Monday, December 26, 2011

Bound and Freed

I read recently some interesting article about faith that reminded me of my Latin language skills, recalling the base for the term religion: religio-- to retie, to bind. This idea of re-tying, binding yourself to something--like the climber who adjusts carabiners while scuffling over the sheer face of rock--struck me as especially appropriate an image during Advent (or at any time the practice of faith and contemplation leads us to look inside ourselves). Of course there's the meaning of binding oneself, of being bound, which connotes negatively, of course. I don't see this so much as the deeply personal experience of free will in the climbing that is human life. I tie myself back to God again and again, even as I fall or slip in the climb. In fact, I am utterly grateful for each carabiner, the length of rope--moments of grace, depth of mercy--which the relationship I cherish with God affords me.

In the quiet stillness I find the spirit enters, creates realization in my heart and mind, and opens me up for the climb. Instead of worrying about the heights to which I can go, I take in the view. I listen. I grow, both secure and challenged, in awe of the possibilities which this binding of my soul frees me to experience.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


The other night my husband asked me what my favorite Christmas movie was, and I had to answer the George C. Scott rendition of A Christmas Carol. His Scrooge is the Scroogiest, and the whole atmosphere of the filming accentuates the Dickensian: the ghostliness, the spiritual, the festive.

The story itself is filled with the idea of mercy and compassion as the true spirit of Christmas. The curmudgeon's conversion reminds us that even the most lost soul has a home to come to. In my umpteenth time watching the movie, I saw in a new way how Scrooge chooses to move forward during the conversion process, even when he is afraid and resistant.

Isn't it that fear which often keeps us from confessing, as Scrooge does on his grave at the end of the story, faults and misgivings? When he says "Why show me this if I am past all hope?" In this hopeful statement is that bit of grace, a moment of clarity--he becomes self-aware that the horror of what he sees he might change by changing his ways. Even the smallest possibility for change becomes a balm, a move toward an altered life. In a way, this reads as a spiritual mandate as much as the social one Dickens intended. Our own personal conversions should compel us toward one another in this same way.

Here at the end of the year and in the midst of my favorite spiritual season, Advent, I'm drawn to the way I have now experienced significant life passages with each season of the calendar. These passages have lead to huge conversion moments for me: Spring was when Tra and I fell in love; Winter was when I miscarried the precious little one we'd hoped for; Summer was when Isabella Sophia became the fulfillment of our love and hope; and now Fall has become the season I will associate with finding our first house. In truth, we have already created a home in our hearts. Now we have a bigger space to fill with the love we've been so generously given.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Is anyone out there noticing an uptick in meanness these days?

For example, I find disturbing the ways in which people vault their expectations online on comment boards in mean-spirited, uninformed, and utterly cynical sharing. I rejoice when I see both balanced and fair understanding in commentary, and when I see the positive (since it seems so rare these days).

I am wondering--why does it seem so hard for people to find joy in the world and too easy to find fault? I understand there ARE some things that really do rot out there--I'm not so naïve that I cannot see there's a need for critical perspective. My point is, there seems a lack of real--well, perspective. Rot can and will always exist--can we bring some kind of constructive rather than destructive perspective to it at all?

Look at almost any commentary on news, writing, art, etc which exists online and you will find a bevy of commentary from bored, hung-up, perhaps disgruntled people who spend so much time online that perhaps this has become a a recourse, a way to vent, grandstand, that sort of thing. Often news is gloom and doom and the utterly preposterous; often we can find ourselves exasperated at extreme points of view out there just waiting to get licked by some kind of strong accountability via such a public thing as social media.

Now, I'm hyper-aware here I do write a blog, and share it. I mostly do not grandstand, but I've had some moments, this among them. I guess I felt compelled to put into words my desire to find, out there, the real and good in the world--the ways in which humans are capable of being genuine with each other, not just witty and inane for the sake of this.

