“Where Are We Going?”

Just over a year ago,
we moved my small mama into this space,
an assisted living 1-bedroom apartment,
in the retirement community where she has lived for the past 10 years.

She was forgetting to take her meds, you see.
And she couldn’t see to walk across the street anymore.
And she was increasingly anxious about living
independently, in an apartment with a back door.

So we sorted and sifted and made uncounted trips
across the street from one apartment to the other.
My brother, my sister-in-law and I breathed
a very large sigh of relief, and trusted that
Mom would be snug and happy for a good, long time to come.

She had a little entry way, a large bathroom, a bedroom and a sitting room,
and two large closets. Even a very small kitchen wall, with fridge and microwave.

Well, not quite.
The cognitive losses kept multiplying,
the fantasies kept swirling,
the anxieties grew threatening and troubling.
And the nurses in the unit began to suggest that
she needed to make the next move,
to more care,
farther away from her friends and from the center of life on the campus.

So, she and I together talked and cried and looked at options.
And with my brother’s input, we decided that the next move would
be a little bit further than across the street.
She would move to Santa Barbara, ten minutes rather than
two and a half hours away from me.

Mom, flanked by her two good friends Patricia and Ginny
on the morning we left Hillcrest.

One last look at #162.

 Mom’s new room in Heritage Court 

And this was the Big Weekend,
the move away from friends, toward family.
The move away from the normal flow of independent living
to the more restricted movement of a memory loss unit.
The move down.

One room with a bath on a hallway of 15 other such rooms,
filled with people who were further down this road
than my mom,
a lovely, large living room for everyone,
and a private dining room,

The whole family pitched in and we rented a small truck,
loading it and two cars with what was left of her 91 years of life.
We drove through southern California traffic for nearly three hours
on Saturday morning,
were met by my son’s wife and youngest daughter,
who brought us a delicious homemade lunch,
and then we
unpacked it all and began hanging pictures.
In the process, we introduced her to aides and residents,
trying to get her settled as quickly and thoroughly as we could.

I told her she now has what the Brits might call a ‘bed-sit.’
Her bed fits nicely in the corner, out of sight of the entry.
Her blue cabinet still holds her precious Royal Doulton figurines.
Her plates and artwork are all in place.

We worked hard, all of us aging children.
My brother’s wife is an artist and a work-horse,
and together, we make a formidable team.

Dick’s sister,
who was there to be with her own mom, spent several hours
talking with my mom, introducing her to people,
making her feel included while the rest of us schlepped and hammered,
grunted and groaned.
At the end of the day,
we left her in the dining room,
already being gracious to two total strangers,
who don’t, as she put it, ‘have much to say.’

No, Mom, they don’t.
But I’ll tell you what —
those two women said more to you that night
than I’ve ever heard them say to anyone else.

I think it is entirely possible,
that even as she continues this downward slide,
my mother will be a minister of hospitality
right where she is.
It’s a gift, you know.
And she’s got it in spades.

I find I don’t yet have the internal space to reflect on this whole thing just now,
but I’ll join this more straightforward report with Michelle, Jen, and Laura tonight.

Bare: A 5 Minute Friday, Embellished + A Photo Essay

I have a love-hate relationship with the wind.
It’s a California weather feature that no one talks about very much.
You hear about the sunshine. Or the smog. Or the fog.
But the wind?
Not so much.

But it’s here and it’s sometimes huge.
When it comes in the dark of night, howling through the canyons,
I detest it.
Sleep becomes impossible, yard furniture tumbles across the lawn,
tree branches click against the windows, power flickers,
often going out for hours.
Demons can loom large in such weather.

When it comes in the light of day,
and the day is hot and the season is dry,
I fear it.
Wildfires are endemic to this climate and they are terrifying.
Massive damage in moments,
families displaced, memories lost, even lives,
if it’s bad enough and fast enough.

But when it comes in the middle of winter,
as storms are brewing and blooming,
the wind is an entirely different thing.
It’s a friend, a welcome, bracing blast of cold, clear air.

And I remember what it felt like when I was an early adolescent,
old enough to be taller than almost everyone I knew,
but young enough to allow a rich imaginative life.

