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I have been submerged in grief for four long months. It’s kept me away from this blog, mostly because I could not fathom how to write my way out of my despair. If I had to tell you what I’ve learned, it is only this: Who will buoy you up when you are in the depths. I have been blessed with support from friends like Ruth and Sue, who have blessedly kept the home fires burning, and from my husband’s lovely family. And while I am nowhere near healed, I am ready, perhaps, to stick my head above water and see what’s going on.

Ship to shore: Hello, hello?
Alas, I’m still at sea.
I’ve been down, trench-deep,
where fish fluoresce and nothing grows.
The need for air recedes
the longer you dive deep;
the silence shrieks with sound.
I went without gear,
not knowing I would live here,
making a home, rattling my teacups
for visitors who seldom come.
The pressure is tremendous of course,
but no less than on land,
and no one complains
that my tears make them wet.
Will I abide, letting my hair grow wild
with kelp, squeezing grief into pearls?
Or will I breathe out bubbles and
follow till my feet find land at last?
I am not so deep that I don’t know light.
We will find each other someday.

The phone started ringing at about the same time the floorboards caught fire. There was smoke and voices, and I was walking into the bedroom and suddenly someone was telling me that my mother was dead. I’m not really sure what happened after that: Presumably, the plumber put out the fire he’d started while working on our pipes in the crawlspace. Presumably, I said some things, like, “When did it happen?” and “How can I help?” I do recall thinking that ordinarily, I would not have picked up a call at that hour. Any other week, I would have been on the phone with my friend in Chicago, chatting as we do every Friday. But I was sick, and my throat was sore, so I’d cancelled the call.

But of course, the hour didn’t matter. My mom had died in the morning, hours earlier, and whatever it was I should have felt at that moment — a sudden rushing of light and sound out of the world, a seismic shift in my soul — I didn’t feel it. I didn’t know. I should have known.

Since then, I’ve been reading a lot of books that deal with the death of loved ones, and in every one, the main character reacts sharply and immediately. She screams or falls to the floor. Something fragile is often dropped precipitously. For me, it’s like reading about other people visiting a country to which I have never been. They might talk about the scenery, the contours of the sand dunes, the bustling marketplace, and all I can think is: None of this relates to me. It is not at all like my own experience with grief. They are in Lichtenstein or Lebanon, someplace with a flag I would never recognize, and I am in my home, only something very subtle has changed. Were the sheets always that color? Didn’t we use to have curtains there?

Grief has been like stumbling through a fog. I’ll see something on TV and think, “I should tell Mom about that” at exactly the same moment I also think, “There is no Mom to tell.” I start crying at church, my nose running into my mask. I keep expecting something to happen (just as I did when my father died) — that she will come to me in my dreams with a message or appear to me in the form of a faun outside my window. But nothing like that happens. She’s just gone.

People say a lot of comforting things when they find out your mother has died. But my father-in-law said the best thing: “The hardest part of growing older is the loss of those you love.” That felt real to me. I want to believe (do, in fact, believe) the comforting phrases about where my mother is right now and how she is at peace, but it’s hard when the only empirical evidence I have is a void. Empty space. Trinkets: her patent leather purse, her jet earrings, a sweater that does not fit. Like me, my mother hated taking photos, so I only have a few. Not nearly enough.

I have her letters, written to me throughout my life, though I can’t bear to read them. Some day I will. But when I try to imagine the woman who will do this, she does not look anything like me. She looks like my mom. And that’s someone I’ll never be, or I wouldn’t miss her half so much.

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years…

Yea, though, with a contractor, a day costs like, a thousand dollars.

Now, this may not actually be (said in Chandler Bing’s voice) in the Bible, but maybe it ought to be.

Birds gotta fly. Fish gotta swim. Let me add to that list: Sales reps gotta sell. The trick is finding a sales rep who won’t rook you. This was on my mind as I listened to the basement waterproofing sales rep give me his spiel.

“So, with all the issues this basement has, we’re looking at…” (pretends to do quick calculations on his notepad). “Ten thousand, five hundred. Are you onboard?”

I want to say: Oh sure! I’ll pencil you in for next Tuesday, cuz I’m having tea with the Queen on Monday. Then I’ve got to buy the Brooklyn Bridge, mm hmm, let’s see… (pretends to check calendar on phone) and then I’m scheduled to buy a used turnip truck, and will proceed to fall off the back of it.

But what I say is this: “Thanks for your time.” And I usher him to the door. I wasn’t born yesterday. Or the day before, sonny! I know I shouldn’t get mad at people who try to sell me a bill of goods, but this is ridiculous.

