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Now Is All We Have

Tilden Overlook - 1
Tilden Overlook - 1

Advent is a season of anticipation, of waiting in the mess of now for the joy, blessing and healing to come. I feel the anticipation in my bones.

A child grows within me, his or her movements stronger and more pronounced with every passing day. One day soon, in a glorious mess of pain and effort, she or he will enter the world. I am ready.

Today I look down from the office where I write and I see Everett on the preschool playground. He is running, running, running, and soon there is a mob of kids, all running, running, running as fast as their little legs can take them. He is so excited to meet our baby, though he has little knowledge of what this change will mean for his world. What a privilege to watch him, unseen, from this distance.

Some days I am anxious. On Friday I felt the imminence of birth in the persistent squeeze of my belly. I slept little, waiting for the pain to strike at any moment, but it didn’t come. I woke in the morning and the feeling had passed.

I stand at a threshold; everything in my life is about to change. How do I linger well in now?

Tonight, Dave and I will go to a movie. Tomorrow, dinner with friends. I will watch Everett intently, hold him close, share with him the intensity of focus that I know is about to change. I also know that I will love him all the more as he becomes a big brother; my heart, like my ligaments, is stretching, shifting, making room.

Paula D’Arcy writes of going to the woods this time of year. “In the woods, nothing rushes. The woods laugh that any date on a calendar seems more real or important than this very morning…. The woods teach me that the only entry point to divine love is now. This moment is all there is.”

Here, now, is the place we meet God.

I feel the coming change in my bones as they shift and bend, opening a path. They ache with the effort of preparation. And yet, now is all I have.

I take a deep breath, feel the air stretch my lungs. I watch the bare branches sway outside. I look down and see Everett climb onto a tricycle and ride in loops around the playground.

I am grateful. I am full.



Fasting and New Practice (A Cruciform Conflict)

This week I had the privilege of speaking at Open Door as we continued our journey through the book of Mark. Here are the questions we are going to think about and act upon together this week:

Is there an old spiritual practice I am being asked to let go of?

What new practice could I try that might better open me to the love of God right now, in this season?

You can listen to the talk here.


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A Deep Breath


This year, Dave and I have committed to quarterly retreats - solo retreats, during which we are free to do whatever we want or need.  It is hard to make these happen, and requires sacrifice on both our parts.  On Monday, Dave spent his day off with Everett so that I could get away for the day. My goal on a retreat is to quiet my heart and make space to listen.  I want to be unhurried, unscheduled.  I want to be gentle with myself.  I want to rest.

Today I offer you a photo review of my retreat on Monday. I spent the day at the home of some good friends who were at work all day.  Their home is beautiful, peaceful, and private - important ingredients for me in a place to rest.

I packed the trunk of our car with all kinds of things: art supplies, comfy clothes, snacks and books.

I began, as I often do, with a cup of tea and a blank page in my journal.  I stared into space more than I wrote.  I prayed, offering God my day.

I took a really long nap on this awesome couch.

At this point, I realized that I'd forgotten my ukulele at home, and I knew I'd regret it all day if I didn't run home to get it.  The last thing I wanted to do was get back in the car, but it was a beautiful day, and I drove with the windows down.

I had a mid-morning munch.  Not quite lunch, too substantial to be just a snack: crackers, brie, seeds and dried fruit, cucumber, apple slices, and a chocolate truffle.  Instead of reading as I ate, as I often do, I just enjoyed the flavors and textures.

I wrote a little more in my journal and doodled a bit.

I sat in silence for a while.

Then it was time for a little ukulele.  I'm not very skilled at it yet, but I like to play so that I can sing.  The song I sang most that day was "Glory to God Forever" - particularly these lines:  Take my life and let it be all for you and for your glory.  Take my life and let it be yours!  Those words grew into a theme for me that day - a theme of open hands.

I sat down with my journal after that, and a page out of an old book I had stuck into it a few months back slid out.  I decided to create a poem by negation - by covering most of the words on the page, I would write a poem with what remained.

I started the process, and then it was time for more sustenance: leftover butternut squash risotto (heavenly!), toscano cheese dusted with cinnamon, cucumbers, persimmon, a cup of spiced cider, and, of course, chocolate truffles.

At this point, I also managed to knock a wine glass off the holder on the wall, resulting in twenty minutes of sweeping and vacuuming and an apologetic text message.  Things don't always go as smoothly as I wish they would.

After eating, I worked on my poem, painting it with watercolors.  This is what it looked like:

It reads:

What was this ache?SerenitySerenitySerenityCaught in a long pause

I wasn't sure what it meant when I wrote it, but I do know that I feel caught in a long pause in several areas of life right now.  And that word - serenity - popped up in quite a few places on Monday.  It was even in the description of the tea I was drinking.  I seek serenity in the waiting of this season.

At this point, I decided to go see a movie.  I had looked up movie times the day before, and there was one I thought would be entertaining, even though it got terrible reviews.  I love going to movies by myself - I don't have to worry about whether or not anyone else is enjoying the film, I can just get caught up in it.  As I drove the ten minutes to the theater, I wondered, Is this more distraction than I want today?  It sounds restful, but maybe another two hours of quiet would be better.  I was already there, so I walked into the theater.

To my surprise, the movie I had looked up was not playing at the time Google had told me it would, and there was nothing else I wanted to watch until evening, when I wanted to be home to put Everett to bed.  So I hopped back in the car and headed back to my friends' house.

I sat outside and watched the light change.

I went inside, made another cup of tea, and read a novel for a while.

I played some more ukulele.

I prayed.

Serenity, serenity, serenity.  These words were my prayer, as again and again, I turned over my life to God with open hands.

Retreats are not always what I expect.  Often, there are detours, like trips back to retrieve things I forgot, failed attempts at movie going, and broken wine glasses.  Sometimes, I come away with a word or an image or something to reflect on in the weeks to come, and sometimes I come away with nothing clear.  Regardless, these times of stillness are "tuning time" - time to tune my ears to the frequency at which God speaks to me.  Times like these open me, and I am more aware of the presence of the divine in the world as I go about the following days.

Before Monday, it had been a long time since I'd had a retreat day.  It's not easy to make them happen, whether you're working a full-time job, are in school, have small kids, or all of the above.  Sometimes it's simply the fear of so much unstructured time alone that is too hard to overcome.  Times like these must be fought for.

They are worth the fight.

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The Wait

I am in a season of waiting. There are a number of things I am waiting for, not least of which is having a baby in a little over two months. Preeminent in my mind right now is waiting to hear back from publishers on the book proposal I turned in a couple of weeks ago.

This has been a strange and unexpected process. A year and a half ago, as I was just beginning work on The Dark in the Song, a new friend of mine explained what would be involved in a proposal if I wanted to have my book published by a publishing house rather than self-publish it. At the time, I thought, No way. That is not something I will ever be interested in doing. Yet, a year later, I dove into all that she had talked about – five months of writing, rewriting, making phone calls, meeting with people – to get a proposal in the best shape I could before turning it in to a few publishers. It was a surprise.

Now that I’m in it, though, I sense a growing desire within me – a desire that frightens me a little bit. Yes, I can say it aloud. Yes, I would like this book to be published, and yes, I would like it to be published by a team of professionals.

It’s scary to confess our desires, isn’t it?

Now I wait in the knowledge that this is what I want, with little knowledge of when the wait will end and only inklings of how it might end.

I hate waiting. Waiting brings anxiety, fear, and stress – symptomized by hyperactive email-checking, mediocre sleep, and racing thoughts.

