Category Archives: Personal

Welcome home.

Peace is lopsided at my house.

Peace is actually red polka-dotted bunting across my front porch, leftover from Peace + Pie, a pie contest for peace and justice. I took off the Pie but Peace is always needed upon entering my home and the ampersand looks like a Jesus cross.

The wind blows the banner north so Peace is never symmetrical under my porch light, never centered over my front door. It’s always to the left of the house, hunched up, tilted.

I sit on my front porch swing and I just be.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.


That be. I just be.

Red wine in hand, barefoot, stretched on the porch swing. The rain falls tonight. The thunder strikes. The street wet with shards of lamppost light.

I think about the being. My spiritual director always invites me to be. And inevitably, no matter what we’re reflecting on, she invites me to welcome the pain.

Make space for the burden.

Welcome the heaviness.

Sit with it.

I hate this.

I do not want to welcome the pain. I do not want the pain, let alone create a hospitable space for it to feel at home. But I’m resigned.

Hello, Sorrow and Suffering. Please sit here on the porch with me.

As the rain falls I think about the burdens I have. I name them. There are four that are heavier tonight. I glance across the porch to see the new iron table I have placed there, four chairs surrounding it. Deep purple spray paint still strong and shiny. I envision the four burdens sitting in the chairs. Sinking deep. Taking a breather.

And then I realize it.

The Peace is lopsided. Over them.

I raise my glass and tip my head.

To Peace.

To being.

To heartache.

Welcome home.


I Carry Her With Me

To write about my mom is to write unfulfilled. There simply aren’t adequate words to describe her beauty and complexities. And there certainly are no words to communicate how grateful I am she is for me, always strengthening the ramparts of my heart.


I think about her life as a passport. Binding worn in and soft, pages filled with stamps both haphazard and aligned. Her place of birth reads Savannah, Georgia and she embodies all the good in a Southern woman: strength, charisma, hospitality. Those first pages full of instructions about traveling and safety abroad mark where she learned to love to explore and experience new places. Her Air Force dad and ever-resourceful mother took camping trips across the US and Canada every year, teaching my mom it was more important to save for travel than a new television or name-brand clothes. The emergency contact information would contain the name and address of her beloved grandmother in Hernando, Mississippi, a town holding both her second home and future husband.

Before the pages begin to fill there are years spent in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas. During that time I imagine the first stamps are from the Bahamas, trips taken with her ginger-headed groom or other family. Then our little family of three makes its way to Tyler, Texas. In Texas the stamps come from entering the international and letting the international enter us.

My mother takes her first mission trip to Ukraine when I am seven. She writes every entry in her travel journal to me. She describes the people and sights and the tears shed when she couldn’t call me on my birthday. The back pages have Russian vocabulary words meticulously written as she tried to learn them. She loves every minute and comes back with her heart for the nations as a souvenir for me.

There are stamps from Mexico as my parents become volunteer youth ministers at an inner city church, its congregation half Hispanic and half African-American. A stamp from Belize takes several months to ink as a Central American woman recovering from surgery lives with us. My mom gets a stamp from Nicaragua and loves it so much she takes my dad back to serve with her in medical missions. They leave mid-way this second trip when her sister is in a devastating car accident. Years later she finishes it with both me and my dad. I am twelve and it is the first time I have ever been outside the US.  I am in love.

Another stamp comes from Ukraine when Natasha, a foreign exchange student, lives with us for a year. Another from Russia when Natasha’s exchange student friend moves in, too. My mom opens her heart and her home to these two teenage girls with grace and generosity.

Stamps accumulate from Italy when I come home from college suggesting I spend two weeks there through the school. She says for that amount of money our whole family could go on our own. And so we do. We eat and drink our way from the Amalfi Coast to Venice, marveling with wide eyes the whole time. She’ll go back years later to a cooking school.

