A Living Hope — Remembering Lucille Peterson Johnston

I had the privilege of giving the homily and pastoral prayer at the Witness to the Resurrection Service for one of my dearest friends, amazing Lucille.  A mentor to me for 43 years, she lived a full, rich life, fully using her gifts of leadership, hospitality, generosity, inclusion, encouragement, creativity and joie de vivre. I thank God for her. I am posting this short piece here for anyone who loved her and was unable to travel to Santa Barbara today for the service. I wish I could give you the entire time — the memories, the singing, the piano music, the laughter. Maybe this will give you a tiny piece of the whole.


They’re all gone now — all of my mothers. My own mom, the one who birthed and raised me, died last year at the age of 95. My husband’s mom, the one who welcomed and included me, died in 2014 at the age of 98.

And Lucille, the mom who mentored me, who saw gifts in me I didn’t see in myself; the one who challenged me to begin the slow, steady work of becoming a pastor — now she is gone, too, at the amazing age of 102.

And I feel each loss profoundly.There are no substitutes for any of these remarkable women. None. Each one was a gift of God in my life — planting seeds, modeling courage, living a life of faith and faithfulness, fully and well.

So I join with Cindy and Curt and Jim and their families in grieving today. There is a huge hole in the universe that opened last weekend, one that will never be filled in exactly the same way. And it’s important to say so, to acknowledge and make room for the tears, to pause and let it sink in that someone with a larger-than-life presence is no longer touchable, no longer filling that unique and particular space in our lives and hearts. And that is painful.

But here is something else that is true, perhaps even more true than the pain: even in death, we have a living hope. That is why, as I stand here and you sit there, we can all link arms and give testimony to this truth:

          our gratitude is wider, deeper and greater than our grief.

And if Lucille were here with us, I’d offer to help her design a needlepoint purse that says exactly that!

            Our gratitude is greater than our grief.

All week long, I have been overwhelmed with the depth of my gratitude — to God for the gift of this woman in my life, to Lucille, for being who she was, and to all of you for sharing her so generously with all of us. There is no one like her — never has been, never will be.

Now we all know, she wasn’t perfect. Not one of us is. But I gotta say this — she came really, really close, didn’t she? She had strong opinions and she shared them. She liked to be in charge and she was scarily good at it. She never garnered a long list of degrees after her name, but her intelligence was through the roof. And she adored her family — every single member of her family — the ones she bore and the ones some of them married, and the kids they bore and the kids they married, and now the kids the kids had!

And then, there were all those cousins and aunts, her amazing sisters, the two remarkable husbands and an entire step-family. All of you were shining stars in her universe and I hope you know that, way down deep inside you. Because to be loved by Lucille Peterson Johnston — that is a rich gift, one with lasting impact and importance, one that changes you from the inside out.

In the midst of my own remembering, and on the rising tide of my gratitude, I’ve reflected on why that last point is true. Why is it that the love of a person like Lucille has the power to change us?

I think it’s this: Lucille was the embodiment of what it means to live firmly situated in the ‘living hope’ that Peter talks about in the first chapter of his first epistle. Lucille walked the talk. She knew God, up close and personally. She radiated energy and life and hope, which, if you think about it, is a pretty risky thing to do. Because when we allow ourselves to hope, we open ourselves to the strong possibility — maybe even the likelihood — of massive disappointment. Sometimes, living in hope can feel tenuous, uncertain, even frightening.

But here’s the thing about the kind of hope that Peter is talking about here, — this living hope is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, “oh, I hope, I hope, I hope I get what I want” kinda deal. No. Peter’s kind of hope — God’s kind of hope, Lucille’s kind of hope — is alive — it has wings and a beating heart and it can move us to do remarkable and world-changing things.

“By his great mercy,” Peter wrote to the church, “God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (NRSV)

It begins with the mercy of God, and it continues through a life lived in hope, and is brought to completion when we reach the moment of our inheritance. And that is where our dear Lucille is right now, friends. She is experiencing the completion of the living hope that was her life on planet earth. She is enjoying the company of God in ways we can only imagine, and she is surrounded by nothing but love. Nothing.

Harold and Roy are there, of course. And her mom, whom she moved across the country to care for so many years ago. And sweet Drake, who left us way too soon. And her sisters, Doris and Betty, and so many friends, too many to count. And before we know it, we will be there, too — some of us sooner than others.