So how do I reshape my experience of waiting?

How do I learn to wait with a sense of freedom?

Right now I have no obligations to fulfill and no decisions to be made. That could change very quickly.

What does it look like to embrace possibility, to dance at the crossroads, to enjoy the rest that comes with unknowing?

Waiting doesn’t feel restful, and yet I see that it could be. Here I am, today, with hours before me and nothing all that pressing to get done. Tomorrow might be a different story.

How do I release anxiety and fear and live instead in hope and expectation?

This reminds me of the weeks when Dave was in the midst of the interview process for his job at Open Door. If he got the job, things would move quickly, but if he didn’t…. Was everything about to change, or would nothing change?

How do I walk in trust that the next best step will be revealed at the right moment, and whatever that is, all will come to good?

Today, I choose freedom and rest. I choose to set aside my work on the manuscript for a little bit longer. I choose to play – to do an art project, to make music, to go out for dinner with my husband. Tomorrow, I will choose again.

Dance your freedom at the crossroads as you wait for the next step.

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what I didn't miss

Our little family just spent a glorious week in the wilderness of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. “Wilderness” is relative – we did have bathrooms with flush toilets, but we slept in a tent under the trees. We spent our days throwing rocks in the river, swimming, and exploring the alpine forest.

Camping with a toddler at not-quite-six-months pregnant has its challenges, and there were a few things I missed: my bed, for one. I missed washing my hands with soap and warm water, and I missed showers. Though I loved watching Everett get absolutely filthy playing in the dirt, I did miss our washing machine.

What hit me at the end of our trip were the things I didn’t miss.

I didn’t miss walls. There is so much to look at when you’re living in the woods. We saw deer and chipmunks and a hawk working on its dinner. Without walls, we became very friendly with our camping neighbors; we lived our lives right out in front of each other.

I didn’t miss cell phone service. I do like keeping in touch with friends and family through FaceTime, texts and Instagram at home, but it was wonderfully refreshing to unplug from those things for a week. I didn’t miss scrolling through facebook at all. I was more present to my surroundings and to Dave and Everett because I had nothing to check. Checking my phone is a time-filler, and mostly a mind-filler – I find myself turning to it more when I am anxious. Because looking at my phone is a symptom of anxiety, setting it aside for a week released some of my anxiety.

I didn’t miss the complexity of our lives. Camping is so simple. Everything takes longer, and that’s ok – much of the day is spent dressing, cooking, eating, cleaning, arranging… and the rest is spent sitting quietly, being present with each other, and adventuring. We were not worried about tomorrow – about work and church and goals and preschool and writing. We were present together. Our conversations together rarely turned to life at home. We simply existed together in this new rhythm, soaking it in and dreaming of what this part of our shared life could look like in years to come. As Dave so aptly put it recently, we saw this trip not as a break from our life, but as an integral part of our life – one of many restorative rhythms that help us become the kind of people we want to become.

Now we are back home. How do I carry some of these things-I-don’t-miss into the ordinary time of our life rhythm? I have a few ideas.

First, I want to live more life out front, to eliminate at least our share of the walls between us and our neighbors. At our house, that means a couple of things: parking on the street instead of in the driveway to reveal our faux-front-porch in front of the garage, and finishing up dinner early enough to spend before-bed time outside in the evenings on our “chit chat chairs,” as Everett calls them.

I also want to put away my phone more. For now, I will check Facebook once a day, and on my computer, not my phone, so it’s not so natural to just scroll, scroll, scroll. I will not open my email before I get out of bed in the morning.

Thinking about how to carry over the simplicity of camping-life is a little bit harder for me. I like to plan ahead, and our lives right now are very full. But, perhaps, I can create spaces with a little bit more elbow room. Everett started preschool this week, and so I suddenly have a few hours twice a week with much more flexibility. I have a whole lot to work on, particularly with this book project, but I also want to feel the freedom and spaciousness of these hours. I want to slow down enough to enjoy them. I want to think of these hours with a philosophy of abundance, not scarcity. There is a lot to accomplish, but there is also a lot to be present to that I’ve been ignoring.

What do you notice about your rhythm of life in this season? What can you do to respond to the things you notice, to take a small step in a different direction?



Share Everything in Common

A family photo of our intentional community in Los Angeles, 2012.
A family photo of our intentional community in Los Angeles, 2012.

This morning I jumped into a borrowed car to drive to a borrowed house for a morning of writing.

I am amazed at the generosity of our family at Open Door. In Carry On, Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton writes, “What else is family, if not a commitment to keep showing up?” (81). Family is certainly that – a commitment to keep showing up in the midst of joy, tragedy, and the mess that is both at once. We keep showing up for each other, even though sometimes things are awkward or frustrating or just plain hard. We keep showing up, because that’s what family is, and it’s worth it – worth it for the times of joy and laughter, and worth it for the depth that comes with a lifelong commitment to a group of people.

Today I am thinking about another piece of family. Family is where we share everything in common.

A week ago, my sister-in-law and her family arrived from Wisconsin for a ten-day visit to our home. We were thrilled and daunted by the thought of four adults and three kids sharing one roof and one bathroom. Where would everybody sleep? Would anybody sleep?

It’s been lovely. We share everything in common – including the cooking and cleaning and caring for the kids. My sister-in-law is watching Everett this morning so that I can write. On Monday Dave and I took the kids so she and her husband could go out for a beer. This afternoon we will share a babysitter so that the four of us can enjoy a meal together.

I was worried about how Everett would feel about sharing toys with his cousin, but they have played beautifully together. We tried to put them to sleep in the same room one night, and they stayed up for hours, playing and laughing and giggling. Yesterday Everett and I had a day at home while they explored Marin County. Everett said to me that afternoon, “Mama, I need a fwiend.” Eight hours apart and he already missed his cousin. Play is far more fun when it is shared.

I think again of our family at Open Door. I think of the borrowed car I drove this morning – on loan for ten days because we can’t fit seven people into our Prius, and Nathan and Martha want their second car to go to good use. Here I sit in Brooke and Steve’s house, drinking their tea, writing at their dining room table, because it’s hard to write in a coffee shop and they’re both at work during the day. Their house is peaceful and inviting. Brooke leaves me snacks.

I remember that Dave and I have taken two weekends away this summer, leaving Everett with families who he knows and loves. We have only lived here a year. Over eight years, we built up a wonderful shared life with an intentional community that became family in Los Angeles, but we have only lived here a year. How is it possible that after just one year, we have found this family? How is it that we share everything in common?

I see two things that make this possible. The first is the generosity of spirit I see in the people we are in family with. There is a sincere desire to follow Jesus through action, and that means living out radical hospitality. This hospitality goes beyond having each other over for dinner – it means inviting each other into our homes, our lives, and our messes. It means listening carefully for the needs of the people around us, and then responding. It means looking at what we have and recognizing our abundance. Everyone has an abundance of something.

The other piece is the harder one. We need to name our needs. First, that requires knowing what they are - we have to admit to ourselves that we are insufficient. I like to be competent and independent, but every time I name my own needs, I feel relief. Saying our needs aloud can be terrifying. What if we admit to what we actually need, and that need still goes unmet? That can happen sometimes. But if we don’t ever say our needs aloud, the chances are a lot slimmer that they will be met.

Sometimes we hope that someone will just happen to offer what we need. We hope that they will notice where we are struggling. We see that as a sign that we are seen and known, and soon we start to use it as a test: if this person really loves me, she will offer me _____. This is dangerous. I do that to Dave – I build up hidden expectations only to be disappointed, when all I needed to do is name the need out loud. Dave loves me well, and wants to love me even better, but he can only do so when I name my needs.