We had a back porch that was nothing more than a steep staircase with a landing.
We had milk delivered to that porch, twice a week,
and I often put the empties out in the case
to be picked up in the morning.

When the wind blew in the wintertime,
I would go out to check on the bottles,
imagining that they might be lonely or frightened,
and I would tell them that everything would be all right.
And I would stand up tall, spread my arms,
lean my head back and close my eyes,
and present myself to the force of that wind,
standing bare before it, willing it to blow me over.

And it never did.

Instead, it reminded me that there was much in this life
that is so much bigger than I am,
and beyond any feeble ability of mine to control.

I was reminded of that feeling yesterday,
and it was wondrous.

I took a walk on the bluffs, following the paths to Coal Oil Point Reserve.
And the wind was blowing mightily.
My jacket zipped to my chin, a brimmed hat holding wispy hair
firmly in place, I walked in wonder,
dressed from head to toe,
yet bare before the beauty.

I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by my life of late,
trying hard to control all the pieces that are coming together
in this month of February.

I am back at work for three months,
something I never planned, nor even thought about,
to tell you the truth —
yet here it is.

My mother will move to my community next weekend,
and various family members will help me make that happen.
That’s not something I planned, either,
even though I have done all the legwork,
checked out the options,
taken my mother to see them all.

Still, I didn’t plan to have to care for her in these late years of her life.
I didn’t plan for her to have dementia.
I didn’t plan for her to lose her eyesight,
her son, her self.

But here we are.

Why, I wondered, did I say ‘yes’ to this job right now?
Am I crazy?
(Don’t answer that.)

I’ve been laying out Lenten services for the last couple of weeks,
enjoying the feel of it, not sure about the weekly commitment
of leading them all, but pondering, with what I hope is an open spirit.
Yet I haven’t felt any strong confirmation that
this decision was one I should have made,
thinking only it is one I have made.

Yesterday’s walk opened something in me.
I guess that’s what being bare can do, isn’t it?
Standing on the edge of a cliff, the wind blowing wildly all around you,
staring off into the wonder and beauty and complete untame-ability
of this world — well, that can strip away a lot of things.

So, as I got in my car to drive home,
after taking these pictures, and saying, “Thank you! THANK YOU!!”
with my arms outspread, my head bent back, my eyes closed —
after that. . .
I drove down the ramp to the 101 Freeway,
I thought about the intense privilege it is to be
asked to pastor anyone, anytime, anyplace,
and tears of gratitude spilled.

I GET to do this.
I am invited to do this.
I am welcomed to do this.
I do not, in any way, have to do this.

I cannot put into words what a gift that experience was to my roiling
spirits and troubled heart.
What’s happening in my life right now
IS beyond my control. It just is.
But it is not beyond God,
it is not beyond hope,
it is not beyond wonder,
it is not beyond joy.

It is gift.
ALL of it.

Thank You. 

Joining late with Lisa-Jo’s community over at the 5-Minute Friday link-up. Five minutes took me to “beyond any feeble ability of mine to control.” Another ten minutes took me to the end of the words. The pictures and the techno stuff with formatting?
Well that took another 45 or so. 

I just read this through, after plowing through HTML to figure out why the font keeps shrinking every time I insert a picture. Finally, the preview matched the draft. And as I read, I wept again — grateful for the windy day, even more grateful for the ways in which God chooses to reveal love and grace to me, despite my anxious heart and control-freak nature!!

Five Minute Friday

adding this tonight to the Monday crowd – Michelle, Jen, Laura and Ann – with thanks for the invitation to think about how God is working in us, how we’re learning through play, and how gratitude changes everything.

Ups & Downs, Ins & Outs – Riding the Coaster

Remember the old movie, “Parenthood?”
A recurrent theme in that story of growing up
was the comparison of life to a roller coaster —
and our need to follow the ups and downs,
the ins and outs,
to tolerate occasional queasiness and to
look for joy and beauty along the way.

I’m feeling those dips and swoops a lot lately,
often more than a little bit queasy from it all.
And I’m trying hard to look for the joy,
the small beauties that show up, if I have the eyes to see.

