Empty Chairs

DSCN0749Sherod, Maria and I got to spend a couple of hours together yesterday afternoon–that’s all the time we’ll have with each other this holiday weekend. Maria’s behavior and choices come with consequences for us all.  On the way to drop her back off at BARC after our restaurant meal, we kicked off the Christmas music season listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas Song.  When I was a new mom, driving around with my daughter in the Consumer Reports recommended car seat in my silver Volvo, she and I sang along to this song endlessly, giggling each time Alvin got scolded.  Hearing it again each year is a wonderful celebration of what Christmas came to mean when I became a parent.

Sometime during lunch which had nothing much to do with Thanksgiving (Sherod had a NY strip steak, I had lobster, Maria had filet mignon), Sherod and I told each other some ‘remember when’ stories and stopped at one point to acknowledge that the circle of our life has become awfully small, especially since Sherod’s hip and back pain became so acute.  Even one of our favorite things to do–to sit out on our dock–is not an option right now.  I’ve been up since a little after 4 this morning, so I went out a while ago and sat with my camera. It is chilly for Florida standards, and the light was still indirect and beautiful.  Sherod is still sleeping after a pretty long night of pain, from what I gather (I woke up several times and reached out to touch him only to find his side of the bed empty).  I was out there for both of us.

There is much about the way our life has closed in  that’s pretty awful and I don’t want to pretend otherwise.  On the other hand, it brings the unexpected into sharp focus. Getting to ride down a nearly empty interstate on Thanksgiving Day, my two favorite people with me, and Alvin and his buddies crooning Christmas into our life once again, was almost unbearably sweet and lovely.

A new friend, Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, has a wonderful quote in her email template that reassures me that there is much grace to be found in small spaces:

“In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain
alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.” -Edith Wharton

Today will be filled with sewing, knitting, a quick dash to put up a pair of new banners at church because our service schedule for Sundays is changing again, and time to enjoy the gift of sabbath with Sherod.  That’s the other thing–it’s sort of like the good vessel TARDIS– the circle is so much bigger on the inside than the outside suggests…

Dots and Dashing


  • The process of change is grinding, it grinds along slowly, grinding as in painful, in some ways, grinding as in, wearing one down, smoothing the edges, creating new spaces that will one day be filled. There is still too little in place to be able to post anything more than that for now.
  • Our girl has been on a rollercoaster. Some great days. Just amazing days, when I marvel at the miracle of her being and am tempted to think that we’ve crossed a threshold. But that is largely a measure of magical thinking–we should know by now that it ebbs and flows. We aren’t sure yet if she will be able to be with us for Thanksgiving. It looked briefly like she would be able to sleep over tomorrow and have the whole next day at home. I went out and got the fixing to make a big breakfast on Thursday morning to be followed by a long, lazy morning watching the Macy’s Parade. But I got ahead of myself and it won’t happen that way. As of now, the plan is lunch at a restaurant in the middle of the afternoon.
  • Sherod needs hip replacement surgery. That’s actually good news because we had been preparing ourselves for back surgery and we were filled with dread.

Not holly jolly happy kind of stuff, and also real. The holidays mean something else now. The empty spaces allow for grace to show up in unexpected places and I am very, very grateful. May your Thanksgiving Day be filled with good food, good joy and merry warmth.

Desolation Wilderness

DSCN0745One of the most lovely hikes I took in Tahoe was into Desolation Wilderness. For the first hour or so, it was almost a straight-up climb. In the 80’s the trail I was on got a working over so it’s basically a rock staircase hewn into the side of the mountain that goes up inexorably. Many of the ‘steps’ are high and rough and uneven. I huffed and I puffed and I felt like an old fat woman who should know better than to do something like this. My right knee hurt. But I was also determined that I would keep climbing.

There were moments of exhilaration, when I’d look up long enough to catch something like this

DSCN0579Because there are mainly evergreens and so much granite in this part of the Sierras, it can become almost monochromatically boring. And then there’d be vistas like this. I have just about decided to get a flame tatoo, the notion of “set the world on fire”–the call and invitation of Ignatius is so layered with meaning and hope for me these days. I saw what that looked like so vividly all around me during my retreat. A tatoo would be the outward and visible sign of the inward given grace I received — a sacrament.