One comment at a time, perhaps we can zero-out the rot of the world.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Soul Therapy

I’ve been hobbling like Quasimodo for too long--it was really doing a number on my self-esteem until I finally broke down and went to visit with my doctor. I hurt my knee pivoting the wrong way, and between this and back pain, work stress, and personal demons, my life has been a little tumult of calamity, which of course descends all at once. Isn’t that how it usually goes?

A little soul therapy along with referrals to anti-inflammatory medicine and PT helped. This month, therapy was watching a movie with friends: the recently acclaimed Of Gods and Men, about a community of Trappist monks living in Algeria in the 1990s enduring the terrorism there at the time, witnessing the extraordinary ordinary of everyday life for the villagers there, and confronting their own personal demons. Their monastery was a place for villagers to come and receive medical care. Just that--the compassion with which the Trappists shared with their Algerian community--was inspirational enough. What really set it over the edge for me was the way in which the men grappled with maintaining their commitment to them, to their own way of life, and to God, without sacrificing one bit of the humanity which made them weak, made them want to hide sometimes from imminent danger. The most touching part for me was the one monk who found he had to pray and talk aloud to God in the middle of the night, torn between his path of faith and the apprehension terrorist throat-slashing had lodged in his daymares.

I don’t know how many times I’ve felt that way--like I want to hide from the difficulties, decisions, and discipline of everyday life. I do not live in community like the monks did, but I recognize my own community, my responsibility to it, the ways in which being mother, wife, teacher, Franciscan, friend, daughter and sister and cousin (from afar) create challenges to my understanding of life on a daily basis. I have always been beyond grateful for the kind of people who have surrounded me all my life. Sometimes I wonder how I got so lucky, but should I really question the given gift of grace, which time and again has come to me?

For that matter, should I question the reality of human life: that we will and must suffer, and that we need to learn in our suffering how to be even more human? I know many would balk at the suggestion, for the injustice of suffering has long created questions and doubt in the world. In truth, no one hopes to suffer. What’s certain is that every time I have suffered mentally, physically, and emotionally, I have, in time, created a deeper relationship with God, with myself, and with others involved. Even though in the now I might not be able to see how the chaos of my life will right itself, I believe it will, and that I will see purpose untangle itself from the mess.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Oxymoronic Grace

Once during yoga class at the Y, I was struck by the oddity of our situation--inside our instructor serenely intoned "breathe, stretch..." and just outside our doors, the summer camp leader repeated in monotone to six year-olds "shoes by the door, shoes by the door, shoes by the door, stop...stop! Stop! Stop!" It was farcical--but something of a reflection of life, true to form. This can be how my brain operates depending on the day--within, I am calm, and from without, shouting and the noise of life compete for my attention. Or vice versa.

Sifting through this messy cacophony is priority one. I keep thinking I have to separate the two, but maybe it's best to have both that inner and outer world competing for my heart and soul. I was irked at the noise from the YMCA camp, ready to register a complaint, but had I followed through on this, I wouldn't have this lesson: let one inform the other. Let the noises and distractions of the world inform my choices within, my coming to peace, maybe even stretch out my soul to work at cultivating a space of silence. I want to reach God through this centering, see life for what it is, see what possibilities lay before me.

Surprisingly, I could work past the noise, could let it float just outside my mind as I meditated. It's difficult, but not impossible, I found.

Maybe the challenge of balancing the inner and outer self, the clamor of this world, our self-importance and the well-being of others, and anything that needs our attention on a daily basis creates the right atmosphere for forging a new bond with our spirits. Maybe it tempers us. What holds it together, though, in the midst of chaos? For me, interminable grace.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Leaving Pieces of Myself

This is going to sound gross--you’ve been warned--but today I nearly left a piece of myself behind: a broken toenail. I have this bad pinky toe, and it’s always been painful to consider removing, but today it decided to remove itself painlessly on the edge of a soft couch. I was grateful it didn’t hurt and took the ugly away!

