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.

What I Did Yesterday: A Photo Essay

If you know me very well, you quickly become aware
that I am a mass of contradictions.
One minute, calm and self-confident,
the next minute, a mess of insecurities and fears

I’m working on it, but somehow perfection eludes me.

Case in point —
I live in fear that something I say or do
will embarrass my children.
Some days, this fear stays quiet
and seems to be fast asleep,
hiding comfortably under
a bushel basket of busyness.

Other days, however,
like these days — right now —
when I am living without a schedule,
without deadlines,
without commitments.
Well, on those days,
that fear gets loud and snarly.

We are vacationing at the same time as two of our three kids.
We’re not exactly vacationing together,
but we’re staying in close proximity and doing things
together from time to time.

Yesterday the whole kit and kaboodle of them
(one kid/wife/one of their two kids, one kid/husband/three kids,
one kid’s spouse’s parents (who NEVER embarrass their children),
one kid’s friend’s family of 5 . . .
if you’re counting, that makes a group of 15 so far)
decided to take a snorkel tour up the Napali Coast.

They invited me to go along,
and I said, YES, surprising us all.

Four hours long, beauty that stops the heart,
a chance to swim with tropical fish,
and a big old turkey sandwich and cold guava juice
to finish the day.
Oh, yes. And a one hour return ride
through the afternoon swells,
directly into the wind.

My husband gets seasick,
so he kept the 3-year-old and they had a ball.
I carefully sun-screened my entire body,
wore one of Dick’s t-shirts over my suit,
packed (as usual) more stuff than I’d need
and quietly clomped my way down the stairs
to join the crew.

So there’s this piece:
I have two bad knees
and a recently flaring achilles tendonitis.
Oh, and I’m old and a scaredy-cat.
So the opportunities for
being awkward, slow, and
so-much-less-than —
well, they abounded.
Yes, they did.

But, I went anyhow.

And I am so very glad I did.

Getting there required:
driving down the hill from our condo
to the town of Hanalei,
parking behind the garbage container of a seafood restaurant;
(not the ideal aroma before a sea voyage of any kind);
waiting to sign in and get a waterproof bag for our stuff;
waiting four times for a 12-passenger van to shuttle
50 people to two 25-passenger boats;
riding said van to the river that flows into the bay;
then walking through knee-deep water
to board a six-passenger dinghy

which would take us out to the boat.

I, of course, was in the very last dinghy.

On board, I sat next to someone I did not know.
And out of all the towns, and all the rivers,
and all the boats in all the world,
I sat next to a woman who,
when I asked where she was from,

said to me: “Santa Barbara. Well, actually, Carpinteria.”
“Oh,” I said, “my kids are from there,”
pointing across the aisle,
“and my DIL practices medicine in Carp.”
“Omigosh,” she hollered.
“That’s my most excellent doctor right there.”

So SHE took that embarrassing moment I was so afraid of,
and captured it all for herself.

The trip up the coast was magical;
there is no other word for it.

The captain set a leisurely pace,
stopping to look at caves,

dolphins, hikers, kayakers
and green, green valleys.

At one time, about 3000 Hawaiians lived and fished
in these valleys, leaving only
when they needed medical attention
because of infections brought by explorers and traders.

When you look up these cliffs, you cannot imagine
how anyone ever lived here.
In the winter months,

40-foot waves hit these walls with such force,
they leave permanent scars of white calcium
and red-dirt run-off.

Parts of the Pali are open to campers,
with permits,
but the trail is rated a 9 out of 10 for difficulty,
and is often slick, muddy and very, very narrow.

If I were 40 years younger and a whole lot fitter,
kayaking to the first valley might be on my list.
(I say ‘might’.) But hiking it? Not a chance.
After we got to our snorkeling spot,
at the very end of the northern tip of the island,

I waited and was nearly the last person into the water.
Once all my children and their children
were safely looking down into the water through their masks,
I oh-so-gracefully,
slid myself over the side of the boat
and  plunged into the warm Pacific.

Maybe someday, I’ll have a photo from
my son-in-law’s underwater camera to
add to this story,
but for now, you’ll have to take my word for it:

God is a genius.
A GENIUS, I tell you.
Coral of all sizes, types and color,
tiny fish, mid-sized fish
and one midling sea turtle
yes, a real live sea turtle,
the sight of which made me say
through my snorkel,
“this is so cool, so cool, so cool.”
(So glad none of my kids can hear me through that snorkel.)

The trip home was. . .  how shall I say it?


But  you know what?

It was tremendous fun.
We got bounced and bumped and WET.
But we also saw a pod of about 30 spinner dolphins,
three of whom jumped the wake of our boat.

Sittin’ on the bay, waitin’ for the dinghy to go home.

And that night, we all ate together, saw the best sunset yet,
and enjoyed watching some neighbors
sail paper lanterns,
lit with specially coated, biodegradable wicks,
while all the children around sang
that song from “Tangled.”

That’s the word for the entire day.

And I didn’t embarrass my kids.

There was that one time I laughed a little too loudly, 

but they’re pretty much used to that.

And there was the fact that I cannot, in any way, shape or form,
manage to straddle a picnic table that’s low to the ground.
Other than that, I think I made it through
and lived to tell about it.
I’m glad I chose adventure
over my fears and insecurities.