But between now and then, we have work to do, don’t we? We have the remarkable task of carrying on her legacy, of letting that living hope empower us to be the truest, fullest, richest persons we can be. Because here’s the wonderful truth — Lucille knew herself. She knew who she was, what her gifts were, whom she loved. And she was the very best Lucille she could be, wasn’t she?

That’s what the mercy of God can do, you see. That’s what living in hope births in us — a growing awareness of who God is, yes, indeed. But also a growing awareness of who WE are, and a deepening desire to live these lives we’ve been given fully aware and fully awake.

So thank you, Lucille, for being you. For showing us the way to the good life, for calling out the best in us, for reminding us, with that ever-present twinkle, that there is always more to come.

And thank you, God, for giving her to us and for giving us to one another.

 

Will you pray with me, please?

 

Loving God, Risen Savior, Gentle Spirit,

How we thank you for the gift of Lucille. For her grace and beauty, for her warm hospitality, for her generous and thoughtful gifts of love and inclusion to so many people. We miss her. And this family misses her most of all. Enliven us with your presence, even as we sit together in grief. Remind us of that hope with wings that Jesus makes possible.

We pray especially today for all these ones in the front rows, the family Lucille loved so dearly. Will you bring the healing balm of tears and of laughter, the soothing comfort of memories, of photographs and family history, of things shared only by them?

And will you bring to all of our hearts and minds our own special and sweet remembrances of Lucille’s endless gifts — rich gifts of creativity and hospitality and leadership. And empower each of us, by the work of your Spirit within us, to live our lives as fully as possible. To know ourselves, to deepen our walk with you, to reach out to others with the kind of welcome that Lucille modeled for all of us, the kind of welcome that she experienced because she knew you so very well.

No, there will never be another one like her, Lord. And that is exactly as it should be. Thank you for your loving design, O God, your careful and invigorating breath of life, that Spirit that is uniquely breathed into each and every one of your human creatures. Thank you especially that the Wind you breathed into Lucille blew our way for so many years.

It is all gift.

In the name of Jesus, the one who loves us and walks with us, we pray today. Amen.

 

 

 

 

A Prayer for Those in Need of Goodness and Mercy

Whenever I am invited to pray in public, I try to post those prayers in this space. Sometimes, people ask me for a copy and this is the easiest way to make that happen. In our church community, we find ourselves in a surprising season of discord and misunderstanding. We’re working on it! And the sermon for the day helped, as did the song that just preceded this prayer, “Psalm 23,” with the chorus that begins with, “Surely goodness, surely mercy” Yes, indeed. Please, Lord. (Our primary teaching text was Zechariah 8)

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Oh, Good Shepherd, we gather together in this place,
at this time in our history and in the history of the world, to acknowledge —
out loud and with all of who we are —
that we stand in need of goodness, we stand in need of mercy.
Every last one of us as individuals, and all of us together as your people at Montecito Covenant Church. All of us.

We need to remember, and to give thanks for, the truth that You are on our side,
even though the valley be dark and the way ahead, uncertain.

Lead us, O Lord, into green pastures. Restore our souls, refresh us with the water of life, remind us that we belong to You, and remind us that You are good.

Even as we acknowledge that goodness in You, O God, we must also own the truth that we are sometimes not so good.

We step on toes, 
we say harsh things,
we talk about others when they are not present,
we make judgments with incomplete facts,
we make assumptions,
and stand on entitlement,
and fail to practice grace and peace.

Forgive us, O God. Forgive us. And help us to forgive one another, too.

The climate in the world around us right now is not particularly conducive to forgiveness, nor to goodness and mercy. So it seems even more important than usual that we — as members of Christ’s body — practice what we preach. Will you help us to do that, please?

The text before us today reminds us of some of those things we preach, and we need to hear them, we really do. Bless Pastor Jon as he brings us your word for today. Give us ears to hear, O God, give us hearts to understand, and give us feet that walk out that truth into our world, beginning with the patio, and then the lunch tables we will share together a little later today. May your grace and joy infuse every conversation, guiding us into wisdom, and good decision-making.

Most of all, Lord God, will you help us to let your goodness and mercy inform what we say and do in our day-to-day living? That is not always easy for us. Some of us are in the throes of deep grief during these days of summer —

loved ones die,
relationships dissolve,
circumstances take a nosedive,
hard decisions must to be made,
ugly voices rise to the top in too many dialogues,
children suffer,
politicians seldom tell the truth,
poverty of all kinds surrounds us,
wars never end.

