Magical thinking: it will get me every time


Things started out innocently enough.  A colleague at work posted an incandescent set of pictures of Grayton Beach on his Facebook page a few weeks ago. Sun, sky, sea, all of them endless, all of them beautiful, all of them beckoning. We continue to find our way through a time of transition at my church and that is hard work.  Juggling the demands of my small, complicated family, watching our country get more and more frayed at the edges, all of that gets to me. The list goes on, but what’s important is recognizing I was tired, I was reaching for some Sabbath time of laughter, playfulness and renewal. It was pretty easy to talk my spouseman into a plan for the visit we had already scheduled for the girl Maria right after Easter. I’d take the time off,  she would come in on a Thursday, on Saturday we would take her and my dad to Grayton Beach for a few days before she had to return to Fort Lauderdale. I saw Sherod’s hesitation and I quickly wrote it off as his reluctance to be anywhere at night but in his own home, ready to slip into the bed he loves.

The weather we got was basically the total opposite of the pictures that had so beguiled me in the first place—windy, cold, gray.  The condo we rented was fine but a little small for four of us when there wasn’t much to do outside. The night we got to Grayton, we went to dinner at a lovely little restaurant and sat where the owner was shucking oysters. Maria was curious and the owner a lovely woman who graciously offered Maria the chance to eat her first-ever oyster.  There was fanfare and laughter and a fake pearl necklace to place around her neck after Maria got that first taste of the entire ocean concentrated in one speck of life called an oyster.  We left the restaurant filled with the happy light of being a family on an adventure.

A picture of us 24 hours later would have been described as something much closer to hell.  Our girl had started escalating into her problem behaviors and she barely held it together that evening.  In somebody else’s condo. In a town where no one knew us. In a situation that could deteriorate to the point that we would have to call in cops, I had to face into the truth that I had allowed wishful thinking—magical thinking—to bring us to a place of excruciating vulnerability and I did not have time to wallow in self pity.  We needed to do what was necessary to get back on safer ground.

By the next morning, we were on the road headed back home.  All the way back, it was dicey, Maria cycling in and out of that scary place where her eyes glitter with calculated rage and I just pray this isn’t the moment she’s going to go postal on us.  Getting home made nothing better.  She continued to escalate and by late evening, she had begun to engage in the kind of self-injury that makes me want to tear my own skin off like she does, because I feel so angry and hopeless and scared at my inability to protect my daughter from herself.  Late in the night we realized we had to start looking for help.  Mainly, what came out of a series of pretty desperate calls was the realization that we live far from the kind of resources she and we need in such times and that the next thing we should do was make the plan to get her back to BARC.

This was Monday evening and on Wednesday, Sherod was supposed to drive her to the Atlanta airport where they’d rendezvous with a BARC staff member who’d fly with Maria back to Fort Lauderdale.  The decision we made that night was to see how Tuesday went, making tentative plans for Sherod to drive her back to Fort Lauderdale if we had any concerns about her behavior.  These days, airlines don’t take kindly to folks losing control of their behavior mid-flight.  We knew if she lost it, her flight would more than likely be diverted to the nearest airport and there’d be cops waiting for her on the tarmac.  But Sherod driving her, or the two of us driving her, had its own dangers. I started trying to find someone able to ride along who was stronger and more able-bodied than two aging parents and came up empty.

For most of Tuesday we breathed a bit easier. Maria settled down and in fact, by the afternoon was in that fun, friendly, loving place I adore sharing with her.  We moved forward with the idea that we’d stick to the original plan. Until we couldn’t. Until again, as evening fell, she ramped up and engaged in even worse self-injury.  Over the course of 3 hours, we radically changed the plan and in the middle of the night, I bought tickets and made flight arrangements so by 9:30 the following morning, two BARC staff members were boarding a flight to ATL and I was preparing to drive to pick them up and bring them back here. We got back by 4:30 in the afternoon and at 5, Maria, Sherod and the two staff members were in Sherod’s truck headed south.  She got back to the safest place she’s ever known right after dawn yesterday morning.

What this outline of the past 4 days fails to capture is the horror of watching your own child hurt herself so badly the blood runs down her arms.  It isn’t shame I feel as I reach out, trying to find help in the middle of one of these situations, but it is an absolute emptiness. I have to ask for help, and people are always so extraordinarily generous about trying to do what they can, but I feel like I am asking them to stand right next to a dangerous black hole. This time, I also had to carefully fold and put away the guilt I felt about having taken my family on a dangerous misadventure.  Is that what triggered Maria’s behavior? We won’t ever know.

