“The Communion of Saints”


That line from the Apostles’ Creed is a favorite of mine. And All Saints’ Sunday is, too — that Sunday when we remember those saints who are ‘absent from the body, but present with the Lord,’ all of whom are forever part of the church triumphant. And there are so many. So many. The writer of Hebrews describes them as a ‘great cloud of witnesses,’ and on this special Sunday, I can almost see them, surrounding us as we worship.

IMG_6236We used an adaptation of a litany from the Book of Common Prayer on Sunday, listing off saints from years/decades/centuries gone by, leaving space to mention more recent saints, ones whom we know and love. Each communal response: “Come, and stand beside us.” And in a powerful way, I could sense them all, standing there with us, as we spoke and sang together.


I helped with worship leadership while our senior pastor was out of town, and as always, I found that solemn procession of our gathered body intensely moving. At least 200 people went forward to pick up a lighted candle in memory of a loved one, placing it on the altar or the communion table.  Two mothers who each lost a son too early held one another’s arms as they walked back to their seats. Several congregants who lost loved parents in the last year walked by me, tears in their eyes. I placed a candle for my dad and my brother and my son-in-law; Dick placed one for each of his parents. They were glistening and guttering throughout the rest of the service, literally surrounding us with light and warmth. As that silent crowd moved through the chancel, we sang through all the verses of “For All the Saints.” We needed every single one to accommodate the crush of people who chose to remember and rejoice. 

Yes, I love this Sunday.


Pastor Jon preached a rich sermon on the Lazarus text in John 11, taking a different tack than most: Lazarus, dead and stinking, as a model for discipleship. Oh, so SPOT ON. Why? Because Jesus is in the habit of resuscitating those who are dead. Ask me how I know.

We spend far too much time trying to prove ourselves worthy when all that is asked of us is to respond to the Word of invitation: “Come out!” And then, we are asked to help one another shed those grave clothes, to uncover our faces and let go of all that entangles and trips us. And that includes our ever-lovin’ need to save ourselves, rather than simply allow the grace of God to flow through us and then out again, into the worlds in which we each live. I needed that reminder, that kind of good truth-telling. Maybe you do, too?


Forty-eight hours later, I had lunch with my mama, whom I love and whom I miss, both at the same time. In many ways, it would have been appropriate to carry a lit candle forward for her on Sunday. Because the mama I have known all my life — at least, most of the mama I have known — is no longer here. What remains is beautiful, that is true. But what remains is also so terribly confused.

Each time we are together, I am less able to decipher what she is talking about. The sentences are complete (most of the time) — they just don’t connect with one another. Nor do the pronouns she liberally sprinkles into each phrase have an easily discernible referent. It is always a guessing game, one that I am less and less able to play very well.

IMG_6307My sweet mama loves to go to the balcony overlook at the Mountain View Cafe in the Life Center building at the retirement community where she lives. She loves to look out at the mountains and the clouds, even though she can see only the barest outline of the landscape due to severe macular degeneration. She has now conflated some of her diminishing memories and it’s increasingly difficult for me to pull apart the tender threads and make any kind of sensible response to the running commentary she offers.

But we always smile at each other. And we laugh, wherever and whenever we can. And we enjoy our food. It was colder than usual at lunch and my mother is always cold. So she wore two jackets — hers and mine — and sipped on hot tea until it was no longer hot. And she ate the first half of her cheeseburger with sighs of delight over every bite. Then, a few minutes later, I asked if she’d like to eat the other half. And she looked at it. And she looked at me. And she asked, with a worried tone, “What is that??”

“What is that?”

Oh, mercy me.

“That’s the other half of your sandwich, Mama. The one that you said was so good.”

She picked it up, thoroughly confused as to which end was which and at the words ‘so good,’ immediately said, “Yes! It was good.”

And she began to eat.

I battled tears on the way home, missing her so much. Not wanting her to leave, but somehow wishing that neither of us would have to lose any more pieces of her before she goes home to Jesus.


It was a glory day today , and that helped. A true central California fall day, just about the first one we’ve enjoyed thus far in these six weeks of autumn. 

