Honoring the Body — Remembering Ruth Gold: July 6, 1921 – April 19, 2017

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Beautiful Mom, about 1948.

For most of my life, my mother was my best friend. As she began to leave us, almost a decade ago now, the inexorable blade of dementia sliced her memory into ever smaller pieces. During these years of decline, I often wondered how I would endure, who I would become without her richly textured presence in my life. What I witnessed was remarkable: the very essence of who she was became ever more finely distilled, until only a small but brilliant shard of light remained. Slowly, I began to understand — it was enough. Even though I no longer had access to all the pieces of my mother, the stories and memories I had come to know over the decades, what I did have was lovely. In truth, it was a strange and beautiful gift. Not a gift that either of us would have chosen, but a gift nonetheless.

Not every dementia story unfolds the way my mother’s did, a truth which makes me grateful on multiple levels for this particular and exquisite experience. For the last five years, I have wandered through grief, shed copious tears, railed at God for the cruelty of this growing epidemic in our land and across the world. I have also fallen to my knees in gratitude for the shining core of her, that glorious flame that blazed up and out and into the core of every single person she encountered. As the limits of her world grew larger and darker, as she lost the desire to eat, to drink, to walk — even then, she found a smile, a sweet word of gratitude, an exclamation of complimentary joy. “You look so beautiful today!” she would say. “Thank you so much for your help.” Not one other syllable made sense toward the end, but those words of kindness remained.

Ruth was born in Duncan, a small logging town on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, the second child and first-born daughter of Harry and Elsie Hobson. They gave her a long, cumbersome name, which included the names of some female relatives who eventually left mom two small diamonds. She gave those to me — and I managed to lose them both. Mom’s full name was Edith Lemody Ruth Hobson and she was a beautiful baby. They called her Ruthie.

Two years later, the Hobsons gathered up their little family and boarded a train, with siblings and cousins, and emigrated to southern California. Two little boys, my little mom, a second daughter ‘in the oven,’ two parents, three maiden aunts, a cousin or two, and an elderly grandfather arrived in 1923 and settled into a variety of Los Angeles neighborhoods. Mom rode the street car, roller-skated or walked all over what is now Hollywood and graduated from Hollywood High School in 1938. She went to UCLA for two years, and then quit when her family ran out of money; she always regretted never finishing her college career.

Mom’s father was a difficult man, and her mother worked. My mom became a surrogate mom to her siblings and found safe harbor in a local Methodist church. She met my dad there and they married in 1941 when mom was 20. I was born four years later, while they lived in San Diego. My dad taught math and physics at a military academy in that town during WWII — he was deemed entirely too spindly to join the army. In 1947, my brother Tom was born in a tiny town in central California where dad had an in-between teaching job while he waited for an opening at Los Angeles City College. When that job opened, we moved back to Los Angeles and bought our first house — a small, post-war tract home in North Hollywood. I was four years old.

All four of us attended that old Methodist church in downtown LA for the next eight years. I loved that place. My dad was the pianist, my mom sang in the choir, my brother and I went to Sunday School. It was at Trinity Methodist that I began to love choral singing — at the tender age of six. My mom made lifelong friends in that community and was the last one left from the old gang when she died last Wednesday afternoon.

Everywhere we lived, everywhere we worshipped, my mother made friends. Fast friends. I described her to the caregivers where she lived as, “The most flaming extrovert I have ever known.” Her gregarious and compassionate nature made her an excellent neighbor, an even better friend. In the earliest days of her dementia, I discovered that she regularly purchased small boxes of candy to take to her neighbors, to let them know she was thinking about them, to tell them they were loved.

In 1955, when I was almost 11 and Tom was almost 9, our youngest brother Ken was born. One month later, we moved across town to a different valley, from San Fernando to San Gabriel, buying an English Tudor style home in Glendale, CA. I endured (and enjoyed) adolescence in that home, learned to drive on the curvy hills of Forest Lawn Memorial Park, and drove off to UCLA at the age of 17. Wanting to get my youngest brother into what they thought was a better school district, my parents moved to north Glendale while I was in college. That house was never my home in the same way that the previous two had been. I married a year later, graduated six months after that, and then my husband and I sailed off for two years of living and working in Africa.

