Gathering the Pieces – SheLoves

A new year, a return to a loved and familiar place. It’s the fourth Saturday of the month, and I’m up. When you read this, I will be away from home, celebrating a milestone birthday with my family gathered round. It was their idea, and I am blessed to be with them. I’ll try to sneak back here and interact with anyone who wishes in the comment section over at SheLoves. You can get there by clicking here.



Some ‘gathering’ friends of the mind I’ve met online and IRL.

“She is a friend of mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind.”  —  Toni Morrison, Beloved

Who do you know that ‘gathers you?’ Who are the women in your life who see you, all of you, the pieces of you? The ones who can help you gather them up, the ones that help you to stand straighter, walk smarter? Who are the women who are ‘friends of your mind?’

We all need friends like that, don’t we? But man, they are hard to come by. I’ve been pondering why that is true and have built quite a little list of probable contributing factors. But at the bottom of it all, I keep coming back to this one: we are in a perpetual hurry. And friendships-of-the-mind require time, intention and attention.

But we’re so busy, aren’t we?We’ve got so much to do, so many people to see (very briefly, of course!), and an unending list of things to see/do/make/find/improve/ change/understand/ begin/finish. Am I right?

All of which leads to one central truth: we are habitually tired. And in the midst of chronic fatigue, who has the internal space or the emotional energy to build relationships that gather us, especially when there are deadlines to be met, crying babies to be tended, demanding bosses to be dealt with, and astronomically high expectations to be realized?Those expectation, I might add, are almost always self-imposed.

I am writing this in the middle of December, smack dab in the clutches of all things crazy. And I am feeling a sense of loss in the center of me as I try to navigate it all. My husband was sick last week and I found myself in possession of two tickets to a Christmas concert. And I could not, for the life of me, come up with someone to call and say, “Hey, can you join me?”

So now, as I carve out a few hours to be quiet and attentive to this particular writing deadline, I am wondering: how can I do my life differently in the year that is rising before us? How can I become a woman who ‘gathers the pieces’ of others and who finds friends who can gather the pieces of me?

Please join me over at SheLoves Magazine – one of my favorite spaces out here in cyberville.

The Sister I Never Had — The High Calling


Celebrating Anita’s Birthday in Choma, Zambia, 1966

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


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

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

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

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

Entering into Lent – a Beautiful Download for You

Today we are the brink of Lent 2013.
It seems to have come quickly this year,
dependent as we are on the shifting calendar for Easter Sunday.
Yet, here we are!!

Are you ready?

If you’re not quite there, that is just fine,
because Lent itself is a time of preparation,
a set-apart time, for reflection, repentance, refreshment.
So come as you are, ready or not —
the season welcomes you, Jesus welcomes you.

Sometimes people ‘give something up’ for Lent –
like particular foods, treats, habits.
And sometimes, people add things for Lent,
like new patterns for scripture reading,
prayer, generosity, penitence.

The Foundations for Laity Renewal have brought us a gift for this season.
It’s a beautiful devotional booklet,
free for the asking,
with contributions from a wide variety of writers
connected with the Foundations and their subsidiaries,
most particularly, The High Calling and Laity Lodge.

Many of the names will be familiar to you, I’m sure,
and I was privileged to contribute one day’s meditation, too.
I encourage you to head over to this site,
fill in your name and then open the link they send.

It will be a rich addition to your Lenten experience this year, I promise.

If you’d like to read through the introduction and opening thoughts
you can click here, and go directly to The High Calling to read
Mark Roberts’ good words.

Letters to Me – A Book Review

Over the course of the next few months, there will be a number of small-press books making their way out into public view, collections of essays on a theme, carefully edited and lovingly written. This book is one of the first–and, in some ways, one of the most interesting. Nineteen writers were given this assignment: write a letter to your younger self somewhere between the ages of 18 and 30. Advise, if you must, but basically help yourself to see that things have a way of working themselves out. These letters are meant to be offerings of encouragement and hope, written from a distinctly personal and well-informed point of view. After all, the writers know the recipients intimately–more intimately than anyone else.