On my evening walk last Friday,
I almost missed this glory.
 The fading sunlight was hitting our neighbor’s blossoming tree at
exactly the right angle to make us gasp with delight.
Such a lovely, serendipitous moment of beauty as the weekend began.

 And these three sentinels glistened against the sky as I made my rounds,

 The next morning, I drove south to meet these three sentinels —
my mom on the left (91), her ‘baby’ sister in the middle (on her 89th birthday),
their brother on the right (90).

These three have been the heart of our family for over a decade now,
the last remaining members of the older generation.
Their mother died in 1997 at age 101, her sister eight years later at 102.
I doubt very much that these three will live that long;
all are showing signs of wear and tear, the ravages of age.
I lunched with my cousins while our parents shouted at one another
in a private dining room at my uncle’s assisted living residence.
They’re wearing ‘hearing aids’ constructed out of water bottles
and offered as a fun gift by my cousin’s kids.

It is hard to watch this process — my mom is the only one with dementia,
but the other two are dealing with much more serious physical issues than Mom is,
so who knows how long they’ll be with us?

When I got back home, 4/5ths of our middle daughter’s family
was here, ready to relax and enjoy the holiday weekend.
It’s been a while since we’ve spent extended time with these dear ones,
and we were so grateful for their presence,
for their happy and sometimes boisterous reminder of youth
and life and promise
as we deal with our aging moms.

We opted to skip church on Sunday (gasp!) and went out to breakfast instead.
Then we drove to the butterfly preserve north of our home.

 It was a gorgeous day, mid 60’s and sunny.
The trail meanders through eucalyptus groves and out onto
the bluffs just north of the UCSB campus — gloriously beautiful.

 The deep hanging clusters of monarch butterflies were not to be found this day,
perhaps because of the unseasonably warm weather.

What butterflies there were flitted all through the grove,
enjoying the sunlight.
They are such stunning creatures, these monarchs.
Brilliant orange and black,
making the long migration between Mexico and Canada every single year,
stopping all along the California coast to rest and re-group.

We followed the trail all the way out to the bluffs,
stripping jackets as we walked and gawking at the endless view
of water, sand, islands.

It is a good walk, with enough ups and downs to make it interesting
and even a tiny bit challenging in the full sun.
Kind of like life, I guess.

Turning away from the water yields a mountain view,
beautiful in its own right.
This stretch of coast is one of the last and longest undeveloped
expanses in our state and we love it.

We are blessed in our children and in our grandchildren,
and they are blessed in each other.
Even though we’ve ridden some pretty steep and scary curves together,
I’d say the ride has definitely been worth it.

It’s good to be reminded of that sweet and powerful truth
when the queasiness sets in, don’t you think?

Once Lyla helps me straighten out some formatting grinches, I’ll join this with Michelle, Jen, Laura and Ann:


Come to the Water. . .

It was a thirsty kind of day.
After three weeks of deadlines and commitments,
the last one was in sight as I backed my car out of our driveway.
I was tired yesterday morning, and nervous.
A speaking/teaching engagement loomed after worship,
at another church in town,
one whose pulse I do not know.
And I am decidedly rusty — no public speaking in over two years now.

I was due to bring cookies for the Coffee Hour today,
and those had been baked and frozen earlier in the week.

Adult Sunday School was starting up again,
and my husband surprised me by wanting to go —
a class with a literary emphasis,
looking at poetry and prose from classic and contemporary writers,
pondering together how their words might be helpful to a life of faith.

So I schlepped my usual too-much-stuff, ready for each separate event of the day:
the cookies, a bag with printed handouts and
suggested books on the topic I’d been invited to teach about,
a cup of hot tea to sip in the Sunday school class,
a tired body and a very thirsty spirit.

The class was rich and good, the teaching excellent,
the conversation lively.
And then I walked into the worship center and I knew:

All that was thirsty in me would be satisfied, satiated, slaked.

The font was front and center, down from its usual place
at the top of the chancel steps,
and the water it contained danced in the sunlight.
A glance at the bulletin showed the baptism of Jesus in Luke’s gospel
as the sermon text for the morning,
and the music . . .
Oh.My. . . the music.

Two of my favorites as we began, setting the tone for the entire
morning of worship.