I took her back to her room, sat her in her recliner, with her feet up, and covered her with the cozy fleece blanket our daughter gave her for Christmas a couple of years ago. She was happy, calm, content.

And then I went home. Grateful down to my toes for the communion I enjoy with this saint in my life — the one I have today, and the one who is no longer here.


Here is the prayer I shared at the communion table, working from Jon’s description of his sermon earlier in the week. It wove its way nicely through the words that he shared. It never ceases to amaze me how the Spirit does that with our words — weaves them together, even when we are unaware of it.

A Prayer for Communion — “All We Like Lazarus”

Sunday, November 1, 2015; All Saints’ Sunday; Montecito Covenant Church

Here we are again, Lord. Gathering ‘round your table,

this place where we are reminded every month that we are bodily creatures.

Yes, indeed, all of us here have bodies — young, old, healthy, sick, strong, weak. We have these bodies that eat and move — some more easily than others — with minds and mouths that think and pray, and wonder and argue. Sometimes, these bodies even dance and sing.

Right now, they are sitting still, and we’re trying to focus our wondering, wandering minds on the good truths Jon has shared with us from your word this morning.

We’re here, Lord. At the table now. We’re here because you asked us to be here. Long ago, you invited us to take these simple things, this bread and this cup, and to eat and drink them together.


There’s something important about that part, isn’t there? And on this Sunday, we’re reminded more strongly than ever that when we gather these bodies of ours in this place, it’s not just we who are here. On this Communion Day, this All Saints’ Communion Day, we are more aware than we usually are of that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ to which we belong as earthlings. Thank you for the saints who have gone before us, thank you that in some way we cannot begin to fathom, they are still with us.

All of us together – saints on earth and saints in heaven – want to take just a moment to set aside these table gifts this morning. First, we want to thank you for them. To say thank you for the simplicity of them, for the everydayness of torn up bread and lukewarm grape juice. And second, we ask you to bless that ordinariness, and to infuse this simple ritual, with its familiar words, to infuse it with your presence, your holy presence that sees us, exactly as we are, and welcomes us here, nevertheless.

Help us to hear your call to ‘come out,’ dead and stinky though we may be. And help us to help each other loosen those grave clothes — all those things that bind us and hinder us from fully following after you.

Yes, Lord, even as we eat this blessed bread, and drink this set-aside cup, remind us that we do it together.

Lazarus is our model today, will you help us to learn from him? And there are other saints who can teach us, too. Saints whose lives tell the story of your powerful restorative and transforming work. And the truth is, sometimes, those saints are us. You are doing that good work in us.

Help us to tell our Lazarus stories to others, and help us to hear them from others, too. Too often, we forget to do either — to tell or to listen. Forgive us for that, Lord, and for the too many other ways in which we falter and fail, we fumble and flail.

But as this table so beautifully reminds us, your grace is more than a match for all of our faults. For this is a table of life! Even as we remember your death, Jesus, we do it in light of the resurrection. And all that is dead and dying in us can be redeemed, called out to newness of life.




31 Days of Aging Gracefully: Day 21 — Stepping Up


This picture is a gratuitous shot, taken the same morning as yesterday’s series of three at the end of the post. It has no particular connection to today’s theme, but I like to use the panorama feature of my iPhone when I’m standing in that vacant lot and this seemed like a good post to put this one in. And on today’s walk — be still, my heart! — there was a ‘for sale’ sign on that lot. Sob.

In these years of retirement from active pastoral ministry, I’m finding that I am stepping up to do some things that I couldn’t do as easily when I was employed and working on a church staff. And I’m having fun doing them, too. Herewith, a short list:

I am by NO means a professional photographer, but I have a fairly good eye and a moderately cooperative camera. So when I’m asked to take pictures of church activities that are then used in slide shows on Sunday mornings, I always say yes. If I’m in town and going to the event anyhow, why not?

I’m also serving on the nominating committee this year — short-term job, fairly easy. Why not?