To us, the world feels a shambles, and we forget about goodness and mercy.

But we are not YOU, O God. Help us to look around us and see what you see — a world in need. . . yes. But a world that is also deeply loved, a world held in place by a Good and Merciful Sovereign, a world in which we are invited to partner with that Good Sovereign in the necessary work of restoration, reconciliation, recovery, and renewal.

We give you thanks this day for the evidence of that good work in the lives of those graduating from Bethel House and the Rescue Mission last night, celebrated right here, in our sanctuary. And we give you thanks for the changed hearts in thousands of teenagers, including some of our own, who were at the CHIC conference in Tennessee this past week. Thank you!

Bless and encourage every hurting heart in this room, O God. And use each of us to make that blessing real. Help us to be good neighbors — to each other, and to all those we meet day by day. Because everybody, from the grocery clerk to the rude driver behind us, needs a little goodness and mercy in their life, too.

They need the truth that we already know: that all of us belong to you — every last, mixed-up, weird and wonderful one of us.

Glory be.

In the name of Jesus — who loves us, who died for us, and who, by the power of the Spirit, was raised to new life, the One who dwells today in the church, including this one, in that name, we, together say,

AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Prayer for the Table — Second Sunday in Lent, 2018

IMG_0684A Prayer for the Table
offered on the Second Sunday in Lent, March 4, 2018
Montecito Covenant Church
coming out of a powerful sermon from Jeremiah 29,
preached by Pastor Jon Lemmond

Lord Almighty, you are our God in the midst of life —
in good times and in hard times,
in beauty and in disarray,
in success and in failure,
in life and in death.
Thank you.

Thank you that you know our names,
that you care about our story,
and that you invite us to make our home in you.
Thank you most of all, on this day, on this Lenten Sunday,
that you take the broken pieces of our hearts
and weave them together to make art,
in ways we cannot now imagine.

Even so, Lord, empower our imaginations —
give us glimpses of the possible,
even when everything around us feels decidedly the opposite.
And help us to begin . . . always, to begin . . . with gratitude.

Thank you for today,
for safety through the storm,
for comfort in grief,
for inspiration from the Word.
Thank you for friends,
for beautiful spaces in which to sit,
for music that stirs our hearts and lifts our spirits.

Thank you for faithful leaders who try to listen well
to the movement of your Spirit and who hang onto you
when it gets murky out there.

Thank you for gray heads, and newborn baby heads,
for the laughter of children, and the tears of caring adults,
for the sturdy curiosity of adolescents,
some of whom are traveling back from winter camp today,
and for the burgeoning maturity of college students.
Thank you for the community we enjoy today,
in the here and now, and for the communion of saints,
all those who have moved ahead of us to life eternal.

Special thanks today for the multiple beauties of divine and human creation
all around us in this beat-up-but-not-defeated town we call home.

Thank you most of all on this day, for the table — this tangible reminder 
that even the most horrific event is not beyond the redemptive power of your love. Thank you for the beauty of broken bread and poured out grapes,
for the grace of saying and hearing the words, for the way you,
O God of the Broken Beautiful,
can take the most common, ordinary things and transform them
into nourishment for body and soul.

Thank you for feeding us well.

We began with gratitude, Lord, but we need to also make space for lament today.
Our hearts are broken for the Gross family,
in the loss of Jordan this past week. 

Surround them with your love, help them to find peace
in the midst of their pain,

to find their way to a completely new definition of life
as they have known it for the past 22 years.
Lord, have mercy.

There are others of us in the throes of grief, too, Almighty One. 
We are people who always hold some kind of pain, even as we smile and nod. 
For some of us, the pain comes from the loss of loved ones; 
for some, it comes from dealing with our own illness.
Others are dealing with job loss, or with financial insecurity,
or troubled relationships.

Many of us wrestle with hard questions about faith or about the future.

Hear us now, as we offer names to you,
names that represent some kind of story of need and uncertainty.
Help us to trust that you hear and answer as we lift them to you:

Prepare us now, O God, to receive you anew.
Help us to rest in your healing power and in your forgiveness.
Teach us the truth of Jeremiah — that there is life to be lived,
there is beauty to be found, 
even though we may feel overwhelmed, defeated or abandoned.
Even in exile, you are here, the God who can be found.
Help us, dear God, to make our home in you.

