diving boardEarly this week, someone asked if I thought American’s had too little empathy. I didn’t have to think very long.  Yes, I think we lack empathy. Of course, I meant other people, not my friend or I.

As so often happens, something happened later in the week that would bring this conversation to mind.

During a swim meet, I was chatting with one of the other moms.  She said something about “just wait ‘til these boys get a taste of the real world.”

I’m not sure how much more reality most teens can take. As I looked down at the deck, I saw the boy whose father was killed 18 months ago in a traffic accident. There were the twins whose mother died of breast cancer and the brothers whose parents are divorcing but can’t afford to live apart so they’ve divided the house.

“High school isn’t easy.” I didn’t want to air other people’s issues but I had to say something.

“Look, they don’t have mortgages or have to work all day,” she said.

“No, but they have shelter in place and school shootings. And bullying and gay bashing. Do you know how many gay teens a year attempt suicide?”

“Anyone who takes that way out is defective.”

Defective.  That was the word that pushed me over the edge. I would like to say I took a deep breath and said a little prayer. But I didn’t.  In my mother’s words, I got on my high horse.

I will never ever agree with what she said, but I do get the irony. She has no empathy with high schoolers and I have no empathy with her.

And I’ve been beating myself up about it for days. But that’s pretty ironic too.

I made a mistake. I’m kind of defective that way. That’s why I need grace. And those boys need grace. And so do all the moms, dads and coaches.  Because we all mess up and, far too often, we completely fail to empathize with each other.

Fortunately, even then we can turn to God. We can pour out our hearts and bemoan our failings.  We can rant and rave and fuss.  And, in the end, in spite of our defects, His Grace will be there for us all. Thank God.


Our Gus died this week. He was a common-looking tabby with uncommonly sweet green eyes, filled with the same uncomplaining gratitude as his mother’s, a stray named Elsa whom we also adopted and lost too soon. But I suppose all death feels too soon; Gus was a senior citizen by kitty standards. Still, we were not prepared for the tumor that quickly overtook his lymph node, growing monstrously in a week, and slowly choking him to death.

Gus was unbelievably kind-natured. He could not sleep alone; he had to be snuggled up against at least one other member of our household, and preferably several. He liked nothing better than to be petted, to bump his striped head against a person, or if necessary, any random soft thing. They say cats are loners. Gussie was proof positive that people say a lot of wrong-headed things about cats.

Although I love autumn — as do so many of us — I find that quite a bit of mourning is associated with this time. So many people I know have lost someone dear to them during these months, and the falling of the leaves, the dying of the light, all remind them of this loss. My friends Alice and Gina lost their mothers in the autumn. I lost my father, as did my friend Maureen.

Some say animals don’t belong in heaven; they have no souls. I cannot countenance such remarks. I think animals know God in a different way than we do, perhaps a more primal way — which is not to say a lesser way. In fact, they may know God more intimately than we can ever hope to. And I cannot believe in a heaven that does not include our pet friends. The day after Gus died, my husband wrote me the following message: “I like to think that when Gus-Gus isn’t teaching “Headbutting With Love” seminars and chasing featherstrings for hours without getting winded, he is snuggled in the middle of the biggest catpile ever.” It helped. But nothing can take away the pain right now. And nothing should. Every life should be mourned, however small, however furry.

Gus taught me that to be loving is a life’s work. And a darned good one, at that. I just hope that his passage was quick and painless, that in an instant, he found himself in that great catpile in the sky. In this season of death, sweet whiskered friend, I pray you found safe passage.

course correction

In a dream years ago, I was told that there are three keys to life:

  • Water
  • Full-body Stretch
  • Contempt

For a while, I struggled with that last one. Contempt? Why would something so negative be one of the keys to life? I assumed I must have read it wrong. Must have been “content,” as in, be grateful for what you have. Don’t be a complainer.

But it stayed in my heart as “contempt.” It took me a long time to listen, but I realized there comes a time when it’s not just acceptable, but necessary, to feel contempt.

