Night Gifts

fruitI think these are peaches growing in a neighbor’s front yard.

flowersThe bromeliads are in bloom all through the neighborhood.

podsAnd even the sidewalk itself is exquisite in the fading light.

The scent of jasmine is almost overwhelming along the way.

And walking home long after the sun had set, I listen to Christian Wyman read one of his poems.

Every Riven Thing
God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.

Lost, found, disassembled, rearranged


In the middle of summer, afternoons in South Florida are usually at least overcast and usually, rainy.  We have our own version of monsoon season.  It was a cloudy summer afternoon when I drove into our gated community after work on a Monday in 1998.  It didn’t register that the cop cars in front of our house might have something to do with us.  But Sherod was out waiting on the curb for me and as soon as I got out of the car he explained that our house had been broken into during the workday and it was pretty badly trashed.

There was mess and spilled out drawers most places I looked, and weird empty spaces as well.  Most people who’ve experienced a break-in share the same sense of desecration, of how things that were holy and lovely have been defiled and made dirty.  Sherod finally had a good job and I had received another promotion at FedEx so  we’d just bought new furniture including a dresser, finally, a really nice dresser with a mirror.  It came with a jewelry tray that  went across one of the top drawers.  I had carefully put all the beautiful jewelry I inherited from my grandmother and received from my mother.  Antique, very fine jewelry I took for granted.  The day before, a Sunday, Sherod and I had been out sailing on our good vessel Promise and because it’s dangerous to wear jewelry when you are handling lines and raising and lowering sails, I had taken my wedding band  off and put it in the jewelry tray; earlier I’d taken off the diamond circlet Sherod had given me as an engagement ring and I’d left it with my makeup in a bathroom drawer.  That morning I left for work in a hurry and forgot to put either ring back on.

So all that jewelry, fine and meaning-laden, was all there, literally offered up on a tray to the thieves.  And of course, they took it.  I spent the day after the break-in scrubbing everything down in my house, reclaiming my home.  The cops had suggested I start visiting all the local pawn shops to see if I could buy back any of my jewelry.  After walking into one and almost throwing up, I let go.  I thanked God for the beauty of the pieces I had had, especially the ones I wore on my wedding day, and asked for the grace to move on, not clinging to anger or bitterness for things I’d lost.  After all, they were just that—things.  I consoled myself because they had not found my engagement ring; surely, that had to count for something. Occasionally, when I am dressing up for a special occasion, I remember one piece or another and wish I still had the jewelry.  But that happens less and less.  .

Sherod got a band to replace the one I had lost and though I can’t forget it isn’t the circle he slipped on my finger the day we made our vows to each other, the new one is a perfectly good replacement.  Life went on.  I also started putting on the weight.   A whole lot of weight—enough that my engagement ring got tighter and tighter till I finally took it off.  Occasionally, I would wear it again, squeezed on and uncomfortable.  And then, one day, about 4 years ago, when I went to get it out again, I couldn’t find it.  I searched frantically for that ring, berating myself for my carelessness and not having a single place to hold my jewelry.  When I told Sherod I couldn’t find it,  he didn’t get angry.  It was worse—his face was pure disappointment and he was quiet for days afterwards.  I kept searching with no luck.

This Christmas, I gave him a rifle for Christmas and he gave me a diamond ring.  It’s one of those 3-diamond rings that represent ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow’.  The ring is beautiful, it sparkles and shines.  Even more, I am keenly aware of Sherod’s forgiveness and willingness to move past his disappointment in me.  I wear it fairly frequently and it also spends quite a bit of time in the safe in our house—I never take it off without putting it into that safe.

This morning, I went back into the safe (It is quite large—large enough for the rifles and stuff Sherod uses for hunting).  Something caught my eye and I looked down.  There, on the red lining of the safe lay the circlet I had lost.  I put it on and walked over to show my hand to Sherod.  I’ve worn all three rings all day today and sitting on the tailgate of Sherod’s truck with Maria earlier this evening, I joked that all those rings made me feel really, really, super-duper married to Sherod and we laughed together.  At the end of the visit with our daughter, we went to Costco to buy a Roomba because our Lab, Boo, is shedding so much the white tile in our house is constantly layered with a coat of black dog hair and we can’t stand it any longer.

All day long, I have fooled around with the three rings, trying to figure out which one should go first, which one on top?  How do they all fit together?  There is certainly quite a lot of sparkle when it’s all of them at once.  But in the end, what I really prefer is just wearing my wedding band. It’s the one that has our initials engraved inside and a date, July 9, 1988–the essential facts about us with no capital “S” statement or diversion or flash.  This replacement ring, both as good as the first one and not, reminds me that marriage is about loss and discovery, how, in the sentimental words of Alan Jackson we are all disassembled and rearranged, not once, but constantly, by love.  Endurance and perseverance.