We are doing more childcare for our local grandkids — their parents both work, we live nearby, we love those kids and they seem to like being with us, so again — why not?

If I get a call or a note from someone I’ve met online and they want to pursue the possibility of entering into direction with me, I always say, “yes.” I enjoy this work I do and online friends generally seem to be good candidates for a monthly skype session. Why not give it a try? If it works, great. If not, we’re still online friends, right?

I am available for my mom weekly for lunch, sometimes more than once, and to take her to the doctor/dentist or shop for her sundries. I’m here, nearby, she needs some help from me, so . . .yeah, I’ll own that. Why not?

If I’m asked to lead in prayer, read scripture, stay after the service and pray for others — and I am going to be in town, I will always say yes. Why not?

If I don’t have a good answer to that recurrent question ‘why not?’ —  I try to say ‘yes.’ This is a season for stepping up in ways that are both familiar and new, and I’m glad to be able to do so.

What kinds of things does your life allow you to ask, ‘why not?’ about these days? Not every season has room for a positive answer to that query, and I am in no way trying to ‘guilt’ anyone into anything. But I also want to encourage you to ask that question honestly wherever you can. And by ‘honestly,’ I mean looking at your whole life — all your current commitments — your energy level, your health, your marriage, if you’re married, your family, if you have one. If there is space for a step-up, then by all means, take it. If there is not, say ‘no,’ without guilt and without worry. There will be someone else.

31 Days of Aging Gracefully: Day 20 — Hanging On

I am hanging onto worship these days. In as many ways and places as I can find. The older I get, the more intrinsic it becomes to who I am. I think that’s how it’s supposed to happen, to tell you the truth. We’re slow learners, we human creatures. It takes us a lifetime to realize who we are and to whom we belong. As I move through my days, I am more aware than ever of the presence of God, maybe most especially in the details and the humdrum of life. But also, of course, where you might expect to find God.


For me, a primary place is at the Table, in the eucharist. I dearly wish we were part of a community that celebrated the Lord’s Table every week, but since we are not, I relish that first Sunday experience. I am particularly drawn to communion by intinction — going forward to receive a piece of bread and then dipping it in a shared cup. Something about the movement brings a deeper level of worship for me — an involvement of all the parts of me, I guess.


Most weeks, the music of our Sunday services is also a primary point of connection for me, a time of worship that moves me to a different place somehow. Again, I think it’s because of the body involvement. We stand for a lot of our singing and that gives us a bit more freedom to move gently with the rhythm or to lift hands with the words (though not many of us do that; we do have Swedish roots in our denomination, after all). I had someone say, almost snidely, that most of the time an opening set of songs is designed to make us ‘feel good.’ I beg to differ. I think music can bring us to worship faster than words. And when you combine good melody and rhythm with good words — well, then — what’s not to love?


I also move into worship quite naturally when I’m at the beach, looking at the water. The ocean has always spoken to me of God, invited me to ‘bow the knee,’ and express both my gratitude and my awe. As long as I’m able to get there, I want to see the ocean every week — preferably more than once in a week!


The Word is a place where worship happens, too. Both the word written and the word spoken. But maybe most of all, the Word as a living, breathing presence in my thoughts and actions. The Spirit is that Word for a Christian, bringing to mind written words, ideas, groans. And faces, names, situations for whom I need to be praying. And prayer for me does not look like it once did. I talk some. But I listen more. And I visualize more. I also do a brief examen, or praying backwards through my day, as I drift off to sleep. All of that, as well as the time I spend reflecting on directees before I meet with them, the times I say ‘thank you’ for the gifts that are mine, the times that I am obedient to that nudge inside that says, “write her a note,” or, “call that one and go to tea,” or “find a way to say you’re sorry.” All of that is communion, which is one of the dearest kinds of worship for me.


And, of course,  I am hanging onto those morning walks which bring me directly into the presence of our God with each step, no matter how hard I’m breathing as I climb those hills! I took this shot of the sun just peeking over the southwest coastline today, at about 7:10 a.m. And here’s what I love about it. I was standing here — in the middle of a very steep, vacant lot, chuck full of gopher holes and weeds.

