Friday, December 31, 2010

people all around

I am ending the year with a collage of faces that are unexpected and which affect me deeply. Laura is a large woman, probably forty five, no coat, trudging down Hwy 27 on her way north. She has mental illness, and religious delusions. A voice has instructed her to 'go north.' Very bad advice, considering the weather. So she lumbers north on the highway, with no destination in mind and no resource. There is no warm home waiting for her, no friend wondering where she is (apparently - I hope I am wrong.) She cries and mumbles prayers as she goes.

Ashley is 25. She has two young children, ages 2 and 4. Two weeks ago her husband beat her so severely that she has been crippled in her back, tense with pain. She too is trudging up Hwy 27 without a coat. She says she is going to Georgetown, stubbornly making her own way - she will walk. She is carrying a small square box that contains a carton of cigarettes and a few personal affects. Her mother is stoned on drugs and has just kicked her out of the house, her last refuge upon release from the hospital. She does not have the health insurance to pay for her needed surgery. Christmas has been hell. The children are with their grandfather. She is also crying. She prays every night in desperation.

And then there is the woman who cuts hair, today with too few customers and too much debt. She wears a brave and positive face, but has spent Christmas at war with her second ex husband who attacked her in November. They have been to court already, without much sympathy from the judge. She has just read The Shack. She wonders if she could know a God like that who would not judge her. God - or maybe a man - this is what she needs. She has signed up on a dating site and is choosing her profile picture.

This is my town, 2011.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

a Christmas Miracle

"Think of it this way," my friend said. "My dumbness has hurt lots of people. If God can use my dumbness to make someone feel happy, I think that would be a great thing."

It happened on Christmas's eve's eve. I had declared the day The Day of Marilyn. I told my men that I needed a quiet day. A day of peace and thought to still my soul before all the Christmas hullabuloo. So when the day started I prayed. I prayed that God would show me how to use my day. That God would unfold what might be good for my soul.

I began by driving to my office to finish up a small project. When I got there I was surprised by an e-message from a friend - and on it was a piece of scripture. I printed it off and stuck it to the front of my car so I could read it now and then during the day.

Second, I mailed a box to my kid in Indonesia and then thought to call a dear friend and have a light lunch together. I had been promising her forever, and I love to be with her. She was delighted and we chose simply - Appleby's soup and salad combo.

Lunch was average. The service was non-descript. When the bill came, a mere $17 something. I said I would pay. I pulled a twenty out of my purse and then added four ones. I thought, this is Christmas. I will be generous. How generous I am!

The waitress came back with the folder and change and I said to her, "Oh no, I don't need change. It is for you. Merry Christmas." Silly me. The waitress said, "Really?" I said, "Of course. It is for you. Enjoy." Enjoy your $6.82.

She picked up the folder and held it to her breast. "Thank you!" she said. "This has never happened to me before. Thankyou!" I felt confused, and started getting that sick kind of feeling in my belly. Hmmmm.

I didn't want to say anything much to my friend so I just kept on conversing. The waitress came back and knelt by our table. She said, "Really, I want to thank you. You don't know what this means to me. It has never happened to me. I can really use it."

[This was clearly not the time to say, "Could I just check that change again?"]

I knew now that I had put something in the cash that I was unaware of. I was desperately trying to figure it out while smiling and looking calm and cheerful. I didn't know what to say, and what I said was kind of dumb. "Apparently God loves you." I smiled. Apparently.

After I took my friend home I looked at my cash and found that I had given a twenty and three ones and a hundred dollar bill. It was my grocery money. I looked out the window at the brown grimy snow. It had been a kind of 'forced generosity." Sitting buckled into my car, engine running, my purse spilled onto my lap, I started laughing. And i phoned a friend to tell her the story.

"If I knew that God had wanted me to do this," I said, "I would feel better. But I think it was just me being dumb." That was when my friend said the brilliant thing I needed to hear. "My dumbness has hurt lots of people. If God used my dumbness to make someone feel happy, I think that would be a great thing." Touche.

on gentleness

I am reading (read that as 'am reading' and 'have been reading' and 'will be reading') Come Creator Spirit, by Raniero Cantalamessa. Currently the thoughts are focused on the anointing of the Spirit.