Perhaps what I like best is this is also the ring that fits most loosely on my finger.

What We Must Choose


I have been having a very strange, recurring dream of late, one that pulls me awake in a panic.

First a bit of background without getting into the space of TMI.  A few years ago, I had to have a minor medical procedure for health reasons.  Although I was already 48 years old by then, my doctor made a point of telling me that after this procedure it was critically important that I not get pregnant, that in fact, I would face certain death if I did.   At the time, I had a hard time keeping a straight face when she said those things to me with such gravity in her voice and eyes.  The absurdity of that warning was too great to even begin to explain to her.  So I thanked her and promised I would make sure not to get pregnant.

This is the dream:  In the midst of perfectly normal, ordinary time, (and it is never clear how I find out, but it is made crystal clear to me), I realize I am pregnant.  There is an immediate rush of exultation, followed instantaneously by the most suffocating fear imaginable because I am faced with a choice.  I must immediately choose my own life by terminating the pregnancy or stay pregnant knowing I will die but may be able to carry the child for long enough for it to live.  I wake up gasping and in a sweat, almost in tears, each time I have that dream.

When Sherod and I were going through premarital counseling, round about this time 25 years ago, the question of us having babies came up.  Sherod had a son and daughter from his previous marriage and after his second child was born, had taken steps to make sure there wouldn’t be a third.  He was adamant that he did not want any more children.  I was madly in love, I did not know myself and I did not know how to be honest when that meant risking a relationship I desperately wanted to work.  So I very blithely said that was fine since I was a feminist and didn’t need a child to confirm my identity and value to the world.

I’m old enough now that I can look back on those decisions without getting mired in regret, though I was most certainly not  truthful with anybody, least of all myself.  I am grateful beyond words for my husband, for his willingness to join me in parenting María when her path crossed ours.  To have welcomed her and loved her as completely as he has, and at no small cost to himself, is part of what makes Sherod one of the most honorable, generous, good human beings I know.  I have been blessed with so much.  And even without the kinds of regret I worked through about 15 years ago, the truth continues unwavering.  I would have loved to bear a child.

So now I am having this dream, this intense and intensely disturbing dream and trying to understand why.  I guess no matter how much we’ve made our peace with decisions made in the past, as we reach new places in our lives, we double back and need to bring that peace to bear on life as it is now.  That may be part of what this is all about.

I also know some more things now.  More than ever, I understand T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, how, looking back on the journey to visit the Christ child, they asked themselves:

were we lead all that way for:
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

As life unfolds I imagine we all come to see how inextricably birth and death are bound together.  But it is the fact that I am so certain in the dream that I must choose, and I must choose between my own death and the death of the child I know in my waking I will never have but in my sleeping still dream of.  That we might have to make such choices in life.  That is what I am wrestling  with these days and nights…

Here and There in the World


united way broward

and now and then in ourselves, there is a new creation (Paul Tillich).

Yesterday’s post was quite morose and filled with self-pity.  Oh foolish one.

Earlier this year, I prepared and submitted what felt like the mother of all grant applications ($70K/year over the next 3 years) to our local United Way agency to help fund the school success programs we have been carefully growing over the past few years.  In a time when the financial challenges are so daunting as the Episcopal Church learns to be not only the church of the privileged but also a church that serves on the margins, finding new ways of funding ministry is critical.  I took no news yesterday to be bad news.  The recipients for this grant cycle were to be announced yesterday and by the late afternoon I took no news to be very bad news.

I was hasty.  I even went so far as to follow up with my contact person at UW to say I realized we were not recipients and wanted to know who I could meet with to get feedback about our application and how to better prepare ourselves for the next time around.  I got an auto-reply from her mailbox advising me she would be out of town till the 29th.  And then, another note.  Saying we had won the grant.  Congratulating us.  Making real any number of new possibilities and dreams.

On the advice of my colleague and friend, Joe Duggan, the leadership of NRRM has spent the beginning of every meeting for the past month or so, doing a very powerful reflection process based on the passage in Luke about the Annunciation.  Mary asked, “…how then, can this be?”…



This not only after the tornado, but after a pretty significant ministry setback.  A grant that would have made a major difference to our way forward is not going to be.  In some ways, pitiful and paltry disappointment in light of so much that is so much more overwhelming.  In other ways, still having much to do with waiting, the kind of waiting described in this poem.  It will be a long walk tonight.