“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
Have mercy on us. (Alleluia) Have mercy on us. (Alleluia). Have mercy on us.

Glory be to the Father. Amen.
Glory be to the Son. Amen.
Glory be to the Spirit. Amen.”

“All who are thirsty, all who are weak, come to the fountain.
Dip your heart in the stream of life.
Let the pain and the sorrow be wash’d away
in the waves of his mercy as deep cries out to deep.
(And we sing) Come, Lord Jesus, come.” 

Listening again to that wonderful text,
those powerful words of affirmation and commission,
given from Father to Son on the banks of the Jordan River
so many centuries ago, it felt as though they were
bouncing around our sun-strewn sanctuary,
newly offered to each one of us.
“You are mine.
You are loved.
You are pleasing to me.” 

And then the invitation —

“COME TO THE WATER — it is here for you.”

And we came.
By the dozens, we came streaming down the aisles,
as the music swirled around us, singing of amazing grace and glorious freedom.

On this second Sunday of the new year, we were given the rich gift
of renewing our baptismal vows,
in worship.
Our pastors read them for us,
we responded firmly with, “We do!”
And then we walked to the front,
to the font,
and we got wet.

Swishing our hands through the cool, clear water,
a finger or a fist,
making the sign of the cross or not,
touching the hand of another coming into the water
from a different direction,
we did this together.
We remembered who we are,
We remembered where we belong,
And we marked ourselves once again with the Water of Life.

Which was exactly what this weary woman needed today.

The speaking/teaching thing went . . . well, it went.
And it was all right. It wasn’t perfect, but it was all right.
And then on my way back home,
I stopped for just a few minutes,
and I came to the water one more time
before heading up the hill.
I came to the primordial waters this time,
the ones that call my name and speak to me of the
immensity of our God.
I sat and stared,
I said, “Thank you!”
I shut my eyes and breathed deeply.

And I went home feeling loved and no longer thirsty.

I have not yet figured out how to embed videos into WordPress. But I have managed to get a link or two here! If you click on this link, you will hear our opening song, as sung by the worship team at Westmont College, which is just up the street from our church. I think our worship director helped arrange the strings that are added to this beautiful rendition. Click on over and then, leave the music playing as you browse the internet. It’s a lovely piece, taken directly from the liturgy of the Catholic mass.
And this is a short, a cappella version of the second song of the morning.

“All Who Are Thirsty”


Joining this tonight with Michelle, Jen, Ann and Laura.


In the Middle of the Mess – Archive-Diving, 2008

Once again, plowing through the archives to salvage some of the written record of the last five years or so. This was was written in November of 2008, and as I look at this gathered community, I am hushed. One marriage, broken. One infant, now a healthy almost-5-year-old, one dear mother-in-law, now unable to speak and fading, fading, fading. Time is relentless.

You might think this an odd picture to publish with the title listed above. But for me, right now, on a Monday late afternoon, sitting at my desk and prayerfully holding before God so many people that I care about who are definitely in the middle of some kind of mess….this picture is a powerful reminder to me of God’s faithfulness.

Faithfulness in, through, around, and right smack dab in the middle of the mess.

The date this picture was taken? November 16, 2008.

The context? Our Sunday morning worship gathering after the Tea Fire, which had swept through Santa Barbara during the immediately preceding three days. Our church building was still part of the evacuation area for that fire, an area which had begun to shrink some the night before, but which at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning still included the access roads to our property.

My husband and I had also been evacuated and had returned home late in the evening on Saturday. And 14 families in our community had seen their homes either destroyed or severely damaged from the ravenous, wind-driven flames of that terrifying time. We were all in the very heart of the most painful and frightening mess most of us could just about ever remember.

And right there – in the middle of it all – we saw remarkable signs of God’s faithfulness, of God’s loving presence, of God’s provisional care, even in the throes of a natural disaster. We found amazing evidences of grace everywhere we looked.

No one in our church community, or in the broader neighborhood, sustained serious injury; the wonders of modern technology enabled us to stay in contact throughout the three days of electrical and wireless disruption; the church was spared and immediately useful for community communication and encouragement gatherings of all kinds; staff and lay leadership rallied to plan and pull off a worship service at an alternate site – the local country club, of all places! – and we were reminded throughout that service of God’s presence, deliverance and providential care, despite the enormity of the mess.