And I loved every minute of it.
It was nearly completely dark, so this is very blurry, but I loved that lantern against the colors of the sunset.
It’s Monday, so I’m joining this one with Laura, Jennifer and Michelle, because even though it happened on Friday rather than Sunday, that snorkeling was the most wonderful worship experience in a long while.


The Gift of Travel — Part 6: Dresden — A Photo Essay

In this post, we will actually SEE Dresden —
the pictures will be here, not just the word in the title.
This is the 4th post about the cruising part of our trip
and there will be at least one more, possibly two.
And then Prague — 2 posts for sure. :>)

Part 1 can be found here.
Part 2, here,
part 3, here,
part 4, here,
and part 5, here. 

When we woke the next morning, this was the view out our cabin window.

 Not too shabby.
After breakfast, we loaded on those oh-so-familiar busses and these next few
were shot through the window as we traveled over to
the ‘old’ town — which has been completely rebuilt
since WWII.
That meant digging through complete rubble
after the massive air attacks,
re-using as many old stones as possible,
patching in much lighter colored sandstone where needed,
and re-learning a lot of very old craftwork.
They’ve done a magnificent job.

 Twice, we saw small groups of toddlers with a single adult female.
Hard to tell, but I’m guessing this is a way to do childcare,
and not many sets of multiples.

 We parked the busses near this lovely park and walked over to one of the rebuilt
city squares, this one involved re-construction of the many
super-extravagant buildings build by August the Strong in the 18th century.
Talk about opulence!


It was mid-morning and trying to shoot the government buildings
across the way from this square was difficult.
I tried, but they came out much better later in the day.

 School was still in session in most of Germany while we were there,
and this day, there were hordes of school kids swarming the place.

This is the opera house.

Lovely floral borders, much like what we’ve seen throughout our trip thus far.

This magnificent circled square of buildings was basically built
to impress European royalty.
“Come on over to MY place if you want to see how rich and powerful I am!!”

Most of these buildings now house various collections,
including another collection of Meissen chinaware, as ordered by
emperors past. All of this stuff,
paintings, china, statues,
were boxed up and salted away to the mountains near the end of
the war. The Communists refurbished many of the paintings,
and at the end of the Cold War, only returned a portion of them
to reunified Germany.

This tower was just chiming while we were there.
It only happens twice a day, and the tour guide made
sure we were there for one of them.
Those bells are made of — take a wild guess —
yes, you are SO right — Meissen china!
August the Strong loved the china being imported from China
during his lifetime and ordered his ‘scientists’ (read ‘alchemists’)
to devise a formula for making some of their own.
Meissen’s china manufaktur was the result.
And it is a great source of pride all throughout this province of Germany. 

A costumed docent taking some school kids on a tour.

They are almost finished with this huge square of buildings
and it was truly lovely to see. One gate to go.

See what I mean about the light being wrong to shoot this direction?

We walked back through the square where we began, crossed
the boulevard and headed for the castle/home of August.
It is now a museum (and we could not take pictures inside.)
Suffice it to say that there were more extraordinarily expensive
gewgaws in that place than is believable.
There was one 41.5 carat green diamond that cost the equivalent
of an entire new castle complex when it was purchased
for August to wear on his sash.

Radim, our program director came along on all tours, with one group
or another — checking on guides, carrying entrance tickets to
special exhibits, taking photos for the souvenir disc you could
purchase at the end of the trip.
As I’ve said before, he set the tone for everything,
and that tone was delightful.

August was a man of many appetites, women among them.
He had numerous mistresses – this one lived in the castle below,
which was connected to the one he shared with his wife by
the covered bridge in the picture above.
My, wives were accommodating in those days.

 Looking out the window and taking pictures was allowed — and this was
interesting. Plaster work done in two stages,
dark color first, then light.
Then the design is etched through, to let the dark color show.

The tower in the corner of this interesting small square.
Contemporary craftsmen doing very old-style work.

At the end of our tour, the guide pointed out this lovely relic from
the Communist era — complete with its mosaic of ‘comrades’ working together.
It reminded us vaguely of all the Home Savings buildings in southern CA.

 We took one last look at the square on this side of the boulevard,
noting the cathedral tower at the back,
and determined to come back there on our free time after lunch.

 Enjoyed our usual great meal (we opted for the lighter lunches in the lounge rather
than the 3-course meal in the dining room),
and we rested a bit before walking back to town.
We enjoyed watching these 150 year old steam-powered paddle-wheelers
that cruise between Dresden and Meissen several times a day.

You know, I never really thought about it,
but I suppose castle windows need washing sometimes, too, right?

So this is the inside of the newly rebuilt cathedral of Dresden – it’s lovely and light.

 . . . and the cupola is gorgeous.

These candles reminded me that every cathedral in the world,
even if its congregation has shrunk to almost nothing,
is still a house of prayer,
a place where the faithful gather.

Yeah, the manhole covers in Dresden are beautiful, too.

The cathedral tower from the outside.
We saw a sign that said, “Lift to the dome,” and got excited!
My knees keep me from climbing hundreds of stairs,
but an elevator? Yeah, I could do that.

However, they did not tell us that the lift stops about halfway up
Then you climb a steeply slanted ramp for a long while, climb about 50 steps and
arrive at. . . an open work, straight-up set of iron stairs.

I do not do open staircases.
Most especially open staircases that hover in midair.
So it was more than a little bit discouraging to climb all that way. . .
and not get to enjoy the view.