IMG_6110 IMG_6111

Unsightly, rough, and yet . . . the place where I breathe in the beauty of our new neighborhood more fully than almost anywhere else. The place where I pause to worship every day. Go figure.

Worship can happen anywhere, can’t it?

Where do you worship most freely/easily?

31 Days of Aging Gracefully: Day 10 — Watching My Step



Do you see that rough looking spot in the pavement in this picture? There is about an inch-and-a-half difference between the asphalt and the concrete in this particular roadway. It’s the one that circles our local cemetery here in Santa Barbara, a place I used to love to walk.

But in February of this year, my left foot — which was surgically altered ten months prior to this event — got caught on that inch-and-a-half difference and I went down, face first, into the asphalt. After I hit the ground, that poor roadway looked like this:


Because I was on blood-thinning medication, I had to spend the next 24 hours in a hospital room, being monitored for a possible brain bleed. The hospital room came after driving myself to the ER and having stitches put into FIVE locations around my face, including inside my mouth. Thankfully, the brain bleed never materialized. 

Within about five days, this is what I looked like:


I know, I KNOW!! Almost as bad as the roadway, and downright scary, right?

Less than three months later, I misstepped coming out of the back seat of my car after I’d gone to retrieve something while visiting my daughter. I landed on my bum, hard, and then on the back of my head. I refused to go to the ER that time, but four days later, I felt the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life as I turned over to get out of bed in the morning. Something tore – I could feel it. I found out later it is called the abdominal rectus sheath muscle, and that sudden, searing tear is a rare side effect of the particular blood thinner I was taking, most probably complicated by the fall at my daughter’s. That little event led to TWO nights in the hospital, with lengthy intravenous treatment to reverse the effects of the blood thinners and stop the internal bleeding. I had a humungous lump in my gut, just below my lower left rib, that slowly dissipated over the next couple of months, causing some very funky bruising all along my left side.

To say these two events were distressing is a massive understatement. The very best thing that came out of them is that I am no longer taking blood thinners — HOORAY. And the second best thing is that I am now very, very careful where I put my feet.

From my bed in the ER during that second event, I called my foot doctor and asked him to please order some specifically targeted physical therapy to help me with my balance. The surgery with its L O N G recovery (no weight-bearing for eight weeks) had left me feeling off-balance much of the time. My post-surgery therapy had worked on strengthening my newly re-created foot, but this second, targeted round of PT has made a wonderful difference in my sense of balance and I am grateful. (I still do two of the exercises every single day.)

These scary episodes have underscored for me the truth that this body, she is gettin’ up there. She simply is not what she used to be. So I find myself looking down a lot these days, being extra-careful where I walk. In fact, I am much more cautious in general. I have never been a daredevil physically, but these days, I’m an out-and-out scaredy-cat.

And that care, that caution has become something of a metaphor for me in other areas of my life as well, most particularly with words — both spoken and written. Watching my step can be applied in lots of way, it seems to me.  

What about you? Where are you becoming more cautious and watching your step as you get older?

Just Wondering

31 Days of Aging Gracefully: Day 5 — Finding Beauty


Beauty shines. It’s all around us, all the time. But, oh! We need eyes to see it. We need intention and we need attention and we need an open heart.

Lord, open the eyes of my heart, the eyes in my head. 

No matter our age, the truth is always the truth. And here’s the truth: our God is a God of beauty, a God who loves beauty, a God who makes beauty. 

And it shines!

Through the back of a pink hibiscus.


Through the tassels in long grass.


Even from a string of new lights from Cost Plus/World Market!


You can find it in the clouds that roil and roll, and the water that glistens below.


You can see it in the whiteness of the bluffs as they meet the water and in the reflection they create in a pond of scummy slough water.


And that scum supports a long list of beautiful shore birds. Beauty downright startles in the silhouette of the greater heron, with his elegant white coat and his bright yellow feet.


And beauty delights us as we eat our dinner and enjoy the momentary quietude of this small winged creature. 