Life goes on. The pieces are put back together.  We have new data now, data that insist we have to look carefully at the ways in which we have tried to continue to be Maria’s mom and dad.  It will be a very long time before we even consider bringing her back for a visit.  The next time we see her, it will be at BARC itself, probably for only a short while, and the visits for the foreseeable future will take place there, where we know we have the staff support necessary to keep her and us safe.  Maria often calls early in the morning and after I woke up today, I had to consciously prevent myself from reaching out to her. It’s not that I don’t love her.  I would give my life for this woman-child this instant. But my love for her cannot be acted out on the basis of magical thinking.  I have to put that love into actions that help her move forward into the most promising future possible and right now that includes not making pretend that everything’s alright and nothing has changed.

Every time I have to confront the cost of magical thinking when it comes to Maria, I fight to hold on to a kind of hope that requires me to continue to learn to be the best mother I can possibly be for my daughter. Those itty bitty voices of shame and despair can’t be allowed to take hold and drive the next thing I can do to love her and the next thing after that. Sometimes the best love of all is the love that is capable of stepping back and slowing down enough to think things through, take careful steps, postpone a more immediate sense of gratification for a kind of health and wholeness that comes from embracing reality, no matter how hard that might be.

Just For This Sunday in April

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church  
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.
 Emily Dickinson

The spouseman. The daughter. The dad. Me. A condo in Grayton Beach, and wind, ocean, and, occasionally, a bit of sun.  The second Sunday in Easter and a quick time of sabbath for the fam…

Monday after Easter in the garden. Now.


I got to work out in the garden early this morning. I am about 80% done spreading the 3 cubic yards of mulch we got a couple of weeks ago. My roses have been bursting with blooms and today I also spent over an hour dead-heading them, cutting off the blooms that are past their peak. I filled my wheelbarrow and that was just a start. I’ll have to spend about an hour a day until Friday or Saturday to get them all trimmed back because they flowered so profusely. It’s a good problem to have. And this has been a good way to spend the morning after Holy Week and Easter Sunday.

On Monday, I went to a funeral at a Methodist church; the first hymn we sang was In the Garden. This is not a hymn that I’ve ever heard frequently, nor like much. It is certainly very sentimental. But it made me happy that morning; these days, the garden is where I find myself, my hope and my joy, maybe even my salvation.


I think it has to do with time. June 20th marks the 5th year since I moved to Lowndesboro, and I’ve worked each year to do a bit more with flower beds; this year, even doing some container planting. Time has done the rest.

Time is at once cyclical, linear and inexistent out in these spaces where the light goes from gentle to harsh to kind, day in and day out. I see in my mind’s eye an image of the garden covered in snow this past January, while I look at so much new growth pushing through the earth. I still am raking leftover leaves from the fall, not a lot of them, but enough make that time present as well. On Saturday, I tried something new. I planted a bunch of Dahlia tubers and now must wait patiently for them maybe, hopefully to grow into plants and then bloom later this summer.

I go out, start working and lose track of time, so all of a sudden, my throat is parched, and the sun is hot, and 3 hours have just flown by. It isn’t just that I have something to show for the time—though I feel quiet pride seeing the mulched beds, my new plantings, the strong muscles in my arms. It’s that there’s this giving and receiving of life that leaves me not giddy or silly, or some kind of exuberant, but rather, profoundly, joyfully grateful. I know I speak of gratitude a lot, but maybe that is the best gift aging has brought me.

I am so profoundly grateful for the tiny flower that comes out, in part, because I did just a bit to create a favorable environment for it to thrive. Mainly though, it blooms because that is what a plant was meant to do and that little flower is beautiful. I am grateful for the silence that is not empty—or worse yet, filled with unspeakable anger, or grief, or hurt, or suffering. The silence of being busy and pushing my body hard is my favorite silence of all these days. I am grateful because I love the notion of tarrying in a garden, with my thoughts about Holy Week and Easter, with my hopes, with the sense that no matter that my days are limited, I have days, however many there are.

Mainly though, it is time as now I am so glad to live in. Not time past. Not time future. Time now. Though I appreciated In the Garden in a new way on Monday, it is another hymn by Jaroslav J. Vajda, that our choir at Ascension sang during a couple of our services last week that has been with me all morning:

Now the silence, now the peace,
Now the empty hands uplifted;
Now the kneeling, now the plea,
Now the Father’s arms in welcome;
Now the hearing, now the power,
Now the vessel brimmed for pouring;
Now the body, now the blood,
Now the joyful celebration;
Now the wedding, now the songs,
Now the heart forgiven, leaping;
Now the Spirit’s visitation,
Now the Son’s epiphany;
Now the Father’s blessing,
Now, now, now.