Amen.

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Undone: SheLoves — February 2018

Well. The theme this month is “hidden,’ and what came out of my fingertips surprised me. True confessions time, friends, that’s what this one is. Start here and then click over to SheLoves to finish reading and to tell me about how you choose to come out of hiding . . .

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In my therapy session this week (yes, I talk to a therapist every week, have done so for 25 years), the word that emerged was this one: ‘undone.’

Exactly right.

The entire session had felt like a chaotic purge of some sort, one story after another, tumbling out, seemingly unconnected. And yet, as she so often does, at the end of it all, my therapist said to me, “Diana, you are talking today about things that are undone, starting with yourself.”

Ouch.

SO on target, and exactly what I needed to hear. Over the course of my L O N G years of living, I have learned that it often takes this kind of unfettered babbling for the underlying truths of my life to emerge. Why? I think it’s because much of the time, we are hidden people, tucked away, even from ourselves, and turning the spigot of story-sharing to ‘on’ loosens the fences we have built. This is especially true when we are feeling under siege, which has been my default mental setting for many months now. Hard thing, after hard thing, after hard thing — and as I have struggled to make sense of it all, I retreat behind this huge, self-protective bunker.

Sometimes that kind of hidden is a good and necessary thing. When life goes crazy, we need to marshal our resources and hunker down. Pulling in every excess emotion and lining them up in a safe place enables us to more forward, offer help, stand next to others who are fighting similar battles.

But in the long haul, remaining hidden becomes a liability, not an asset. We need to come out from behind the barricade and take a good, long look at everything that is happening — outside of us and inside of us. And for me, this week, that meant admitting that way too many things in my life are in a state of undone-ness.

There are at least two ways to define that word, seems to me. Undone in the sense of incomplete, and undone in the sense of unraveled. Both are true for me — and my guess is, for most people — at multiple points along this journey called life. There are projects to complete, relationships to tend, ideas to make real. And then, there are people in terrible trouble, decisions that cause chaos, and situations that appear hopeless.

Incomplete and unraveled, yea and amen. That is me right now. . . 

Follow this link to continue reading and to join the conversation . . .

Flickers in the Dark: SheLoves — January 2018

Our writing theme for this January is, “A Little Light, Please.” Looking for it in he midst of a horrific tragedy in our central coast community. Follow the link at the bottom to get to the rest of this reflection:

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We taught Confirmation again this morning, my husband, Anna, our student ministries director, and I. We have done this every Sunday since September of last year and it is a task we love. On the attendance roster this year are 17 middle school students, full of energy, kind-hearted, generous, funny and smart.

Today, however was different. There were only eight students around the table at 8:45 this morning, much quieter than usual. I brought homemade granola, fresh berries, coffee cake and OJ, which they gratefully inhaled, and today, we sat together and talked. No lesson this week — at least, no lesson from the binder that contains our two-year course of study. The topic for today was, “Resurrection, Jesus Lives!” and we did reference that powerful part of our shared story during our time together. But a lesson plan, with discussion questions, art projects, readers’ theater or any of the other rich resources that are available to us each week? No, there was none of that.

Instead, we shared stories. We began with stories of devastation, loss, terror and sorrow. In the early morning hours of the previous Tuesday, our community was hit by a deadly combination of events. A rainstorm of record-breaking intensity fell on mountainous landscape that had just been scraped and seared by the largest wildfire in the history of our state.

And the mountain came down.

Boulders larger than small houses, century-old trees, automobiles, even entire homes, were swept downstream toward the ocean, taking twenty human lives away forever and injuring scores of others. Four of those killed were children. One of those rescued from a six-hour burial in thick, viscous mud, was a member of our youth group — the same age as the students around that table. Her father died, her brother is still missing, her mom is in the hospital with multiple injuries, expected to recover.

All of this happened in the dead of night, in a pouring rainstorm, on narrow, windy roads with limited access in the best of times. Swiftly moving debris caused a gas main to explode, destroying one home, scorching parts of several others. That blazing torch provided an eerie light in the midst of all the destruction.

In every other way, it was very, very dark. . .

To read more, please click here.

Wretchedly Familiar: When Life Feels Unfair — SheLoves, November 2017

Have you ever had a really bad day, or an even worse week? How about a terrible month? Try multiple months? Yeah. That’s kinda like where I’ve been this year. So I did some reflecting on that over at SheLoves this month. The theme this month? “Return.” Please come on over and join us!