The Spirit, he writes, makes the trials and pain of life bearable, even gentle: in labore requies, in aestu temperies - rest in weariness and cool refreshment in heat.

The idea of gentleness has been an organizing principle of my thinking for some years now. Gentleness is a disposition of character that is both tender and strong, expressing energy in truth, love, self control, openness etc. Gentleness is the antithesis of manipulation, the sister of self regulation, the mother of loving justice and mercy. A gentle person is sometimes called an 'old soul' (although there are other meanings to 'old soul') because, I think, one has to have responded to life in a certain way to find gentleness. Gentleness is twinkling wisdom, humble power, ragged beauty and sips of the best wine.

That the Holy Spirit comes to us as rest in weariness and cool refreshment in heat for the purpose of gentling our lives is an idea I want to run into. I find myself at the end of a year of labor, longing, faithful attention to life and persons, diligence to a sometimes ridiculously crowded calendar and heartfelt concern for many situations, in a state of inner tension. I have a pinched nerve in my soul. smile

So this advent, Come Creator Spirit. Spirit who makes life gentle. Who teaches me gentleness. Who defuses my self promotion and self concern and brings me by the hand into laughing conversations. Come Creator Spirit, my rest, my refreshment, and show me the baby whose coming means that I am not destined to live by my own devices, but I can allow myself to be led into green pastures.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

on the great contexts

"I owe this book to ten years of conversations and company with extraordinary men and women. While we made use of the guises of student and teacher, therapist and client, researcher and subject, colleague and colleague, in order first to meet, I want to thank them here as the persons they are, before, during and after all these roles - persons who let me learn with them and from them. ... If I cannot always say who is speaking I can at least identify, and gratefully acknowledge, the person and arrangements that make up the context from which I speak."

I am reading Robert Kegan's book, The Evolving Self. I am reading this to push new questions into my ponderings, to extend my understanding of how people grow and what matters, to expand the context in which I think about human formation.

And then I stumble across an acknowledgement at the beginning of the book - and I sit here, stunned and full of thought. (At this rate it will take me months to read this book.) With a small bunch of words Kegan has cracked open my sometimes selfish sense of 'me' and given me words to express the real experience of life as I have known it.

We meet people using guises. We come to each other as pastor and seeker, as teacher and student, as colleague to colleague but we are, first and last, people. The learning is passed from one to another especially when we let the other see our true humanity. Getting beyond the guises is something I have long pursued. But they serve us. They bring us together in the beginning and if we are wise, we move beyond them.

And when we speak we speak from our own experience or what we have heard and learned and very often we do not know who is speaking, if we are honest. If there had been no rich context of so many other lives we would have nothing to say. That is fact. So who can say who is talking? We can say, though, that we are part of a rich context that is so tightly woven as to be part of our very souls.

Right now, I know I am speaking and Robert Kegan is helping me speak. And you are part of my words. Part of the understanding and experience that makes my thought possible.

So ... I put these lines out into the stream ~

What does this say about 'the great cloud of witnesses' who provide the context for our faith? What of my faith is really their voices speaking? And how can this understanding give us courage to do our small part in participating in the lives of other people, in their faith journey, in their journey to find meaning and courage to live?

And how can we learn to use and discard guises that bring us together and enable conversation? I don't mean that we throw off all roles and responsibilities to and for each other. That would mean chaos. I just mean - how can our actual interactions (flowing from our deepest understanding of the sacredness of a person) be changed simply by how we see people. (Every one of us knows when we are not considered valuable - no matter what the other person is putting on or saying.) The human person is a profound treasure. Things we measure that person by - from lines on their face to the girth of their panus (waistline, so Vincent tells me) - these are like mud caked on a diamond. Or things like possessions - even possession of intellect, special knowledge, abilities - functional development - these might determine a person's contribution but not the value of what they bring as a person.