A Moroccan stamp enters in when we travel just the two us to visit a dear friend. We feel like British spinsters on the continent, soaking up the European-North African bridge of Casablanca and the chaos of Marrakech. My mother takes suitcases full of gifts for expats we have never met, pounds of chocolate chips and peanut butter and Valentine’s Day decorations. We drink pots upon pots of mint tea and I learn my mother is the worst market negotiator in the history of Americans abroad. This trip calls on all our courage and we are very good partners.

She and my dad take in Greece, Turkey, and Egypt for an anniversary, transporting more suitcase gifts for strangers in a missions organization. She serves Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic. My grandmother beats round one of ovarian cancer and we celebrate on the Blue Danube. Stamps.

Eight stamps from Burundi arrive in 2007, the ninth in 2011. Suddenly our family of three is much, much larger.

Some stamps she does not obtain by being present in a land but they are hard-won nonetheless. The years my dad designs and starts up oil refineries in Angola, Azerbaijan, Yemen, and Oman. She sends me to India with a suitcase to impress MacGyver and awaits the stories upon my return. Perhaps the hardest earned stamps are to Afghanistan, three times I went and she chose to trust Christ and not give in to fear. She had to let me go; after all, this is who she raised me to be.

My mother is a passport and she harbors all its emotional complexity: the intentionality of planning itineraries, the fatigue of jet lag, the exuberance of tasting new dishes, the warmth of strangers who become family, the stillness of reading on a plane, the chaos of train stations, the satisfaction of following a map correctly, the joy and frustration of communicating in a foreign language, and the hope of sights unseen.

My mother is a passport, her pages vibrant with color and flavor and experience.

My mother is a passport, welcoming all people and cultures into her heart.

My mother is a passport with beautiful, clean, unstamped pages waiting to be filled.

My mother is a passport and I carry her with me wherever I go.


Roses & Thorns

My grandmother has a remarkable way with flowers.  I suppose you could say it is her destiny; after all, her name is Daisy Rose.  Her Mississippi rose garden is a simple, straw-laden bed surrounded by wooden boundaries.  Nothing fancy, just functional.  The roses usually bloom twice a year, depending on that Spring frost that always comes.  I never intentionally come when the roses are in bloom.  Yet, somehow they bloom when I need an extra dose of beauty in my life.  They bloom when the words, “Let’s get you some roses before you leave,” couldn’t sound any sweeter.

Although it is my grandmother’s garden, it is generally my grandfather who goes out with his cutting knife to reap the bounty.

“There’s a pretty one,” he says.  He cuts the stem from the bush and within seconds, his blade skims its sides.  He breaks off the thorns and hands the flower to me for safekeeping.  “Be careful,” he advises, “There may still be a few on there.”

He handles each rose the same way.  A swift severing from the bush and the paring down of the stem.  The thorns fall to the ground.  While a few thorns still remain, I can hold the stems and the bouquet in my arms begins to grow.  I watch him do this over and over: finding a beautiful flower, cutting the stalk, skimming the prickly pieces, handing it over to me.  Then it becomes clear:

Isn’t this always the role of the people who love us?  To help us grasp beauty and soften the pain that comes with it?  

So many people do this for me that I feel overwhelmed.  The hands and knife may take on different forms but all have the same result.

Sustaining me with a listening ear and a compassionate glance.  Thorns fall off.

Laughing boldly and contagiously in the midst of absurdity.  Thorns fall off.

Walking ahead of me, showing me how to live openly and honestly.  Thorns fall off.

Giving me permission to grieve and sit in uncertainty.  Thorns fall off.

Feeding me good food and serving a stiff drink.  Thorns fall off.

Refusing hopelessness on my behalf and pouring out grace.  Thorns fall off.

Pointing out my own prickly pride and sanding it down by a loving presence.  Thorns fall off.

Speaking Truth and reminding me of what is real.  Thorns fall off.

Praying for the weariness to abate until it does.  Thorns fall off.

Believing this one wild and precious life is worth living.  Thorns fall off.

Sending me home with full arms and a full heart.  Thorns fall off.


