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.

Toward A More Perfect Union — A Deeper Family

It’s the first Thursday of the month! And that means I’m writing over at A Deeper Family today. It’s also our national birthday – the Fourth of July – so here is a picture of some fireworks we enjoyed while we were in Dresden, Germany, about two months ago. Please come on over and join me at ADF to read the rest of this reflection . . .

The heat is rising in waves from the concrete deck, shimmering in that strange, invisible way that heat waves do. The whole of southern California is turning up the AC, blowing fans over bowls of ice, taking quick dips in the pool or bathtub, trying to even out the air temp in as many creative ways as possible.

Here, in our coastal town, we’ve had temperatures in the 90’s for almost a week now – unusual in early July. Often our national holiday is shrouded in fog; the annual fireworks display can only be seen in bits and pieces, when an occasional rocket climbs above the layers of goop circling round the end of the pier.

This year, however, the show should be grand. But we will not be there.

We’ve seen lots of fireworks in our day, and sent more than a few brilliant displays into the  skies ourselves. Yet these days, listening to the pops and bangs and whizzes is almost as much fun as seeing their aerial display. Maybe we’ll watch the televised ones from DC and NYC, who knows? I only know we won’t be joining the throngs who will jam the beachfront boulevard and then struggle to make their way, ever-so-slowly, up to the freeway and home again, home again.

At this end of 47+ years together, we are increasingly careful about how we spend our time and energy, wanting not to waste any of it with crowds and confusion. Maybe that makes us old fogies. In fact, I am SURE it makes us old fogies. And you know what? I am more comfortable with that idea than I ever dreamed I might be. Believe me, it’s not all bad, being a fogey. It has its perks.

Like . . .

Wanna know what those perks look like from our end? Well, come on over. Just click this sentence and you’ll find the list. 

A Deeper Family: When Time Collapses

I am continuing to chronicle the journey with my mom through dementia over at A Deeper Family today. Every couple of months, words about this haunting process seem to rise to the surface. Thanks for your patience and encouragement as we take this difficult walk together. You can click here to read the rest of this essay. . .

Enormous chunks of time are gone now.

How can I watch this? How can I help? How can I say the right thing, do the right thing, be the right daughter?

I am beyond knowing most days. Beyond knowing.

We made plans last weekend for my youngest brother’s two sons and one daughter-in-law to make the long drive from their home to ours. My youngest brother, the one who died in his sleep just over three years ago. This would be the first time these nice kids would see Mom in her new living environment, the one we moved her to in February. The one designed for memory and cognitive loss residents.

The one that reminds me every single time I am there that my mother is fading into the woodwork, that the woman I knew is vacating the premises.

I have learned not to tell Mom about visitors or traveling plans too far in advance. When I do, she frets over it multiple times per day, convinced that NOW is when it all happens. Several weeks ago, she asked me to contact Ken’s boys; she wanted to see them. I was happy to do that.

Thank God for Facebook — connections were made, plans set. One day before our time together, I told mom that we would all go out to lunch together. She was excited and grateful and seemed to understand — seemed being the operative word.

Alarming situation number one: when we arrived, parking in the subterranean lot beneath the wing in which she lives, riding the elevator and turning the circuitous route to her unit, we found her standing outside the building, as cars drove nearby. Maybe that bracelet will be necessary after all, the one that sets off the alarm if she leaves with no one noticing. I dread it. Dread it.

Alarming situation number two: after greeting everyone gladly and expertly, she climbed into our car, while the younger generation climbed into their own, to follow us to the restaurant. “Who are those people?” she said.

Who are those people?

These, dearest mother-of-mine, these are the very ones you so wanted to see. The very ones. How do I answer you without letting the deep panic I feel creep into my voice? How do I DO that?

Please join me over at A Deeper Family to read the rest of this post. . .

The Gift of a Long Life — A Deeper Family

It’s the first Thursday of the month and time for my monthly post at A Deeper Family. And this one crept up on me, bigtime. Somehow, I thought the first Thursday was next week (duh!) and had set aside tomorrow afternoon to write this piece. Fortunately, truth dawned at approximately 9:00 p.m. for an essay that was due at midnight. 

With the grands at Shell Beach, one year ago this month.


Forty years ago, I was a stay-at-home housewife with three children under the age of five, wildly in love with my kids but often overwhelmed by fatigue and feelings of failure.

Thirty years ago, I had two teenagers and a pre-teen, served as an active volunteer in church and community, loved entertaining large groups of people in our home and was oblivious to the truth that this good, rich time of my life was rushing by me.

Twenty years ago, I walked across the stage to pick up my master of divinity degree from Fuller Seminary after four years of study, all that studying done while managing a small floral business in my home, watching each of my children move into committed relationships and becoming a first-time grandparent.