So of course I got to thinking about needless worry, about pain taken away, about the things we leave behind, the bits and pieces of ourselves. I marvel to think about the sheer amount of pieces--the bits I didn’t like, and some grudgingly taken away. I’ve left pieces with friends who needed consoling, bits throughout my graduate career at various classes and in various administrative offices, crumbs after capstone moments like graduations and weddings and baptisms, chunks after disagreements and gatherings. Giving myself to life, if I am really giving myself to it, involves necessarily leaving myself behind, both going into and out of the situation at hand.

Lately I’ve been thinking about anger--or any volatile emotion, the kind that keeps me from leaving good pieces, from giving of myself. I just read some about the Desert Fathers regarding acknowledging anger. Not ignoring or hiding it out of embarrassment, not pushing it aside, thinking it just something wrong with our wiring, but actually taking it up, looking at it, and realizing that it’s telling us something, this anger, this emotion. I tend to see anger as something wrong with me, or with whomever is angry at me (justly or not), but this writer encouraged the idea of conscientiousness regarding anger. The emotion shows us what we’re missing, or doing right or wrong, and if we’d just consider the emotion and then act on it with compassion, we wouldn’t ignore something so central to human existence: an acknowledgement of self. Sometimes anger is necessary, for instance, to bring our attention to something we need to change or make better or rethink. The key comes in how we act on our emotion--taking it as an odd gift, and making use of it to bring about a good. Writers and artists do this when they create out of random inspiration, daily looking for the beauty in even the ugly.

I want to create out of some of my twisted messes, and see the world anew, in this way, and leave the better pieces behind for beauty’s sake.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Life and Death Create Us

I'm flashing back to childbirth, to the experience of pain. It was excruciating, but it was mine to have--I was bent over with it, then straddling bedside, stretching, rocking back and forth, and always, always breathing, breathing with stride. Exercising patience with breathing, with being present; with my husband's help, I was able to do both, and possess my pain. Hold it and practically admire it. Oddly, it was awe-inspiring even as it broke me down.

I'll never forget that day--now it's been almost a year, and yet feels like a lifetime. Through initial feeding problems because of her cleft palate, litany of doctor consultations, surgery, fevers and colds, and then watching her learn to become human, we have come to know our little Peanut.

Have I come to know myself in a new way?

The answer came in the death of a friend, in the mundane of life.

When our friend--our favorite lector at church and weaver of stories at social functions there--died, I felt the sorrow and joy from Massachusetts, where I was at the time. Sorrow in loss--and then joy in knowing he was where he'd prepared to be.

What really did it for me was visiting his grave--the simplicity of his death story, the experience of it for his family as told by the groundskeeper of this beautiful conservation burial grounds. Wrapped in a shroud he lay in the shade of the earth before us, and I knew he was in a cool comfort beyond the heat of this world. I experienced in the quiet of those woods, in the company of chirping birds and hushed tones of our conversation, a sense that I would like such a burial, such a return to God, and then such a place for those who loved me to reconnect, spiritually.

In birth and death, we come to know ourselves. We witness that experience of others and, if we're truly open, let the spirit move us, and then move with it, we can come to know something deeply about ourselves, something held secret and quiet even as we were in our mothers' wombs, pressing against bone to get out and get the day started in we know not what. Maybe little minds know the love which created us will hold us up.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Well, here we are--the first day of summer, though in Georgia arguably summer's been here for a month (soooo hot). I've been appreciating those cool mornings in Massachusetts on my recent adventure there to visit with my parents. They're undoubtedly the most proud grandparents at the moment, and it was something else to watch them with my daughter, to think of the way they must have felt with me and with my siblings, watching them grow, learn new things each day, from the moment eyes open to the minute they drift off to dream land.

As much as I love and adore my little one, I enjoyed stealing away several times for a little quiet--and my favorite instance was visiting a favorite beach with my brother. It was, as he said, "like visiting an old friend." We prayed and meditated there for awhile, letting the sound of the surf, the warmth of the sand, and chill of the breeze become like prayer to our senses. Being present in that moment was soul-quenching.