When you’re in a situation that is unbearable, untenable, unbelievable, I can’t imagine God is sitting in Heaven, saying, too bad, so sad. It’s my will. You’ll have to endure this for your whole life.

Of course, there are times when it’s right to pray and be patient, waiting for Him to move on your behalf. But there are also times when it’s absolutely imperative to listen to your soul’s nudge, and take action.

Life after my marriage ended wasn’t easier; it was better, I wrote in an earlier post. Leaving a job that was sucking the life out of me wasn’t a decision I made lightly, but my health was deteriorating.  Careful consideration and persistent prayer made it clear what I had to do.

Some things are not open to debate. If you see a spider in the hallway, you don’t pray it out. You get it out  – of your house, right away. Why is it so much more agonizing to eliminate the negativity in our personal lives?

Leaving behind what doesn’t serve you isn’t quitting. It’s a course correction.

There isn’t a specific commandment to “Love Thyself,” because it’s implicit in “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

God created you. God loves you. Love yourself.

Don’t stay in a toxic, soul-suffocating situation if you can help it. It’s okay to say, This hurts me. I hate it. It’s got to go.

So don’t feed and water the monsters in your own life. Don’t fluff their pillows and leave a mint on the bed for them. Treat them with contempt. And show them the door.

door-fence-church-crossLast weekend, we studied the Parable of the Ten Minas; minas are coins.  It’s a lot like the Parable of the Talents except that in this version the master leaves to be made king. Not everyone is happy with this and it causes friction as do the coins and how the servants use them. I’ll provide a link here just in case you want to read the parable.

The great thing about adult Sunday school is the discussions. What do the minas represent?  Not surprisingly, most of us agreed that the minas represent our gifts from God and that we are to go out and use them for the good of all, not bury them.

Then Pastor Sean spoke up.  I love it when Pastor Sean is there because he always provides a perspective that none of us has considered.

Pastor Sean suggested that we think of the Minas as God’s Word. That is why the Master is so angry with the servant who buries the mina.  He isn’t burying a coin.  Instead of going out among the people, he is burying God’s Word.

This made a lot of sense and you could see us nodding along but then came the hum dinger.  Parables so often have a hum dinger. Not sharing the Word at all buries it but so does only sharing it with safe people, people like ourselves.

There are so many ways this could be interpreted.  Some people take it to mean that they should do mission work somewhere far from home.  Other people go out into their community and work across various boundaries, both economic and social.

Although my area is both religiously and ethnically diverse, people cluster.  We huddle.  And, when we huddle, we fret. Fortunately, I’ve always been drawn to people who are unlike myself so these kinds of boundaries don’t fluster me. That’s a strength in a community that needs to learn to cross these boundaries to work together.

What have you been called to do with the Mina of your Master?


I’m a serial murderer…of plants; my thumb more black than green. My singular success has been with weeds, which grow like, well, you know. But other, more personal gardens require tending, too — the care and feeding of relationships, for instance. I haven’t been terribly successful with this form of gardening, either, but I’m getting better. I hope.

Relationships need to be nurtured. I’ve lived on the assumption that, if we were once friends, even if you don’t hear from me over long periods of time, you understand that I still consider us friends. I think of you more often than you know. My silence holds nothing but sincere good feelings. But silence can be misconstrued. People often need more “upkeep” than I’m prepared to give, so used am I to living in silence and solitariness. Rifts may result. I regret this.

My best friend Susan is a marvelous caretaker of relationships. She is the queen of thank-you notes. She remembers to send you recipes for food you’ve enjoyed that she prepared. She writes letters — actual, bona fide letters — in a lovely, artistic hand. (When we both worked together in the Art Department of an educational company, Susan was the go-to gal for any photograph that required beautiful handwriting.) When you are sick, she will make you soup. Or an apple pie, artfully decorated with leaf cutouts.