One day Martha mentioned that they were considering reserving a park shelter for their kids’ birthday parties. “Use our yard!” I said. “You’ll have access to a kitchen and a real bathroom, and we would love it.” We were delighted when she said yes. It’s a great excuse for me to pick up the house, and I’ve found that it’s not stressful at all, especially if I leave at the end and give them space to clean up. I don’t have to host, I don’t have to do anything, really, and I can fill a need. But only because Martha named hers.

What do you need?

What is your abundance?



Too Many Socks

I know, Everett.  Me, too.
I know, Everett. Me, too.

I want to live simply. When I was staying with my grandpa a few weeks ago, I was reminded of the beauty of simplicity. In a small cabin, his possessions are pared-down, but sufficient. He has one tiny cutting board (pig-shaped, a family tradition) and one larger pull-out one. We have at least a dozen. Why?

Dave is often commenting about the quantity of our belongings. He longs for simplicity. His dream house would be a wide-open loft full of windows, devoid of furniture, with one comfy rug right in the middle to lounge on. I, on the other hand, like to be prepared for anything and everything, like a boy scout. For Dave’s birthday this year, I gave him an enormous box of books – books that I had taken from our bookshelves that I was willing to give away. He was thrilled.

When I notice a repeated inkling in my mind and heart, I’ve come to believe that’s something to lean into – to lean into with action. What can I practice that will take me out of my default way of living?

This time around, I chose my closet.

I am tired of my closet. The closet itself is ok, though the mirrored doors stick and I have a little trouble keeping my clothes in my half. It’s the clothes inside of my closet that are bothering me.

I do like my clothes. I have gotten almost all of them at thrift stores (thank you, Hollywood) and as hand-me-downs from friends at clothing exchanges. The only things I buy new are shoes, socks, and underwear. The benefit of cheap or free clothes is that I often try things that I wouldn’t normally buy; acquiring clothing this way has expanded my style. It also helps me stay within my clothing budget, and it’s good for the Earth. The trouble is, I end up acquiring too much. I pick things up because I like the color, but the fit isn’t quite right. Or, I hold on to something I haven’t worn, in case I feel bold enough to wear it one day.

Last week, inspired by some friends trying out wardrobe capsules and blogs like Unfancy and Dallas Moms, I decided to pare things down a bit. This was easier than normal, because my closet and dresser are currently filled with maternity clothes, so all of my regular clothes are in boxes in the spare bedroom closet.

I laid all of my clothes out on the bed, and organized them by category. Then I counted. I wrote down how many of everything I had.

I had twenty-five dresses. I love dresses, and I do wear them a lot (easy! comfortable! it looks like I tried!), but I do like to consider myself a minimalist, and over two-dozen dresses is not minimalist.

I also had fourteen pairs of pants, seventeen pairs of shoes (though I wear four of them), and forty-nine pairs of socks (not including nine pairs of tights). That day, I cut my wardrobe in half.

The idea of a wardrobe capsule is that you pare down your closet to just what you need. Ideally, you have items that you love, that are well-made, and that will last a long time.

Unfancy suggests a seasonal capsule (changed up every three months). Aside from accessories, pajamas, athletic wear and cocktail attire, she recommends the following guideline (but encourages readers to go with what “feels right”):

  • 15 tops
  • 9 bottoms
  • 9 pairs of shoes
  • 2 dresses
  • 2 jackets

So I decided to attempt her method with my maternity clothes. I decided on only five pairs of shoes, but four dresses, and flexed little bit on the other numbers as well. I put fall capsule candidates at the bottom of my closet. I gave a few things away that I knew I wouldn’t wear. I packed up everything else in a bin to put in the garage, just in case this experiment turns out anything like my epic hair disaster.

Two weeks in, and it’s not bad! I think I’ll actually wear a wider variety, because I can see everything – I won’t just grab whatever is on top. I’ve learned a few things, like the fact that I like medium-grays. I was trying to pick a long-sleeved top to go with a gray skirt, and I realized that all my long sleeves are about the same color. For my next capsule, I need to work on some contrast.

The only way we ever become different, become better people, is by acting differently. I can believe I’m a minimalist all I want – I can think like a minimalist and talk like a minimalist – but unless I’m willing to act like a minimalist, I’m not a minimalist at all, am I?

This is an experiment. I’m not sure how it will end. But I know that I will be shaped by the practice, whether or not I stick with it exactly. Plus, it’s fun to try something new.

Join me?


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Kids Again: A Week at the Lake with my Grandfather

Big Pine Lake
Big Pine Lake

Going to the cabin is like being transported back in time. My grandparents bought the little red house  in 1972 and have come up every summer since.  I haven't been here in six years, and yet everything is the same - the same games, the same 1969 rambler speed boat, the same shelf full of expired sunscreen. Even the same menu: fried fish, Cole slaw, and grandma's cornbread casserole for dinner; root beer floats for dessert.  Walking in the door four days ago, I was transported back twenty years.

Even I am the same here. Suddenly I'm a girl again, despite my two-and-a--half-year-old son and the baby in my belly. Last night I caught five rock bass on a kiddie pole because there weren't enough grown-up poles to go around, and this week I'm the youngest grown up. I still sit in the middle of the boat, still fish over Grandpa's right shoulder.

But there is one difference that has hit me this week: it is a rare gift for my soul to be a kid again.

In Matthew 18, Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."  The kingdom of heaven belongs to the childlike.  The last few weeks at Open Door we've been talking about this verse, and about play, and so they've been on my mind.  This week I am struck again by this thought: the kingdom of heaven belongs to the childlike; not some far-off-future heaven, but the kingdom of heaven that is breaking into this world here and now, every day.  Kids are the key to the kind of world God imagines.

Becoming a child again this week is good for my soul.  I play at the cabin, just as I've always played.  My mom and I spent an evening coloring and painting rocks, and I got up early one morning to paint the sunrise.  Other evenings we spend on the lake, fishing as an excuse to watch the sky and the water slowly change color together.  I still swim and play in the sand, though now the added blessing is that I get to do it with my little boy.  We get messy together.  My dad, the entomologist, brought two monarch chrysalides so we could watch them hatch.  Last night we released the first, marveling at the silent, profound act of its first flight.

What does play look like for you?  For my dad, it is fly fishing.  For my husband, it's being in the water.  Play is what you do for fun, but it is more than that: it brings intense focus, a sense of timelessness, and the reintegration of body, mind, and soul.

I'm also being taken care of again.  Everett has wonderful grandparents and great grandparents, all of whom love to play with him and watch him play.  Here, I get to play myself because he has all these grown ups loving him so well.  At home I spend my days caring for other people - I am home with Everett, and I'm the primary chef/homemaker, a role that I love and that I balance with writing and friendship and time out of the house.  But to step out of that role for a week, to let my mom cook for me and my dad do the dishes while I sit at the table growing a baby is quite wonderful.  Becoming a kid again means accepting help, love, and care.

My grandfather is ninety-one today. In many ways, he is showing me how to be a kid again. He asks for help more often. Last night he said, "I think anyone on this beach would do anything for me," and it's true - decades of trust and affection, of summer sun and fish fries, have built a family here.  After decades of taking care of everyone else, Grandpa now needs a little more taking care of, and his neighbors look out for him. But he still catches more fish than anyone on the beach.

Grandpa does what he loves best - fishing - all day, every day, weather permitting.  He invites everyone he knows into the fun - he has a full calendar each summer of family and friends and neighbors coming up to share in his joy.  He delights in simple things, like in watching Everett or eating a good piece of French toast.

