Thoughts on faith and life and life in faith

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 71)

139: Perspective Without Focus

A few years back, when I felt the urge to write stronger than I felt the urge to hide, I started a blog. I wrote several entries and then held them tightly to my chest for days before I slid them quietly to a trusted few. “Are these alright?” “Am I saying anything?” “Would anyone want to hear my words?” “Is it too much?” “Should I feel this naked?” Maybe I shouldn’t do this. To which my people said….DO THIS. One thing I knew. I had to tell the truth. I didn’t understand the why, except that words made me feel like I was alive in this world; like I had a right to be there. I haven’t felt like that much. Words became friends that made me brave.

I haven’t known true poverty. I’ve never done drugs or felt the weight of addiction. I’m not homeless. Or hopeless. Joy has somehow resided in me for all the “no matter whats” . I still get excited at snow. I love to read children’s books because I can feel how a child thinks. I cried when I saw the mountains in Montana, Old Faithful when it roared to life and when I landed on Korean soil for the first time. I look forward to everyday things like kids look forward to Christmas. I feel it all and I feel it big. Words make me brave. Joy gives me reason.

Here lately, though? Well, here lately, joy got shot in the foot and the limp has left me reeling. Like when you get hit in the head and the world goes all wacky sideways and you can’t get your focus? You grab instinctively for the nearest anchor to hold you up while things stop spinning. Only this time, the spinning isn’t slowing. I find myself feeling breathless and dizzy in the middle of a conversation. I realize then, the spinning is from within me.

The fastest way to make me stop breathing is to scare me. The fastest way to scare me is to make me feel abandoned. It’s different than busy or distracted, not the same as out of town or in a meeting. Abandoned feels like all the sound left the world and it’s really loud; like God closed up shop and you are locked out. Abandoned only shows up from those close enough to leave.

I stop at the coffee shop to get some dinner. Someone sees the sadness in my eyes and asks if I’m alright because I’m always smiling. The question feels painful because I long to be asked but when I am, the tears come. I walk down the street towards home, not even trying to stop crying. I don’t care who sees me. I just need to grieve.

That’s when my friends matter. A message from Colorado, Texas, Illinois, a video of my new grandson, a phone call from across town, a text from my son, a picture from Korea. It feels like hands joining together to wrap around me. I sat across the table from a friend the other day. I told her I felt unnecessary lately. And then she asked the question. “Are you safe?” It startled me, really. I’ve never had someone ask me that before. I thought for a minute. From my actions? Yes. From my thoughts? No. They felt brutal, mean, out to get me and keep me.

Days have been filled with intention. Talking helps. Questions make me engage. Hands reaching out to me make me find my balance, my perspective, even when I can’t focus the lens when the sadness rolls down my face. And, my joy will return because I’m made of it. Just right now my joy is fitting like old underwear, elastic loose and wind flapping through it.

My friends, my sons, though, have held my underwear up the past few days, figuratively speaking. I eagerly watch the horizon for the next adventure, the next message, the next invitation to do life real and messy even with snot running out my nose. I can’t do it any other way. The late Nightbirde, singer Jane Marczewski, had a philosophy. “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore to be happy.” Man, that rings true in my bones.

As I got up from lunch the other day, my friend, Rachel , looked at me. “One more thing. My favorite chapter is Psalm 139. Maybe you could read it.” I’m fresh out of even wanting to read my Bible right now but…for you, Rachel, because of you….I read it.

“If I flew on morning’s wings to the far western horizon, You’d find me in a minute–You’re already there waiting.” I love knowing someone is waiting on me, someone is looking to be there with me. Thanks, God, for waiting for me.

Life is beautiful and the hardest thing in the world all at the same time. It will be ok. And I will look forward to getting new underwear with strong elastic for the days ahead.