Knowing Susan has made me a better caretaker of my own garden of relationships. (E-mail has been a boon, too, I’ll admit.) She is going through a difficult time right now, so difficult, in fact, that she has no time to write or call. We pepper one another with brief e-mails, mine mostly discussing how I’ve been praying for her, but we’ve not had time for one of our marathon long-distance chats. (She lives in California; I now live in Kansas.) Still, I feel her with me every time I remember to ask after another person’s welfare, or pray for their intentions. Susan is thoughtful. What a beautiful gift to bring to the world!

How is your social garden faring? Is it weed-choked from long neglect? Bursting with color and life? Take some time today to reach out to someone you’ve not been able to keep in close touch with, just to remind them that you treasure them, that their place in your garden is a permanent one, one that you cherish.

People need people. That’s why God made us in such abundance and multiplicity. And I’m betting that they who tend their relationships sit in good stead with The Creator. With God’s grace, perhaps one day I might count myself in their number.


Looking at my cat, sleeping peacefully this afternoon, I was in awe of his amazing ability to sleep deeply within seconds of climbing onto the couch. That’s a great skill to have, I thought.

Stretch/yawn. Curl up. Down for the count!

I’d love to be able to unplug and decompress like that.

The other thing I noticed was that KitKat’s whiskers are a good four inches across. Man. How does that not bother him? I thought. I mean, I can’t even when my bangs are just a tad too long. And Heaven forbid they grow so long as to fall into my eyes. I will take the scissors in my own hands and chop away. That, of course, doesn’t always end well!

Even though it’s only a few square inches of real estate, those bangs can actually affect my mood for the whole day. I won’t feel quite like myself if my bangs aren’t “banging” as I head out into world.

Isn’t it true that we go to great lengths in caring for our hair, but sometimes forget to put that same energy into caring for our souls?

It may seem like a luxury to sit with the Bible and pray or meditate. We might believe that doing things that light us up from the inside – whether it be writing poetry, drawing in charcoal, sculpting – are mere indulgences, but these things are critical to the care and feeding of your soul.

Sitting in stillness, spending time with God and a cup of tea is a spiritual booster shot. You’ll see things more clearly if you curl up next to the cat and read sacred books that inspire you. It’ll bring back your passion to return to those dreams you held dear in your heart but never pursued.

So why not schedule a sit-down with your own soul and get back to the source of your strength?

It’s as effective as a cat-nap and a day at the salon, all rolled into one!

photo copyright 2011 Guppydas Flickr

photo copyright 2011 Guppydas Flickr

“May the grace of the Lord, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all now and forever.” I’m used to hearing this in church.  Many weeks this is how Pastor Sean ends the service, sending us out into the world.

So I was a little surprised to read a very similar version in an e-mail. I’ve subscribed to Bible Gateway’s Verse of the Day.  I look for this email message daily because it’s amazing how often it’s just what I need.

What I didn’t realize was that this part of our worship service is based on a Bible verse, specifically 2 Corinthians 13:14.  In this chapter, Paul encourages the Corinthians to pull themselves through difficult times. Then he points out that he has been given the authority by God not to tear people down, but to build them up.

Times are tough.  But you can do it.

Build people up instead of tearing them down. Share with them the blessing of God. Imagine the reputation that the church and Christians would have if this was truly our focus.

Imagine it.  Come on, you can do it.  And, before you go?

“May the grace of the Lord, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all now and forever.”


Pope Francis is in America! Alleluia!

Of course, what he has to say doesn’t sit well with everyone. Someone over at Fox has already decried him as a “false prophet,” because Francis chooses to talk about stewardship of the earth and refuses to withhold forgiveness to those whom a certain segment of inflexible Pharisees think ought to be punished for life. (Hint: The “guilty” are all women. And I put that word in quotes because who am I to judge?) Others, on the most liberal end, complain that Francis doesn’t say enough — about women in the Church, about abuse of children by priests. Poor Francis. The guy can’t win.