I was, however, able to get a good shot of ‘the lemon squeezer,’
an interesting newer tower in town.
Dick gamely carried the camera that last set of stairs and took some
lovely view pictures for us.
It’s a beautiful city.

 And it’s a long way up there.
Especially looking back down.

Okay, so those buildings in the shadows in the morning?
Yeah, they looked a whole lot better in the afternoon.

I highly recommend a trip to Dresden – it’s a city worth seeing.

And quite serendipitously — and unknown even to our crew — that night
we enjoyed a special parade of those paddle-wheelers,
each one with a Dixieland band playing away.
This unusual parade was capped off by about 20 minutes of glorious fireworks.
These shots were all shot out our bedroom window.
Not a bad way to end our time in this lovely place.

Next up: Cruising Saxon Switzerland, a national park that crosses the border between Germany and the Czech Republic.

The Sister I Never Had — The High Calling


Celebrating Anita’s Birthday in Choma, Zambia, 1966

About a week before Christmas last year, a wonderful thing happened to me: I was invited to contribute an essay to one of my favorite online magazines – The High Calling. The first idea I had contained the germ of what the essay eventually became. It proved to be an extremely difficult piece for me to write. It’s been 18 years, and the grief is still so strong. I would be honored if you’d follow this link to read the entire piece over at THC . . .


I never had a sister. But I had Anita, with whom I shared adventures, stories, dreams, fears, prayers. We logged a lot of life together and made a lot of memories.

She phoned me one day, eighteen years ago: “Are you sitting down, friend? I have stage 3 breast cancer.” We spent that weekend with our husbands, walking the beach, praying about what direction she should take for treatment. After choosing an expensive and controversial alternative course, she enjoyed 14 months of remission. We wrote notes across the miles between our homes almost every week during that time.

But one night in a darkened theater, we came to watch their son perform in a college play. I twisted around in my fold-down chair to see her, standing in the back of the auditorium the entire performance, her face lined with pain. Looking at her, haunted and frail in the dim light, I knew with every fiber of my being that she was dying. And, oh! She saw that I knew! Her eyes brimmed briefly with tears, we said goodnight and she never allowed me to contact her again. . .

Please follow me over to The High Calling to read the rest of this story. . . 

An African Journey: Post Four – An African Wedding

At our wedding reception in December of 1965, 
one of my husband’s oldest friends and his wife stood in line,  shook our hands, wished us well, and jokingly said,

Ray and Dick were born just a few days apart and ‘met’ at the church their parents attended when they were infants.
They went to high school together and were part of a group of guys who kept connected through college and beyond.
Finding out that they were thinking about 
traveling around the world the same time we were?
Astoundingly good news!

And that’s exactly what happened, eight months later.
Only their location was a little more in flux than ours,
we traveled on different ships,
and we weren’t at all sure where they would end up
once we all got there.
As it turned out, for the first few months,
they were housed at a mission station in the bush, about 40 miles away from us. To get there required driving on this dirt road,
the same corrugated dirt road that we traveled 
nearly two years later when I went into labor.
There were villages located all through this area,
and all of the people who lived in them walked or rode their bikes to the mission for two primary reasons:
to receive quality medical care or
to get married in the chapel.

Every few weeks, we would drive out that road
to see how our friends were doing.
Or they would come charging into Choma,
often on the motorcycle they bought their first week there.
Their presence was a huge gift to us. Huge.
This was the small rondaval they called home for those months. It was one room, with a corrugated tin roof and an outhouse.
And you may remember how we lived . . .
in a stucco and brick house, with three bedrooms and indoor plumbing. 
Plus, we had electricity about 80% of the time.
And yes, we did feel more than a little guilty about
encouraging them to come on this adventure.
They both wanted to teach school, 
so while they waited for an assignment, 
they lived at Macha Mission. 
Ray managed this workroom, and used his considerable mechanical gifts to repair all kinds of things.
Anita made herself useful wherever she could and was 
so delighted when they rigged up cooking equipment in their small home.
Prior to that, they had to eat in the main house,
with a tribe of other workers.
Once in a while, that kind of community is a grand thing – if everyone is moderately compatible and easy-going.
But three meals a day, seven days a week?
It can be tough sledding.