342 Miles to a Friend

Thirty-six days ago we sat in a church in the countryside of Columbia, TN. We’d been there before a few times in summers past and knew we wanted to go back. When the word came we’d be in the area for much of the summer, we let them know we were coming and they made room for us in their lives and in their homes. So this particular Sunday? We were already “home” as far as our hearts were concerned. I glanced up from where we sat, a moment’s gap between people allowing me to see across the room as a woman and her teenage daughter flashed by and made their way to seats on the other side.

Afterward, the girl and I took a friend come to visit from out of town to a diner nearby. It’s the sort of place that you’d be tempted to pass up from the looks of it outside but are mighty glad you stopped when you step inside. The locals and travelers line up before it opens to get a spot saved. There’s coca-cola chocolate sheet cake, a three stack of fluffy buttermilk pancakes and country fried steak with gravy. You’re more than willing set aside gluten-free bread and vegan ice cream and pay the price later. As we waited for our turn to sit down on a busy Sunday lunch hour the red and white screen door, just like grandmother’s old house, pushed open behind us and we all shifted to make room for more. “You were at church today, weren’t you?” I recognized her immediately. She and her girl had taken a mother/daughter trip out of town, she told me, time between them much needed and longed for. She wasn’t sure why she’d chosen this area, save for the music concert offered nearby that same weekend. Something pulled her and she stopped at the diner to savor the last few minutes before heading back home.

Where are you from? I asked the usual out of town question. Northern Kentucky. “No, you can’t be. We’re from Northern Kentucky!” A long table opened up in the middle of the restaurant, room for a gaggle, and would we mind sharing space, the server asked. We eagerly agreed and gathered our chairs closer around each other and started sharing our stories.

As the meal ended I looked around the table for the check, eager to pay it forward for all of us. The girl and our check were missing. She’d already had the same thought, two beats ahead of me and standing at the cash register. As she made her way back and sat down, we all looked at each other. Something important was happening, Someone bigger than us had woven our paths together. None of us wanted to leave. I would contact her when our summer was over. I promised.

And so today, five weeks later, our bags unpacked and laundry hung back in the closet, we make good on our word and sit across another table, this time in our home state, just a few miles from where each of us lives. She loves to paint and had paid attention to the rest of my trip as I’d shared online. She brought me a picture she’d painted of the bison I’d met in Montana. “I think,” she said, “I think what I learned from this summer is to take back what I saw in how they loved and cared for one another in Tennessee and do the same here.” I looked at her, this person that had appeared unexpected in my path. It was exactly the words that had taken shape in my own heart.

One evening in Tennessee, I told my new friend, we were staying with people we’d only just met two days before. They got a text. “Come have supper.” I was incredulous. But….it’s supper time now….and there’s five of us. Do they know that?? No one hesitated….except the girl and I. We hoped they were sure about this. When we pulled up into their driveway, she’d just come back from the store bringing a pie to complete the meal. We followed her into the kitchen where we helped pull food to share from the fridge and warmed it up together. We finished up and carried our coffee out to the porch and put the sun to rest as we laughed and talked and sang. No one dusted the furniture first, no one changed clothes, no one set out the good china or scripted their stories. And no one had ever shown us what friendship like that could look like.

We made a pact, this new friend and I. We would pay attention and move toward the whisper in our souls. Tonight the small picture of the bison she painted has a new home over my kitchen sink. I traveled 342 miles and back again to get that painting, to keep it as reminder of all those who taught us what love looks like.


I’ve been writing in my head for days. Trouble is my head isn’t big enough to hold it all. Neither is my heart. Neither are words. But words are how I paint the pain and the fantastical, the glory-be’s and the what-the-heck’s, the quiet cups of coffee and the bigger-than-bargained-for troubles. It’s my way to make friends with those who wish to read, with my own insides. It gives me something to hold onto to remember, to give thanks, to savor one more time. Last week, on this very day, I sat in a car and watched bison walk by the window, wallow in the dust on the ground and peeked my head out to hear what bison sound like when it appears they are in an argument with another bison. I decided it would not be a sound I would want to hear in a dark alley. I pledged right then to never annoy a bison.