Grandpa naps when he needs to, where he needs to - on the couch, in a beach chair, occasionally at the table.

And wow, does he laugh. When you get him going, he laughs till tears run down his face. It's contagious.

If, at ninety-one, Grandpa is becoming a kid again, then so can I.  I am learning to delight, to rest, to play.  I remember that I like myself, in the same way that Everett does in the moments when he cracks himself up playing all alone in his room.  I do the things I love for the joy of doing them.  I ask for help when I need it.  I want to risk more, to do things that are hard for me, to try and try until I learn something new.

The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.

You can find an audio version of this story on Open Door's blog.

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Monk on the Move

I had the opportunity this week to write a guest post on The Abbey of the Arts blog, curated by one of my favorite authors.  The following is an excerpt, but you can read the whole post here. I am a millennial. I am of a generation of transplants: leaving our homes at eighteen, many of us never return outside of holidays and vacations. We are like succulent plants – able to be snapped off and replanted again and again, multiplying and spreading wide. We are adaptable, versatile and flexible, but I long for deep roots.

I am a monk on the move.

For the last eight and a half years, my husband and I have lived in California, 2,071 miles away from our family in the Midwest. Practically, that means we travel often and have frequent visitors. We want our two-year-old son to have deep relationships with his extended family. We want him to be friends with his grandparents. We want them to have the privilege of watching him grow. So, in this season, that means we travel several times a year, and we have visitors every month.

A friend of mine asked me last fall what gets in the way of my time with God – my time of stillness, of reading and reflection and art and prayer, my time of cultivating deep soul-roots. I answered immediately, “Interruptions in my regular rhythm of life.” I have daily and weekly rhythms of solitude that ground me in God’s love for me, but each time we have a visitor or go out of town I give up those practices in an effort to be fully present in the moments with our family, not wanting to miss anything. Yet, in my attempt to soak in every moment, I am giving up the moments that make me me. When I am unmoored from my rootedness I don’t bring my best self, my whole self, to my days.

I am coming to grips with the fact that my life will never be “stable” – change comes, expectedly or unexpectedly, and I cannot control that. My life will never be stable, but I can always be rooted.



Wall of Tears

Wall of Tears
Wall of Tears

We walked across the border. The first thing I noticed as we cut through the lines of cars was a man weaving among them. He carried a basket of churros and a three-foot crucifix. It was gory; Jesus had blood pouring down his face. It looked heavy.

This story feels impossible to recount, perhaps because it is so fresh and so complex. It will take months, perhaps years, before I know what it means.

I will start again at the beginning.

Last weekend Dave and I joined a group from Open Door and two other communities on a Learning Lab put on by The Global Immersion Project. The hope of the trip was that we would immerse ourselves in the lives and stories of those living at or moving across the border. That we would seek to understand, not to be understood. That we would listen longer than felt comfortable. And then that we would go home and contend for peace in our own neighborhoods.

We were met at the border by Alejandra and Samuel. Alejandra works with students, Samuel with those living in the makeshift towns along the river in Tijuana. Both live their lives for the flourishing of other people. “Everything I have is by God’s grace,” Ale told us,” and I have to share it with others.”

As we stood above the river, looking down on the concrete channel, Samuel told us of the people who used to live there. It was a place of desperation.   Most of those living at the river were addicts. Yet there was hope – Samuel built ten raised beds and taught ten of the residents to garden. Afterward, half of them were able to get off drugs, hold down jobs, and reintegrate into society, but the project ended. Mexican authorities cleared out those living there for the sake of appearances– it might be a turnoff to US American tourists. Samuel had not yet been able to find out where the people were taken. Ale spoke of the inextricable links between US and Mexican histories: “You can’t understand the story of one without the other. Here, you can’t ignore it, because you are living the consequences. There, maybe you can ignore it, because you are living the benefits.”

That afternoon we went to Casa del Migrante, a temporary home for those on the move that provides shelter, clothing, food, medical care, counseling, and legal assistance. They do all this with no agenda, other than the flourishing of each person. “The human need is always changing, so what we care about is that they are emotionally healthy,” Casa’s counselor told us. “Our job is to help them see the opportunity they have in the situation they’re in, so that they can live the best they can.”

We ate dinner there that night, sharing the table with those staying at the house. The man across from Dave and I had lived in the US for fourteen years and had been deported four days prior. His wife and children were still on the other side of the border. We discovered in our conversation that we had lived within five blocks of each other in our neighborhood in Los Angeles. We had walked the same hiking trails in Griffith Park. We lived in the same place, but not in the same reality; Dave and I lived without fear.

The next morning we met Oscar, who worked with the YMCA for many years. Oscar has seen great tragedy and suffering in his decades of work with unaccompanied minors, and yet he smiles with his whole self, radiating joy. In 1986, the US passed a law that gave amnesty to many undocumented immigrants in the US, but the law didn’t account for families. Wives and kids were being smuggled across the border to join their now-documented husbands and fathers by the thousands. Children were often abandoned by smugglers and apprehended; sometimes they were deported in the middle of the night, into the hands of anyone who happened to be on the Mexican side of the border. Child prostitution skyrocketed. Oscar saw all of this happening and began to bring children into his home in the name of his employer, the YMCA. In 1991, now officially supported by the YMCA, he created a home for thirty children. By the time he retired in 2008, there were four homes along the border. Each is still managed by a family who cares for the kids as their own and helps them to reunite with their families. Between 1991 and 2008, these homes served more than 50,000 children.

Then we went to Friendship Park – a beautiful little park on the coast with a massive wall cutting it in half. The US half was open that day, and so families waited there to glimpse their loved ones. I walked along the wall, peering through the fencing, and I cried. What a reality we have created.

The next morning, we went to the US side of the park, but the road was closed because of rain. We spoke there with two border agents and Enrique Morones, founder of the Border Angels. What struck me most about the conversation was the remarkable collaborative relationship the agents and Enrique have developed. The border agents apprehend the people for whom Enrique leaves water, and yet they worked together so that the gate at Friendship Park was opened once this year – only the second time since it was built in 1971 – so that families could embrace.

Where does all of this leave me? These faces and stories surface and resurface in my mind. How do I respond?

The words that came to me again and again throughout the weekend were compassion and surrender. So, for now, I will allow my compassion to grow. And each day I will ask, what am I to do? Each day, I will listen and each day, I will obey. At least, I hope I will.

At the Tijuana side of Friendship Park, Shaun, one of our guides, encouraged us to look at our own neighborhoods, to think about what walls exist where we live, and to consider where we might become bridges. I will end with the poem that I wrote that day.

El Bordo

I stand in a circle of concrete and there is the wall.

Who can cross?

The waves can and the wind and the birds that perch along the line. Even the ants – I watch as they scurry back and forth, and back and forth, one long living line.

Who can cross?

Not the people here, waiting. Not the ones who come with babies to huddle together on both sides, wall dividing. Not her – she can squeeze just the tip of one finger through the iron to where he stands on the other side.

Who can cross?

I can.

I lay my body down across the line and the rain falls on both sides.


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The Day the Crying Started

Everett's "Mad Face"
Everett's "Mad Face"

I was angry that night. Angry and a little frightened, perhaps. Here we were, settling into this new place – Dave was settling in to his job routine, and Everett and I were figuring out what to do with ourselves each day. Many days, we walked to the bike trail. I started running again, just a little bit, and he liked running along the trail and watching the ducks on the canal, especially when we stopped at the bridge on the way back to throw rocks and sticks into the water. We tried all of the local library story times, but the best of them was a little too far away to make a regular event. We went to the farmer’s market twice a week, our favorite part of the weekly rhythm. Everett, who rarely touches vegetables, ate cherry tomatoes and whole carrots. He nibbled the tips off of all of my bell peppers.