I am also reading Thomas Keating - Foundations of Centering Prayer. I know - what happened to reading a good novel? On the pages I am reading he is talking about the humiliation that true self knowledge brings. Self knowledge is about a ray of light shining on our hidden darkness, the place of our greatest self deception. Self knowledge brings humiliation at first, and then a proper humility of knowing our true selves - in the glory and the darkness of being human.

These two books are being served to me out of one cup. I feel a well of gratefulness swelling up in my heart for all the wonderful and exceptional people who have been part of my life for a moment or a year or decades. I know that you are my rich context of learning and growth and joy and pain and all of this together is the gift enabling me to speak.

Merry Christmas my friends - my great cloud of witnesses - my people for life and my people for a moment.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tragic News from Canada

This came to me from a Canadian friend. Canadian humor. I am still laughing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

cookies or no cookies - that is the question

A small choice at our church has created the platform for a small discussion. Here's the situation - on Sunday mornings we have coffee in our lobby between services. Not Starbucks, not a coffee bar, just good hot coffee. On these two Sundays before Christmas we have also have several trays of cookies with the coffee.
So, on Sunday, the lobby was electric with cookies. Well, maybe that is an slight exaggeration. But it's not exaggerating to say that there was more lingering, more laughing, more gathering around cookie in hand, than normal. I loved it ... somehow the small act of generosity created a moment. A festive moment. A kitchen table moment.

The discussion then, is whether we should spend to provide cookies on these two Sundays, when a church we partner with in Canada sometimes can't pay their heating bill. We do not NEED cookies - certainly. Our collective heft proves that. And there are real needs all around us, some more poignant than others. It hurts my heart to say it, but there are no doubt families in our church who have trouble paying their heating bill.

So.. what about it? This is a tricky question because there are so many ditches to fall in on either side. Extremes, subtleties and specifics abound to complicate any opinion.

But in principle, I am for the cookies. The reason is simple: we all need moments of generosity. I have lived in poverty and when I found ways to be generous, even then, I became rich. Generosity is not the property of abundance. Generosity flowing out of need is stunningly beautiful. And in my life, it has been those times of shared need when shared generosity has been at its best. Think fish and loaves that become a feast. I remember Judy Rollins, my neighbor with whom I shared one roll of toilet paper on a hot month in June. We both had three kids - we were both on the edge financially - and we would have our kids run the roll back and forth when it was needed. I have learned more about generosity in those times than in times of abundance.

My second reason is based on the understanding that God is everlastingly generous. The character of God is rife with abundance, joyous communion and generous hospitality. He gives until he has given himself away.

But I hear the push back - when we put cookies by the coffee we are not simply giving to ourselves? Feathering our own nest? I draw from my experience as a mother to think about this. I learned in the nineties that the best gift I can give my family and community is my own wellness. To choose for my wellness feels selfish, often, and everything in me can fight against it. But from my wellness flows my home, the gifts of my life, rest for the souls of my family and those who come through my life. Some people don't have beds, but I will work to put warm quilts on my beds. And then I will fill those beds. Some people are hungry, but I will put a meal on my table whenever I am able, and sit with people, and listen and talk and laugh together over food. Some people don't have order, but I will do the work to create order in my life and invite people into the peace of it.

Somehow when we put out the plate of cookies we are saying that life is valuable, generosity is God-like, and for this moment we are living in the abundance of God. It is a moment of sacred remembering. It is a sacrament of a lower order.

So, I have learned that generosity is not about what you have. It is about how you think. And I think the cookies are some of that.

Monday, December 6, 2010

on seeming to be

One dilemma I am aware of is an inner conflict of desires - wanting to live out of who I uniquely am, and also wanting to fit in. For me, this conflict is played out between wanting to be free to be the (slightly) ridiculous woman I am, while knowing I represent so much of what people want to experience as a 'mature Christian woman.' I am not sure the two are in conflict, but they can SEEM to be in conflict. Am I willing to 'seem' to be something or content to simply be it?

