A Mountain-Moving Yes


Since January of 2014, I have moved in and out of office spaces a number of times. After long periods of stability before that, I am still caught off guard sometimes, by what the movement churns up. I spent a bit of time earlier this week preparing to move some more things to my office at the Ascension and in the process, stumbled upon the copy of the bulletin we used for my ordination to the priesthood. I stopped for a few minutes to read it and realized it represents a poignant overlay to my days here and now.

On October 11th, during the principle service at the Ascension, there will be a Celebration of a New Ministry, where I will be formally recognized as the new associate rector. After I was ordained at All Saints, I moved into ministries at El Centro and then St Ambrose without this level of formal recognition and celebration, though I still use and treasure the stole I received from the congregation of St. Ambrose early in 2010. Clearing through my files on Dropbox, I also stopped and read the letter of resignation I presented to the Sr. Warden of St. Ambrose and to the Bishop of Southeast Florida in June of 2014. I gave it to the Archdeacon and the Sr. Warden during the liturgy for leave-taking we followed at the end my last service. It was a hard and sad letter to write, and a hard and sad morning when I presented it and said goodbye. The finality of the farewell lingered for many months. My anticipation of the celebration on the 11th is beyond joyful. Once again I am surprised by the amazing, transforming power of YES.

Looking through the bulletin of my ordination, I stopped and read the page that listed the participants in the service. While I read, I could hear the news Sherod was watching about the Pope’s visit here in the USA. The page is all marked up but even with the markings, it tells a story I am proud of. The Gospel was read in four languages—French, Portuguese, Spanish and English, the diversity and richness of cultures represented that night blows my mind now. Pastor John White, the Sr. Pastor at the largest AME church in Fort Lauderdale, was one of the readers. Father Alex Roque, a Roman Catholic Priest who also belongs to the Order of Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, read the Gospel in Spanish. I had worked with both to start BOLD Justice, a faith-based community organizing group in our county and we had become good friends.

When I asked Alex to participate in my ordination, I was careful to say that I understood that this might not be possible or something he would even be interested in. He could not have been more gracious—we discussed the reality that he could not receive communion but he was adamant about doing as much as he could during my ordination while staying faithful to his vows as an RC priest. I had not expected that he would, but when the Bishop invited the priests in attendance to come forward as I knelt for the laying on of hands, Alex joined John and the rest of the Episcopal priests who gathered around me.

It was what happened at the very end of the liturgy that still brings tears to my eyes. The Bishop who ordained me, Bishop Frade, follows the custom of asking for the new priest’s blessing as soon the recessional hymn is over and the altar party is in the narthex, or back of the church, after the service. He kneels in front of the new priest for the blessing; that is what he did that evening. Immediately after he knelt, Father Alex Roque knelt beside him and asked for my blessing as well.

Recently, a clip from an interview with Stephen Colbert made the rounds on Facebook. Though he was reflecting quite positively on a Eucharist he attended, where an Anglican woman priest was celebrating, his words made it crystal clear that in his eyes, a woman is not, cannot, will not ever be, a priest. Funny/sad how that cut in a way I wouldn’t have expected, I guess because I hold Colbert in such high regard. Much of what Pope Francis has said and done, not only on this trip, but throughout his papacy, has inspired me and filled me with hope. There was also this during the Vespers service he led at St. Patrick’s earlier this week: he effusively thanked the women religious of the Roman Catholic Church for all they have done in this country and, in response, got a standing ovation. Yet those self-same women religious were in the very back rows of the cathedral that night, while the clergy and wealthy patrons of the church got the prime seats. Sure, the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and all that. But the women’s voices in the Catholic Church that try to articulate a sense of vocation to ordained ministry experience the black hole, the deafening silence, of the NO that continues to echo throughout the Roman Catholic Church.

Overlaid on that reality, Fr. Alex’s gesture on the night of my ordination is truly the gift of a precious pearl, a glimpse of the Kingdom. The no’s have a way of not being the final word—certainly, I have experienced that in full measure in my own life. Today, I am more aware than usual of the mountain-moving and life changing power of yes.

‘Midst the tumult


I am taking an early lunch in the midst of a wild and wooly whirlwind. This is the part of a new job when you are climbing the learning curve so fast you can’t look down or you’ll get dizzy and fall off. It is good. In fact, it feels fiercely good—intense, certainly challenging at times, sorta breathtaking. No church ever has as many resources as it needs and at the same time, the Ascension has so much it boggles my mind. Deep leadership bench strength. Generosity. Wit. Faith. I had lunch yesterday with the vestry person who supports faith formation, especially for adults, and with my boss. One is a very successful builder who also owned a restaurant for years and years. The other moved from the UK to take the job of rector; he’d been in the UK working on a D.Phil. from Oxford. Some of the time, I felt like I was following a tennis ball back and forth in a good match. It’s just plain fun.

Since then, I have been working on an assortment of pastoral care and community needs, writing for a couple of our publications, getting my mind around some of the work I’ve been tasked with—how to build the lightest possible structure to support a complex ministry. The afternoon and evening today are jam packed as well. I fall asleep early and exhausted most days now.

I find the sanity, the deeply joyful sanity, in moments of piercing beauty. Yesterday, I got home while it was still daylight. Sherod was out doing some carpentry in his shop and there’s been a small and persistent fall breeze stirring through our Sycamore for days now. The ground has lots of browned leaves that crackle wonderfully underfoot. I put our new baby Mo on his leash and told Daisy to behave long enough to open the chicken coop to let the girls and Bruce out for their daily rummage and ranging. I sat on my fake plastic Adirondack and Daisy immediately jumped on my lap. It wasn’t too long and Dot, our outdoor cat, came around demanding some loving time too and made a place for herself alongside Daisy. Daisy, not one to take to sharing kindly, jumped off my lap and went to sit by Sherod who had now joined me.