While they lived in Glendale, my parents were active members of Glendale Presbyterian Church. Each of them served on Session, my mom on at least one pastoral search committee. They thoroughly enjoyed the Sunday school teaching of Paul Jewett, then a theology professor at nearby Fuller Seminary. My mother read widely, with a lively sense of curiosity and a commitment to growing in her faith. She read everything ever written by C.S. Lewis, Catherine Marshall, and Paul Tillich along with a long list of fiction writers. She instilled her love of language, reading, writing and beauty into the core of me at a very young age. 

She was also a ton of fun. She had an earthy sense of humor, loved to laugh, introduced us kids to British humor early on (anyone remember the “Carry On” movies??), and threw grand parties. She also decorated our homes on very little money, made most of my clothes and baked great birthday cakes. One of my daughters said to me last week, “One of my strongest memories of Momma was that she was always, ALWAYS, so happy to see me.” And that was real — she took delight in her family. De-light. Yes, she worried about us (especially Ken, whose life was difficult at many points and who died eight years ago.) But she loved us all and we knew it. Deep down, we knew we were loved. It was like oxygen — something that surrounded us always, something that gave us energy and life.

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Five generations – from lower left – Elsie Hobson, Ruth Gold, Diana Trautwein,
Lisa Fischinger, 
Ben Fischinger — taken in Orange County, 1991

My parents worked hard to create a good home for the three of us. There was one salary in our home, and that one a teacher’s salary, so we didn’t do fancy things. But we listened to all kinds of music on my dad’s home-built hi-fi set (or from his fingers at the keyboard), we camped all over California, and we enjoyed extended family gatherings on both sides, especially gatherings at some of the beaches along the southern California coast.

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Mom, doing what she loved more than almost anything else: boogey-boarding, Huntington Beach,
sometime in the 1980s, I think. She would have been in her early 60s.

Toward the end of his career as a professor and administrator at the junior college level, my dad had some serious health issues that required them to move out of the valley and closer to the sea. They lived in Oceanside for two years, then settled into a lovely town home in Mission Viejo, in Orange County. They loved that community and lived there for about fifteen years. In 2002, we moved them to a retirement community in LaVerne CA. My father died two and a half years later in February of 2005. My mom lived there independently until 2012, when Alzheimer’s put her into assisted living. The next year, we moved her to The Samarkand dementia unit, just ten minutes from our home here in Santa Barbara. 

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My parents, when they lived in Orange County

While they were in Orange County, I took the train south once each month for a long midweek visit. After they moved to LaVerne, I drove south monthly, then twice monthly, and stayed with our daughter, who lived about 30 minutes from there. All of those visits were an attempt to be as present as I could be with the two of them, and then with my mom, while their bodies breathed earth’s air.

Those bodies of theirs were holy to me, often in ways I didn’t fully understand. They had birthed me, loved me, tended me when mildly wounded or critically ill, clothed me, fed me and gave me away to my husband. (Yes, that is an outdated term, one that I no longer use, but it’s the truth of my lived experience in that season of my life.) I was with my father three days before his death, praying the blessing of Aaron over his unconscious, frail frame, telling him how much I loved him and how grateful I was for his care for me. When my brother called to tell me he had died, I asked that his body remain in the room until I could get there. Our bodies are supremely important collections of cosmic dust; they bear the image of an invisible God, they carry our stories, our selves. I wanted to honor him by honoring what remained.

Last week, I had the privilege of doing the same thing for my mama. Her journey took eight days, and every one of those days, I was by her side. Most of the time, I sat in front of a window, using only natural light. I put Pandora onto a hymn station and played it for hours. I finished a large crochet project. I called for more meds, as needed. I got up and blessed her face, stroked her shoulders. I ate the lunches I packed, I took occasional walks. I thanked every one of the Hospice team who came and cared for her so lovingly. One woman offered sponge baths, one offered quiet company, another brought her guitar and sang. The nurses were supremely skilled and compassionate, as were the caregivers at the facility. My pastor came twice, my friend Sherry, Samarkand chaplain for over twenty years, came daily.

Room 62 became holy ground during those long days.