Let me give an example. To date I have not donated money directly to the seminary where I work. Ah... don't misread me. I frequently give to those who attend the seminary. I give to students who are in a crisis, help out in areas that don't have funding, contribute meals and household goods, donate gifts for events, money to couples who desperately need a date, and help with groceries and expenses for families who are under stress. Stuff like that.

Because I do not give in the official ways my name is not on the published giving list. And I wonder, do I want to 'seem' generous or do I want to simply BE generous ... even though I don't seem to be.

I guess this is about the opinions of others. You might say those opinions don't matter, but in fact our reputations hang on them. And our reputations are one of our most valuable assets.

My antenna are up this season with sensitivity for the working (and unemployed) poor. I pass the Salvation Army buckets every day.My heart wants to put money into every box - to seem generous. I want each worker to know that I care, that I am glad they are doing their part, that I am aware of the empty cupboards in our area. But then, this is just seeming, isn't it? I decided that I will give in a certain way, but that I will look every bell ringer in the face and tell them thank-you for doing this. And merry Christmas!

So every day I keep choosing. Seeming to be or just being. Seeming is a lot easier. Being takes courage.

Monday, October 25, 2010

on generosity, sort of

My darling granddaughter, Megan, ten, is endlessly passionate. Here is my recent phone conversation with her.

Megan: Mimi! Our family has the BEST plan for Christmas. We are going to draw names to give each other a small gift and then each of us is going to choose something from World Vision and give an animal to the people who are poor. I saw the information and it made me SO sad ... I am so glad to give to them and not spend it on ourselves.

Me: Oh, that is so great. I love it! Fabulous idea. So... how are your violin lessons coming?

Megan: Oh, I am playing really good. But my violin fund is not very good. I only have $30.00 in it. (Note: $25 of that is from me.)

Me: Well, you don't have to worry about that. Christmas is coming. ... Oh, we aren't doing that for Christmas.



Me: Well, we aren't giving big gifts, we are giving to World Vision.

Megan: MIMI!! That is JUST OUR IMMEDIATE FAMILY. You are not in our immediate family.

Laughing... right. Got it. Message is clear.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

just this side of hope...

I receive Cook's Magazine and pour over the best way to roast vegy's and how to properly glaze a turkey. The best part of the magazine is the editorial by Christopher Kimball. Always rural, always reflective, Kimball's short essay is worth the subscription cost.

Today he reflects on a box of old snapshots he is riffling through. The pics of his kids are particularly nostalgic to him. Then he says, "My guess is that whatever we think we've lost we never had, that waiting to find it again is as stupid as expecting trout to rise to the same dry fly two days in a row, and that life is best lived between the lost and the found, just this side of hope and on the other side of nostalgia ... to my way of thinking, nothing is ever really lost, even an old cemetery. We just have to learn to stop looking for it."

I have a friend who feels she has lost who she was, by way of life's harshness. She desperately wants what she was, to be that again. Life can do damage - in fact life DOES do damage - and we all suffer our unique blows. But what we had is always ours. And though we cannot go back, there is a lot in front of us. Life is unbelievably interesting, full of possibilities, and always unfolding into newness.

I held a lovely baby boy today. I remembered my sons, my babies. I love that my arms have been full of baby. That their eyes shone. I will always have them that way. And I also have them, boisterous and hungry in my kitchen. Steve sometimes longs for the prairies, for his western country and homeland. I remind him that he always has Alberta. It is in him. He doesn't have to search for it. My mom is buried in an unpretentious graveyard near Toronto. But she lives in me, and gazes back at me through the mirror now and then.

The years have taught me to hold on, but loosely. And to carry photographs in my purse just in case I need them.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Canadian Thanksgiving

Today is the start of Canadian Thanksgiving which lasts for three days. We don't have a specific day to eat our turkey - it can happen anytime over this weekend. I remember when Ben was about 15 that he and his friend decided to see how many turkey dinners they could get invited to. If my recollection is correct, they ate - and more remarkably, enjoyed! - 7 dinners, including ours.