In the actual Bible, in Ecclesiastes, it says:

“There is a time for everything,

    and a season for every activity under the heavens:”

It even covers home improvements!

 “…a time to tear down and a time to build…”

So what this saga tells me is that it isn’t the time to get those renovations done. It’s better to put buckets under leaks than to pay a shady outfit to do a half-hearted (or half-lower-extremity’d) job. Time to get back to my blessings and put the problem in God’s hands.

Over it. Those are words I hear a lot lately. Folks are tired of the pandemic. Tired of being abused by employers. Sick of inequality, insufficient health care, the gridlock in Washington, even the weather. I, too, have been struggling with the state of my personal life. My beloved cat, Roux, died of kidney failure. Relationships I thought were solid have turned toxic, and I don’t know why. I’ve struggled with writer’s block. I just feel…tired. And I know I’m not alone. Life is out of balance. Maybe if we all fling ourselves at God at the same time, things will even out?

Speak to me of balance
of the trick
of the flick
of the wrist,
all balls in the air —
it’s quite an act.
I sit in the minute
before it all drops,
expecting chaos,
braced for pain.
Someone — some saint, perhaps —
step in and save my act.
All I know of life
is the just getting by,
the daily glide along the wire,
betting on the skin of my toes,
when what I need is a net.
God get us out of this circus.
Retire us to a place
where being is enough:
Hands empty. Soles on the ground.

The magic of Christmas is this: That something so small could change the world. That a girl from a “nothing” town could be chosen as the mother of God. That a stable could be the birthplace of a Savior. That a baby — a tiny, helpless baby — could be God incarnate, our salvation, the ultimate game changer, taking us from Old Testament “eye for an eye” to New Testament “forgive seven times seventy times.” God truly is a master of surprise.

Something so small:
the cowrie shells of his nails
(an oasis in the desert!),
the questing bud of his lips,
opening like an orchid.
His hair, fine and spare,
brushed ‘cross a skull
still red with effort,
soft beneath the hand.
Slitted eyes, seeking light,
seeing only subtle shapes.
Yet armed as any animal,
able to grip and startle, track and root.
This, then, will change the world:
hands so small will touch a cross,
flailing legs will lead us to heaven.
To trust in this is to pick cattle over comfort,
seeds over trees, a star that shines so seldom,
yet points the only way. And so we follow.
All that God is fits in the crook of an arm,
swallows us like an ocean.

Picture of a cup of brown coffee in a small, white, ridged mug, and a pink, puffy pastry on a dainty, flowered plate next to an open book.

Thank you for meeting me where I am, even when I forget to be present. 

As I lumber up, into the day, I feel as if I need to plow through a massive to-do list to earn my keep in the world. 

And, inevitably, every day, it’s the same old thing. Too much to do. Not enough (insert one: time, money, resources, etc.). Crisis du jour appears. 

But today, I received a reminder that every good and perfect gift comes from above. Somehow, even when I feel I don’t have everything I need, “enough” always seems to find me.

Every dollar that comes to me was routed through the Bank of Goodwill/God’s Will. Every time I see a number on my phone that makes me exclaim, ”Well, hello there, dear heart!” — that’s a bonus. 

And when I’m too focused on challenges, I flip the script in my head. There’s a pile of innovative solutions (neé “problems”), and a folder filled with “unpaid bills” that’s actually a map/manual of finding a way. 

Looking back, when I had too much, I used it all up; still, I wasn’t satisfied. Now that I have just what I need, I appreciate it like nobody’s business. 

Thank You for giving me the good sense to be grateful for what I used to take for granted, like the heat in this home. Also, the warmth in this home. A cat who sits next to me as I knit, fascinated by the ball of yarn. Family and friends who check in with me “for no reason” when I just happen to be feeling blue. Food on the table. Bear claws from the bakery. Coffee perking. A tiny pitcher with real cream for that cup of Joe.

Sometimes you just need to look at your life in the clear light of day to see how blessed you really are.

Thanksgiving gives me mixed emotions. Yes, it is a time of joy, a celebration of the Plymouth colony’s first successful harvest. They would never have survived without the help of the Wampanoag (which translates to “People of the First Light”), who showed them how and when to plant and reap the foods that would sustain them through their second winter in America. (During the first terrible winter, nearly half of them died.) But what happened to the Wampanoag tribe after the first Thanksgiving is the stuff of nightmares — illness decimated them, war (with colonists and other tribes) nearly finished them off. It’s enough to dash anyone’s joy.

Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863 for one very important reason: President Lincoln was desperately trying to find something that might bring the divided nation together, if only for one day — one good day. And while the first Thanksgiving probably ran for several days, those were good days, too. Any day spent in fellowship is a good day.