I had a similar moment again at a street festival called Day of Portugal--but instead of surf and sandpipers, I saw the steeple of St. Anthony's Church, the bustle of festival goers dancing and eating, and the general joys of the evening, in the midst of this all, as a different kind of solace. Oddly, sometimes we can find it in the midst of many.

Look for a moment of solace near you, pause, and let it wash over you--then give praise and thanksgiving. I think it's nothing short of a miracle that we can find, in our busy human lives, these extraordinary moments.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A quick meditation

I'm amused whenever I hear Isabella cooing and babbling to herself in the backseat; I can't see her but I know what state of mind she's in from the sound of her voice, or her cry, or even the kind of breathing in her sleep--measured, easy, peaceful. It helps me feel everything is alright in the world, regardless of my stress level.

Thinking this through, I placed myself in that spiritually: I believe God understands and listens to the stirrings of my soul, when all is sound and babble. I have days when that's ALL I sound like, and knowing someone's listening is the source of comfort. I know some find this support in the ear of compassion, and we can all be a source for others by our silent listening, wise words, or compelling action. We can reflect our Creator's mercy in this world by our presence to others.

Consider that next time you're traveling along your way, and listen to what comes back to your soul.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rise Again, and Again, and Again

And I’ll rise again.
Ain’t no power on earth can tie Me down.
Yes, I’ll rise again.
Death can’t keep Me in the ground.

"Rise Again," a traditional Spiritual

It occurred to me, sitting and listening to Good Friday unfold this year amongst my friends, that what we celebrate is something of a funeral. This seems obvious, but it's not until you have experienced death first-hand, and considered what it means to rise from the depth of that sadness--or watch a child go through this. When my uncle died I watched his daughter go through a significant change in her life, watched it sap her energy and addle her mind, never mind my own.

It's hard to relate if you feel wrapped up in the death of things--the potential "funerals" we can experience each day, be that of loved ones or of things ended, like relationships, jobs, dreams. Those things we cling to can feel much more important than what the big picture of life's meaning can offer us.

As our choir director sang this spiritual for Triduum this past week, I felt reminded that there is hope in a vision of life beyond the cold earth into which we go--Easter's power for those who believe is the pathos of this hope. We feel the power of something we believe but cannot see.

And that's true faith.

I could finish here, but felt the lesson continue this week as I listened to the reading at the royal wedding--one I've felt inspired by in times past, one which fills in the gaps of blind faith. In the passage from Romans 12, I pause and consider: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." I've tried all my life to be who I believe God meant me to be, and sometimes that's tricky (since sometimes my ego gets in the way for sure), but when I do it right, I do feel transformed, renewed. To give yourself spiritually there are so many patterns to break; it's too easy to conform, unless one of the gifts God has given you is discernment of what's easy and instant versus what's often hard but ultimately rewarding on a different level than what the everyday can demand of our attention.

Then, "We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully." In teaching and writing I've found the outlet for this mandate, and since I was young this was all I wanted: the ability to reach out to others, nurture emotionally or spiritually. Everyone has a different calling--ultimately the message is DO SOMETHING which enriches others, renews them, and in turn, be renewed. That's the ultimate makeover--transforming the spirit beyond the self yet for the self. Not selfish, but cyclical, and something to help us make sense of those dark hours in our lives when we do make that proverbial leap of faith.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Mercy in the Real

Lately I'm learning lessons about mercy in unexpected places, with people I thought had lost hope, and in situations I never thought I'd be in. Handing over my daughter to a surgeon--however talented he may be--was one such mercy; the nurses, doctors, and people who surrounded us helped me understand that while we wrung our hearts out, there were many parents and children who felt helpless surrounding us, but would make it through. I heard next door to our room the constant rocking of an old chair, a parent relentlessly trying to sooth a little one who suffered as well; I would see in the faces of the children who rode along in their radio flyer wagons a sense of hope, some fear, some pain. Maybe a sense gratitude in what was now possible.