In about our third month there, we had a true adventure together. 
There was a wedding at Macha – and we were invited!
The wedding was scheduled for about 10:00 a.m.,
but didn’t begin until a little after noon.
Because in Zambia, it was customary for the groom 
to purchase the attire for the bride.
This groom didn’t have a clue about sizing and the dress
he selected for his small wife-to-be was about four sizes too big. 
The entire mission staff was busily trying to make adjustments 
so that this girl could come down the aisle. 
Many safety pins and an improvised cummerbund later 
(made from a cloth diaper) – and, voila!
It worked and somehow the wedding happened.
Some western traditions were incorporated – like the clothes and the attendants. But one custom was entirely Tongan:
the bride never looked up, never smiled. Ever.
This was the most important and serious day of her life
and she was not supposed to make light of it in any way.
And she did not.
Following the ceremony, we were invited to the feast held in celebration of the new family – at the groom’s village.
The women had been cooking for hours,
gifts had been gathered,
and the couple’s new hut had been officially decorated . . .
by the groom, with new clothing, fabric and other gifts for his lovely bride.
We drove over a bike path, then a cow path, then through a small stream, where we had to get out and push the Kombi-bus. The bride and groom hitched a ride with us, however, so we knew the party couldn’t begin until we got there.
The houses in the village were made of mud bricks, the roofs thatch. The smaller structures were grain storage bins because the staple food for this entire region is ensima, a porridge made from ground field corn. Every village kept a ready supply of the tough kernels in these small, raised huts, out of the reach of hungry warthogs and wandering cattle.
 In the morning, ensima is served thin, gruel-style. 
For meals later in the day, it is quite stiff and usually served with a relish – most often vegetables, but on special occasions, chicken or beef.
This was a special occasion and there was chicken cooking in the pots!
Meals were cooked communally and sometimes eaten together, 
sometimes in smaller family units.
On this day, we were ushered into the groom’s hut and food was brought to us.
We felt overwhelmed and embarrassed by so much special attention, 
but had been told ahead of time what to expect 
and to just receive this hospitality for the lovely gift it was.
The groom’s hut was not quite as large as this one and did not have windows,
but it was cozy and welcoming.
As I recall, I was not feeling at all well that day, but I was determined not to miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience!
You can just barely see that the groom has a good supply of both sugar and hand soap – high on the list of desirable products to own.
They brought us so.much.food – stiff corn meal mush and some stewed chicken to go with it. And we loved the enamel ware bowls it came in!
This was the view looking out the door of the groom’s hut,
just a snapshot of village life.
After everyone had eaten their fill, the party began.
There was dancing,
and there was singing,
and there was gift-giving.
Each gift would be danced up to the couple –
a five-pound bag of sugar,
a box of tea,
a bar of soap or a box of soap flakes.
Everyone was delighted to be there and showered this
couple with love and generosity.
 About six weeks after this remarkable adventure,
Ray and Anita were moved 500 miles south of us
to one of the oldest mission stations of the denomination.
It was located in the beautiful, rocky landscape of the Matopos hills in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
Getting together got a lot more complicated.
We thanked God for the steam train and made the effort, however. 
And we got to see some gorgeous country in the process.
This is the school where Ray and Anita taught for nearly two years. They had indoor plumbing and generated electricity during daylight hours. They loved their students and made some long-time friends in this place.
Whenever we visited, they took us sight-seeing.
And there were such beautiful sights to see.
They came back to Zambia to visit us, too.
We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries together when we could, laughing and enjoying the long threads of our shared history.
Anita was one of the greatest friends of my life.
She taught me how to cook, how to laugh,
how to enjoy life.
She died one month before I began my life in Santa Barbara
and I have missed her ever since.

Ray was skilled at so many things and so generous with those skills! 
He and Dick shared many years of close friendship.
After we returned to the States, 
our families gathered every New Year’s Eve and Day,
and vacationed together several times.
Those ties were begun here,
in our bright red kitchen and their hilltop adobe home.
Ties that connected us heart to heart,
soul to soul.
Sharing such life-changing experiences binds people 
in ways that are hard to describe or define.
But I am eternally grateful for all of it – 
the experiences,
the ties,
the friendship.
I am so very glad we had this cross-cultural 
adventure when we were young, 
but I find that what I miss now that I am not-so-young is 
not the adventure itself, but that sense of long history with heart-friends. 
It has never been replicated in our lives.
And as I look at these old pictures,
as I read the letters I sent home,
it is this connection that I miss the most.
There simply is no substitute for it.
Thank you, Ray and Anita, for loving us well
and sharing our lives for so many years.
I miss you.

I will join this at Jennifer’s and at Emily’s and at Duane’s places. Also with Laura Boggess and with Michelle and Jen and the SDG:

What Love Looks Like in the Long Haul: a Tribute Post

This was a story I entered for one of Joe Bunting’s invitations. The theme was ‘love story,’ and this was the one I chose to write about. Most of the entrants write fiction – I do not. However, I will not vouch for accuracy of details and ‘facts’ in this account, which happened over 20 years ago. I will vouch for the truth of emotions, observances, character and commitment which this story so beautifully illustrates.
Lucille is 95 now, twice-widowed and I took this photo about four months ago.
Mentor, friend, 3rd mom in my life, Lucille Peterson Johnston, a woman of valor.