And yet he has won, by choosing his topics and sticking to them tenaciously. He cannot be everything to everyone, and he knows this. So he looks to Christ and chooses two places where we humans consistently fall down: In care of the poor and in care of our planet. In both cases, we allow greed to supersede the greater good. And, as anyone who listened to the Pope’s speech to Congress knows, Pope Francis stands for the greater good.

He also stands for the Golden Rule. “This Rule points us in a clear direction,” said Francis in his Congressional speech. “Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves.”

What does all this mean? It’s simple. If the United States were in terrible turmoil, was a place in which you could not make a living, a place where you were in daily danger of being killed by the government, how would you want the people of other countries to receive you?

If you were chosen as guardian of something that needed to endure for countless generations to come, how would you treat that thing? Would you exploit it for a quick buck now, or treat it with gentleness and care?

If you were a sinner — and we all are — would you want forgiveness? Is there anything that God cannot forgive?

What Francis speaks is Christ-centered, Gospel-centered common sense. Let us rejoice that we have a Pope who speaks for the poor, who challenges those in power, who will not be shut up by nay-sayers who call him a false prophet.

Because that’s just what they said about Jesus.


“You enter the forest
at the darkest point,
where there is no path.

Where there is a way or path,
it is someone else’s path.

You are not on your own path.

If you follow someone else’s way,
you are not going to realize
your potential.”

Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work

As I read an article entitled, Inmates at California Prison ask Guards to Keep Quiet,  I thought, they did the crime, they should do the time, but it may be that the guards were being loud all night on purpose so that the inmates could never get to sleep. What is the truth? A spokeswoman representing correctional officers declined to comment. (Um…isn’t that an oxymoron?) Both sides see the situation through their own lens and they tell the tale in their own way.

Sometimes we tell a story in our own idiom, and it might not compute for everyone. On the BBC show,  Cybercrimes with Ben Hammersley, the host recounted a crime in which a Brooklyn gang systematically robbed $300,000 from New York City ATM machines on one day in 2013. Hammersley spoke of the moment they were captured, referring to it as a “kerfuffle in a carpark,” and I had to pause the show for a minute. I needed to break that down in my mind.

We’re talking Brooklyn, Ben. They’re called “parking lots” here in the states, and I seriously doubt locals would ever use the word “kerfuffle.”  I know I never have! What is that, anyway? It sounds like something fluffy that you wear, or perhaps dust with!

Somebody is going to tell your story one day, and it might not be the truth as you lived it. If someone made a map of your life, they still might not end up where you are.

Tell your own story now. Walk your own path. Write it down while it’s still true. Over time, details are forgotten and eventually, somebody else is going to presume to speak for you in your silence or absence. Why not be the one to tell the world who you are?

Let’s let the late, great writer, Maya Angelou have the last word on the subject. Speak for yourself and tell it like it is, she said, or you’ll live to regret it.

“I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me.  There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Hope has been described as a winged thing. It is elusive. It requires continuous fostering, like a weak flame, yet it can shore us up against a mountain of doubt and pain. But what is hope, really? And how does one find it or hold on to it when it seems so very far away?

In Greek myth, hope is the last thing remaining in the box that the curious Pandora opens. Every sort of evil is loosed upon the world, but at least hope is retained. The myth is imbued with a deep truthfulness: Hope is often the last weapon in our arsenal, the last crumb remaining once we realize our entire metaphoric package of crackers has gone missing.

Hope is an awareness of God’s continued presence in our lives, whether that presence is felt through the direct actions of others or merely understood dimly and intangibly. That’s the best definition I’ve got. Some of my friends are hard-pressed for hope these days. Things around them appear bleak. All that I can genuinely offer is a listening ear and faith God’s providential care. I believe in hope. Sometimes this must suffice.

A lot of people have written a lot of things about hope. Here is my addition, a prayer for two friends who dearly need it.

Dear Souls,
the last thing in the box
is the first you require.
Here, take mine.
I keep it in abundant supply,
filed neatly between faith and prayer.
It is cupped in a hand, like water to parched lips.
May God, my provider,
give you much to drink.



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