So today, as I pray for a wide variety of painful, frightening and messy situations – I am grateful to remember God’s faithfulness in the midst of a pretty big mess not all that long ago.

I’m not a fan of messes. Don’t enjoy them all that much – would, of course, prefer not to have lived through most of the ones I’ve experienced.

But this much I know: God will meet me there, right in the middle of it.

We are not alone, sometimes despite all kinds of evidence to the contrary. So, Lord, have mercy. Have mercy in the mess. And thank you for stepping into the muck with us.

Of Sunshine and Seasides and Hope – A Photo Essay

See that girl in the pink?
She is the best medicine in our lives just now,
and we had ourselves a good, healthy dose yesterday.
Last week’s visit to my mom was hard,
and the road ahead will continue to be so. 
This end-of-life journey will be fraught with 
confusion and loss
and I will hate it.
A lot.
I am talking to God about it,
often yelling while I do,
but also coming back round to center,
remembering that no matter how lost
my mother feels to me,
she is never lost to God.

So. Yesterday was a school holiday for our girl,
and we were given the gift of being with her.
She sprang through our door about 8:45 a.m.,
dressed from head to toe in HOT pink,
complete with sequins lining the pockets of her fleece jacket.
A new outfit from Target, picked out by herself. . .
and of course, it had to be pink.
And not just pink, but PINK
We pulled out the Lego bins, filled with
colorful bricks that once belonged to her dad,
and she dug in with gusto.
Almost three hours for this 7-year-old
of creating, disassembling, re-arranging
and fun. 
I sat at the table, 10 feet away,
reading blogs and email,
 enjoying her easy company and occasional conversation.
Then we piled into the car about noon,
and headed out to the wharf.
It was a stunning day.
Crystal clear, about 60 degrees, 
with warm sun on our shoulders.
We went to the local Sea Center,
a small marine museum, featuring exhibits
about the creatures which inhabit these coastal
waters in the Santa Barbara channel.
This is a very bright girl,
eternally curious and actively engaged with 
whatever is going on around her.
From tiger sharks to sea stars,
from restless Garibaldi to the breathtaking view 
out the back wall,
she explored it all.
In the ‘wet room,’ where buckets are dropped 
directly into the ocean through a large hole
in the wharf,
she watched, intrigued,
as several students older than she
put the contents of a bucketload through a 
sifter and then a microscope.
Upstairs was a small exhibit of jellyfish,
those brainless creatures of grace and transparency.
You can just make her out to the left of
the observation window, 
momentarily entranced.
Against a very dark wall, there was a slide
of moving shapes and colors
and Gracie wanted a picture in front of it.
A little bit too dark, however, 
and the flash obliterated the slide on the wall.
In the upstairs gangway, there was a small puppet theater,
which enraptured her. 
She had such fun entertaining us with
each and every one.
One look at this sweet girl’s face
and all the sadness just sort of lifted
away like a cloak,
dropping to the floor around me.

This guy apparently inflicted some pain!
But the dolphin was sweet as could be.
We took her to lunch at Longboard’s about 90 minutes later.
She loves the peanut barrel there,
where you can scoop up as much as you want,
eat as much as you want, and —
wait for it! —
toss all the peanut shells right onto the deck!
How cool is that??
We finished our adventure with a trip to the
ice cream shoppe –
single scoop of Cotton Candy on a sugar cone, please.
It even matched her outfit.
She ate every last bite, too —
without spilling a drop on her new outfit —
until that very last bite, when the cone
broke. . . and there was a bright blue
spot in the middle of all that pink.
As we sat in the sun, enjoying our ice cream,
this catamaran came within about a stone’s throw,
gliding through the sea,
loaded with inquisitive tourists,
eager to view the coastline and enjoy
their afternoon on the water.
I took a deep breath, trying to capture the moment.
A beautiful grandchild – one of eight such
magnificent gifts in our life.
A spectacular day – in a magnificent location.
And we get to live here,
fifteen minutes from this girl and her sister.
The older kids live one to three hours south of here,
so these are the kiddos we see most often
and are graced to care for from time to time.
This, this is gift.
And I am grateful.
And for a while, as the sun shone down,
and the water sparkled,
and the glory-girl grinned her toothless
grin at me while her Poppy watched with love —
for a while, that hurting place in my heart
was healed right over.
Thank you, Gracie, for being you:
God’s gift to all of us.