At any rate, the climb was arduous and filled with the paradox that a desolation wilderness can be so stunningly beautiful.



I was also aware that I stayed in the very safe spaces of Desolation–during part of my hike, I watched rock climbers rappelling down from the peak on the other side of the canyon that dropped further and further from me as I climbed. I’m still glad I had my zipline adventure in Panamá and I know for sure that I will never rappel. But if I were 15 or 20 years younger…

Finally, the trail became less vertical. I came into a grove of evergreens. There’s one kind of pine tree–the Jeffery Pine–that has pinecones that aren’t prickly. What’s even cooler is if you get right up to a Jeffery Pine, scratch the bark and put your nose against where you scratched, you can smell this sweet vanilla fragrance that just delights and is about as contrary to the smell of pine I am used to as possible. I am sure a pair of hikers who came by right as I tried that trick must have thought I was some kind of wierd, but part of the joy of my time in Tahoe was the intimacy I felt with creation. I kept going. Until I got here

DSCN0610A small alpine lake. I dipped my hand in the water and crossed myself, another reminder of my baptism. I thought of my friend John Senette who preached a sermon I have never forgotten, about the fact that sometimes in life, we breathe the desert in so it feels like our lungs will fry and our being will wither and die–and that those are the invitations to go deeper still, until we find the springs of living water.

My days are extraordinarily busy now, and Tahoe is far away. But not the fire and the water…



The Day After Veterans Day

Sherod was named for his uncle who died while flying for the air force during World War II. Sherod arrived in Vietnam on Christmas Eve, 1967, just in time for Tet, and all that followed in 1968. Lynn, his sister, had also married an air force officer, also an aviator, who died in a helicopter crash in Southeast Asia just a couple of years later, leaving behind 4 daughters including Kim. Also a helicopter pilot who served in Kosovo, the first Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, Kim retired as Lt Colonel from the army almost 2 years ago. My family of origin does not have much in the way of military stories to tell–in fact, maybe none. But I have come to know a lot about being part of a family that does. Some of the stories are breathtaking–inspiring, noble, heroic. But the day in and day out of serving or being a veteran: not so much. It is good to observe Veterans Day. It should not tempt us to glamorize military service too quickly or forget the cost of war too easily…sherod


Up Ahead

winds of changeIt’s harder than usual to write these days.  I had lots of work waiting for me when I returned.  I also came home to a daughter glad to see me and who is doing well after a couple of very rough weeks right after I left to go on my retreat. She wants to spend lots of time with me and I am revelling in her company.  Sherod’s back is a mess and the medical system an even bigger mess–he has good insurance and even then,  it’s taken two months to get to the point where maybe, in another week, he will have all the test results the neurosurgeon needs to make a diagnosis and do whatever is needed.  Because that pain he’s in has actually become crippling.  I have some new responsibilities as we accomodate the pain in our household these days.

But mainly, it is hard to write these days because the proverbial “winds of change” are blowing.  Some of what that means is getting clearer, though other parts will take a few more weeks to sort themselves out. I need to abide in the change right now without trying to name it and thus define its outcome.  My retreat was life changing in more ways than I dared imagine it could be.   I had often heard about the skies of the West, how much bigger and bold they are.  As I think about my time in Tahoe, it is the sky I keep remembering, the endless deep blue, the way it did not obscure or hide anything, it just stretched on and on and on–somehow an invitation to me that I had been needing for a long time.

In a paradoxical way, this is a time to stretch beyond what is and stay still and quiet right here, right now.  I wonder if others who have made the 30-day retreat exprience something like this?  I have been doing the minimal Christmas shopping I enjoy and I am almost finished with that part of the work.  I’m making the presents for my far-away family–knitting for my brothers and dad, sewing matching flannel pajamas for my niece, sister-in-law and daughter.  I want to wrap up this part of the holiday preparations by the end of the month because I will need to mail out gifts in time for them to get to their destinations by Christmas, and because I want an uncluttered Advent. On Facebook right now, many of my buddies are putting up a daily post about one thing they are grateful for. I am moved reading their posts.  It feels like each stitch, knit or sewn, is a prayer of gratitude for me too and I am perhaps most grateful for another way to express my sense of being graced beyond measure.

I am glad to be alive…