More recently this sense of mercy came to a head with the death of a cousin who long suffered in life--he'd experienced every imaginable sort of tragedy, suffered especially physically, and to some might have seemed the embodiment of Job himself. I touched base with another cousin of mine who'd become close friends with him, and he revealed that he'd gone with his wife to visit this suffering cousin, and just hang out--no more, no less. During that time they shared their ups and downs, and my cousin, who'd had some of his own serious doubts in faith, came to learn through his long-suffering friend that you shouldn't spend your life complaining about what you don't have, but appreciating what you do have, using it to the hilt, loving it. Accepting what's good and bad in your life, making something of either. In spite of his long-suffering, he was able to see what he did have: a beautiful daughter, devoted friends and family, the simple things of life. He absolutely dealt with the dark night of the soul, as they say, but he did not forget the boon of his life.

Listening to him, I recalled my Sunday school lessons about the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy--listed like they are here below, these seem letter-of-the-law-ish, but really, they're just common sense.

The traditional enumeration of the corporal works of mercy is as follows:
To feed the hungry;
To give drink to the thirsty;
To clothe the naked;
To harbour the harbourless;
To visit the sick;
To ransom the captive;
To bury the dead.

The spiritual works of mercy are:
To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To admonish sinners;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead.
(from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia online)

These are about just living--in both senses of the word *just*--and while I have aimed all my life to fulfill these, in the end, I think it's not just about duty. This humane sense of God's will for us is a way to simply live, and live faithfully, in honor of the gift of life we're given. We may not be paragons of saintliness, but I think saints come in all shapes and sizes.

Faith--just faith--is about trust. It's about surrendering to trust all will be well. It's about fighting the good fight--giving what you can in return. It's about using whatever we do have to help others. It's about considering your moment--your sense of self, right now, and working on transforming your soul by opening your eyes to the real.

God rest your soul, Tony--and thanks for the lesson of your living.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


After feasting on a lovely "date night' with my husband I found myself thinking about the way food nourishes in more than one way. All my life that's been a visceral experience.

Potluck was the idea I had while drifting off to sleep that night of our feasting--a potluck for Isabella's first birthday. I wondered--is it appropriate to ask others to contribute? That's what my family did for well over a decade of birthdays--maybe fifteen-odd years of birthdays, first Communions, an anniversary or two, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

I recall always summer parties--though we had them all year long. Our table, brimming over with platter after casserole dish of Portuguese favorites and the occasional "American" cuisine: tripa (cow stomach), bacalau (salt cod), caçoila (beef and liver stew), favas com linguiça (a garlicky, spicy sausage), povo (octopus, now and then), meatballs or lasagna, or linguiça and peppers (always from my Godmother). Desserts of all sorts: a cake I would decorate, flan, bolo de ouiro and prata (gold and silver cake, made each with yolks and whites of 8 eggs, respectively), chocolate pudding pie, "million dollar" pie, various puddings (three color was decadently sweet with its homemade vanilla custard, chocolate pudding, and meringue layer, and ice cream cut into slices from a box for the cake accompaniment. Sometimes coffee. Always wine and beer.

A regular restaurant operation for about 25 people, sometimes more, every time. One major family photo around the blowing of candles, huddled around the mass of food carpeting the tablecloth. Really. The whole nine yards.

I wonder at it--so long ago, but so much an inherent part of my upbringing. I don't experience this much now, but potluck still happens amongst the friends I feel are like family here, 2000 miles from my mother and father, sister and brother, aunts, uncles, cousins. All my milestones have been marked by food and friends here in my years of adulthood--my graduation, birthdays, my bachelorette party, our baby shower, various Easters and Thanksgivings. Everyone brings a piece of themselves to the table--unique, filled with love in the form of generosity. The same sort of thing happens when people bring themselves to a discussion--our spiritual gatherings at church, or literary considerations in my classroom, or general camaraderie of a book club. We share a potluck of ideas, sometimes a bit slow-going, everyone catching up to the main idea, nourishing themselves from the sharing of self.

