time) joined a neighborhood church that happened to be part of the very denomination that birthed the hymn I had learned driving down that mountain. As my children were growing to adulthood, as I was  discovering who I was without those children to tend, as my marriage morphed from very traditional to one of mutuality and partnership, I sang that song often. Each time, it touched something deep inside me. Each time, it called me to lean into trust — just enough trust for today.

God knows, if I’d tried to trust for all the days I’ve lived, I’d have crashed and burned long ago. I can just about manage one at a time. So often over the course of the last 50 years, I’ve found myself offering this phrase to people I love, people I counsel, people I write to, people I preach to, people I share life with. And most of all, I’ve whispered it to myself.

Over and over again. . . 

One of my favorite bloggers, Micha Boyett, invited me to participate in the beautiful series she is running called, “One Good Phrase.” I am honored to be there today. Please click here to come on over and read the rest of this piece (and to find a link to a lovely rendition of this sweet hymn. . . )

Learning to Listen: A Guest Post with Anita Mathias

Many years ago, one of my dearest friends pinpointed a particular problem of mine: I wasn’t really listening when she talked to me.

Oh, I was physically present, with my body turned towards her, ‘hearing’ her words. But I was not truly listening. She told me that I seldom made eye contact and seemed to be constantly distracted by everything else that was going on around us.

Ouch. Her words stung, as the truth so often does.

After a minute or two of denial, I had to admit that she was right on target. I had this habit of trying to multi-task when someone was talking to me.

I too often chose that time to scan the room, or the patio, or the restaurant — wherever the conversation was happening — to be sure I wasn’t missing something important going on around me.

As if the person in front of me was not important enough.

Or, I would busily scan an invisible list in my head, checking off tasks that needed to be done.

As if life is all about how much we can do, accomplish or perform.

Almost always, I found myself so concerned about my own response to whatever I was hearing, that I had little interior space to simply receive the words of another as the gifts they were.

As if my words, my stories, my experiences were of more intrinsic value than the other person’s.

I was there. But. . . I wasn’t. Physical presence? Yes, assuredly. Emotional presence? Not so much.

For most of my life, I have been a busy person, involved in numerous activities and commitments. From family to church to philanthropic groups to running a small business from my home, to attending seminary, to working in the parish setting — I’ve kept my plate full.

My friend’s words came when I was a seminary student, still managing a floral business, and also serving as a pastoral intern at the church we both attended.

I was over-extended, over-tired and emotionally overdrawn. The well was dry.

Listening, really listening, to anyone became increasingly difficult for me to do. Something had to give, priorities needed to be realigned, and I desperately needed to learn what it meant to pay attention to the lives and stories of other people, most especially people near and dear to me.

Please join me over at Anita’s lovely blog, “Dreaming Beneath the Spires,” to see the rest of this reflection and to find out how I learned to listen a bit better. . .