And, I gotta tell you that it is beauty that smiles back at me in the handiwork of our much-loved son-in-law, who makes it possible for books to sit on their own shelves and files to nestle in their own drawers. He even added a spotlight to make it all look downright heavenly.

Where are you finding beauty these days?

Just Wondering

Own and Share Who You Are — SheLoves Magazine

I got bumped up early this month over at SheLoves, for their October theme of ‘power.’ What a great topic to reflect on. You can begin my essay here and then follow the link over to the best women’s magazine on the web, okay? Always good conversation in that place!


It’s taken me a lifetime to inhabit this skin of mine. In truth, I believe that habitation to be one of our primary tasks in this life — to realize who it is we’re created to be, to own it, to live it, to share it. It takes time, it takes intention, it takes attention, and it takes oodles and oodles of trust to get anywhere close to realizing any one of that little list of verbs, much less all four: realize, own, live, share.

Despite the great strides that have been (and are being) made on behalf of equality for women in the western world, this particular piece — this piece called ownership — is still so difficult for many of us. And sadly, more than difficult, it is impossible for far too many of our gender, born into repressive cultures at various places around the globe.* There is work still to be done, isn’t there? Even here, even now.

I believe that those of us who follow the rabbi from Nazareth are invited to lead the way. Everything about the ministry of Jesus spoke to the beautiful truth of the good news Jesus brought, the good news Jesus lived out while walking our earth, the good news the Holy Spirit continues to whisper in our ears. And here it is: we are loved by, wanted by, seen by and have the choice to be filled by . . . an Almighty God. A God who calls us friends, even children.

Which makes us — children of the King.

Just let that wash over you for a minute or two.

This kingdom God invites us to enter is not like any kingdom we’ve studied about in history books. It is marked by humility, service, even suffering. But it is also a place where healing happens, where goodness rises, where power is available from one moment to the next, no matter how difficult any particular one of those moments may prove to be. It is a place of hope, and justice, of valuing one another and also? Of learning to love ourselves as we discover who we are in the light of God’s redemptive, empowering love.

So . . . who are you? What are the gifts that God asks you to pour into this world? Where is your primary ‘playing field,’ the place where the power of God can be released through you?

Please join us at SheLoves and help us reflect on what it looks like to fully realize who we are, and God loves and empowers us.

The 31-Day Write: 31 Days of Aging Gracefully

31 days of aging gracefully 800px

2015 marks year 4 of the 31 Day Writing challenge for me. First was 31 Days in Which I Am Being Saved by Beauty (2012), then there were 31 Days of Giving Permission (2013), and last year, it was 31 Days of Looking for the Little.

This is a year of facing into reality for me. I turned 70 in January, I landed in the hospital in February and again, at the end of April. I traveled to Kauai in July with our entire clan to celebrate FIFTY years of marriage, and in August, my husband and I moved, downsizing after 18 years in a much-loved larger home with a huge yard.

Yeah, it was time. It IS time.

I am old and getting older by the minute, and if I’m going to have even a tiny chance of doing this aging thing well, I want to be intentional about it. So that is what I’ve chosen to write about for the next 31 days.

I’m nervous about this, to tell you the truth. I happen to find myself at a somewhat painful juncture, realizing I am beginning to be invisible in some ways. Do you know that about getting old in this culture? Elders are not always seen, even in their own family setting. I’m not sure this is intentional, but it surely is reality. Maybe it’s because we’ve been around so long, we’ve become part of the furniture, always available. Maybe it’s because we serve as somewhat painful pointers to the future for those who are younger. Maybe it’s because as we age, we tend to slow down a bit, to measure our words more, to give up the drivenness and hungry ambition that are so much a part of mid-life in 21st century western culture. Whatever the reasons, I am choosing to step out of the invisibility cloak this month and put some words out into cyberspace about how I’d like to live these last years of my life.

I am hoping that these reflections will be both highly individual — reflections on my own aging process and what I’m learning — and at that same time, universal in their application. After all, none of us gets a ‘pass’ from this stuff, do we? If we’re fortunate to avoid accident or early terminal illness, we all must face into the reality of bodies that grow old and weary, of choices becoming more limited. And hopefully, of enjoying the benefits of wisdom gained, gratitude grown, joy multiplied, insights deepened. 