We settled into a routine of sorts, but it was lonely. Nowhere we went did we find people we got to know. We had occasional play dates or park meet ups with other moms, and were slowly finding friends, but I found myself longing for the people I used to see every day – for Amber and Archer and our housemates and the HomeState employees, my “coworkers” in LA.

So why was I angry? I had lost my sense of self, my sense of purpose. I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing, other than being a wife and mother. I wasn’t writing, wasn’t yet involved in Open Door much myself, didn’t have soul-rooting, affirming friendships. Then Dave called after a long day at work to ask if he could go to a dessert with some people he wanted to get to know from Open Door, and of course I said yes, and I was furious. What do you mean, go to dessert? Here I am, no friends, no co-laborers, no identity outside of motherhood, and you’re going out to DESSERT? Why can’t I go to dessert? I’m the lonely one, the one longing for purpose and relationships and a sense of community. Of course you can go, but I am going to be mad about it.

I put Everett to bed, and then I fumed. I wasn’t angry about dessert, I was angry about being here. I knew we were in the right place, it was a choice we made together following a clearer call than I could ever expect, but that didn’t mean I had to be happy about it.

As I finished cleaning up the kitchen from dinner (a task usually completed by my wonderful husband), I found myself wishing for someone to talk to. I knew I could call Jessica or Stephanie, and I would, later, but right now I wanted someone in person to tell me what to do. And suddenly, the thought occurred to me: If I came to myself for advice about this, what would I tell myself?

I thought about that for a few minutes. Grieve, I would say. Let yourself be angry. Don’t try too hard to analyze all of the emotions – watch thoughtfully as their causes unfold. Create. Run. Have a whole lot of grace for yourself.

Be angry. That’s not something I’m very good at. Anger feels violent, uncomfortable. As a mother of a two-year-old, I deal with a small person’s big anger on a daily basis. What did I tell Everett to do when he was angry? Go kick a ball.

It sounded silly, even in the moment, but like my tiny raging son when he didn’t get his way, I had to get these feelings out somehow. So I went outside to the yard in the crepuscular light, and I found the enormous ball a new friend had just brought us and I kicked it as hard as I could.

Because it was an enormous ball that weighed next to nothing, it wasn’t very satisfying, so I kicked it again. And again. And again. Around and around the yard we went, that big speckled ball and I, and I kicked it with every ounce of rage and disappointment I had within me. Why are we here? Thwack! Who am I in this place? Thwack! Where is my sense of purpose, my sense of self so hard-won? Thwack! Round and round we went, until the ball sailed high and I looked up and saw the perfect moon, sailing high in the lavender dusk. I fell to my knees on the grass and I cried and cried and cried, whole body shaking, letting the grass tickle the backs of my cupped hands as tears ran between my fingers. The evening breeze picked up, caressing my hair, joining the moon in the song that said, [I am here with you. Everywhere you go, here I am. I see you, and you are not alone.]

I cried my tears beneath the moon. Then I did a little bit of yoga in the grass, stretching my body, remembering my limbs.

I went inside and made myself a cup of tea.

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Come Alive

When I was 16, my friend Anna and I went backpacking with my high school youth group. We were in southwestern Colorado, far up in the mountains. As we hiked up and up and up, I felt like we were walking across the surface of a postcard; it was breathtaking. It was summer in the valleys, but still spring on the mountains, and at times we hiked through knee-deep snow. The snow had melted on the sunnier slopes, crisscrossed with icy streams, and we walked among green grass and under trees.

In the afternoons, sudden storms broke, and we would often just have time to pitch our tents and crawl inside before the mountainside was pelted with hail and rain. Our guides came around tent-to-tent, handing us steaming mugs of ramen noodle soup.

Life on that trip was cut down to the bare essentials. We walked with our belongings on our backs. We set up and tore down camp. We didn’t wear watches, didn’t listen to music other than that which we made ourselves. We cooked and cleaned up after our meals. And we told each other our stories. For hours, we sat in a circle on the ground and really listened to each other, hearing stories of faith and hardship and family and asking thoughtful questions, like, “If Jesus were to come snowboarding down that mountain right now, what would he say to you?” For me, that was an early version of the question I’ve come to ask myself often: what is God saying to me right now? Even just asking the question helps me to distinguish God’s voice of Love from the many other voices in my life that compete for attention.

Last night I sat in a circle of women, talking about some other good questions that my wise friends Caitlyn and Bekah had asked us to ponder for the week:

When was a time in your life that you felt alive?

What was it about that time that made you feel that way?

How might you incorporate some of those qualities into the rhythm of your week?

I was struck by the wide variety of answers given by the women in that circle; we are all formed so beautifully and so differently. For me, that backpacking trip came immediately to mind: a time marked by simplicity and presence and listening and breathtaking beauty all around me. So how do I incorporate these qualities into my everyday?

Last Friday Everett and I walked to Safeway. He wanted to pick out some bell peppers, so I let him choose three colors. (It is rare for a vegetable to pass his lips these days if it’s not hidden in a smoothie.) On our way back, we decided to head to the park for a little while, but when we got to the bike trail, Everett wanted to play on the bridge instead. He loves to throw rocks and leaves into the canal, to hear them plop or watch them float away. This day he was proudly carrying his bag of bell peppers with him. I parked the stroller, and he said, “Yet’s have a picnic, Mama!” and he opened his bag.

So we sat on the bridge in the warm sunlight and ate cold, crisp bell peppers like apples. We watched the water under the bridge and the birds in the trees. It was no Colorado mountainside, but it had a beauty all its own.

What makes you come alive? How can you weave it into your everyday?



The Gift

Dave and I just returned from the Inhabit Conference put on by the Parish Collective and the Seattle School of Theology. This was our fourth year at the conference, and each year it has been marked by some major life transition for us.

 2012 was the year of pregnancy, and the year that Dave and I were inspired to dream in new ways about our vision for our growing family. In 2013 we brought 6-month-old Everett along, and I played with him in the back of the conference, entering into the conversation from the periphery. In 2014 we were in the middle of the hiring process with Open Door, and we met Dave’s current co-pastor for the first time. We wondered together what the future would hold. And this year – 2015 – was the year of writing. Completely unexpectedly, opportunities came for conversations with all kinds of people who know a whole lot more about writing and publishing a book than I do. I do not know where all of this will lead, but I am humbled, thrilled, and a little bit terrified. Fear and excitement are often two sides of the same coin.

In the last session I attended, we spent a few minutes in silence before God. An image came to me. I will spend weeks (or months) peeling back its layers of meaning. For now, I offer it to you in the form of a poem.

Whatever you have, may you find the courage and the means to give it away.

The Gift

I stand at the edge and wait, leaning against the railing to breathe in the salt air, and the sun shines down.

I feel a tingling in my palms and I look around – I am not alone. You are there, you are all there – beside, behind, and with me. Slowly, you begin to smile, then to nod, and so I open my hands. I hold them out above the sea, fingers splayed out like starfish, and the tingling grows. It kindles to a burning and something moves under my skin. It hurts – but not too much to bear – and you are with me, nodding.

This is the year of consent, this the very moment, perhaps, and so I wait with you behind, beside.