Ten years ago, I was nearing the midway point of my pastoral life here in Santa Barbara, discovering the harsh reality of death in our family circle for the first time, trying to balance (what is that, anyhow?) home and church, family and congregation.

Today, right now, I am retired from parish work; I offer spiritual direction from my home; I write on my blog, here at ADF, and several other places on the internet and in print; I have children older than most of the people I meet with or write with; I am married to a man I love deeply, a man who stays home most of the day because he, too, is retired; I am mother to my mother as she fades into the dim recesses of dementia; and I am Nana to eight grands, two of whom are college students, for Pete’s sake.

And at this moment, on a warm California evening, I am reading this list and wondering . . . who do I want to be going forward?

If I am blessed by continuing good health and even the moderate level of agility which I currently enjoy, I may live another fifteen, twenty, maybe even twenty-five years at the most.

What will these years look like when I stand there, in the future, and look back at now?

What do I hope for, dream about, pray for, purpose in my heart to do — or maybe more importantly — to be during however many decades remain?

Here, in no particular order of importance, are the things that rise to the top as I ponder that question:

Please join me over at A Deeper Family for the rest of this post . . .

A Note to My Younger Self — A Deeper Family


Last week, Emily Wierenga invited her readers to answer this question: “Would you hang out with your younger self?” I’ve been mulling that one over for a week now. . . and here’s where I landed.

I can see you in my mind’s eye: tall and awkward, outspoken and uncertain and so worried about keeping all the rules. The ones summed up in your mom’s favorite half-joke: “Beware the unguarded moment.”

So that’s what you spent a lot of time doing, isn’t it? Staying on guard. Yet, as I recall, it came sort of naturally to you. Number one child to parents you adored, big sister to two brothers, one right behind you and one far back. You learned early to be bossy, to take charge, to direct events in your small world.

There was a circle of girl friends in high school, mostly the brainy kids, but not all. And there was the church. Oh my, yes, there was the church. As wary of leadership as you were in the school setting, you jumped in with both feet at church. You felt safe there, bounded, encouraged. The youth group was large and active, about 200 kids. And there were adults who cared about you, who invested in your formation as a Jesus-follower, and who knew how to have fun.

You went to confirmation and memorized pieces of the catechism and became a voting member of the congregation at the ripe old age of 14. And you sat in the balcony of that beautiful old Gothic brownstone, writing notes to your friends and trying hard to stifle the giggles. Yet much of the message somehow got through all that stifling and note-writing. You were blessed to hear the sweet notes of grace mixed in with the heavy bass line of rules, and, over time, that’s the tune that stayed with you the longest.

Sadly, however, you did not learn how to sing that song to yourself very well. Yeah, that nasty inner critic started a long, long time ago, amplified by the anxieties and expectations of others.

I’m writing over at A Deeper Family today . . . maybe you’ll join me there?


A Deeper Family – A December I Do

We chose a Saturday afternoon at 3:30, the hand of the clock on the upswing during the ceremony. It was my mom and I who carefully and frugally planned the day, beginning with my dress, which was ‘worn’ for a bridal fashion show and cost $60.00. This was 1965 and my father was a junior college administrator, my mother, a homemaker; there was not a lot of extra cash for fancy parties. 

The church was an old, Gothic brownstone, one block from the library in Glendale, California. It was my family’s church, Presbyterian, large and conservative. About 650 of our closest family and friends came striding down the aisles of that glorious old sanctuary to hear us say, “I do.” That number was possible because people didn’t ‘do’ dinners for wedding receptions in those days. It never occurred to us.

We offered wedding cake (baked by a neighbor), nuts in a cup, buttery mints, punch, coffee and tea. Homemade table decor graced rounds of eight, set up in the church gymnasium where we greeted our guests. . . all our guests. I don’t think we ever ate a bite of cake, past the obligatory one for picture-taking. . .

My Brother’s Keeper . . . A Deeper Family

He was my brother, 
yet I did not know how to love him well.

Born two months before my 11th birthday, 
he was a beautiful baby, and a fussy one. 
Colic, they said. All I know is, 
I spent many evenings walking around 
our dining room in the dark, 
gently singing into his ear while he wailed in pain. 
This small person had two hernia surgeries 
before he turned two, a harbinger of tough times ahead.

He was a different sort of little boy, 
easy-going in some ways, 
stiff and overwhelmed in others. 
Terrified by sudden noise, 
his own voice was often uncomfortably loud. 
He was fidgety yet owned observational skills 
that would occasionally astound us. 
He saw details, lots and lots of details. 
But he so often completely missed the big picture.

Sadly, he never did find it . . .