I’ve got a list, and will do my best to work ahead a little. I’m hoping to have a post up every day, but if I miss a few here and there, extend a little bit of grace, okay? After all, I’m OLD. (said with a smile)

In the meantime, please grab my button and follow along!

Just Wondering

Learning to Bend — A Post for Amber Haines

There are some people you know instantly are kindred spirits. Amber Haines is one of those for me. I have read her blog faithfully for five years, have cried with her over the health crises of her youngest son Titus (virtually only, though I’d have been more than willing to do so in person if she didn’t live all the way across the country!), even won some beautiful Amber-made jewelry several years ago. She has a new book out – a beautiful book which I hope to review in this space very soon. I urge you to order your own copy of “Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire & Finding the Broken Way Home.” This piece is one of a long series of guest posts that she has invited, each of them speaking to that broken way home in one way or another. An image she uses in her book is of the cold linoleum floor on which she was found by God one desperate night. And that’s where this piece begins.


That bathroom floor can be a cold and lonely place. I’ve been there, at the end of myself, done in by doing good, exhausted by my own refusal to ask for help, by my unhealthy relationship with food, by my misunderstanding of the gospel of grace. There are all kinds of ways to be broken and I am no exception.

All my life, I have been the good girl — obedient, careful, helpful, the one who takes care of things and people. I don’t think I ever went through a rebellious phase as a teenager. Maybe it’s because I’m an eldest child, maybe it’s the way my mother instilled certain fears in me at an early age, maybe it’s the way I’m wired. I never tried anything on the ‘don’t do’ list, I never quit going to church, I read my Bible and prayed every day, I toed every line put in front of me, generally without complaint. To most people looking in, I was a very together person.

Along the way, however, I never learned much about self-care, about healthy boundaries, about knowing when to stop. And I learned to use food as . . . well, just about everything: a pacifier, a reward, a comfort, a go-to, quick-fix for any emotional struggle, a boredom-satisfier, a crutch when facing a difficult situation, even a subversive way to be rebellious. And for many years, it worked pretty well.

Except for the unfortunate fact that I carried far too many pounds on this large frame. Despite the copious tears that I’ve shed over that truth during the last 40+ years, I now see that that my size was an important part of my story. Somewhere, deep inside of me, I needed to be big. Big enough to meet the needs of all the people around me, big enough to take care of three little ones who came faster than imaginable, big enough to deal with the busy schedule I always managed to set for myself, big enough to get through seminary at mid-life, big enough to handle whatever curveball my pastoral jobs might throw at me. Big enough.

Slowly, with time and experience — much of it difficult and painful — I am learning to lean into the biggest truth I’ve learned: it’s okay to be small. In fact, it’s necessary to be small — to recognize our own inability to ever be big enough, strong enough, good enough, devoted enough, loving enough, capable enough, sturdy enough . . . enough . . . unless . . . we learn how to bend.

Come along over to Amber’s place to read the rest of this and to join the conversation.


To Dance with One Another — SheLoves

It’s my Saturday at that great women’s magazine, SheLoves. The theme for September is ‘held,’ and this small vignette was what came to me. Sorta surprised me, to tell you the truth. It’s about dancing — how I never do it anymore but I still dream about it from time to time.


We don’t dance in our house. And I miss it. Not that I was ever a ‘dancer’ — I can’t follow choreography of any kind to save my life. Believe me, I’ve tried. Jazzercize? Nope. I trip over my own feet trying to figure out whether that last move was to the right or to the left.

But when I was in junior high and high school, I went to school dances and I enjoyed moving around on the dance floor. I could do a few of the simpler dances of the day when the music was up-tempo, but slow dance? Now, that I could really do. Because I was a singer and enjoyed music in my home all the time, I knew how to find the beat, and I discovered I quite liked moving to that beat while being held by someone else.