I hold palms to sky and then my hands break open in a rush of white. I hear the rustle of feathers on the wind as one after another they are loosed from this flesh-container to fly out across the sea. Their flapping moves the air around my face; I feel them moving. They flutter out, one by one, beyond my reach. I watch them disappear over glistening waters.

I am spent.

You are with me, behind me, beside me, and we clasp hands. We lean against the railing to watch a while the ruffle of wind on shining sea.



Acorn Faith

The following is a chapter from the current draft of my forthcoming book. These events took place several years ago, when Dave and I were in the midst of infertility and I was struggling with depression.

After one of my first therapy sessions, my therapist gave me “homework.” (After she found out the seriousness with which this teacher took any “homework” assignment, she would not use the word with me again.) “I want you to meet someone,” she said. “She is a nun, and she is very old.” Tears traced my cheeks. “I think you would like each other.” I began to cry in earnest.

Our life here is full of many things, but people who love us and are over the age of fifty are almost entirely absent. Perhaps that’s what happens in a city like Los Angeles, where everyone, regardless of years, seems young – you have to be to make it here.

A few weeks later, I drove the thirty miles to my first meeting with Sister Margaret. I checked and rechecked the GPS to be sure I had the correct address. I arrived twenty minutes early and parked across the street, using those minutes to quiet my rapidly beating heart. I was nervous about meeting this woman; I really wanted her to like me. I crossed the street to the Villa, and Sister Margaret greeted me on the concrete walkway beneath towering evergreens. “I am so glad to meet you.” She opened her arms wide to usher me inside.

Sister Margaret is small, humble, unassuming, and filled to the brim with quiet delight. She’s been a nun for over sixty-five years. We sat opposite each other in comfortable chairs in front of an empty hearth. Through the window I could see the bright green and red leaves of a poinsettia, and through that, the green grass. Sister Margaret asked me to light a candle, and we prayed.

In that season I was impatient with my own lack of transformation. Why am I still struggling? Can’t I just fix this and move on? What else do I need to do to heal and change more quickly? I interrogated myself daily.

As my impatience became apparent in our conversation about life and faith, Sister Margaret said something to me that I have found myself saying to other people, and to myself, many times in the years since: “This earth is very old, and our God is very patient. God is a gardener. Gardeners don’t go around kicking the cabbages and telling them to grow faster.”

When I closed my eyes to pray that morning, I saw in my mind a great tree, an evergreen like those outside the Villa, and I thought of this great, old earth. The tree in my mind was straight like an arrow, dressed in a regular pattern of green boughs. It was quite still, but I knew that, beyond my ability to perceive, it was stretching ever taller with the turning of the earth.

A few weeks later, at a Kairos Sunday gathering, Dave’s co-pastor spoke about being oaks of righteousness. As her husband led us afterward in song, I again closed my eyes, and a prayer settled on my shoulders like a shawl: God, grant me the faith of an acorn.

Small enough to nestle in the palm of my hand, acorns grow into trees large enough to shelter a family from sun or storm. From what we know of them, they do so without planning or effort on their own part. They don’t have to will themselves to grow faster. They are subject to the wind and the rain and the soil and the sun and they will grow, quickly or slowly. They submit themselves to burial beneath the soil, to the breaking of their skin and their hearts, and so begin their lives as trees. Years turn to decades, and they grow taller, soaking up only what comes to them – there is no thought of running after what they need for growth, only a slow, upward journey toward the light. As they grow taller, so they grow deeper, roots digging ever more surely into the soil that will offer everything they need to live, or won’t, and that will be the end and they will break and fall and rot and become new life and sing new songs as insects and grubs and salamanders.

The next time I visited Sister Margaret, I told her of my acorn prayer. She smiled her sweet smile, and said, “Come.” She led me out of the house, down through the garden, and around a corner to a nook under the evergreens. “Look,” she said. “I brought this home as an acorn. I didn’t think it would grow, but I planted it anyway, and look!” In a large pot was a miniature oak. Only three feet in height, it had the gnarled, scrappy look of the black oaks of Yosemite. It had few leaves, and fewer branches, but it was a living, breathing tree before us. “Someday, it will outgrow its pot,” she said, “and then I will plant it in the ground.”

God, grant me the faith of an acorn, that I might find life in death and trust that I will grow, like a river awash with rain, without striving.



A Word About Hair

Everett and I in my (clean) long-haired days
Everett and I in my (clean) long-haired days

Here’s a little throwback to our early days in Northern California.

Last July, Dave and I relocated from Los Angeles to San Francisco’s East Bay. In landing in a new place, I lost myself a little bit. There were beautiful parts of it: I answered “yes” more readily to the questions “Are you a writer?” and “Are you an artist?” because I had emerged as an artist and writer in LA, and now I could own those roles more fully in a new context. There was a new freedom in rediscovering who I was in a new place after a lot of transformation in the several years prior.

There were also hard things. I was on a break from writing until we settled in and found a babysitter, and soon I started to see myself primarily as Dave’s wife and Everett’s mother – roles I am grateful to play, but not enough to carry my identity. My lack of routine in a new place held me back from diving into the practices I had cultivated in LA – I wasn’t creating, listening, or being still the way I had been. I had trouble rooting my identity in who I was as a beloved child of God. I was unmoored.

In the midst of all of this came the Great Hair Catastrophe.

It was all my own doing. I’m a big believer in committing to things. I don’t like to start things I can’t finish. When I do art projects, they are projects that can be finished in an hour or two (or preferably about twenty minutes), because if I don’t finish them in one sitting I may never finish them at all. I’m committed like that with reading books, too – once I start, I have a hard time letting go and not finishing, even if the book is terrible. I am careful with my yeses because I mean them.

The week we move into our new house, I decided to stop using shampoo. At least, I stopped using conventional shampoo. I googled a few things and settled on a once-a-week baking soda scrub plus a few washes with a castile soap-based mixture in between.

What on earth possessed me to do this in the midst of one of the craziest transitions of my life? I was already feeling uncomfortable with myself, unsure of exactly who I was in this new place. Why not add gross hair to the mix of insecurities? It seemed like a bad idea at the time, but I decided to do it anyway.

Generally speaking, I’m pretty happy with my hair. I’m starting to get a few gray hairs now and then, but I still pull them out most of the time. (I told myself I wouldn’t after I turned thirty, but wow, did I want to after I turned thirty.) I have some nice waves in the back, but it’s pretty stick-straight in front, which is a little weird, but I don’t think anyone notices too much. And I have a lot of hair. Like, a LOT of hair. Usually, this is a good thing. It’s not so good for up-dos, but since I’m married and don’t plan to go to prom any time soon, I think that’s probably ok. (In the practice run for my wedding, the stylist kept saying, “Oh boy, we’re going to have to hide a lot more of this next time.” I looked like an over-grown Shirley Temple.)

My hair routine had always been pretty simple. I washed it every day or two, and then I’d either leave it down or put it up. Generally speaking, I didn’t bother to comb or brush it. I’d let it air dry and pony-tail it if it was hot, or try a bun if it was particularly unruly. If I’d been watching Hunger Games or Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman I’d braid it, usually at a nice angle so it was less obviously lopsided. Every night, I put it into two braids, like Anne of Green Gables. Every morning, I woke up looking like Pippi Longstocking.

So, no shampoo – this sounds like a low-maintenance hair lover’s dream, right?   I don’t even have to wash it! In my experience, it’s not as low-maintenance as it sounds.

I did a fair amount of googling before I started, and, apparently, if the shampoo isn’t doing the work for you, you have to actually get the grime out of your hair another way. Like, by scrubbing like crazy with your fingers in the shower. And by brushing and brushing and brushing and brushing.