At 4:32 p.m. on Wednesday, Sherry and I stood beside her and my friend said, “Look! Her eyes are open!” Those eyes had been closed for most of the previous five days. Her breathing was quite labored at this point, but as her eyes flew open, the noise stopped. She gasped twice and looked right into my eyes as I blessed her, thanked her, loved her. And she flew. I mean she flew to Jesus in those moments. I had been visualizing my father, my brother, her siblings, her parents and so many of her friends all around that room for days. And I do believe that in that moment, she saw them. And she was not afraid.  

All those dear ones welcomed her home — with love, joy and laughter. This I know, in the deepest part of me, this I know.

We will bury her on Tuesday morning, dropping her earthly remains into the grave plot she will share with my dad. We will hold a special service of worship to celebrate her life on May 20th at 2:00 p.m. in The Chapel at the Samarkand, the place that she called, ‘my church.’

Over and around the fatigue that I feel at this end of the journey, the strongest emotion in my heart is gratitude. It absolutely overwhelms me at some moments. There is sadness, yes, there is sadness. But over and around and in between everything else, there is thanksgiving. For 95 years, she graced this earth, 72 of them with me in the center of that grace. 

Thank you, Mama. And thank you, God.

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November, 2015, last formal portrait

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April 7, 2017

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.

Sing It Out!! — for SheLoves in December

We were asked to write a shorter-than-usual reflection piece for SheLoves this month, reflection on a character in the Christmas narrative. My choice was a bit of a ‘cheat,’ because I picked two of my very favorites. See if maybe you see the same things I do in this lovely piece of our story. You can start here and then finish it over at SheLoves:

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There are two of them in the story, two of them in the same boat.

And such a strange and wonderful boat it was.

One young, very young. The other, older, maybe ten or even twenty years older. Cousins the story tells us, they were distant cousins.

Both of them pregnant — unexpectedly, miraculously, stunningly pregnant.

And they came together at a crucial moment, offering each other gifts, gifts that took the shape of words, words that sing out with hope and promise, with surprise and jump-for-joy abandon.

That younger one was full to the brim with Spirit-joy and more than a little bit of wonder, and I’m guessing, more than a few questions. When she knew she was with child, she went running, right on up the dusty road, up to the hills, looking for that familiar face, that familiar cousin-voice, so hungry for a companion on the way.

And the older one? Well, she was smack dab in the middle of her own wonderment. For years she cried out to God, begging for a baby, a baby who never materialized, leaving her aching and isolated. When she was beyond hope, God answered! Now there was a wild-souled boy-child growing inside her.

Their meeting is a picture of the life-giving power that is possible when women who share affection and esteem support one another. Mary, overwhelmed by that heavenly visitation and its remarkable aftermath, headed straight into the arms of someone who knew her well, someone who knew God well, someone who could help her make some sense of all the craziness. She headed for Elizabeth.

Hop on over to SheLoves to see what happens next!

The Mystery Remains


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Once again, I am overwhelmed by your response to a post about my journey with my mom. It never ceases to amaze me how great an epidemic this is in our land, how many people are walking this hard, painful road through the death-by-inches and loss of self that is dementia. Thank you for your kind words and your stories — they mean the world to me, and to everyone who reads through that long comment thread.

This week has been one of gradual healing, slowly regained mobility and living right smack dab in the middle of deep wells of gratitude. I’ve spelled out a few reasons why in today’s newsletter (you can subscribe at the bottom of this post if you’d like), but I will just say here that the human body is both fragile and miraculously resilient and I am celebrating the gift of my own body in ways I never have before.

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I have abused this vessel for many years, in many ways: too many calories, too little exercise, too much stress. Slowly, slowly, I am learning to appreciate how very well it has served me over my life and I am living more fully in it than ever before. That is no small gift for a little girl who hated her height/skin/hair/self and always felt awkward and clumsy. 

The bruises from my time with mom on Mother’s Day are healing as well. I dropped off some supplies two days later and as she saw me, her eyes welled with tears and she said, with great hesitation,”Are you still mad at me?”

I almost wept again.

Somewhere in the confusing tunnels of her brain, she knows that she has upset me. And she is sorry for it.

I am sorry, too.

A trusted friend and counselor said to me this morning, “You know, Diana, your letting go of that Coumadin is a strong metaphor for the way in which you must let go of everything else that makes you bleed.”

Everything else that makes me bleed.

Well, wow.