Silver Fox

I am putting on my make-up in the Ladies’ Room at the Salt Lake City International Airport.

A silver fox walks in, smartly dressed in black fleece.  Lips red, hair Helen Mirren white-silver.  She washes her hands and then tries to lift the thinning tuft with her fingers.

Eyeliner.  Shadow.  Mascara.  I watch her from the corner of my newly lined eyes.

“Your hair is really beautiful,” I say, twisting the mascara wand back in its case.

“Thank you,” she sighs, “…what is left of it.”  A lipstick and powder compact venture from her purse.

“I’m always on the lookout for cute short hair.  My grandmother recently lost her hair during her cancer treatment and it is now slowly growing back,” I say, as if I need a reason to compliment what she obviously disdains.

“Yes, that’s what’s happening to mine.  I just started chemo again and it’s beginning to fall out.  What kind of cancer does your grandmother have?”  The words come out crisp, simply stating the facts.

“Ovarian,” I reply.

“Me too.”

In that moment, specifically in the words “me too,” my eyes well up with tears and I panic that my mascara will run.  I try not to cry.  It doesn’t work.

“It’s so emotional,” she says calmly, and then turns away from the mirror to look at me.

Words fall out of my mouth, “What kind of treatment? Where?”  She responds Atlanta, with a name I don’t know for the chemo.  She is positive, in a restrained way.  They are fighting it again, but she is happy for my grandmother.  And hopeful, because the doctors are learning new things all the time.

“You are a sweetheart,” she says and squeezes my hand.  She offers me a tissue but I take a paper towel from the dispenser instead.  She is a stranger who offered me a bit of her story and it’s as if I can’t bear to take more from her.  Except for one thing.

“How long, before it came back?” I ask.  That is the question.  How long until we are ripped up again? Before we learn to grieve anew?

“Two years,” she speaks quietly.  All I know to do is tell her she is beautiful.  The silver fox smiles and walks out.  Lips red, hair Helen Mirren white-silver, disappearing.

Now it’s clear.  Her beauty comes from her pain.

As I fix my eyeliner and re-apply the mascara, I realize mine does too.

This was originally written in January 2012.  My grandmother, Mary, was in remission for 2 years and 7 months before her cancer returned in February of this year.  She is currently enduring chemotherapy with grace, wit, and courage.


Drink the Sweetness

Sunrise Service at the Levitt Shell

It is Easter morning and the Sunrise Service at Overton Park starts at 6:30am. I set multiple alarms; I am not to be trusted in the morning. At 6:09 I crawl out of bed, brush my teeth and hair and don a fleece. I wait at the front storm door of my building. Sarah is coming to pick me up.

“Christ is risen!” she says when I get in the car.

“He is risen indeed!” I reply.

It is the Paschal greeting, the tradition of Christians for centuries to greet each other this way on Easter morning. My mother taught me when I was young and here with Sarah at 6:20am I remember she too is family.

We walk toward the Levitt Shell, an open venue in the central park of Memphis. I carry a blanket for us to sit on and my hot tea. It is a brisk morning and the sky still somber gray.

We are greeted by a man in a suit, offering a bulletin. The outdoor amphitheater is dotted with blankets and law chairs. Easter eggs on the great lawn. We spread out our blanket and wait.

It is an ecumenical service. The Presbyterians, the Episcopalians, the non-Southern Baptists and the Missionary Baptists are all waiting for the sun to rise together. Some in Sunday best, others look like they just unzipped a tent and came out to sit at the campfire. The Missionary Baptist choir is elegant in suits and heels. They fill the stage as if ready for Carnegie Hall. We are black and white, liturgical and charismatic on the lawn. We are one body.

A few from my church family sit on a blanket next to us. One is very small, happily eating Cheerios as she rests in a lap. There is Gospel sway and folk strumming, music for a slightly older crowd. Light breaks more and more.