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Wasn’t it just two months ago that I wrote about lament in this space? I checked, friends, and yes, it was. In September. Today, I find myself needing to return to those songs-in-a-minor-key for a while longer. October’s theme opened my sad heart to a season of rejoicing, for remembering all of the gracious things in my life for which I can joyfully and loudly thank God.

But at this moment in time, as I sit down to write for November, I find the syllables of lament are oh-so-necessary. I am returning to the language that lets me enter my own sadness, that gives me permission to fully experience the pain of this moment on the journey that is my life.

One month ago yesterday, an ER doc told me that I had blood clots in both lungs and that one of them had caused an ‘infarct,’ which means tissue death (!!), thus causing the sudden, severe back pain of the previous 30 hours. He sent me home that evening with a new blood thinning medication, to be taken twice a day for the next month. I was also told to visit a long list of specialists, including the hematologist who had been working with me for the last seven years. He would prescribe a new drug at a new dosage to try and prevent this from happening again.

Because, you see, it had already happened once. Which is exactly why this particular ‘returning’ was not on my bucket list. The first event in 2010 put me on the only blood thinner available back then – Coumadin, a drug difficult to manage and which complicated my life for five years. In 2015, I managed to tear a muscle in my abdomen, causing significant internal bleeding and sending me to the hospital for two days. At that point, they reversed the effects of the Coumadin and took me off blood thinning meds, hopefully forever. Hooray!

Now, I am back on them — this time, for good. There are newer versions today, easier to manage, but not without risk. That is sobering. I am seeing a long list of specialists to rule out any other kind of damage to heart or kidneys and must take it easy for another couple of months. And all of it feels so wretchedly familiar. I did not want this to happen again, but . . . it has.

So now, what do I do about this particular ‘return’ in my life? Part of me wants to put on my big-girl pants and suck it up. That’s my go-to, life-long pattern. It feels familiar and even a little comforting. But the reality is, I am now seven years older than I was the last time this happened. And I’m in a season of grief and loss. SEVEN people close to me have died since my mom’s death in April. Two others (three, if I include myself) have received difficult medical news, all involving ongoing treatment, one with a terminal diagnosis, most likely in the next few years.

I feel inundated by sadness, overwhelmed by all the pain in the world at large and in my circle of family and friends in particular. And far more than action, or even re-action, I find that what I need is . . .

Click right here to discover what is helping in this season . . .

Making Room for Lament: SheLoves — September 2017

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In the months from April to August of this year, we have attended five funerals and sent a eulogy to be read at a sixth. These were services of worship and remembrance, held in honor of people we loved, people whose lives intersected with ours regularly, even when those lives were very short.

It began with my mom’s death on the 19th of April after a 7-year journey through dementia. At the end of May, we dealt with the shock of an accidental drowning — a 2-year-old grandson in our extended congregational family. That death was followed about five weeks later by the loss of a dear woman friend and leader in our community. She died only 7 months after an abrupt diagnosis of stage 4 cancer.

The week we came back from vacation in early August, we attended an emotional farewell for a dear 8-year-old boy who was born with only half a heart, and whose life had a lasting impact on our entire city. At the end of that same week, we listened to parts of a life story we had never heard, as we said good-bye to a faithful woman in our congregation who passed away at the age of 105. In the middle of last month, I received news of the anticipated death of a former colleague and partner in ministry who had a heart attack and a brain bleed while in the physical therapist’s clinic. We traveled 100 miles south to be there for his stunned widow and adult children.

I suppose I should not be surprised that the most self-descriptive word I can come up with these days is, ‘weary.’ Although I ‘do not grieve as those who have no hope,’ I grieve nonetheless. I don’t think I have begun to fully internalize all the facets of my mom’s death, what it means to be an orphan in this world. That truth tells me that there is even less space inside to grieve well for each of the other losses which have left such huge holes in our lives.

So the words I want to amplify in this particular season are the beautiful and necessary words of lament. Those words that speak the pain in us out into the atmosphere, those words that call us to be fully human, acknowledging that it sometimes hurts to be alive when others are no longer breathing beside us. I want to make space inside — and outside — for the tears that bring healing, tears that tell stories, tears that say, “I loved them and I can no longer whisper that truth into their ears.”