Exactly.

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I must continue to learn how to let go of these old wounds, to offer them to my Savior as a means of grace, to say ‘thank you’ for the good gifts first and forever, to release my mother’s ultimate care and safety to Another.

I am not now, never have been, and never can be responsible for her health and happiness. That is the lie that she and I have believed for far too long and it must be jettisoned. It must be.

We cannot, any of us, be ‘the answer’ for another human person. It is not possible, nor is it desirable. We can be instruments for healing, we can be companions on the way, we can laugh and cry and worry and wonder with one another. But we cannot, we must not, we dare not ever try to fix one another.

We don’t have that power. Thank God.

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There is only one source of Healing in this universe, and it pours out on us all day after day, in mess after mess, through trial after trial. It shows up in medicine, psychology, friendship, good marriages, good parenting, healthy politics (is there such a thing?). But the Source is the same. Everything  that is good and right in this universe comes from God alone.

Not me.

Not you.

Through me, hopefully, yes. And through you, too.

But we do not have to generate it, invent it, or even package it. We simply have to allow it. That is all. 

So I am learning again to say, “YES.” With as much of me as I now know, I say, “Yes.” 

And I say, “Thank you.”

When the Bottom Falls Out


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Lovely flowers, brought to me by my fine son while in the hospital this week.

It has been a strange and difficult week, one that I wrote about in detail in my newsletter, which went out on May 1. If you’d like to read that account, simply subscribe, using the link provided at the end of this reflection, and I’ll be sure to send you a copy.

But in this, more public space, I want to spend a few minutes reflecting on what often feels like the capriciousness of this life we live in our earthbound home. 

Sometimes things happen suddenly, coming from left field and slamming into your gut, throwing you completely off balance, leaving  you stymied as to what in the heck just happened. I cannot even count how many times in the last six days I have uttered the words, “I cannot believe this has happened.” 

And I can’t.

Except it did — I was hit with a sudden, life-threatening condition, putting me in the hospital for 48 hours and sending me home to rest and move slowly for about a month. Say what?

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The beautiful new hospital wing I was privileged to stay in, as seen from my window.

The combined effect of the event itself, the powerful pain medications I was forced to take to survive, and the complete disorientation of being in a hospital and then coming home again, unable to do the things I do every single day of my life — well, it’s a more than a little bit unsettling.

Who am I? In my own mind, I’ve always been the strong one, the capable one, the one who takes charge and gets ‘er done. I’ve said it before in this space — I’m a large person, an increasingly confident person, have been known to be ‘bossy’ in my time (though I’ve worked on that quite a bit!), and I like to be the person who is helping others, not so much the one in need of help.

At this moment in time, that is no longer true. It is not even close to being true.

My amazing adult children rallied this weekend. Both of my daughters brought their youngest sons and they shopped at Costco and cooked in my kitchen all day yesterday. I now have two fridges full of home made chili, salmon chowder, delicious quiches and bunches of good, packaged salad mixes plus an enchilada tray from the Big Box store we all hate to love. Our son and his wife came over for dinner, bringing their lively, fun girls and I could listen to everyone having a great time together — best medicine possible. I was even able to be up with everyone for dinner, and that was a gift. But I was not the one doing meal prep or clean-up. I cannot be right now.

As I struggle to recapture some sense of balance and wholeness, I take deep joy in thanking God for the lovely slingshots of grace amidst this chaos — our son’s fine medical instincts which sent us back for a second ER visit and ultimate stay; the care of the best medical team I’ve ever seen, the loveliness of our new hospital and its nursing staff, the grace of business colleagues who have extended some deadlines for us, and the sheer fact that I am here, breathing and upright (some of the time!)

Here is the deepest truth I am learning right now: we simply do not and cannot know what is around the next bend in the road. For me, that bend was the simple act of rising from bed on a Tuesday morning. We plan, we program, we research, we scout out contingencies. But we are not in charge of our own lives, at least in any ultimate sense, are we?

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The other view from that window in the hospital room. There IS a bigger picture.

I am not downplaying planning — believe me! We have done some good, healthy planning and we are in good shape for this last bend in the road, this last leg of the journey. But we assumed it would be an easier leg than it has proven to be — and those assumptions now need to be set aside.