I made it a month. A month with lots of buns and scarves and ponytails, because my hair felt like an enormous candlewick. It was awful.

Dave said he couldn’t tell. He said it looked great and smelled nice. I think he was just trying to rub in the fact that when he went “’poo-less” a few years ago I made him go back to shampoo because his hair was too dirty (you’d think I would have learned from that, right?).

So, a month in, every afternoon when Everett went down for a nap I sat outside in the yard and I brushed, and brushed, and brushed. Why in the yard? Because as I brushed, handfuls of hair and chunks of mysterious gray goop started to pile around me. I brushed and brushed and brushed, and eventually, after lots of patience, I could more or less get the brush through my hair without too much pain, and then I’d whip it back into a ponytail again before anyone noticed how smarmy it was.

I tried leaving it down a few times when it was freshly “clean” (it never really got clean), but here’s the thing: all the blogs talk about how they get “great volume” and “really nice body” when they stop shampoo. Did I mention that I have a LOT of hair? It was long and thick and when I added a nice layer of mysterious gray goop, it was ENORMOUS. It was a huge frizzy mess, and I couldn’t blame the perfect Northern California climate.

Every time I left the house, I was a little bit embarrassed about my hair, and I just banked on the fact that no one cared enough about what my hair looked like to notice. For all they knew, I’d always worn it up every day and worn lots of scarves.

Finally, one afternoon as I combed the gray goop out yet again, I had a revelation: I don’t need to do this. There was absolutely no reason, other than because I told myself I would. Really, I’m not even particularly homeopathic/all-natural when it comes to medicines and hygiene products – so why was I so worried about chemicals in my hair? ‘Pooless, I felt gross when I left the house, showers took longer than they used to with the endless scrubbing, I spent hours every week brushing, and the only reason I was doing any of it was that I had decided in a crazy chaotic season that I should try it. Good grief.

So, that afternoon I tucked Everett in for his nap and jumped in the shower, so that afterwards I could brush (or not brush!) clean hair for the first time since moving to Northern California. I did this because I knew I would feel better, I’d feel more myself, and it’s not worth doing things just because one time you thought it might be a good idea so now you have to stick with it.

A lot of times faithfulness means discipline. Sometimes, faithfulness means mixing it up. Sometimes I’m afraid to commit to things, but, maybe more often, I’m afraid to give them up. I don’t want to be a quitter, a failure, a loser. I don’t want to be weak. But, sometimes, that I idea I had just isn’t worth sticking with. Sometimes, that thing that worked really well for me in one season just doesn’t work in the next.

So I washed my hair. I remembered what it was like to feel clean. And as I gave up that practice, I remembered others – how did I used to spend Everett’s naps, back in LA, back before I spent them brushing my hair? I read and wrote and painted. I listened and I prayed. It was time, I discovered, to reengage some of those practices that ground me. The season of chaos was ending. It was time to remember who I was in the everyday.




FullSizeRender This morning I find myself noticing the color of the sunlight coming through the trees a little more readily than I normally do. My single cup of green tea has a more complex flavor than I expected, and it warms me.

This morning is the second in a five-day fast that Dave and I are participating in with Open Door. It is the majority world diet fast; we each get a pound of rice, a pound of beans, and two and a half cups of oatmeal for five days.

I am no good at this. But then, that’s not the point, is it? Already, I talk about it a lot. I think about it a lot. I am not used to hunger.

I find myself wondering about my hunger. How often am I hungry for sustenance, and how often am I hungry for something else? What other appetites do I satiate with food?

Yesterday I made a list of my uses for food and drink, besides nourishment. I started out thinking about them in terms of “good” and “bad” uses, but then I set that aside – I want to stop making immediate value judgments, and to listen a little longer. So, for better or worse, here are some of the uses of food and drink that came to mind:

Security. I am a stockpiler. I love our chest freezer, and I like to keep it full of all kinds of things – meals that can be pulled out and warmed on a crazy day, Everett’s favorite crackers that went on sale once, and my favorite ice cream that was a dollar off last week.

Love and Generosity. We brought a basket of food to some friends in the hospital this week. One of my first responses to crisis is to make food – it seems to be one of the few tangible, practical ways to care for another person. I learned that from my grandmother, who passed away three weeks ago. Even in her eighties, she brought meals to the “elderly” at her church, and laughed at the irony.

Hospitality. “What can I get for you?” is often the first thing I ask when someone comes into my home, after “How are you?” They know and I know that I mean food or drink. (What would I think if they responded with “a warm pair of socks and some chapstick”?) Last night our dear friend and former housemate drove six hours up from LA and stopped to see us. We fed him what we had left in the fridge, which was not much – a simple salad, some good cheese, and a few crackers. It was strange not to have a more typical meal to offer, and stranger still to sit with him and watch him eat (our portion of rice and beans for the evening was already gone).

Comfort. Like a warm bath, tea or chocolate comforts my body and heart. A plate of hot gnocchi in fragrant sauce fills up much more than my belly. In this month of hard things, I have literally been dreaming of queso from HomeState – my go-to comfort food in LA.

Entertainment. Often on an evening when Dave and I don’t have any commitments, you’ll find us playing a game of Monopoly Deal with a bowl of popcorn, or settled on the couch watching an old episode of Startrek with bowls of ice cream.

Distraction. I notice that I’m picking up my phone a lot more in these days of fasting, searching for some other distraction. How often do I just grab a handful of food – even healthy food – and consume it without thinking about it? Everett’s leftovers after a meal usually end up in my belly, sometimes off the floor. Was that grape worth it? If it was, did I really appreciate its value as I ate it?

Celebration. Nothing says “Happy Birthday” like a chocolate cheesecake and a glass of wine.

Reward. At the end of a long day, particularly a no-nap day for two-year-old Everett, I feel like I’ve earned a bowl of ice cream or a cold drink.

Relaxation. I use food or drink to set the tone for “me-time.” Often the first thing I do after Everett goes down for a nap is make a cup of tea and grab a little snack. It has become a cue that it’s time to shift gears, that I can let go of my responsibilities and rest for a while.

In this week of fasting, how do I find these things? How do I celebrate, find comfort, have fun and show hospitality well, without the help of food?

This morning I read about gratitude. I think of the raspberries I ate at Open Door’s Rest Retreat last weekend – the burst of juicy sweetness, like sunshine. There is nothing more perfect than a good raspberry. I will certainly eat with more gratitude after this week.

But what does gratitude look like now?

I am grateful for the comfort and beauty I have each day: the sunlight in the trees, a hot shower, flowers blooming in my own backyard. I am grateful for chapstick. I choose to be grateful for the hunger in my belly that reminds me how well I am sustained, even when others are not.

When Ryan arrived last night, he was carrying a cooler and a paper bag with HomeState stamped on the front in black ink. In the bag were chips, and in the cooler was queso, which is now waiting for me in my freezer. Perhaps it will be better for the waiting.



The Year of Consent

Mission Dolores Park I am a planner, a control-freak, an Enneagram Type 1. I like to plan a route and know where I’m going. I get carsick when I am not the one behind the wheel on a windy road. Swings and slides make me dizzy – give me a trail to run on that’s firm beneath my feet.

At the end of December, I joined a twelve-day online retreat. Each day it offered a different way of listening for a word to focus on for the new year. We drew; we wrote; we talked with friends; we listened to our dreams. I had pretty well settled on a word by December 31st, but on the morning of January 1st a word from a meditation I was reading leapt off the page: consent.