I was delighted to find some old ‘friends’ in this collection – Lyla Lindquist, Tamára Lunardo, Shawn Smucker, Charity Singleton, J.B. Wood, Lore Ferguson, Anita Mathias – people I have previously encountered through their blogs and their comments on mine. And none of them disappoints. All are fine writers, good thinkers and excellent communicators.

I loved reading about Shawn’s blue-eyed girlfriend, Charity’s courageous act of resignation, Tamára’s heartfelt choice for life when faced with an unplanned pregnancy as a 19-year-old. Jim Wood begins with, ‘GET A GRIP!’–SO perfect for many of us as we look back at our angst-ridden younger selves. But he goes on to celebrate all that happened in those long-ago years, praising and encouraging himself-from-way-back-when. I think we all need to do that from time to time, don’t you? Look back with love and support?

If pushed, I guess I’d have to say that Lyla’s letter was particularly poignant for me, rich with wry, careful reflection and a superb pages-long metaphor of life-as-a-Rube-Goldberg-contraption:

So many people think there’s a sure-fire, idiot-proof way to know the right thing. They get this idea that God’s whole plan for every person on earth can be derailed with one small misstep. I suppose some do get a clear and certain sense of the way they are to go. But it seems that for many of us, the fleeces and pro/con lists, the long straws and coin flips are formalities. Sometimes we’re going to have to ‘fish or cut bait’ as my dad would say. We’re just going to have to make a guess. Maybe an educated guess, but it’ll be a guess all the same.

What I want you to know now is that it will work out, better than you could have known or planned. Because for many of us, life is less like following a road map than coursing through a Rube Goldberg contraption. It seems far more like an elaborate series of springs and pulleys, levers and ropes that sets a chain reaction into motion.”

And she is off and running for a series of beautifully described twists and turns, rolling down ramps, across all kinds of fascinating obstacles, always following the marble on its relentless path to somewhere. It’s gorgeously done and worth the price of the book all by itself.

Yes, Lyla is a friend. But she happens to be an inordinately talented one. Each person in this collection contributes to the whole in their own unique way, telling pieces of his or her story. If you know someone in this age bracket–18 to 30–who is feeling discouraged, a little bit lost, wondering where they’re headed, why not purchase a copy of this book and pass it along to them? I know they’ll find encouragement. I pray they’ll even find a small, sunlit piece of hope to hang onto when the way ahead feels decidedly murky. 

I was given a copy of this book for review purposes but received no other compensation for this essay.

31 Days in which I Am Saved by Beauty – Day 3

It is dark as I begin.
I am an owl, a night owl,
so this early morning darkness
feels strange to my skin.
Yet it invites discovery.
I sense a secret, 
waiting to be unwrapped.

I gently close my lodge-room door,
walk down the lighted hallway,
the one on the outside
of the building,
searching the downward pathways,
the ones that take me past the art studio,
the gallery,
the large covered pergola,
the tennis courts.

I am hunting the jogging track.
One quarter mile,
circling through the brush,
winding a bit,
decorated with deer scat,
yet carefully tended and groomed.
Like everything else in this place,
a welcoming thing.

Slowly, the morning sun
makes itself known,
and as I reach the halfway
point of round four,
I stop for a moment 
on a bench, perfectly placed.

And this is what I see.
The darkness is fully rent now,
no more flash required,
that flash on my small pocket camera, 
the one that bounced back
at me,
reflecting only
trunks and branches.

Now I can see through them
to the river below,
almost out of sight,
down the grade.
The river that flows easily,
It does so in the light,
but also,
it does so in the dark.

In the feeble, clouded light of day,
I can see the path itself,

all of it – 
the edges,
the surroundings,
the general direction of things.
And somehow, 
it feels more real,
more solid,
more purposeful.

Yet nothing has changed.
The river,
the path,
the trees –
all of them are there
in the light and in the dark.

But sometimes it takes being in the dark
to fully appreciate the light.
Sometimes what seems hidden
in the dark
is not really hidden at all,
only veiled beauty, waiting
to shimmer in the light of day.