A good friend said to me on the phone this morning: ”This is the new normal, Diana.”

Yes, it is. The new normal is the unexpected, the sudden, the quick drop in the pit of your stomach when you realize the entire universe is shifting on a very tiny pivot. Very tiny indeed.

But what I’m trying to remind myself — sometimes from moment to moment — is that none of this is a surprise to God. And I am not alone in the midst of the terror and the pain.

I am held, I am cherished, I am seen.

And that makes all the difference.

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Becoming the Right Size — SheLoves

This is quite possibly the most vulnerable and personal post I have ever written. It was time to tackle this very large piece of who I am (pun intended). You can begin the post here and then please follow the link to finish it over at SheLoves today:

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Sometime in the early 1980s

I have jokingly said that I’ve never been small in my life. Trouble is, I am only half-joking. I am a large person — always have been, always will be. I have baby pictures with my closest cousin during our first year — and believe me when I tell you this — I am gargantuan compared to this lovely, tiny peanut of a babe who grew up to be one of my favorite people in the universe. That picture was frequently taken out at family gatherings, everyone always marveling at the giant child in their midst.

Until the boys began to have hormones moving through their systems at about age 14 or so, I was also the tallest in my class. Always. I was awkward, uncoordinated, had difficult skin issues and stick straight hair that my mother was incessantly trying to curl with permanent wave solution. And no, it did not work.

I was also loud, sometimes quite bossy and usually anxious about something. Not the best combo in the world for developing a sturdy psyche or nurturing a strong sense of self. All these things made me feel overwhelmingly large in any social situation — on the edge, insecure, impossible to hide. And somewhere inside myself, I decided that I might as well BE big, the biggest of them all.

So I worked hard. I studied, got great grades, learned a lot of different things, developed the cooperation gene to the fullest extent possible, and tried to ‘blend in.’ I did what was expected of me, trying not to stir up the dust as I worked.

I did this for a very long time – decades, in fact. I was the quintessential ‘big girl,’ absorbing everyone’s expectations, grief, neuroses, demands, anger, neediness. And somewhere along the way — about the time I started to have babies — I became a really, REALLY large woman. I enveloped myself in a layer of extra pounds that fluctuated from time to time, but always managed to keep me safe, well-padded and sturdy in the midst of whatever turmoil might be raging around me.

I remember successfully losing about 60 pounds one year and going for a dip in the pool at a friend’s house. She turned to me with a surprised look on her face and said, “Wow, Diana, you’re actually quite a small person, aren’t you?”

Can you guess how fast those pounds came right back on? Small? ME? No way. Everything in me was repulsed at the thought, and shocked to think she might be right.

I could not be small, you see. I could not. I did not know myself as a small person. How would I possibly manage all the pain I carried if I were small?

So I made sure I was big enough to shoulder the load.

Please click here to continue the conversation over at SheLoves . . .

An Advent Prayer: Week Four, 2014

We were looking at Mary this morning in worship. A POWERFUL sermon by Pastor Jon Lemmond, and I was asked to lead in community prayer. I am out of practice, that is for sure! But I’m grateful for the opportunity to think through the text and then pray in light of it.

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A Prayer for Advent 4 — 2014
written by Diana R.G. Trautwein
for worship at Montecito Covenant Church
December 21, 2014, 10:00 a.m.

We’re almost there, Lord.
Almost.

We’ve walked through this season of waiting,
this season of songs in a minor key,
and we’re grateful for it.

This year, more than many, feels heavy,
confusing, and terribly sad.
The world around us is rife with tension,
with pain and loss and too many people living with heartache and fear.

And some of those suffering are friends inside this circle,
sisters and brothers of our community.
Some of that heartache and fear are even inside of us.

So these four weeks that we set aside
to wait, to look for your coming,
to remember the story that centers us —
these four weeks are a gift
in the midst of all that is not right,
all that still needs the redeeming work
of a Savior.

But now the end of Advent is in sight,
just a few more days until Christmas
and oh! — we want to be ready this time.
We want to be ready
for that tiny baby,
for that holy family,
for those shepherds and wise men,
for those heavenly singers,
the ones that lit up the night sky
with a song of good news!