Men and women ministers read prayers and the Resurrection story. Some in elegant robes, others in plain clothes. The sermon is delivered by a gentle man and he tells us it okay to doubt. That yes, this Resurrection story does sound made up. But it is our hope, one we will commit to wrestle with. It is darkness turning to light, and Christ is present in both.

On the stage is the communion table. A silk patterned tablecloth hangs long and sacred. It is covered in cups and plates. Each church has brought its own to share, a potluck Eucharist. There are cups made of clay and fired in a kiln, others made of silver. Some are simple and brown, another blazing green. The plates of bread are piled in mounds. A silver tower of trays stacks tall. It is the dish passed in my childhood. I imagine the small juice shot glasses, each sitting in place like a deviled egg plate.

A woman minister breaks the bread, pours the wine. Her voice is clear and sure:

This is the body of Christ, broken for you.

This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.

Soon men and women, ministers by vocation and ministers by commitment, come surround the table.  They take the elements and move toward the edges of the lawn in a horseshoe shape. The suits, the mountain gear, the old, the young, the black and the white. They move out in pairs—two by two—one with the bread and one with the juice. All who share in Christ’s resurrection are welcome at this table made by two willing servants.

We rise from our blankets and our lawn chairs. We stand in line and wait for our turn to receive the mystery. I take a chunk of bread and dip it in the juice. I linger at the soaking, wanting to sop up as much grace blood as I can. In my mouth it is sweet. I am reminded of what Augustine wrote:

The Lord was made sweet to you because he liberated you. You had been bitter to yourself when you were occupied only with yourself. Drink the sweetness.

I drink the sweetness in the park with the people. I forget myself and I take it in. The robes and the jeans, the tow-headed children still in pajamas. We have come to celebrate the sweetness of the Resurrection, the mystery that seems too good to be true. But it is only good and true and we are one body, coming from darkness into a marvelous light.

This piece was originally written in 2012.  I continue to celebrate Resurrection Sunday bright and early at the Levitt Shell Sunrise Service with Sarah and many Midtown friends every year.  The potluck Eucharist remains as my favorite part.


Easter Monday

Hello!  Welcome to my blog!

I have a tendency to wait until things are perfectly worked out in my mind before I actually take action to begin.  This is especially true of things I want to do well.  And my goodness, the first blog post on a brand new website?  That, friends, is something I’d most certainly like to do well.  I’ve written tens of entries in my head over the last months.

But something struck me today.  I’m fairly new to the church calendar but Eastern Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics continue to intentionally celebrate the Resurrection of Christ the week after Sunday.  This is brilliant to me.  Eastern Orthodox Christians call this “Bright Week” or “Renewal Week.”  Some call today “Easter Monday,” others “Bright Monday.”  They fill this week with psalms and hymns and Resurrection litanies.  Even funerals that take place this week must have particular, joyous rites celebrating the Resurrection.

My pastor shared this quote from N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope yesterday:

But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday…and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration….
In particular, if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast again—well, of course. Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative. Of course you have to weed the garden from time to time; sometimes the ground ivy may need serious digging before you can get it out. That’s Lent for you. But you don’t want simply to turn the garden back into a neat bed of blank earth. Easter is the time to sow new seeds and to plant out a few cuttings. If Calvary means putting to death things in your life that need killing off if you are to flourish as a Christian and as a truly human being, then Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life (personal and corporate) that ought to be blossoming, filling the garden with color and perfume, and in due course bearing fruit. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving. You may be able to do it only for six weeks, just as you may be able to go without beer or tobacco only for the six weeks of Lent. But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hopes, new ventures you never dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way. And that’s what Easter is all about.

What struck me today was desire.  I want every Monday for the next six weeks to be Easter Monday.  Truthfully, I want every Monday from here on to be lived like it’s Easter Monday; however, I need to be realistic and Tom Wright just gave me permission to start with six weeks.

I will celebrate and write of the joy and resurrection of Christ every Monday for six weeks.  Then we will go from there.