So let me say this as loudly and as clearly as written space in an e-magazine will allow: lament is required when we walk through the valley. Imagine that I am using my big-girl, outdoor voice when you read those words, will you? Because this is important: there is no such thing as loss without pain and suffering. The bromides and clichés that are too often bandied about at such times are less than useless. In fact, they can be harmful. People do not want to hear about “God’s plan” when they are in shock, when they are completely exhausted and empty, when they don’t know how they are going to get through the next hour, much less the next year. . . 

Please click here to read the remainder of this reflection and to join the conversation at one of the finest magazines on the interweb.

Charlottesville: No Words — SheLoves, August, 2017

Do you find yourself at the limit of things right now? I do. Here are my reflections for SheLovesMagazine this month — you can begin this essay here, then click over to join the conversation there. I hope you will!

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I like to think of myself as a person of words. I love to read, talk, preach and write — all of which require some facility with language. I even had a dear friend whisper in my ear a week or so ago, “You know what I love about you? Your vocabulary!” My what?? Well, okay, I’ll take it!

But at this particular moment in time, in the aftermath of the horrors of Charlottesville this past weekend, I find myself at a complete loss. I discover very few words anywhere within my usually active brain. I feel unmoored, uncertain, frightened and deeply, truly sad.

I am a person who does not understand cruelty. So deep is this lack of comprehension that I often feel powerless and rudderless in the face of it. I’ve known a few people in my lifetime whose currency is cruelty. Blunt, thoughtless, critical remarks are their stock-in-trade, and every time one of those remarks is directed toward me, I stutter and stumble around, trying to find a comeback, a simple sentence that will stop the flood of vitriol.

Nada. Nothing. No words.

What is with that??

It’s not that I want to be cruel back. Honest and true, it is not. It’s that I simply do not know what to do in the face of it. If it’s directed at someone else in the circle, I can sometimes muster an objection or a clarification, but I never make it as far as a firm, clear, push-back that stops the ugliness. More often than not, I beat a retreat as quickly as I can and then ponder it all for days and days. What could I have said? What could I have done? What should I do next time?

Today, I am past pondering. I am done. And the one word that keeps coming back to me, over and over again is this one: ENOUGH. Stop. Just stop. Put away your swastikas, burn them all. You may have a legal right to your misguided opinion, but you do not have the right to name-call, bully, harass, or drive your automobile into a crowd of folks who disagree with you, and are brave enough to stand up and say so.

There are no more cheeks to be turned, my friends. None. And I refer you to the fine work of Walter Wink, written decades ago, about the subversive nature of the words of Jesus that have been so abused in the centuries since they were uttered. Turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile were acts of resistance to an intolerable government and they are beautiful things when rightly understood. They are not useful as tokens, bromides, or any other sugar-coating of evil words and deeds. Evil demands resistance. Full stop.

And what we witnessed this past weekend, what we’ve seen over and over and over again in the systematic killing of people of color, is evil. It is an evil that has its roots in fear, the ‘elephant in the room’ I wrote about last month, but it is evil, nonetheless.

Continue reading at SheLoves today, friends. I’d love to hear how you’re doing and, even more importantly, what you’re doing about our national sin and need for repentance. And if you are not a resident of the USA, your comments and insights are always welcome — we clearly need help. Just click right here.

Waking Mathilda — A Book Review and A Heartfelt Recommendation

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There are lots of stories waiting to be told in this world. Some of them are interesting, good to read, mildly educational, even helpful. Others are lightweight, distracting, bring a wry smile or a loud laugh. There is room for stories like those — I read them a lot and I share about them here, from time to time.

Then there are the stories that are startling, stunning, that move you out of your complacent satisfaction with the status quo. Stories that send you to your knees in thanksgiving for your own particular patch of suffering and struggle, simply because what those stories tell is so overwhelmingly difficult.

I know a few people who live such stories, some of them quite close to me. Most of those people would never attempt to write their stories down — out of fear or exhaustion or lack of skill.

Then there is Claire Crisp.

She knows all about exhaustion, and she knows all about fear, but she is also a skilled narrator who is not afraid to tell it like it is, without flinching, without apology. And tell it she does in this beautiful book, “Waking Mathilda.”

This story was birthed in one parental decision that changed the trajectory of a family’s life forever. It was a decision made in good faith, for all the right reasons, and it was a decision that should never have had the outcome it did.