So on this day, Lord,
on this fourth Sunday in Advent,
as we wait here together,
in this space that is so lovely,
with these people whom we care about,
will you help us to look for that angelic light?
And to look for it with hope,
and with expectation,
and most of all, with grateful hearts.

Yes, Lord — in the midst of the busyness,
the gift-wrapping and the baking,
the family gatherings and the carol-singing,
in the midst of our own personal struggles and worries,
will you help us to
hang onto hope?
To grab hold of gratitude?

We confess that sometimes we forget.
We forget to say ‘thank you,’
to slow down,
to look up,
to look around
and tell you and one another
that we are grateful.
We are so very grateful for this story of ours.

We are thankful for its life-changing power,
and we are thankful for its grittiness.
For ours is a story that fairly reeks of
real life — life as we know it,
life as we live it,
and as we see it in the world around us:
families living under oppression,
poverty,
homelessness,
the murder of innocent children,
an unexpected, even scandalous pregnancy.

And this is the story that you — our Great God,
Creator of the Universe —
this is the story that you
deliberately chose
to step right into.

You chose to experience this life,
this human life here on planet earth,

in all its crazy mixed up-ness.

And you chose a girl like Mary,
and a man like Joseph to be the ones
who would help to tell the story,
to live the story.

So we thank you for these good people,
these good parents.
And we ask you to open our hearts,
settle our minds,
and learn what they have to teach us.

Today, we want to learn from Mother Mary,
from that wisp of a girl who
was braver than she knew,
that girl who was pleasing to you,
the one who lay on the straw
and pushed a King out into this world
on a  dark and lonely night,
far from her home.

As we learn from her today,
help us to remember that Jesus learned from her, too.
She was his first teacher, after all,
the one who helped him to grow up,
the one who walked this earthly road with him, right to the end.
I think she has a lot to teach us.
Help us to be good learners today.

And help us to walk into Christmas with open hands and open hearts,
to follow Mary’s example,
and to let you be born in us,
again and again.
“Let it be unto us according to your word.”

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being Saved by Beauty — A Deeper Story

For nearly two years now, it has been my joy and privilege to write once a month for one of the finest and most honest websites in the Christian blogosphere – A Deeper Story. I’ve got a reflection over there this month that came as a result of so much angry talk out here during this hot and sultry summer. Please follow the links here and at the end of this post to read the entire piece:

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“One thing have I asked of the LORD, one thing will I seek: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4, NRSV)

Every day. Honest to God, every single day, it is beauty that brings me back from the brink. Some days, it’s the single strongest strand in the invisible net that keeps me from sinking beneath the waves of agony that overwhelm our world on a regular basis.

This life we live can sometimes bring us to a desolate and frightening place. Human beings can be filled with so much hatred and ignorance; the work of the natural world can impinge upon our safety and our peace of mind; racism and sexism and ageism and every other ism you can name — well, they show up in all kinds of ways, both blatant and subtle. There are days when it all feels claustrophobic, paralyzing, too much.

I think that’s why I’ve chosen not to watch the news very much. We don’t take newspapers anymore, either. Maybe I’m like the proverbial ostrich, sticking my head in the sand, falsely believing I’m safe, while the ugliness continues to swirl around my very exposed hind parts.

All I know is, I have limits.

I do not like admitting that truth, I’ll tell you that. Most of my life, I’ve worked very hard to push through perceived limits, pushing to excel at whatever I’m doing. Why? Because I really, really don’t like limits that are imposed upon me by others, which is at the heart of all those isms I mentioned above, isn’t it? Racism, sexism, ageism — one group of people imposing limits on another group of people. And those kinds of limits, I do push back against, gently but firmly.

But I have other limits, ones that I’m discovering in my spirit, in my soul, and they seem to become more and more pronounced as the years add up. There are limits to how much ugliness I can take in, how much vitriol I can absorb. So I generally do not read comment threads that move from discussion to disagreement to name-calling. And I do not follow Twitter fests that quickly degenerate into small bites of not-knowing-much. There are exceptions to this, I know. But for this old broad, the speed and agility with which so many choose to speak is simply beyond me.

In the blogging world, and even on Facebook, I find that I am grateful for friends who can speak back to the ugly, and I try to lend my support with a gentle comment or two, or a Facebook share. But I am discovering that I don’t have what it takes to enter the fray and slice through the verbiage with a carefully aimed retort. For most of the last four years, I’ve been okay with that, grateful to be an encourager and a supporter, a cheerleader on the sidelines, gladly giving way to quicker minds and more articulate voices.