There is something sweet and natural about moving slowly to music, held in the embrace of another. I can’t explain it, I just know it to be true. I didn’t date a lot, but the boys I did go out with all knew how to dance, some of them quite well. And if the lead dancer is good, the weak dancer is home free. I quite enjoyed being home free.

I met my husband, God’s greatest gift to me, when I was a first-year college student. I loved his big brown eyes, his sincerity, his sense of humor and his commitment to his family.

But he did not dance. And he was quite clear about that. Quite.

I didn’t get it. He was supremely well-coordinated, a gifted athlete. Why not at least try it?

That was a great big NO.

It took me a long to time to ferret out the reason why. He told me it was because he never learned — his family and his church frowned on it, so he was never taught how to move to music. But my parents came from a similar background, so neither of them knew a lot about dancing, either. Yet my mom wanted me to know how, so she asked our next-door neighbor to show me, to provide a few simple lessons. That small gesture made it possible for me to jump over the gigantic hurdle of adolescent self-consciousness and go out there and try it.

No one ever did that for him. And the self-consciousness ran deep, deep, deep. He cared what other people thought about him. He knew he was a good athlete and he was unwilling to take the risk of trying something new to him, something physical that he might not excel at. A 4-letter jock all through high school, the embarrassment factor was simply too big a hurdle for this good man. . .

Come on over and join the conversation at SheLoves, okay? Just click on this line.

The Surprising Nature of Grief

He was in his late 50’s, I’m guessing. Salt and pepper hair and mustache, thick black shoes, Bermuda shorts and the usual bright red apron. I was at Home Depot, purchasing something or other for the work we’re doing on our new home, and I noticed him, cheerfully helping customers through the checkout process.

He was kind, with a peaceful, even happy expression on his face. I could see him from where I stood waiting in line, and I remember thinking, “That guy is one of the good ones. Yeah, the shoes with the shorts are a tad nerdy, but what a sweet man!”

I dug into my cart, laid my wares on the conveyor belt and he quickly moved to the end of the island, getting ready to put my purchases into a bag for me. I handed over my credit card, signed my name and turned to thank him as I got ready to exit the store. And that’s when I saw his name tag:


Big black letters, larger than life. And as I saw them, I was startled to hear a great gasping sob erupt from my mouth. The next minute, tears were streaming down beneath my sunglasses as I made my way back to the car.

I had been blindsided by grief, deep and wide.

Kenneth was my youngest brother’s name. The one who died in 2009. A man I’d never met called me early in the morning of October 2nd; he was the manager of Ken’s sober living residence. He’d found my number in my brother’s cell phone and told me tearfully that Ken passed away in his sleep. He was 53 years old.

Oh my, such a sweet man. Troubled, broken, sick and tired, but such a sweet man. I’ve written about him elsewhere, detailing his life of struggle and pain. But that day — that instant in the Home Depot — my thoughts were these:

This could have been my brother.

He would have been so good at a job like this.

Oh, how I miss him! Oh, how sorry I am for all the turmoil he endured! Oh, how I wish I could change it somehow.

But I cannot. I cannot go back in time, much as I might wish to do so. I cannot change one second of his life.

This much, though . . . this much, I can do:

I can acknowledge my own sadness about him.

I can make space for the grief to surprise me, again and again.

I can thank God for Ken every day.

I can pray for his sons and daughter-in-law.

I can remember the best pieces of his story.

I can pay attention to those I meet who remind me of him in some way — size, demeanor, struggle.

I can not be ashamed of the sobs, the tears, the sadness or him. Instead, I can remember him with love and gratitude, accepting him for who he was, warts and all, and rejoice that his suffering is over.

Grief comes in waves, they say. Who knew the tide would still roll after this many years? Sometimes I think I’m ‘used’ to all the death and dying we’ve experienced in our family circle. But I’m not, and — thank God — I never will be. Though it often comes disguised as blessing, especially after a long, difficult illness, death is always our last enemy, a reminder that our time in this sphere is limited and finite. Ah, Lord, I thank you that Ken’s dying was gentle, though his living was harsh.

I miss you, sweet brother of mine. I truly do.