When Claire’s lovely young daughter, Mathilda, was three years old, she and her husband — on the advice of their doctor — made the decision to give her the H1N1 vaccine. She had had a bit of a rough start in life and the flu that year was predicted to be harsh and deadly. So they took the time and care to take her to the clinic near their home in England and make sure she got her shot.

And then, everything started sliding downhill.

This is a story that must be read to be believed and I strongly recommend that you order yourself a copy TODAY. It is beautifully, hauntingly written. It is rich with information that never feels in the slightest like ‘facts.’ It is a story that is hard to read at points, a story it is almost impossible to imagine living. 

Yet, live it, they did.

Mathilda is the youngest person ever to be diagnosed with narcolepsy, a difficult and debilitating neurological disorder that essentially causes the sleep center of the brain to go haywire. Reading about the long, painful process of discovering what went wrong with this active, intelligent, interesting little girl is heartbreaking to read.

It is also inspiring.

Why? Because it is a story of persistence, of courage, of commitment and of love. Claire never gives up. Never. She does research, she insists that something is wrong, very, very wrong, even when medical personnel ignore what is right in front of their eyes. She and her husband exhaust themselves trying to care  for a child who cannot sleep at night and cannot be sensible for much of the daytime. Their older two children struggle to understand what has happened to life as they knew it. Every one of them is remarkable.

This book reads like a terrifying mystery novel, except there is nothing fictional about it. Pieces of the puzzle begin to come clear, a visiting doctor really looks, really listens, and makes the correct diagnosis, a clinic in Stanford CA does research on an expensive medicine. That medicine is not available in England and a life-changing decision for everyone involves an international move, and a huge gamble. No one as young as their daughter has ever been treated with this medicine. Will it work?  

This is a story I could not put down, and neither could my husband. This particular journey will never be over for Mathilda — she will live with the effects of this disorder for the rest of her life. But she, and her parents, have found some answers. They have begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They’ve built a new community, in a new country. Claire has become an outspoken advocate for narcolepsy sufferers and those who care for them, and Mathilda is blossoming into a charming, hardworking, committed student who happens to deal with a dreadfully messed up brain. 

A remarkable read. Do yourself a favor and read it ASAP. Then get a copy for a friend, too.

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First, the Tomb — SheLoves, February 2017

The silence at this blog has been rather deafening thus far in 2017. Part of the reason for that is the event described in this essay. I wrote it for SheLoves, that special place on the internet where I am privileged to write once each month. Please start here and then follow the links over there to join in the conversation.

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The rain falls steadily, beating against the translucent plastic of the skylight across the hall from where I write. A drumbeat that reminds me that fruitfulness requires dark, wet days. Lots and lots of dark, wet days.

Life continues to teach me that there is no resurrection without the darkness of death, there is no rising without first being down. Sometimes that down-ness is imposed on us — by life, by circumstance, by some kind of struggle, which we did not deserve or earn. Other times, we trip and fall, choosing unwisely or forgetting what we know to be true. No matter what has brought us low, however, the truth of it remains: there is nowhere to go but up.

 I am watching closely as my mother winds down for the last time in her long life. We moved her this week — again. Fifteen years ago, we moved her and my dad from their lovely retirement home in Orange County CA to a smaller, 2-bedroom apartment in a senior community nearer to family. Three years later, after my dad’s death, we moved my mother to a 1-bedroom unit in the same facility. Eight years after that, we moved her across the street, into an assisted living studio. One year later, we moved her 120 miles north, to a single room with bath, inside a dementia unit, minutes from our home.

Now, four years further down this journey toward death, she is in a still smaller room, one with a hospital bed and an RN down the hall. We moved mama into skilled nursing last week, sorting through the debris of her life one more time, parsing her existence into smaller and smaller pieces.

I hoped she would be oblivious to this change. So much of her cognition is gone, so many pieces missing from the beautiful puzzle that is my mother. But she knew. And she was frightened and confused, wondering why ‘her family’ wasn’t nearby. Though she couldn’t tell you a single name, she somehow knew the residents and the caregivers in her 16-bed assisted living wing. Now she is part of a much larger space, with many more people, many more wheelchairs, longer distances to travel from bedroom to activity center to dining room. . . 

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Yes, it’s been a tough few weeks, friends. We’re at the last bend in the road. Please do come on over to SheLoves and read a bit more about this journey.