I have these questions in my mind:

Why do turkeys have to suffer in a continent wide blitzkrieg (does that mean slaughter? It sounds like it does...)?
Why do Americans add macaroni and cheese to an otherwise lovely dinner?
Why is Thanksgiving dinner so beige? Did you notice that even the vegys - carrots, turnips, squash - are beige? The entire meal would lack beauty if not for the lowly cranberry.
Why does a pumpkin pie taste almost the same as carrot pie? True fact.
What did my gramma Iva put in her dressing that made it look green?

There is so much to ponder on this Thanksgiving.

Like why do I have so much blessing?
And why do I sometimes feel ungrateful?

As usual we won't have a 'family thanksgiving.' We rarely have family here on special occasions. There is always as sense of loss, but it doesn't last long when it isn't brooded on. It's lovely today to think of my fair country and my many friends with their many roasting turkeys, kids bursting in doors and loud laughing, jello salads and home made buns. Blessings sometimes come in bunches, like on a day of Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rules for Parents

My grown son sat on the couch yesterday afternoon riffling through his grade-school box of art, writing, pictures and report cards. One piece from grade 1 was particularly amusing.

The task was to write three rules for parents. Vince wrote these three:

1. Do not merder your child.
2. Do not beat your child up.

and ...

3. Do not be late for wurk.

What would a psycho-therapist make of this? I choose to believe that this is a kid who did not even know the low level violence of angry parents. Our home was pretty happy and creative when he was a kid.

In the box were other treasures. Stories about a monster and his pet turtle. Lots of brightly colored drawings of our green house with a Canadian flag flying on a pole in front.

And tales of hamster funerals. We had more than our share. Perhaps one of his rules should be, "Parents should not murder hamsters." It was always an accident of course. But none of our hamsters died of old age. I would take them out for a walk - since I can't stand to see animals in cages - and then things would happen. I could write a book series on the adventures of hamsters.

One journal entry from grade 2 made me laugh. Vince was hoping to win the 'neat nut.' I had to think a while to remember what the neat nut was. Okay - see who can remember this. The neat nut was a Gospel Walnut! You pull a little hook and out come the five or six colors that are supposed to reveal the gospel story: black, red, green, white, yellow... I was personally appalled at the whole cheesy idea of a gospel walnut, so I dubbed it the neat nut, prize for the tidiest room each day. Apparently it worked - Vince was motivated to win it.

Memories matter. But they are slippery. Most of what we discovered in this box I had forgotten. The work of remembering is spiritual work. And it is profoundly human work. I remembered who I am, listening to Vincent talk about his childhood views of our life together. And I loved him freshly.

p.s Our son Ben recieved his first note written by his son Blaise - emergent literacy! It said this, "I Um gowy tw cut YoR Hud off. Fum BLaise" to which I can only reply, "ARGH Matey!"

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

pockets full of tomorrow

Last night the air was still and cool. I went outside after our frozen pizza dinner (smile) and started walking among my flowering plants noticing some mature seeds. With care I harvested seeds from two beautiful flowering plants that spread around my garden. It was not like harvesting wheat - I pulled apart seed pods one by one and drew out shiny black seeds with a vivid white edge. Then I bent over seed cups and tipped out hard black kernels that look like small rabbit 'raisins.'

From behind me I heard children playing in our creek and on the climbing fort Steve has built in there. I heard one boy of six yell, "Fire in the hole!" and I heard a splash and then hilarious laughter. I moved from plant to plant putting one kind of seed in my right pocket and the other in my left.

It occurred to me that I had pockets full of tomorrow. Something about the work of saving the seeds filled me with hope and pure joy. I was connected to God in that moment, doing God things. Beyond that my creek was full of tomorrow, too. The noises of tomorrow echoed around my silence. As I get older the urgency to preserve and empower the next generation becomes a main focus of my life.

In the stillness of that simple work I was filled with awe at the life I have been given to live. And I was filled with awe at the power of creation energy that pushes toward renewal and rebirth. I am fading but life is preparing for the next bold flowering.