Today, however, at this end of these four years, I wonder: is it enough? Am I doing enough? Do I need to speak up more, maybe even shout more? This has been a matter of prayer and much inner seeking and searching into the depths of my heart and the limits of my courage. . .

Please click here to follow me over to A Deeper Story. . .

 

A Letter to My Mid-Life Self – The High Calling

I am honored to be contributing to The High Calling’s special week on the decisions and transitions of mid-life. And this particular post will show up on the date that would have been my parents’ 73rd wedding anniversary. I was asked to write a letter to my younger self. Not my teen-aged self, nor my 20’s or 30’s self – but my mid-life, 50-year-old self. . .

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Dear girl,

Yes, you always will be a girl—or at least part of you will. Fifty feels decidedly ungirlish, I know, but believe me when I tell you this: fifty truly is nifty.  Such a great age! The hard work of growing up, navigating relationships, figuring out what it means to be married, to mother children, to be a daughter-who-is-also-an-adult, to manage work and home—that’s all behind you now. Yes, you’ll keep discovering new ways to do all of the above, but the steepest learning curve is behind you. Honest.

And ahead of you? Oh, my! So many rich and wonderful things, so many interesting choices, and so much to give. All those years you’ve been living? There are people who need to hear about what you’ve learned. And there are so many creative ways for you to use what you’ve learned in new ways. There’s a lot left to do—even better, there’s so much still to be.

Turning fifty formally introduces the second half of life, that rich season of growing an inner life as well as an outer one. Please don’t waste a minute of it. Keep reading about contemplative practices, carve out time for daylong retreats, continue to work with a spiritual director. All that personal work you began in your 40s will continue to be formational and powerful, especially as you step out into the next big phase of your professional life. You don’t know it yet, but in two years, you’ll make the biggest move of the last thirty, moving in every way from all that is known and familiar, geographically and personally. And you’ll do it so that you can take a new job. Yes, you.

Here’s what you’ll discover: everything you’ve done up until now—caring for small children, juggling commitments, carving out time for yourself, learning how to let your spouse and friends help you understand yourself, the growing appreciation for how God has wired you—all of that will make you the best possible employee, the best possible you for whatever comes next.

Please do come on over to one of the finest magazines on the web and let me know that you’ve been there, okay? Just click here . . .

 

Doing the Work – for SheLoves

It is always a joy to contribute a monthly essay to SheLoves magazine, one of the most welcoming places on the internet. This month, I was asked to bring something a little bit different – to write about spiritual direction as a part of a special week on mentoring ministries. Please follow me over there to read the entire piece. 

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They sit in the red leather chair. Or they’re across the country, taking to me by Skype. Either way, I sit in my small study, settle deep into my hand-made, craftsman-style armchair, a lit candle by my side, my spirit ready, waiting.

They come to be heard, to be seen in ways that are welcoming and formational. I come to learn, to listen, to pray. And what we find is a kind of newness, a refreshing reminder of God’s presence and an ever-increasing willingness to do this good work. Together.

Spiritual direction is what it’s called. Companionship-on-the-way is what it is. Long a practice of the ancient church, surfacing in the 20th century in broader and wider corners of Christendom, this partnering together is holy ground, a sacred place where one person, trained in a variety of disciplines, prayerfully listens to the life of another, asking gentle questions, pulling out threads, weaving them together into a new idea, a new question, a glimpse of what the Spirit is doing.

I am relatively new to the whole idea of direction. I first began to hear and read about it in the late 1980s. I learned that direction is not therapy, though it incorporates many ideas and even techniques from that discipline. It is also not pastoral counseling, something I did quite a lot of during the seventeen years that I was a pastor. It is its own unique animal, a thing not quite like any other, a process that is hard to describe, difficult to encapsulate.

I began direction for the first time when I moved to Santa Barbara in the late 1990s and continued with it for three years. I took a break from that process for a while and then, about ten years ago, a new boss suggested I look into pursuing certification as a director myself, and a seed was planted, deep in my spirit.

 So come on over and join the conversation, okay? Just click on this line . . .