I knocked hesitantly, not wanting to wake anyone who might be sleeping. The morning was bright and warm, typical for southern California in late May. But this was the home of a very sick man and I wondered how far inside the threshold that warmth might carry.
He’d been sick before, this dear old man. Kidney cancer that was controlled and managed for over a decade. But now? Now, there was nothing more to be done and he had come home to die. No one knew how long his journey might take, nor what the detours along the way might look like. They simply told his wife, “Take him home. Love him as you have for the past fifty years. We’ll give you meds to keep him comfortable and a standing order for nursing help if you need it.”
And so she had. She’d brought him home. Home, where their own bed waited, good mattresses held by an antique wooden frame, layered with quilts from the old country. Sweden was where their family hailed from, the cold Scandinavian northlands. Hard to imagine such a place cradling these warm and loving people, but here they were. Proud, hard-working, hospitable, dedicated to God and family, surrounded by pieces of their long story together.
I entered slowly, aware that such times fairly shine with the luminous glow of a thin place, a liminal spot, a wrinkle in time between this world and the next. She led me to the bedroom, talking to him as she walked. “Harold? See who’s come to see you today?  It’s our friend, Diana. Isn’t that nice?”
He was in a fetal position, small beneath the covers, this formerly husky man, who loved his wife’s cooking and carried the evidence with pride.  His eyes blinked briefly, a smile just creasing one corner of his rugged face. No words to offer, but I hadn’t expected any. A smile would suffice, more than suffice.
His wife kept up a gentle patter, describing what I was wearing, asking me how my family was, how I was enjoying my new job on the pastoral staff of the church we all attended. Always careful to include him in the conversation, she was cheerful and genuine, without a hint of self-pity or condescension. They were best friends, these two. Had been for a very long time. They’d raised three fine children together; ran a popular shoe store in the community long past the age of retirement; volunteered in community and church leadership, working long hours for no reason other than the joy of serving.
She had more energy than anyone I had ever known, planning events for women and families, on her feet cooking for hours at a stretch, an expert on anything related to food, needlepoint, child-rearing, entertaining, small dogs, church governance, the encouragement of others. She had seen something in me and called it out, giving me responsibilities long before I thought I was ready for them. We worked side-by-side, she gently teaching, I absorbing, stretching to meet her confidence.  I learned by watching and I learned by doing. And my admiration ran deep and true.
Truth was, I missed her. Both of them were fixtures in our congregation. In their retirement, they had assumed many of the everyday duties of tending a large, aging facility. They cleaned and sorted, set up tables and chairs, kept tabs on the use of our large, beautifully planned community kitchen, a creation of her design. Sometimes, he came across as a little bit cranky, particular, over-anxious. But I knew better. I saw the softness underneath the sometimes gruff exterior, the deep commitment to things of the Spirit manifested through his commitment to the gathered body in our corner of Pasadena. “You know,” he’d say to me. “You look a little like our daughter. And our daughter looks a little like my wife. You could be our daughter, you know.” And sometimes I felt like a daughter.
They were everywhere at church, all the time, moving quietly in the background, checking to be sure things were as they should be, that people were welcomed and comfortable. Newcomers might not always know their names, but they surely knew their faces. And those of us who’d been around awhile? We knew them like we knew our own family members. Because that’s who they were.
I will never forget what she said to me that particular day I went to visit. My friend had been sick for about six months at that point, and his wife was with him every day, all day. I found it hard to imagine how she was managing, how she was embracing this life, the one with such small parameters. She who had been the center of a very busy hive was now in the backwater, tending to the needs of a single dying man.
So I asked her. We knew each other well enough, we loved each other deeply enough. “How are you doing this, my friend? How do you stay sane? Don’t you miss your life, your projects, your contributions? How are you? How are YOU?”
She was relaxed, ready for my question. She looked at me deeply, and with no hesitation said, “Diana, this is a privilege. This is a joy. I cannot imagine doing anything other than this, just exactly this.”
And I knew it was true, true right down to the tips of her well-manicured toes. She was radiating peace and contentment.
“Isn’t it hard to watch him shrivel and disappear like this?”
“Yes, of course, it’s hard. But this is what happens to all of us, you know. We all die someday. And we’ve had 52 years together. Fifty-two years of love and story-telling and story-making. Who else could do what I can do now? This is the last, best gift I can give him. And I am happy to do it.” 

He died six months later, on the eve of my first-ever sermon, an event which they had foreseen many years before. An event which they had prayed toward, and encouraged me to shoot for, walking by my side down the road through seminary and internship. So, early on that Sunday morning, those who had gathered round me to pray God’s blessing on our worship, told me very gently that Harold had gone home, with his family gathered round.  Oddly encouraging to think that both of us were encircled by love as we each stepped out onto a new leg of the journey of life, the journey of death.
And I wept. I wept with the sorrow of good-bye. I wept with the power and beauty of true love. I wept with deep gratitude that my story was interwoven with theirs. I wept because these two friends had shown me what love looks like when it’s old and well-worn and bounded by vows kept, vows honored, vows lived. I wept because of how they had modeled for me, indeed our entire community of faith, what faithfulness looks like. I wept because of the goodness of God paradoxically and beautifully revealed in and through the harsh, sometimes starkly intimate details of a protracted and difficult dying. I wept because my friends were together to the end, and now they were both free.

Adding this to Ann’s Wednesday invitation, Em’s Thursday one (if it’s open) and Duane’s, too.