Urgent Help Needed:

Dear friends, especially Florida friends:

I need your help to make a plea with Governor Rick Scott of Florida on behalf of our girl, Luz María and men and women like her who need a level of care that a community system just cannot manage.

We have gotten word that there is a serious risk that the state of Florida will cut funding for Intermediate Care Facilities, such as the one our daughter Luz María lives in.

We need friends to advocate by to sending an email or calling the Governor’s Office in support of Line Item 216. (See below for the link.) If these funds are vetoed, ICF/IIDs will in all likelihood experience rate cuts in July 2018. It is very important that the Governor understand the need for these dollars! Our Governor listens to the needs and wants of families and tax payers so please make sure that you, your families, friends and others communicate the need for the increased funding in Line Item 216.

Please feel free to cut and paste the appropriate text below, or to use your own.  Governor Scott, please do not veto the $11.5 increase for ICF/IIDs in Line 216 of the General Appropriations Act. This is important to me personally as a concerned friend of a person and family that needs ICF services.  Luz María Mallow resides in an ICF in Davie Florida, (BARC Housing, Inc.). The level and quality of care she has received there since she was 16 has given her a quality of life that her parents never dared dream would be possible.  Please do not abandon the most vulnerable amongst us. Please do not veto the $11.5 increase for ICF/IID’s.  

Please open the link below and follow the prompts to advocate for all ICF’s, including Barc Housing. 

We are terrified almost beyond words at the prospect of having this safety net pulled out from under the daughter we love more than life itself.  Thank you for your help.



The world made new, again

My body seems to know Daylight Savings is coming (like tomorrow! Ugh…). Or perhaps I’ve just never gotten back to CST since my trip to St. Thomas. Whatever the reason, I wake up early, early, early these days, and this morning, I woke up not just early, but full of hopes and expectations. It’s spring here, and we take some extra steps when the weather person says we’ll have a frost, but spring will not be stopped.

I was out planting some Snapdragons, some Salavia and a little Lily of the Valley before 6:30 this morning, stopped long enough to eat the breakfast my spouseman had fixed for us, and then headed back out. The early morning light is so gentle and kind. I stopped and looked out across our front yard and thought I saw something I had been waiting on for three years. Surely, it was, but probably not, I said to myself. I went up close and looked. Yes! In early 2015 Sherod and I went to a plant nursery outside Selma with some dear friends. It was our first spring after 18 years and everything was new again. We ended up buying a cherry tree sapling, a couple of dogwoods and some wild azaleas.


Cherry blossoms

I knew the wild Azaleas had started blooming for the first time ever, about a week ago. A few days ago, I saw the first tiny dogwood flower at the tip of one of the branches, still green and unfurling. Today, it was the cherry blossom that made itself known to me. The azaleas have been quite exuberant, with lots of blossoms; the cherry tree and dogwood will require more patience, unfolding into spring more slowly; carefully, testing this new world they have come to inhabit, though I trust a spring will come when they’ll be bold enough to cover themselves in blooms.



It may be next spring or the one after, when it’s not just one or two flowers at a time; perhaps the wait will be longer. I think that’s as it should be—it seems like it would be too much for the eye and heart to bear, seeing a sapling still so small and frail, loaded down with blossoms. It would be too easy to take them for granted and miss the exquisite beauty of a single, somewhat lonely flower waving gently in the morning breeze. I might miss it all if time hurried too quickly.


Wild Azalea

A son of the South

The funeral service for Walter Turner at Church of the Ascension represented some of the very best of the church I serve.  Everything came together to be the kind of moment the Episcopal church does gracefully, tenderly, beautifully. Clergy who served before my time came back to preach, commend, and commit his ashes to the ground in our Memorial Garden.  The rector who was at Ascension when the church burned in 1984 was there, though enormously diminished by Alzheimer’s,  Walter had been such an important lay leader in the rebuilding effort immediately after the fire that Mark Waldo’s namesake and son Mark, and Anne, Mark Sr.’s wife, 90 and with a knee replacement just two weeks old, thought it important to have Mark Sr. there to honor Walter.  The music during the service was simply exquisite. I teared up when the choir sang  Balm in Gilead, and again, when they led the congregation as we sang Lift Every Voice.  We celebrated and remembered a life of great goodness.