Signing on with Michelle DeRusha, Jen Ferguson, Laura Boggess and Ann Voskamp. Sad to say good-bye to Seedlings in Stone this week – but trust that Laura Barkat’s fine work will continue to show up in some other sparkling setting – I know it will show up at TSP!


31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 28

I love steeples.
All kinds of steeples.
From wood frame churches,
hanging out in small towns,
to tall, stately stone edifices, standing as 
dignified adornments for busy city streets.
I like being forced to stop,
to look up.
I like seeing their silhouettes
against the sky.
I like imagining how long they’ve been standing there,
thrusting upward, 
proclaiming the glory of God.
Because of where we live,
I am particularly drawn to mission style towers.
I love the gentle curves,
the tilework,
the crosses atop.

There doesn’t have to be a cross on the top of the tower
for me to see one there.
Because that’s the beauty of church towers
to my eye —
they all bring to mind the vertical beam
of that old rugged one,
the one that stood on the garbage dump 
just outside the city of Jerusalem
over 2000 years ago.
And that is the most salvific of beautiful things
in my life — that stark reminder of Love in Action.
Thanks be to God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 19

Today we got frustrated,
and disappointed,
and enraptured —
all at the same time. 

We drove across town to the Old Mission.
Our assignment?
Get fingerprinted,
so that a background check could be run,
so that we could serve as volunteers
at our soon-to-be-seven-year-old 
granddaughter’s school. 

Our daughter-in-law carefully 
researched the date,
wrote us some instructions
and said in passing,
“It says to call ahead and make
a reservation,
but we just walked up and got
in line. You probably don’t need to.”


So we’ll wait til next time.
But when I turned around from the office
complex, I realized that the early morning
cloud cover had burned completely off,
and we had a lovely shot of one of 
the most beautiful buildings in our state,
the Queen of the Missions.

I didn’t have much time,
as my husband was peeved and restless,
but I aimed my camera and rattled 
off a few shots, wondering
what I might have captured
in the three minutes I grabbed.

Someday, I will post some interior shots on this blog,
but today, I was fortunate to get these angled exteriors.
To tell you the truth, everything
about this site is lovely.
Standing on those front steps,
you can see all the way to the ocean.
And you can imagine Father Serra
surveying this beauty and sighing, 
as he traveled the Camino Real up and down
the coast of Alta California.

These bells actually ring,
reminding parishioners to pray,
calling them to mass,
inviting people to stop,
for just a moment or two,
and remember that being busy
is not all there is to this life.

There is a fountain here that is as old as the Mission,
part of the original aquaduct system that brought
water to the crops,
supplied the laundry workers,
and provided drinking water for everyone,
priests, soldiers and Indians alike. 
The angle of the sun was just right today,
and the gently rippling water
caught the reflection of Mission Santa Barbara.

She is a lovely old thing, isn’t she?
And she wears her years very well, indeed. 

31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 17

Since Lilly started pre-school in September,
her grandfather has been volunteering
every week,
on Wednesdays —
the very day we cared for her
for over two years.
He spends about four hours —
helping with stories,
He loves it.

I have never known anyone who has such
natural rapport with small children.
Every one of our grandchildren
adores him,
and with good reason.
Today was a field trip –
and I got to go, too.
“The wheels on the bus
go round and round…”
Thirty pre-schoolers,
about a dozen adults,
all of us singing,
doing the hand motions,
anticipating a fun couple of hours.