A Sacramental Life

It’s a long drive from here to there, about 110 miles.
And I take a similar one every 2-3 weeks to see my mom.
But this past weekend,
I traveled those miles to make a different kind of connection,
one that spans nearly 30 years,
a lot of living, and miles of change in each of our lives.
We enjoyed the sunshine,
we sneaked in an extra chair at a very high-brow establishment 
(just because we could),
we laughed and we talked and we ate. 
Yes, we look a little bit older than the last time we did this.
And yes, there have been some stresses added to each of 
our lives in the months between our last visit and this one.
But what I carry with me into this late evening hour 
is one overarching truth, this bracing reality:
friendship across time is a holy thing,
a sacramental thing,
a gift of God to be savored, 
and relished.
I carried the sweetness of our time together all the way home,
through 45 extra minutes of snarled traffic,
fatigue and stiff knees. 
“How wonderful, how beautiful, 
when brothers and sisters get along!
   It’s like costly anointing oil
      flowing down…”
the psalmist wrote.
And the fragrance of our time was indeed,
‘wonderful and beautiful.’ 
This morning brought us back to our community,
gathering in worship to
to hear a beautiful and finely tuned exposition 
of the Word from the pulpit, 
to share in bread and cup. 
There were three relatively small things that
happened today that have stayed with me, 
late into this evening.
Three things that somehow feel woven
of the same cloth as yesterday’s gathering of friends
at a classic old hotel in South Pasadena,
three things that seem
woven of sacramental cloth. 
Today, as Pastor Jon stepped into the pulpit,
he did something we’ve never done before.
He asked us to stand, 
to reach out and hold the hand of the person
next to us, even if that person was across the aisle.
Then he said this:
“Doing this probably feels more than a little bit
awkward to you. I’m here to tell you that  
that is exactly the right posture 
for hearing the Word of God.”
And he proceeded to read the text of the 
morning, taken from the book of James. 
And we held each others’ hands 
and we listened to the Word.
We placed ourselves under that Word,
physically, literally and spiritually.
And as the words from that ancient epistle
rolled in gentle waves over our heads,
I could sense the awkwardness dissipating,
the unity and connection between us
taking shape and form and beauty in our midst.
It was a sacramental moment.
 At the conclusion of the preached word,
Jon stepped down from the pulpit to the table,
preparing to serve the people of God with
the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation.
As he did so, our Pastor to Students joined him.
Jon gently unfolded his 
and placed it around his neck.
And as Lisa came forward, I could see 
that she wore the one she received
at her ordination two years ago.
Together, they prayed over and distributed the
torn bread and cups of purple juice to
an assortment of council members
who brought them to us. 
We are not a ‘formal’ church.
I have never worn my black robe there,
nor has any other member of the pastoral staff.
But somehow, just that small, simple,
act of draping the ‘yolk of Christ’
around their necks, and over their clothes,
added an extra layer of meaning and depth
to this holy moment in the life of our congregation.
It was a sacramental gesture, 
 rich with reminder
that the Table of the Lord is a holy place,
that the food we eat 
and the drink we share
are set apart, 
consecrated, for our nourishment and
encouragement on the way. 

Our children worship with us every week
for part of the service.
But on Communion Sunday,
they are in worship the entire hour.
Sometimes this makes for a noisier congregation,
and that is just fine.
In fact, it is welcome.
Today, after the benediction,
after the postlude,
after most of the congregants streamed out
the back door into the warm California sunshine,
a third small surprise brought brief tears to my eyes.
A small blond boy named Kai
came quietly into our pew as we leaned across it,
talking with some friends we hadn’t seen in a while.
He picked up our used communion cups, 
nodded his head and 
went searching for a few more.
Just a few moments later,
the four of us who were chatting caught a glimpse
of something up front.
Kai and his big sister Ruby were taking a stack of
used communion cups and very carefully
setting them around the rim of
our beautiful, artist-designed glass baptismal font.
“I think,” said our friend,
“that maybe Ruby is doing something
wonderful with the sacraments this morning. 
Maybe even something we’ve not seen before.”
I looked across the sanctuary and gasped a little.
The effect was beautiful –
the glass bowl shimmered,
the empty cups shone,
the sweet girl was so intent and careful with her work.
It was a sacramental act of found art,
a beautiful picture of the Body of Christ
at its very best.
Word and water,
bread and cup,
contemplation and action –
all of it woven together into a beautiful
garment of praise. 
As followers of Jesus,
we are invited into this whole-cloth,
beautifully woven sacramental life.
We are called to live that life as if
every moment is holy,
every person is a saint,
every gesture is an offering,
every common thing is an altar.
Because this is the truth,
the deep, beautiful, holy truth.
THIS life, this one life –
with its joys and its sorrows,
its gifts and its burdens –
it is a sacrament.
Glory be.  
Joining with Michelle, Jennifer, Jennifer, Ann and Duane today for their 
lovely invitations to share what we’re learning, what we’re thankful for,
what surprise us, what Sunday teaches us and how we see the promises of God at work.
Somehow, they all seem pertinent to these scattered recollections today. 
I’ll also tuck it in with Laura and her Playdates with God.


Losing a Mentor: A Re-Post Plus a Tribute

I am re-posting this one from last January,
in honor of Abbot David Geraets,
my spiritual director and friend,
who died on Friday morning.

These are words I wrote to a few friends earlier today about my response to receiving this sad news:
My mentor died on Friday. He was 77 years old – only 10 years older than I am – 
and he’d battled a number of ailments this past year. 
But still…I didn’t think he would DIE.

We all die. 

I know this in my head. 
I even know it in my heart, 
as we’ve lost a lot of dear ones in the last 10 years. 
Yet each time I get a phone call like the one I got on Friday afternoon, I am bereft. Like part of me has been sliced with a very sharp blade 
and all that pours out are tears.

I took my usual evening walk on Friday, walking circles around our large driveway parking area. I’ve been learning to pray while I walk this past year – many fewer words, lots more images. But what I found myself doing on Friday was simply saying the name of Jesus, over and over and over again.

And here is why: a friend had posted a very old video on YouTube. A video of the mentor I had just lost. This clip, filmed in 1986, was an interview with Abbot David (who, at that time, led a much larger community in New Mexico) by a nun named Mother Elizabeth. Now may I just add, with a repentant heart and spirit, that if I had seen this video when it was filmed 26 years ago, I would have either switched it off immediately, or watched it with a sort of gleeful feeling of superiority to those ‘weirdos’ in the habits and collars. I’m ashamed and embarrassed to admit that, but it’s the hard truth.