It's all gift, really, almost magical. We are given the best from our Creator, who carries to us, like my aunts, mother, and cousins did in my childhood years, platters of love and bowls of joy--to share, marvel at, relish.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Formed by Wind

Wind blowing at twenty to thirty miles per hour through tall pines sounds to me like surf pounding shore--both meditative and restorative to a mind addled and overworked. I sit and listen--just listen. It's rare, this giving in to the senses, making it a prayer.

I seek again a prayerful practice, and it turns out I need go no further than my seat at home to get to this Holy Grail. I look to the slant of sun, the way it drapes on different parts of the house at different times of day. I smell the savor of food prepared by willing hands, made excellent by a desire for something delicious and nourishing. I touch the warmth of tiny hands on the babe in my lap. All prayer.

Taking this further, I'll cultivate presence--mindfulness in my everyday interactions. Ordinary, everyday encounters, ones I take for granted, I'll elevate. Bring understanding and love to the fore--speak only to nurture (I need to work on this). Harbor no resentment. These take real work, and are the beginning of a selflessness that can lead to an outpouring to the stranger, the oppressed, the misunderstood.

Sometimes these people live in our homes, sometimes they live out of our vision, but either way, we're called to see in them family. Not just "them."

Maybe the wind has shifted everything in my current state of mind, shuffled things up a bit, and reminded me that even the most distinct parts of creation can reform us, make us a little more perfect.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mental Break

OK, so I nearly went nuts the other day, trying to do too much at once. I thought I would end up doing laps around my house, screaming and blathering, and that someone would come and "swaddle" ME and take me away.

Thankfully, I knew enough to do what many a girlfriend has suggested before I even had a baby: take a mental break.

What I've found over the years doing this is that stepping back and taking stock has evolved into a physical, spiritual, AND mental phenomenon. Let me go ahead and suggest this to any of you struggling to stay afloat--it's well worth the pause in your life. Taking the break, though, reminded me of perhaps the most sobering aspect of motherhood (or adulthood, for that matter). There's more to life than just me.

Hear me out--this isn't a downer.

Of course that ice cream (ok, Skinny Cow ice cream sandwich) and walk in the park was something I absolutely needed and deserved-- I'd spent all day grading miserable papers and caring for a cranky little girl--but while I walked I saw others walking and talking about their own predicaments. Overheard everything from financial and health woes to family difficulties, people making sense of their lives on that beautiful early Spring weather of an afternoon.

Then, during some alone time later on, I shut myself off from making my usual social banter, and did the classic head phones on, forget you mode you sometimes see on buses and in crowded places. I realized, sitting there, listening to some of my favorite music before my exercise class started, that I'd seen people do this before and judged them for not interacting with the world. What I hadn't though of was what that person might have been through that day or in general. How can we judge anyone without knowing what has made life difficult, even unbearable, for the moment--without coming to understand another's struggle?

Better yet, how do we come to know each other's struggles, put judgement aside, really listen? That's a just faith kind of thing, if anything is. Sometimes the listening involves silence--not really speaking, but understanding through an acceptance of another. I can't describe well enough what that moment looks like or who that person is. I just know they exist, everyday, all around me.

Having been there myself, I want to take time to honor another's suffering, even if all that means is offering a complicit smile on a quiet sunny day to the grimacing passerby moaning on the inside. Maybe driving with respect for others--as if they, too, had a little one in their backseat. Maybe doing a tedious task that helps someone improve something about herself (read: my students, oh, my students!). You can imagine more.

Just pay attention, is all I'm sayin'!

Friday, February 4, 2011


Just some quick thoughts before I go to sleep.

Today is the anniversary of my Baptism. The rain patters overhead on our thin roof, everyone snores about me (husband, daughter, dogs), and I sit here and think of the many ways my faith has led me to this point, with and without my help.