We woke up late today, still sleeping the road off from adventures and an overnight in the airport. The girl came downstairs and we poured our coffee into cups we’d brought home from Tennessee and sat across from each other, each in our designated spot, like church pews that become your own because you sat there one Sunday and everyone now knows that’s your spot. You belong there.

We’ve sat with so many coffee cups filled by strangers and strangers become friends this summer; tables and booths in restaurants and homes and airports. We’ve read books in parks and bookstores, Airbnb’s and various living rooms that we didn’t know existed in the world. We’ve eaten in diners and kitchens, trendy and earthy, places of respite for the trafficked in training for a better tomorrow, bars and grills on trivia night with the 20-somethings laughing and raising a glass together. We’ve seen farmland and reservations, mountains of majesty and inner-city, town squares straight out of Mayberry, Amish buggies, mountain bikes, gay pride parades, and cowboy church. There’ve been new heart ties with those we’d never met until we walked through their front door or into their mailbox online, reunions with those related through family tree and those who’d earned a graft into the tree because we’d loved them forever or the minute we first laid eyes on them. We’ve talked and shared ideas with those like-minded, those higher-minded, those with vastly different ideologies, and those that made us think, challenged us, ruffled us. Their faces scroll through my heart and I feel a fire lit deep and strong.

To my daughter and her husband and magical little girl, thank you for being the first stop on our summer journey. The food, the books, the walks and conversation, the welcome into the quiet and beautiful daily life that is yours. And for the hug goodbye that said: “come back”.

And Bea…..”Nana loves you, too!” <3

To those whose paths crossed ours by “chance” or by effort, we are deeply grateful for the particular seasoning sprinkled over us by spending time with you and are in awe of road maps that intersect serendipitously and sprout joy.

To my son Noah and his love, Erin…..thank you for going beyond convenience to plan the trip of a lifetime for us and lingering longer than planned in front of Old Faithful, for tolerating my silly mama tears at the sheer joy of all that I was seeing. The dinner at Dolce, the impromptu dessert run on our last night, the Saturday morning walk into town for breakfast burritos, the hike to the water that was scaled down below what you could have taken on your own…. but you did it for us. None of it went unnoticed and is appreciated. “Are you happy?” The nod to my question at the airport goodbye made it easier to leave. I’ll love you forever and always.

To Fran and Ty and Joanna and Nellie and Sharon and Denise and Dena and AK and Orvil and Pam and Julie and Rachel and Linda and Jeff and Lisa and Rob; Pete and Shige and Drew and Chris and Andrew…..I’m overwhelmed at trying to remember the names and the catch in my breath as I type through tears. Your homes offered, birthdays celebrated, conversations fruitful and silly, dominoes around the table, books discussed, laughter that rang true and deep and satisfying to the soul. And the friendship, ah, the friendship. Thank you.

To the girl I met whose pronouns are different than mine, to the man in the coffee shop whose body diseased made it difficult to carry his drink from the counter to the table and let me help him, to the man and his wife making warm doughnuts in a small shop in the mountains’ middle through cancer diagnosis and chemo and remission who looked every customer in the eye and took the time, a thank you goes out to you unknown for making me stop and consider my own lot and how to love someone.

I sit here back home in Kentucky on this warm Sunday. The girl and I watch church online from Tennessee where we planted ourselves and left roots. “I’m homesick,” said the girl. I understood. She picked a liturgy from a book gifted to us and we read it out loud to comfort ourselves. It made us feel understood by an invisible listener.

Inconsolable Homesickness

“Let me steward well, Lord Christ, this gift of homesickness–this grieving for a childhood gone, this ache for distant family, lost fellowship, past laughter, shared lives and the sense that I was somewhere I belonged.” — Every Moment Holy

We learned what home means, what weaving life together looks like, how loving open-handed can feel. We saw different than us as a person and less of a project. We are slain by the grace of it all.

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