Friday, September 24, 2010

on being gramma

Today I went to the public school to act as surrogate gramma to two Kenyan girls, Blessing and Esther. Their names are great, arent they? You should see their hair - rows of braids always fun and funky. Anyway, it was really an exercise in frustration except for the part with Esther and Blessing. Crowds of grandparents, a sweaty room, standing and waiting til a teacher's name is yelled and then scrabbling past a hoard of kids to try and find THE kid who attaches to you.

All in all, it ended quite nicely, with Esther and I eating in the gym at a table with two other gramma/kid pairs. Here is what I saw though. One of the grammas sat beside her little fair haired grandson, and proceeded to spend the next half hour texting on her iPhone. I don't recall one sentence of conversation until she said, "Well, I think it's time to go." At which time the boy stood up and walked to throw his waste in the can. What is the point of enduring all that bother if not to actually pay attention to your kid?

The best thing I did, I think, was obtain a second chocolate milk for Esther, since I could have one and so could she. As she swallowed the last gulp almost licking the container clean she informed me that the rule is only one, so this was great. Victory!

My own grandkids are all over the world. I don't (usually) feel sorry for myself about that. And today I was able to make two little girls show me their wide grins and stand in for their African grammas. It was a blessing.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

on the death of a friend

You have no knowledge of this, but yesterday a lovely woman in Calgary passed from this life to the next, quietly and beautifully. Shelley was a friend of mine from my years in Calgary. She had a beautiful appearance and a heart that shone through her face. Her work was in the medical field, and during a surgery she accidentally came in contact with tainted blood. From then on Shelley fought a battle with hepatitis and many accompanying problems. She lived for decades with awful symptoms and yet remained a giver, one who saw others and served them graciously.

And so, although her life and mine are far apart now, her passing brings me into a common experience of all our lives - the experience of multiple emotions and responsibilities piled on one another and very little room to sort them out.

In an ideal world we would go to the grieving tent when we were grieving. In an ideal world we would go to the silly space when we were feeling ridiculous. There would be a place or space for all our experiences to be processed and held and honored. But the truth is we grieve while we laugh, we talk when we long to be silent, we strategize when we feel little hope for the future.

Yesterday I spent a couple hours with an architect on campus, dreaming about ideal spaces for students to use. The conversation was an exercise in hope. Perhaps a way could be made for space to fit our life instead of our lives being forced into the space that is there. But even if such space is created, will time constraints accommodate the space?

Anyway, yesterday, for me, was one of those days when too many streams are flowing at all kinds of levels within me, so much so that I don't know what the emotion of the day was. All I know is that at the end, in the dark, what remained with me was a great sorrow for all Shelley suffered, and a sense of wanting to honor her life for it was a great one.

PS - one other thought that occurs to me. After a day of unprocessed emotions yesterday I ate a HUGE supper... hmmm. Wonder why THAT happened?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Holiness Week

This past week at Asbury was 'holiness week.' The idea is simply to recapture the true and beautiful ideas of holiness and bring those concepts back to the forefront of our practice and thinking. Dr. Tennent was the speaker for the three main sessions and then we had meetings outside in a tent two nights consecutively. The tent was a touch of nostalgia and a naturally creative venue for us. I attended the Wednesday night meeting under the tent.

Lately two sources of learning have been playing together in my mind. From psychotherapy class I am learning about the brain and how it works - its malleability, and the role it plays in our states of mind. I have also been thinking about metacognition - this all sounds so big, but basically it is thinking about thinking. Instead of accepting our thoughts as the real and right interpretation of our experience, we can think about what it is we are thinking and why we have that response to experience. Also, my vanKaam human formation training is always a foundation on which to organize my learning.

So ... Wednesday night and all this formation stuff circulating through my thoughts. How do they connect? Something deep shifted in me Wednesday night. I did ask a friend to pray for me, and I am always grateful for prayer. But the shift was really a culmination of a long journey - maybe two years or maybe as long as ten. Many streams converged in me on Wednesday night. The experience wasn't emotional, really, nor was it mystical. Rather, suddenly I had a grasp of something more than words or ideas, but something profoundly alive and broad as the universe.

My 'tent moment' was another point of clarity in my process of being. Each moment builds on the last and yet stands alone in some way. All along the way I am being renewed. I can't say it is a process of being perfected. But I am quite sure it is a true process of becoming fully human and alive and really, quite happy.