I balked. That could not be my word. I like words of empowerment, words that inspire, encourage, or motivate, and consent? It sounded more like a good word for a doormat. It sounded weak and submissive.

But the word persisted. It lingered in my mind for days, and finally I consented to ponder it for the year. What would it mean, I wondered, to consent to the people and circumstances that come my way? I was wary.

I googled the word to learn its etymology. It stems from the words for together and feel. To feel together. That, I thought, I could do: I can feel together with the people who come my way and with the Spirit of this God I am stumbling toward. It would, as my friend Stephanie pointed out, require a lot of listening.

Then 2015 happened. I know we are only a few months in, but I cannot believe the number of challenging circumstances that have already come our way. There were weeks of sickness, including many days when I couldn’t get out of bed and had to rely on the help of Dave and our new friends here in the East Bay to care for Everett. There have been a couple of major transitions announced at Open Door that will affect our whole Open Door family, and Dave’s job, significantly; these are good, exciting changes, but carry us into the unknown. And then my grandmother had a massive stroke and passed away ten days later.   There have been other things, too, big and small – things that keep rocking my foundation, making it hard to catch my breath.

What does all this have to do with consent? Again and again, I am called in the midst of this chaos to suspend my frustration or anxiety and to listen. As I was sick, I thought often of my two new friends who have battled very serious sickness, sickness that took hold of them for years, and yet they are here and strong and more loving than ever because of it. My weeks of sickness were a small, unasked-for opportunity to feel with them what they have felt, a tiny window into their experiences.

The transitions at Open Door offer me an opportunity, as our friends here like to say, to listen longer than is comfortable. As we step into some unknowns as a community in this year, we will listen together with wonderful leaders whom I trust for the right way forward.

I bought two last-minute tickets to St. Louis earlier this month. The first allowed me to sit at the bedside of my dear grandmother in some of her last days. The second gave me the chance to gather with family and celebrate her life of service, love, and hospitality. We listened together to stories of her life and felt together the hope that God offers for the end of our days as we know them.

Again and again we are asked to consent. Not to give up, but to say yes to the circumstances we find ourselves in and to enter into them with our whole selves. To consent is to be present, to be awake, with eyes and ears and hearts open.

This year is not what I expected. I haven’t even written the goals I thought I’d be intentionally working toward by now. I am behind where I thought I would be on my book project, delayed again and again by life.

I choose to consent each day to the life I’ve been given.



of all I carry, tossed willy-

nilly into the wind;

save me, Jesus, from my own


nestle me under your wing, and

teach me to listen.




Our adopted family here at the Open Door Community has been talking about falling this week.  Throughout Lent, we are pondering these words of Jesus:  "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."  On Sunday, Dave talked about pirates and gardeners and the journey of a seed.  I found myself thinking again about a poem I wrote a couple of years ago, one that will likely end up in the book I am finishing up a draft of in the next few weeks.

It's time again to fall.

The Instant Between
I cling to the rock
gripping with all my strength
the tiny holds – cracks and ledges just
wide enough for a finger tip
only of the rock
and the air
behind, above, below.
Time passes – moments,
or eons, perhaps –
and then there is nothing but air rushing
by my falling body.
Heavily weightless, nothing moves but the threads
of my hair, winding and unwinding around
one another in the wind,
a graceful dance.
I plunge down deep, feet first
into the warm green water,
silence broken by the cavalcade of bubbles
babbling about me.
Suspended in the instant between
moving down and moving up
I taste the salt, feel it
kiss my lips, sting my eyes.
Then, in a rush, I surge to the surface
and suddenly it is sun, not water, that kisses my face.
I smile
and float,
held by the water, warmed by the sun
on the surface of a vast ocean.
I wake in darkness.
I smell the rich, damp smell of earth
so close to my nose I can hardly breathe.
I can’t move enough to open my eyes.
I hear footsteps
muffled just enough
that I cannot tell if they are distant
or just above my head.
A moment passes –
or eons, maybe –
and I can feel a new warmth
stroking my hair.
I am suddenly aware of my arms
and the power to move them.
I push upward
feeling the damp, rich soil
move through my fingertips.
One by one, my ten fingers reach the surface –
there is no hurry here.
And then I discover my legs –
a slow flexing, a memory of movement –
I have done this before.
My legs push down
toes digging deeper into the soil
surrendering to its rich, fragrant darkness.
Time passes
in the in between
and then gradually
or suddenly –
which, I truly cannot say –
I feel the sunlight on my face:
a second awakening.
I blink the soil from my eyes
too accustomed to darkness
to take in all that light.
I cling to the rock.
Or the ladder, rather,
there so long the rock has grown around it.
The waves batter my back
and again.
For many moments I can’t breathe
I cough the salt from my lungs,
blink it from my eyes –
the ocean has eclipsed all possibility of tears.
I brace myself for another wave –
just time enough to remember how to breathe
and adjust my grip on the cold, ridged metal
between each onslaught.
How long am I here?  I cannot say.
Time passes.
And then someone is behind me.
He is familiar, yet I’m not certain I
have seen him before.
He wraps his strength around me,
clinging to the ladder for me
pressing my body to safety
holding it with his own.
“I will hold you to this rock,” he whispers,
and in that moment I know his voice.
Time passes.  Moments.  Eons.
Gently, he pulls me from the ladder on the rock.
We float backward
He holds me in the swell
as my hands remember how to relax their grip.
“It’s okay,” he says, and I look around.
As he fades into the ocean,
the thought comes to me:
I have been here before.



What a gift!

With uncharacteristic spontaneity, I decided a few weeks ago to sign up for a one-day writing workshop in Seattle with David James Duncan, a long-time favorite writer of mine.  My parents very graciously funded the trip, knowing just how much it would mean to me. I knew I had dangerously high hopes for the day: a feeling of independence, steps toward finding my voice as a writer, connecting with a favorite author, and connecting with other writers and writing-mentors.  My hopes were exceeded in all areas!   There is way too much to describe here; it will take months or years for everything I heard to percolate down inside of me.  Already, it feels like a dream.

One of the highlights was my table group.  We practiced writing exercises and shared with one another, offering suggestions and encouragement quite naturally.  On the plane back home, I wrote this poem.  I think, in some way, it is about them.  I also had some editorial help from them via email last night - the gift keeps on giving!

I am grateful today.

Dance of the Beacon-Moon
The beacon-moon glows
over the lights of the city.
She is struck through by three thin clouds.
She firmly beckons as she glides higher
in her imperceptible dance of joy
and gratitude.
Her light is blue –
it casts delicate shadows across the floor.
At dawn
she is a dream of a moon:
a flat white circle fading into a sea of blue-gray cloud.
She softly goes, until –
at the last –
the clouds break,
and she flares bright
in all her dimpled beauty.
How silently she gives.



Channel Islands, A Poem

We just came home from another beautiful weekend in the Channel Islands.  It was Everett's first visit outside the womb - last time we went I was five months pregnant.  He camped like a champ.  The weekend was a lovely gift in the midst of this rather tumultuous season.  The lines of this poem came to me one or two at a time over the weekend.  I hope you enjoy it.

Channel Islands, May 2014
The dry grass piles before my toes
like soft snow
I look to the hills
the golden invaders
have taken over hill and valley
and you hold me in the palm
of your warm hand
I walk the hills
wade the rushing river of wind and shadow
rolling tumbling rolling tumbling
my shadow is tall
like a mountain
(rolling tumbling
rolling tumbling)
my heart is warm
and wide
We are all grasses bending in the same wind

A voice speaks in the night: “Come.”