I watched all 30 minutes of that grainy old video, marveling at the sweetness in David’s face, the kindness of his words and the truth of his life. I met with him monthly for the last three years, receiving spiritual direction in the form of dream interpretation. He was an expert at that and also at encouragement and gentle prayer. In this video, he suggested praying the Jesus prayer (which has been a favorite prayer practice of mine for about ten years) or just simply saying the name of Jesus over and over for 20 or 30 minutes. I have discovered that following Abbot David’s advice is a very helpful thing. (I wrote a post about the benefits of one piece of that advice at the end of January.)

So on that first afternoon after this dear man’s death, that’s what I did when I walked. I cannot put into words how intensely moving it was for me, in these initial hours of grief, to just say the Name over and over and over again. And I wept my way through a 45 minute time of walking, praying, remembering, celebrating. I will never again feel the dear Abbot’s fingers make the sign of the cross on my bent forehead at the end of our hour together. I will not be blessed by his hand when I receive my certificate in spiritual direction next August. I will not engage with him in friendly, loving conversation.

And that is a huge, huge loss to me.

And to so many.

Thank you Abbot David Geraets for your loving commitment to Jesus, for your years of kindness, wisdom and gentle correction, for your heart as big as the sky above the ranch you and the brothers live(d) in out in the back country of San Luis Obispo.

I will be grateful for your presence in my life during these pivotal years in mine until the day I die.

And then I will hug you fiercely.

SLO stands for San Luis Obispo, a town 115 miles north of my home. 
This was our late-lunch view today, as we traveled home again.
One day each month,
I take a road trip.
This particular road trip is not like 
the other ones I take.
I’m not going to take care of my mother.
I’m not going to enjoy my children and my grandchildren.
I’m not going on vacation.
Strike that.
I am going on a vacation, of sorts.
I am vacating the usual rhythm of my days 
to embrace a different one.
And I find that I am hungry for re-creation as I travel.
I am eager to be addressed as…
Not as wife/mother/grandmother/daughter/
Just me.
Child of God.
Stumbling follower of Jesus.
Seeker after wisdom.
And this is where I go.
A strange looking monastery,
one that used to be the ‘dream house’
of a retired dentist,
but was bought by some monks 
from New Mexico to be their community home. 
The monastery is the long white, 
red-tiled house to the left in this shot. 
To the right of the drive, is the chapel & bookshop
with a couple of additional bedrooms.
To the left of the drive, below the monastery itself,
is the home of Connie, the oblate who lives on the premises
and assists the brothers.
There are only five or six of them now,
praying the hours,
assisting the people of a dozen parishes
with healing prayer, special masses and spiritual direction.
This is where I meet my spiritual director every month.
The sign says it all:
And this is the view from that house, 
in the springtime,
when all the hills are green and the sky is blue.
And this is the man I meet with in that house:
Abbott David.
Spiritual Father to this small band,
and an acclaimed leader in the 
charismatic renewal movement 
 of the Roman Catholic Church.
He is a remarkable man, gifted and humble.
Did I ever tell you how we met?
Now, that’s a great story.
“Once upon a time, there was a tired pastor,
full to overflowing with the needs of her congregation, 
the struggles in her family.
She had tried direction a couple of times,
with mixed results.
“Not a good fit,” was the diagnosis,
whatever that means.
For her, it felt like failure.
And she is not a fan of failure.

So she began to pray about it,
to search for someone.
She even went online, used Google
and found a monastery website.
Not a fancy, bells-and-whistles kind of place,
that website.
And the monastery featured there was over 100 miles away.
But something caught her eye,
her spirit.
 And email responses were invited.
So she sent off a note.
“Is there anyone there interested and available
to offer direction to a tired
female pastor,
one who needs listening ears,
wise words,
some guidance along the way?”
That was in July of 2007.

Nothing came back.

So, she got on with life,
a life that was feeling a bit overwhelming
about then.
And she forgot all about that note.

One early morning, in September of the following year,
after her initial inquiry,
her cell phone rang.
Puzzled at the early hour, she picked it up.
“Abbott David here,” a strong, friendly voice declared.
“You wrote about spiritual direction?”

And she burst into laughter.
“Yes,” she said. “I did. Over a year ago!

“Really?” came the response. 
“Because I just received this yesterday.
Would you like to meet with me and see if this
might be what you’re looking for?”
They set a date for one week later,
she drove up the 101, took the country road out to 
his place and sat,
absolutely fascinated and astounded as he told
her his story.
Raised on a farm in Wisconsin,
paid his way through college by playing
trumpet in a dance band,
became a priest,
sent by his order to
study in Rome,
specialist in Jungian psychology
and dream analysis.
“If you work with me, you’ll keep a dream journal.
And that’s what we’ll talk through each month.”

She was hooked – line, sinker, bobble, lure – 
the whole kit and caboodle.
“Thank you, Jesus,” she cried to the heavens as she headed south again 
at the end of the hour.

Before their next visit,
there was a tragic death in her immediate family.
And before the following visit,
there was a ferocious wildfire in her community,
stripping lifetime memories from many in her congregation.
Within the first year, she herself landed in the hospital, was forced to make a major shift in her own training
program to become a director herself,
and by the second year, she was enrolled in the Abbott’s school for spiritual direction certification.
Not sure that she lived happily ever after,
but deeper ever after? That would be a big ‘yes.'”