A few minutes later, one of the Plymouth Rock girls, Mechitas, first hopped on the arm of my chair and then on my arm, clucking and fussing, with Dot still making biscuits on my lap, less than an inch away from her. I looked over at my Spouseman who, with tears in his eyes quoted, “the wolf and the lamb…”, from that lovely passage from Isaiah that gives words to our perennial hope for peace.

The Sunday flowers at Ascension are usually lovely. This week, they were especially beautiful because on Saturday, Solomon Seay, one of the icons of the Civil Rights Movement, was buried from our church. Yesterday, when I came into my office, a fragrant, beautiful bouquet with some of the flowers was sitting on my desk. Today, Miss Hazel, one of our parishioners, stopped for a quick visit to welcome me and bring me some of her cheese straws. Grace, graciousness and kindness ‘midst the tumult of the days…

Another farewell

Morning Gift

Morning Gift

I brought Maria some coloring pencils and a sketch pad. Yesterday, we had some down time and she enjoyed coloring. I’ve learned not to be nosy abut her work and patience has its rich rewards. Early this morning, she had torn out two pages and explained one was for her daddy and one was for me.  It has been a good visit and I left her at her day program after our farewell ritual–first, a tight hug, then I make the sign of the cross on her forehead and say “I bless you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. Recently she decided she would bless me as well and she does it with all the seriousness and reverence imaginable.  Another lesson I’ve learned with our girl is harder.  After that last goodbye, I walk away and I don’t look back.  First, because more often than not, I am fighting back the tears and I don’t want to burden my girl with my sadness.  Even more important, I don’t look back because I am not sure I’d be able to leave if I did. The leave-taking just does not get easier.  The grace–and there is grace–comes in moments like the one just now, when I opened my laptop and found her drawings.

My flight is  delayed and I got to the airport early.  I am glad for the time to put myself back together and begin the journey back to the rest of my life.

Every stitch a prayer


You don’t have to look too closely to see that this quilt is far from perfect.  It has been slow, slogging work most of the way.  What I thought was really precise cutting and sewing sometimes wasn’t and there was enough else going on that the choice was pretty clear: accept all the imperfections and have it ready to take to Maria, or start over.  I need her to have this, probably more than she needs to receive it, so tomorrow I will have it with me when I get to wrap my arms around the girl  after too many months without seeing her.

One of the haunting truths about parenting our daughter is that we did not get to have a makeover–no parent does, of course, but in Maria’s case, the things we learned in the very last few years before we placed her at BARC, her intermediate care facility, would have made an enormous difference if we had known them sooner.  From very early on, when we tried first one kind of therapeutic approach and then another, all of them based on the assumption that insight can lead to behavior changes, we saw how none worked.  In fact, they all seemed to entrench her most problematic behaviors more deeply.  It wasn’t until Carol, amazing, compassionate, extraordinarily competent Carol, our behavior specialist, came on board that we finally hit bedrock.  She was the one who helped us understand how getting attention was Maria’s crack cocaine.  She was the one who helped us understand why the other therapeutic approaches had simply not worked–and in fact, had made things worse.  She was the one who taught us to throw out everything we thought we knew about parenting so we could finally start getting it right.

Often, including in the past few weeks, Sherod and I have asked ourselves how things might have turned out if we had been able to start working with Carol when Maria, just having arrived from Mexico, was 5 instead of 13.  We will never know. What I do know is that neither she or we have every quit trying.  And if the path of our parenting has been marked with crooked, wobbly lines and somewhat mismatched pieces and patches, in the end, we have been, are, and will always be, her family.

I have wanted to give up on this quilt too many times to count and now I have finished it.  She has been with me day in and day out as I measured, cut, stitched, tore out seams and tried again.  I have to believe that my love, and the prayers, equal parts thanksgiving and endless pleas for wholeness and health for her, will remain with her long after I get back on a plane and come back to Alabama.  Tonight, the tears are about relief that I was and am equal to the work, though not nearly as well as I would have wanted.  I remind myself that this is how love turns out.

Another four dots about today

Desk area in my office

Desk area in my office

  1. My office is beginning to take shape.

    Roses from St. Paul's

    Roses from St. Paul’s

  2. I’ll write a longer post about Sunday soon, but the people of St. Paul’s, Lowndesboro could not have been kinder or more gracious as we said goodbye.  Today, I had their beautiful roses on my desk and I could look up and see the lovely chicken painting I got from Gracie. Y’all will always be in my heart.

    Chancel, Church of the Ascension

    Chancel, Church of the Ascension

  3. My morning began in the chancel at the Ascension. We gathered there to sing morning prayer.  I graduated from Sewanee in 1987.  That’s almost 30 years ago.  All those years, the one thing I have missed enormously is sung morning prayer.  Today, with the sun lighting up the window behind the altar, the officiant chanted well, and voices all blended as we sang  some of the truly beautiful settings of the canticles including the Te Deum.

    A worn-out Mo

    A worn-out Mo

  4. I got home to my little farm and my little family; Daisy was so happy to see me she started whimpering and Mo bit my ankle. That wore him out so much  he had to have a nap.  Life is good!

Early morning dots


  • The Okra Festival was great, again.
  • Mo is a little Caruso and his favorite rehearsal time is 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM
  • Bruce, the young Roo stood on the roof of the hen house and crowed for a full half hour this morning.  Adolescent roosters crowing has to be one of the tenderest, silliest sounds ever!
  • The girls–Daisy, Spot, and I–have figured out that with all the racket the boys are making these days, it is a good thing to hide out upstairs and get a good night’s sleep.
  • Today is my first official day as Associate Rector at Church of the Ascension.  Woot, woot!  Woot, woot!