With the bells tolling, and the cross leading, with 6 vergers dressed in cassocks, one carrying the fragile, precious urn of ashes, we made our way to the Memorial Garden after the service had ended to commit Walter to the earth that he was made from and was returning to.  About half-way to the steps leading down to that garden, I looked up in the perfect sunshine of an early spring day in Montgomery.  A Camellia bush was in full bloom and in front of it, a Dogwood was laden with flowers as well. The azaleas lining the bed along our path were days, if not hours, from bursting into full bloom.  I’m almost glad there was no way to capture the moment with a camera–it was so much more important to be in that moment, in that procession, in that strange combination of joy, sorrow, and brokenness that marks all funerals, but in a powerful way, this one.

As much goodness as shaped Walter’s life, there was more than a fair share of sorrow in his and his wife Betty’s life.  Just a year ago, in this same month, Walter and Betty entrusted their son Will’s ashes to the same earth, the same garden.  As I looked at the flowers blooming, and thought back on my visits with Walter, when I would take communion to him and strain to understand the words he breathed out after having his vocal chords removed and replaced with a permanent tracheotomy, I thought, “this was a son of the South whom Pat Conroy would have understood well. And this is a day worthy of such a son’s funeral.”  Rest in peace, Walter.  You were well loved. We will watch over the ones you left behind, who miss you beyond words.

When the world had ended



It’s surprisingly hard to write about my work here in St Thomas.  Quite simply, in a two week span last September, the world ended in St Thomas.  The above two pictures really don’t begin to capture the devastation though they give a small sense.  All that blue in the bottom picture is what we learned to call FEMA blue in Fort Lauderdale–the blue of tarps FEMA hands out to people whose roofs have been very seriously damaged. This is 5 months later and the tarps are still there and will be for months to come. Not everyone has power yet. There is no ‘landline’ phone service. All the drinking water comes in plastic bottles.  There are two enormous mountains of debris laced with all kinds of toxic materials that sit on either side of Charlotte Amelie, and no one knows what to do with them.

You can see all that but it’s the toll on people’s souls. I only get tiny glimpses of the anguish and devastation this really left behind when I listen to the individual stories that are excruciatingly personal and desolating, and not mine to tell but which are part of the gift I have been given by this generous community.

Since the end of September of last year, bits and pieces have come back together and a new world emerges.  Cruise ships were back within weeks of the hurricanes–not even 2 massive hurricanes could begin to erase the beauty of this island nor keep the luxury jewelry stores shut down.  I watch thousands of people debark from 3-7 ships a day, come scurrying into town to make their purchases and then leave again, and I wonder if they have any notion at all of the hardship all around them while they are here.

People are making sad peace with the fact that many of their own no longer have a way to survive on this island. They are rebuilding. A member of the vestry at All Saints Cathedral Church is helping to rebuild the sewage system that was basically decimated.  A lot of the every day work of living carries on. And always, all around me, laughter.

There are two other women from Alabama sharing the diocesan visitor quarters with me while they work with the Cathedral School this week.  At lunch we walk from the cathedral campus down to an area where we can pick up a bite to eat before getting back to work.  We walk past a corner shop where there is usually a group of guys hanging out, friendly, more than a little high on pot, with astoundingly long dreadlocks.  They’ve taken to greeting us like this: “Good day, Charlie’s Angels.”  Since the three of us are in our middle years, we delight in our moniker and wish we could whoosh back our hair a la Farah Fawcett.

Each night, we are invited out by parishioners, vestry members or members of All Saints Cathedral School board.  We are entertained lavishly and graciously and there has not been a single night where at some point we haven’t found ourselves laughing so hard the tears were streaming down our faces and our bellies were aching.  That hospitality, that laughter, that willingness to allow three people to parachute in from a very distant world, with good intentions and no real knowledge of this beautiful place, is at the heart of the courage of a community that would have every right to husband every last one of their resources for the work of rebuilding.  Would perhaps be wiser asking us to stay home.

I hope the retreat I will lead starting tonight, the preaching I’ve done, the services I’ve led will make some tiny kind of difference. Yesterday morning, I did the blessing of a civil marriage for two folks from New York who got married on the beach by a justice of the peace on Wednesday evening. They were kind and generous and I wonder if their monetary gift and the monetary gift I will be able to give the Cathedral’s senior warden on Sunday morning, thanks to the generosity of my church back home and several other friends who invested in this trip, will be the real difference I can make.  I know this for sure: it is the new friendships and the time of companionship with brothers and sisters I didn’t even know I had, that seem to me to be where the real holiness resides, where the Spirit has been at work on all of us.