And sometimes we have to walk
the path when we’re not sure
where it is,
much less where it’s going. 

31 Days in which. . . I Am Saved by Beauty

At the end of it all, I am tired.
I am weary, to tell it true.
I wonder about so many things,
so many people,
so much pain,

There are days when I am tempted
to lose heart.
To chuck it,
check out,
roll over and play dead.

And then . . .

I walk into a room
where I will be alone
for a few days.
And I sigh, deep.
I peer through the slats,
find greens and browns,
lines and curves,
light and shadow.
And I am stunned,

I hear water, 
moving over rocks.

Smell rain,
coming in the back door,
blowing, dancing,
playing with the sky.

I find welcome,
tables spread with goodness,
candles lit,
napkins ready,
bread fresh-baked.

I find row upon row of hand-thrown mugs,
colors of earth and sky,
for the taking,
for the warming.

And the sighs keep coming.
One of my mother’s 
greatest gifts to me —
the finding of beauty in both
the everyday gifts
and the  
once-in-a-great-while ones.

Like simple wild roses,
and cerise beauty-berries,

exotic and unusual
to this California

Solid, old hymns,
and newly-minted words,
all of it gifted
with excellence
and joy.

There is deep thinking,
hard questioning,
good learning —
about our brains
and our words,
and our faithfulness
to the gifts
given us.

And there is the turning-around
closing service,
chairs facing out over the glory,
beholding the Glory.
Because this is the heart of it all.
When we’re weary,
when we’re frightened,
when we wonder where next
to put our feet,
this is how we find the way.

We hear the words,
we say the words,
we see the words,
and we meet the Word.
We take the Word,
we share the Word,
and we remember.
We re-member.
We find food for the journey,
rest for the weary,
and hope for the world.

Giving thanks this night for time at Laity Lodge, whose location, hospitality, beauty and generosity are not to be matched. We were led by brilliant and creative teachers – Professor, researcher and author Dr. John Medina; author and film critic Jeffrey Overstreet;  publisher and editor, John Wilson; author and priest, Lauren Winner; Professor, poet and essayist Julia Kasdorf; musicians extraordinaire, Ashley Cleveland and Kenny Greenburg.

And with this post, beginning a 31 day exploration of a famous Tolstoy quote which has haunted me for the last three years, since it was given to me by my spiritual director as we began our time together. Somehow, these seven words (“The world will be saved through beauty.”) have spoken to deep places in me and I’d like to explore those a little, with photos, words, quotes, scripture, prayer. It’s not all mapped out, but I believe we’ll get there just the same. Kind of like life.

Joining with The Nester and the 1000 (YES, ONE THOUSAND other bloggers who have taken up the gauntlet and will write every day for the month of October. Go on over there and check it out if you don’t believe me.

And I cannot leave this particular post without saying specific words of thanksgiving for the people with whom I was privileged to live, eat, work, think, talk and worship this past weekend. Here are a few of them:

From left to right-Dena Dyer, Sheila Lagrand, Michelle DeRusha, Deidra Riggs, Nancy Owens Franson, Sandra Heska King, Amanda Johnston Hill, me. (with Shelly Miller and Marilyn Yocum at the table just behind this one.)
Shelly Miller of Redemption’s Beauty and Amanda Hill of Hill+Pen
Marcus Goodyear – our faithful Senior Editor at The High Calling 
and his henchwoman, Deidra Riggs.
A whole bunch of The High Calling bloggers – we were about 1/3 of the total number of 
participants in this magnificent weekend.
Megan Willome and Dena Dyer, former neighbors, native Texans,
brilliant writers, great people.
Cindee Snider Re (Breathe Deeply) and Marilyn Yocum, one from Wisconsin, 
the other from Ohio,
fabulous human beings, creative lovers of beauty.
Amanda Hill, Shelly Miller, Michelle DeRusha (Graceful) and Sheila Seiler Lagrand (Godspotting). DO YOU SEE HOW BLESSED I AM?
Sharing with Michelle, Ann, Jen, Laura Boggess & LL Barkat tonight:

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