Help That’s Helpful: Do’s and Don’ts After Disaster

My spouse is an avid watcher of all things news. I believe he could watch the news non-stop for 24 hours, given a chance. Last night after less than half an hour watching Brian Williams my skin was crawling and I jumped up, went to church to do some work and then to Office Depot to pick up some things I needed for the week. The news continues to stream through my house this morning and I’ll head for work in a bit but today’s one of those long days that will go until 8:30 this evening so I am not in a hurry. It helped to read a post from yet another woman pastor, this one who lives in Indiana. I will set my sight on the work I can do here and now.

For The Someday Book

Oh, dear God, the Oklahoma tornadoes. Such heartbreak. Christ, have mercy.

On March 2, 2012, forecasters anticipated tornadoes in our area. My son’s school let out early, and when the sirens started up we all huddled in the unfinished basement. The air outside our windows was deadly still, but the internet broadcast from our local television station told us that a large tornado was on the ground just a few miles away. We waited underground in folding chairs, my husband reading a book and my young son playing a video game. I kept my eyes on the screen as reports began to come in about damage in small communities populated by beloved church members and friends.

Then the image changed: a school collapsed, no knowledge of how many students might be trapped inside. My stomach lurched, and I thought I might vomit. I silently ticked off a list of…

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Lauderdale Dining

It’s going to be another one of those periods of time when one week runs into the next and sabbath time is minimal.  But at least there was this.  Of everything that I love about these moments, I think in the end it is the sea breeze on my face that I most cherish.  Tomorrow we celebrate Pentecost.

Fort Lauderdale Beach

Fort Lauderdale Beach

The Vittles--Healthy and Delicious.  Sometimes Whole Foods really comes through.

The Vittles–Healthy and Delicious. Sometimes Whole Foods really comes through.

And sweet to see, a few hundred feet away, a new beginning.  Mazel Tov!

And sweet to see, a few hundred feet away, a new beginning. Mazel Tov!



The Annual Talent Show

In the Broward County public school system, “Learning Centers” are the most restrictive schools.  Highly structured, prepared to deal with the challenges of children and young people with severe behavioral and emotional issues, even in the best of circumstances, they are a long way from what we call “normal”.

First at Sunset, and now at Whispering Pines, Sherod and I have had the privilege of attending a ritual called the “annual talent show”.  These events have a different feel than other talent shows I have been to.  First, I am struck by the ways in which the teachers and staff members pour themselves into their performances—and there are usually 3 or 4 teacher/staff acts in the talent shows at learning centers.  They invariably make me laugh till I cry with their sass and their energy and their bravado.

It takes a very special kind of heart to choose to be a teacher at a learning center.  It isn’t just that there is the stress that comes from knowing you are in effect, putting yourself in harm’s way.   Nor are these teachers special heroes because most of the ones I’ve met know that the successes they get to witness are often modest to the point of being invisible to most people ‘on the outside’.  No, what I most admire is their willingness to allow that what it means to be human is far broader and deeper than we are usually able to accept.   As the mother of my own daughter who only seems able to find her place in a learning center, I know that it takes so much energy and so much willingness to be defeated and stand up again, to keep recognizing the humanity of the boys and girls, young women and young men who are placed in learning centers as the option of last resort.


If the staff move me, it is the beauty of the student performers that always reduces me to a puddle of tears (I know, I end up crying a lot but I’ve quit apologizing for that).  You see the tremulous fragility of their beauty.  At Whispering Pines there is a panel of judges that gives each performer feedback.  You can hear a pin drop as each young person goes to the judges’ table.  There is always some kind of talent that catches me by surprise.  There is irrepressible joie de vivre and laughter and pride.  Many of the members of the audience today had poor “impulse control” and their spontaneous expressions of encouragement were somehow more beautiful for coming from those who others might say have nothing to give.

Image 2

As the short clip from the girl María’s performance  suggests, there are few inhibitions; these kids let lose and pour themselves into their performances.  At some point you realize that the line between Justin Bieber and Maria Mallow, Erica and He is We is razor thin, so much thinner than those of us who inhabit the ‘normal world’ want to or can understand or accept.

Above all, these talent shows are the very incarnation, in the holiest sense possible, of the statement that so struck me in the recent post on the WIT blog.  It is this simple: the performers show me unequivocally that “the greatest act of defiance is to still exist”.  The talent shows are what make that simple statement “ a bold affirmation, a prayer, and an ethical assertion” (Brandy Daniels,  Just astoundingly beautiful and blessed boys, girls, young men and young women, together with the men and women who abide with them…