Now I would call that whole tale
a God-thing.
My friend Jennifer might call it “God-Bumps” or a “God-Incidence.”
All I can tell you is that my entire spiritual journey
took a decisive turn upward from the moment
I heard that voice on the phone:
“Abbot David here. You wrote….?”
Abbott David leading mass in the monastery chapel.
Today, I had only one dream for the month.
Of my own, that is.
I also shared a tricky one from someone I am directing.
Somehow, this kind, brilliant man
(who has been seriously ill this year)
wove those two together, asked me some penetrating
questions, and helped me think about myself
in some new ways.
“You’ve spent your whole life relying on your left brain, Diana, your intellect. 
It’s time to learn to trust your gut, your intuition. 
You need to spend long stretches of time just sitting and looking at the ocean.
Do that long enough so that eventually, you find yourself on the other side of the picture – you’ll be the ocean, looking back at you. 
And take a look at what you see when that happens.
I think you’ll like what you find.
Be still long enough to let the beauty in,
to let God in,
to shift inside from reason to intuition.
Learn to trust that,
to know that God meets you there, too.
This is the gift of aging, Diana.
There is gift in all of life.”
I sure hope he’s right.
I’m counting on it. 
Stopping at Costco on our way home this evening,
I looked up from loading the bags into the back of the car and saw this. 
My gut said, “Grab that camera, even if it is the little one, 
even if the picture won’t be sharp.”
So I did.
The gift of the present moment.
Right brain all the way
Joining with Jennifer and her “God-Bumps” meme and with Ann and her Walk with Him Wednesday invite.  Even though this is way too long – two posts in one, actually – I’m also joining with a few friends with very different invitations – not because this post in any way ‘matches’ with most of them, but because it’s a big piece of my heart right now and I’d like them to know.
 Bonnie & the two Laura’s and Michelle, too:

On In Around button



Last night I found a note from a good friend in my e-box. Someone I’ve missed since she took another job halfway across the country 18 months ago. Someone with whom I had found common ground here in Santa Barbara, very soon after I arrived 10 years ago. I was so very green around the ears professionally. I had come to my first paying job since working as a personal assistant to a friend almost twenty years before. I was deeply frightened about expectations, both known and unknown, and about my ability (or inability, to be more accurate) to live up to them. The first day I drove up here, with my little Ford Escort loaded to the gills with supplies, my husband put me in the car with sobs and hugs, a rather unusual mode of farewell, to be sure!

We were both excited about the prospects of ‘being sent’ to a new place. (Yes, I know it was Santa Barbara – I’ve heard the sardonic comments about ‘somebody has to serve Jesus in Santa Barbara…’ too many times to count!) but it was a new place, a strange place and it certainly wasn’t a place that ‘felt’ like us. My husband sobbed for me because he had already been in the working world for a lot of years and he fully understood about expectations, about performance anxiety, about awkward personnel issues, about office politics, about hard decisions and about sacrificial labor. He wondered what I would find and he knew he couldn’t be with me for my first few days. His job required (and still requires) him to be in southern CA 3 days per week. My new job meant living in a guest house until we found a home, much of the time without him beside me. It was a strange feeling, after 30 years of marriage, to be without my partner for days at a time.

And I had left behind rich and deep friendships of many years in southern CA. Neighbors and small group partners and co-workers whom I loved. I had been a pastor for 3 years at this point, but I was working in the church where I had already been a lay leader for 21 years and my friendships there had come first. So coming to a new parish – without friends and, oddly, where no one knew me in the context of my family – was strange for me. This was a place where my new boss warned me against making friends within the congregation. I think he was trying to help me establish the same kind of boundaries he had worked on very well for a very long time. Even though he had a number of close associates of many years’ duration within the broader church community, he was careful to tell me that only his small group of male pastors, all of whom lived in other geographical areas, really knew him well. I have since learned that this is not atypical for pastors who are men.

So, I spent almost two years afraid to let anybody get too close, afraid to be my neurotic, vulnerable, broken self with the people I met and grew to know and love. And during those same two years, I was finding a house, moving into a house, trying to live in that house without my ‘stuff’ – our house in Altadena took 11 months to sell – and doing it all without my husband here from Tuesday to Thursday every single week. I was deeply and desperately lonely.

Then I went to lunch with Karen. She, too, was a midlife seminary student. She, too, had deep ties to her mom and family who were living elsewhere. She, too, wrestled with balance and friendships and all sorts of the same kinds of stuff that I was wrestling with. We met for meals about 3 times a semester while she taught in Santa Barbara and those meals helped me begin to feel real in my new home. Gradually, I was able to be more myself – with her, and with others. Gradually, I felt the freedom to be a pastor and a friend in my own way, following the leading of the Spirit and being true to the person God had made me to be. It wasn’t easy, but it was so worth it.

So when I saw her name in my e-box, I was glad and grateful. It was sweet and good to hear from her – she is busy with her life and her family, and so am I. Hopefully, we can maintain some sort of contact, despite the distance and the pulls we each respond to, both personally and professionally. I know from painful personal experience that it is not easy to do that. Many of my friends from only 110 miles away are now Christmas letter friends only, and that is sometimes hard for me. But then, there are a few dear ones with whom I can instantly be deeply connected, even after many months of no contact, and for these ones, I thank God.

My BBC (Birthday Breakfast Club) from Pasadena – dear friends with whom I have maintained some semblance of relationship since the move north. These women were God’s gift to me for many years – four of them walked with me into the admissions office when I applied for seminary – and all of them encouraged my gifts and listened to my story with love and wisdom.