I find it extraordinary.

There are so many ways to initiate one's life--some we choose and some foisted upon us. Yesterday I recalled that phone call of dread three years ago when I heard my uncle had died--and all the changes since then. He's anointed, in the heavens with all those our family misses, and his death began in those left behind a desire to be healthy, to love fully, live wide and large. It was a different kind of baptism--death and birth and everyday living can grace us with those moments.

Sometimes the most ordinary experience can make us stop in our tracks and think of the life we're given. The other day it was watching my dog, Dot, lift her head and howl straight up at the sky, for nothing less than the sound of sirens in the distance (which she thought was her pack). She felt a calling--however silly it may seem to us that she returned the call to not other dogs, but to someone responding to an emergency. Maybe she knows better--but it was a beautiful thing to witness.

Each day, I extract joy from what I read about and see of others' happiness. Thanks for sharing, my friends, and know that I pray for you this moment.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The forest for the trees

Met with an old friend today, and was so glad to pick up where we left off; for awhile I was worried I had lost him. Catching up I knew we’d both experienced quite a bit in the time we hadn’t seen each other: we’d both lost and gained things central to our lives. Driving home, I though about our chat, about what I am grateful for in my life, and looked out and ahead--at the abnormally warm, sunny day (for a January in Georgia, anyway), at the stands of pine trees flanking the road. My tranquilly snoozing daughter in the backseat paired with what lay ahead of me got me to thinking about the cliche.

Why is it that often we can’t see the forest for the trees?

In every way I catch myself on this one, and know you might, too. I’ll be looking at other peoples’ houses or clothes or whatever, wish for more or different, and forget to take a look at what I have, however humble. We live in a really small space, but we’re surrounded by trees, visited by a wide variety of birds in all their colorful glory and sweet sound. We know our neighbors and enjoy them. We have everything we need in easy access.

Beyond that, I feel as though I have more important gifts than those you store away. I know how to listen to others, how to read what might be appropriate and helpful for them as response, and to accept with compassion even if I don’t agree with everything that lands between us in conversation (a tough one, but I can do that!).

The gifts we’re given are the trees--if we study them, instead of wishing for a bigger forest or lamenting the ones we mow down, we’ll find the beauty of the bark, the twist of the limb, the settlement of birds and smell of pine pitch or flower or green bud come spring. Occasionally trees may need pruning, or even have to come down, but many remain, reaching up to the sky, growing in strength of root and branch.

Monday, January 3, 2011


I used to make cards for people--when I was little I dreamed, for a bit, of drawing and writing for Hallmark. Mostly I believed that I could make someone smile with construction paper, markers, crayons, and a good word. At least, the old lady who was home-bound on Raymond Street thought so. Or my aunts and uncles, friends and siblings.

However cheesy (you may think) Hallmark is (and often I do, too) we can say that it’s a manifestation of the way we seek to communicate with each other--in serious, silly, loving, or odd ways. Some don’t know how to put those words together, but I have always felt compelled to create my own combination of images and grace, little prayers in a compact package.

Guess I haven’t changed much.

I’m reaching back always to that guileless sense of self I had at 10 or 11 years old, knowing that if I just gave it my whole heart, that all would be well. I believed my father when he said that whenever I was afraid I should pray the Our Father. I am, as everyone who knows me knows, an idealist, but old age has tempered this with experiences both my own and of others.

So I pray for myself, but I pray for others--for those of you reading who are skeptical or caustically pessimistic at worst; for the children in wheelchairs I pass when I take my daughter to the hospital for pre-surgery check-ups; for those in deep conflict with others; those who struggle with depression or loneliness; those who care for a loved one who is ill; those separated from a beloved stationed in the Middle East; those who feel they have nothing to believe.

These and more. I know I tend toward lists, but prayers seem like lists to me of what we desire from God, from ourselves, and what we’re grateful for, when we pause and consider. This list is long and hard to make look savvy, and so I am straightforward.

The best kind of prayer.