I am writing about one of the saddest pieces 
of my own family story today, 
my younger brother’s hard, hard life. 
And 1000 words cannot contain it. 

Will you join me over there for the rest of the story?

31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 24

Yesterday was an amazing day.
Startling, sometimes confusing,
interesting and humbling.
In the middle of this 31-day blogging craziness,
I put up this small post to tell you about an essay 
I wrote over at A Deeper Church.
In that brief post, I also urged you to 
read my friend Emily’s post in which 
she asked some questions about the very
topic I was speaking about right next door to her.
The comment thread, especially on her essay,
was pretty overwhelming.

But here is what I feel about it,
late this night,
after spending about 14 of the last 36 hours 
in the car, driving up and down this
magnificently beautiful state of ours:

I feel profoundly grateful.
And humble.
I would happily wash Emily’s feet,
and I believe she would do the same for me.
And that? THAT is a beautiful thing.

I slept last night in a retreat center in Burlingame, CA,
run by the Sisters of Mercy.
Our meeting room there contained about a dozen
magnificent prints by a Japanese artist from the 20th century
named Sadao Watanabe.
I tried to take photos of them all,
but a few of them showed too much reflection from
the hideous (why oh why??) florescent lighting.
These two, however, are perfect.

Two different interpretations 
of the same seminal event
in the life and ministry of our Lord, 
     our Savior, 
          our Christ.

Jesus – the Son of God,
the Creator of the universe,
the only fully Human Being who ever walked
the dusty roads of this globe –
washing the feet of his disciples.

And then telling us to do the same for one another. 

THIS is who we are, dear friends. 

We are the ones who follow Jesus.
We are the ones who share in the bread and cup.

And we are the ones who wash one another’s feet.
Whether we agree with one another on every doctrine or not.
Whether we work at home or outside the home.
Whether we homeschool our kids or send them to school
Whether we even like each other or not! 

We are the ones who wash each other’s feet.

And that – 
     because Jesus did it,
          because Jesus 
               continues to do it through each of us – 

that is BEAUTY. 

Humbly joining with Michelle, Jen, Jennifer, Ann, Duane, and OF COURSE, Emily:

The Mystery of Faith…

There are days when I think that God has an
interesting sense of humor.
Today is one of those days.
I am writing in another space today,
where I write today about the very center
of my call as a pastor.
And, in a way, for me,
it all comes down to one question:
What are you going to do with me?
Maybe I’m oversimplifying,
but somehow, I don’t think so.
Because if you struggle with the issue of women
in ministry, at some point you’re going to
have to do that struggling with a real-life,
flesh and blood, Jesus-loving, Jesus-following human person.
Please click over and see what I mean, okay?

And while you’re doing that,
I also want to encourage you to read
She and I are at very different places on this particular journey. 
Yet I can honestly say that I love her very much, 
I respect her opinion and I welcome her voice.
I trust and I hope that she can say the same about me.
The comment sections at both places are very interesting 
and hopeful to me. If we can keep a civil conversation going,
loving each other, even when we land at different places,
then there is indeed real hope for the Kingdom moving forward.
Do you know what I think?
I think that our amazing God is doing some very wonderful things 
through the vehicle of the internet.
And she has offered grace to all of us awkward speakers, inviting us to share our experiences and our ideas and our points of struggle. My prayer is that the discussion underway at her site and at the various channels at A Deeper Story can be heartfelt, honest, hopeful and welcoming – even when we disagree.
Can I hear an amen??

The Long Unraveling: A Deeper Family

My husband as a newborn with his beautiful mother.

Today is my day to post over at A Deeper Family.
It is such a privilege to write in this space,
where honesty is encouraged,
and going deeper is invited.

The tension in the car is thick enough to choke on. My husband begins his litany of things-wrong-with-the-world, something he’s been doing with alarming frequency of late. It makes me tired. Long, loud sighs begin to whoosh from deep inside, as I sit next to him, at my perch behind the steering wheel. Finally, I decide to face into it more directly and ask, with the tiniest hint of superiority, “Can you tell me one thing you’re grateful for right now? Just one? All this negativity is exhausting.”
We pull into the underground parking at the health facility where his mother now lives. She is 96-years-old, very frail, fading away like a mirage on a desert highway.
And this is the truth of it: we are waiting for her to die. There it is, in the harsh light of day, like brown, barren sticks in wintertime – we are waiting for her to die.
Perhaps that explains the litany, the sighs.
Twice each week, we make the 20-minute drive across town to sit with her at lunch, watching her not eat. Some days, we rouse her from a deep, gasping sleep. Some days, she is already awake. Always, we get the walker from across the room, remind her how to stand up, gently comb her hair and very slowly walk with her down the hall to the dining room. . .