Thanksgiving this year, in many ways, hearkens back to Thanksgivings of old. As a nation, we remain bitterly divided politically. Those on the margins face terrible persecution. But mightn’t we still manage to have one good day together?

Let us meet where the good is,
where the God-in-us overlaps.
In that place of touching, let us find thanks
for that which holds the center,
for the still spot around which history spins,
for what we know of one another,
God-formed and God-blessed.
Let our feasting feed the seeing side of us.
One good day may come, rising in the East
where the people of the first light still linger,
spreading sun, a shared blanket,
passing bread from mouth to mouth.

green ceramic mug beside book
Sepia-toned picture of an open Bible next to a coffee mug on a wooden bench. It is situated next to a peaceful body of water that is shimmering in the sunlight.

So I was wondering aloud what the latest ache on my body meant…arthritis? A fissure in a bone? Some kind of new mystery malady that hasn’t yet been discovered and will have to be named after me?!? It could be anything! 

Luckily, I was with my physical therapist, who’s got a good head on her shoulders and her feet firmly planted on the ground. (Let’s explore those phrases for a moment. Who has a bad head on their shoulders and is levitating? I’d like to meet them. Hm. Or maybe I wouldn’t!) 

Anyway, she said, “Always start with the simplest thing first.” So it turns out that I slept funny. Another phrase to explore. Since I consider myself an undiscovered talent in the world of comedy, ladies and germs, I always sleep funny! Ba dum bum. Is this thing on? I’m here all week!

I’ve come to realize that experiencing trauma as a child can imbue your worldview so that you end up seeing catastrophes in every minor event in your life. How’s that for an abrupt change from a light-hearted blog post to an in-depth exploration of the psyche? But so much of life is a combination of light and dark. Joy and pain. 

Somehow, the muscles you tone while lifting heavy burdens are the same ones that help you hold onto what brings you joy. You come to appreciate the people who light you up when they walk into a room. You realize that small comforts (your cat, old movies, fresh-baked muffins) are a big deal. You learn that if you don’t loosen your grip on the injustices you endured, your hands won’t be open to reach for blessings that want to find you.

You have to clench it to carry it. What if just for today, you loosen your grip on it and leave it in Higher Hands? When the past crosses your mind today, just say this: “That was then.” Today, all is well.

white house under maple trees
Picture of a white house with forest-green and red trim, with a tree in front on the right side, and a white picket fence. There are autumn leaves of gold strewn on the ground.

If home is where the heart is, why do we spend so much time away from home? Most people are at work all day so they can make money to feather their nests. And then they’re never there!

Even with all that effort, they can end up feeling at loose ends, as if they still haven’t “arrived” yet — even when they’re home.

So I wonder: is there some kind of metaphysical map somewhere that tells us how to get “there” — wherever “there” is?

What if you could order “the good life” online?

e-Bay’s “You Complete Me” Package:

  • Neat and tidy house in the suburbs
  • White picket fence
  • Perfectly-coiffed spouse
  • 2.5 semi-well-behaved children 
  • Fluffy the dog, optional

“Best You Yet” Medical Makeover:

  • Liposuction is first, then we’ll strategically remove internal organs you’re not using (appendix, a rib or two, spleen). 
  • Next, that portion of your brain you never really put to good use will be trimmed. You know, that part with “logic” and “reason” in it.😉 
  • Act now and we’ll throw in a free set of Ginsu knives!

But the truth is “the good life” is closer than you think. 

My friend, Tina, said to me, “Enjoy this day. It’s the only one we have.” And she was right as rain! The past is a ghost and the future is a fantasy. So what should we do on this only day we have? This one right here, that the Lord has made.

Well, the Biblical answer is “Rejoice and be glad in it.” 

What if that was the key to life? Here’s a hint: it is!

No matter what’s piled up in front of you, just remember Who’s behind you. God’s got your back, so keep looking ahead. Travel at Godspeed and you’ll arrive “there” right on time.

As autumn rolls in with blustery winds and leaf-strewn lawns, I find myself in a contemplative mood. This season, to me, is evocative of change and even sadness. It was in autumn that my father died. Several of my friends are also facing losses and challenges of a deeply personal kind. How we weather the season depends largely on thorough self-care and unflagging support from those who love us. Prayer, of course, always helps, too.


In the autumn of our days,
may all fall softly.
May heartache land lightly,
astounding us with color:
russet, gold, garnet.
Let us note the blue of the sky,
even as it bulges gray with rain.

May we, like the beasts,
gather what we need
in empathy and acorns,
scattered seed and gentle touch
to last the lean months ahead.
What we cannot glean,
let us amply share.

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