The day was warm,
HOT, to be exact,
and crystal clear,
as we unloaded
ourselves from the 
big yellow school bus.
The Pumpkin Patch
is only a few miles
from the school
and is small and compact.
Thank goodness!!
Have you ever tried
to corral 30 small persons
around a large open field?
In we marched,
and Lilly found
Poppy’s hand just as
soon as she could.
Everyone filed into the shade
for a presentation 
about pumpkins, gourds,
and Indian corn.
These two little girls – our Lilly on the left,
and Carolyn, on the right,
were born on the same day,
just hours apart.
And the director of the pre-school
was in the waiting room with
all the grandparents.
Each of these cuties
has an older sibling
who was a student at the school
at the time of their birth.
I have no memory of ever
seeing a school administrator
at any of my kids’ births!
After learning about fall veggies,
and enjoying a much-needed cup 
of cold water and a snack,
the kids were let loose to pick a pumpkin.
Lilly chose a small, compact one
and her teacher happily wrote her
name on it and put it in the class wagon.
Trying to get a class photo was interesting.
And fun. 
The two girls in the center of the front row,
that’s our girl and her BFF, Alice.
They truly love each other,
hugging when they meet,
choosing to sit together often,
sharing long connections
through their parents and
older sisters – 
all of whom are friends.
For the purposes of this 31-day challenge,
I could wax eloquent
about how much beauty this
small person has brought into our lives.
And before this month is over,
I most likely will do so.

But tonight?
Tonight I want to celebrate the
beauties of friendship,
the joys of shared history,
the ties that connect
people over time
and life experience.
We are designed for community,
and it shows up very early.
I was delighted to see these lovely threads
winding between two small girls,
not yet three years old.
One of the most beautiful things 
I’ve seen all day, in fact.

31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 11

This is the main drag of our town,
State Street.
In this picture,
we are very near the northern end of downtown,
before the road takes a hard left,
and becomes something else entirely.
But here,
right here,
on the corner of Micheltorena,
you can find this beauty:
A beautiful, Gothic
brownstone church.
Trinity Episcopal Church,
to be exact.
It comes complete 
with bell tower and carillon,
which plays hymns at noon. 
And its large, red door
is open – all.day.long.
Like any brownstone church should,
it has it’s interesting details,
including side doors,
hidden from the front.
But this particular church has something truly
special and unique.
It has a prayer labyrinth,
after the design of the one at Chartres,
in France.
It is beautiful,
and it is completely visible to
all north and south bound traffic
on State Street,
which as I mentioned,
is the main drag in our town.
I love that.

Every year, the students at
the School for Spiritual Direction
trek down from the Mission Renewal Center
to spend some time
and praying
the labyrinth.

The beige color is the pathway in (on the left)
and the pathway out (on the right).
The charcoal areas are for stepping out if someone
is walking in the opposite direction
and your paths cross.

I’ve already written in this series about
how walking has enriched my prayer life,
here, here, and here.

The labyrinth is yet another way in which
movement can be combined with 
prayer, meditation and silence
to enlarge, refresh and enliven
personal prayer.

You enter the labyrinth in a spirit of quiet,
seeking to listen,
to receive,
to understand,
to discern.
Walking into the labyrinth,
you are invited to
let go
of the concerns and
worries of the day,
and all those things
which sometimes
distract from a
deepening interior journey.
When you arrive at the center flower,
you are encouraged,
in fact, invited,
to spend
time in reflection,
thanksgiving –
taking as long as you
need, as long as you like.
As you begin the walk out,
take heart from
the time spent quietly at
the center, and prepare
to re-enter the world
of everyday responsibilities
and commitments,
refreshed and strengthened
for the journey.

The interesting part of this experience for me
is the rhythm of the walking.
Parts of the labyrinth are long
and graceful, allowing me
to move easily,
even quickly, if I wish.
But many parts are tight,
with twisting turns,
requiring concentration
and attention to navigate.
The path doubles back,
seems to repeat itself.
A lot like life.
But, in a labyrinth,
you are never lost,
no matter how convoluted
the pathway may feel
at any given moment.
There is one way in,
and one way out,
and when you leave,
you will want to come again.

This labyrinth is just across the street
from my dentist’s office.
Occasionally, when it’s time 
to get my teeth cleaned,
I come early
and walk the labyrinth for twenty
minutes or so.
It’s a space of quiet beauty
and refreshment,
and I am grateful for it.
I particularly like that it
is situated on the main street of our town.
Because that’s where prayer 
is so often lacking,
and where it is often most needed.