Let me share a couple lines from a poem.

God lives down the corridor,
last door on the left.
At nine I bring the wine
pressed from the defiant grapes
of five and eighty years.
For bread, the mud cakes of my days,
carefully burnt in the sun.
The wheelchair cannot strut,
and the brag is gone,
but these gifts
I lay upon the altar
and see God bending over
my small mess
with infinite delight.

(Kilian McDonnell)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

36 years

So we passed our 36th anniversary yesterday. September 14th, a magical date for no-one but us. We chose it for some reason I am sure, and by choosing it made it part of our story.

Steve says the thing he remembers most on that day is walking over to the grocery store to buy polish for his shoes. He remembers thinking, "I am buying polish for my shoes because I am getting married today." He wanted someone to tell. But there was no one. So he went home, to no one, and polished his shoes.

Steve and I both grew up in a small house full of kids and mostly not enough money to go around. But one poverty that both of us endured was unnecessary. Neither of our families knew how to enter into the other person's life to pay attention, notice, celebrate.

Once when we drove across the border from Windsor to Detroit, getting lost and ending up in a rough neigborhood, I noticed how there was no sign of Christmas on any houses. Only very occasionally was a wreath or bow attached to a door or window. I pondered and realized that when there isn't enough, all the celebration fades. When there isn't enough money, yes, but more so, when there isn't enough hope, enough energy, enough support, enough gentleness. When there isn't enough it is survival with no frills.

That was the condition of both our homes on September 14th, l974. On that morning I sowed daisies into a kind of bouquet to carry down the brief isle, and Steve sat on his crumbling porch, polishing his shoes.

Our marriage has been much better than our wedding was.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Everybody's moving

Everybody has shifted two seats to the left. The air is fragrant with transition. New students push their kids in carts up and down Wilmore streets, smiling at anyone who will smile back. Returning students show up full of summer tales. Classes are starting. People are putting on ironed shirts to show up at new jobs.

And no one is quite sure. Not quite sure how to be. Not quite sure what today means. Not quite sure what to say. Whether to go through a door or not. Whether to say what's on their mind.

One would think we would all be experts at transition since we have so much experience. We face new every day. And the search for new is in American DNA. The difference is, we used to believe that the 'new' was surely to bring us something better, richer, freer and more fulfilling. Now we are not quite sure. Have all the changes we've made put us on a road to something great?

Well, I don't know. That's the truth. But I know that we can live in faith, hope and love, even on an uncertain day. Faith gives us eyes to see what isn't quite in view, and calms our fears with the knowledge that there is a loving Father watching our every step. Hope gentles us, creating patience in our responses to ourselves and others. Love restores our perspective.

The greatest of these is love. Even if the whole endeavor fails, and some do, love stands. And when success comes in bigger doses than we can get our arms around, love passes the joy around.

Transition is a moment by moment endeavor. Put love into a breath, a heartbeat, a choice and you might see home.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My favorite reading this month

Some old men came to see Abba Poemen and said to him, 'We see some of the brothers falling asleep during divine worship. Should we wake them up?' He said, 'As for me, when I see a brother who is falling asleep during the Office, I lay his head on my knees and let him rest.' (Poemen 92)

My dad would not miss church for anything. Right or wrong, in his own way he was faithful to the Lord and to his church. For a decade or so dad worked nights at the steel mill. When those nights happened on Saturday to Sunday morning he cleaned up and came to church directly from the mill.

Dad also loved to sing in the choir. He perched in his chair with a childlike joy born of simple participation. He sang with all his heart. But when the singing was done and the talking begun, his head started bobbing and jerking until he finally drooped in a rather lumpy, propped up, full body snooze. I was always amused.

There are several ways to judge a man who falls asleep in the third chair from the right in the choir loft behind the pulpit. As for me, I think it is one of the finest things my father did.

We are human. God forgive us for despising our humanity. I want the responses of my older years to be like those of Abba Poemen. When weariness overcomes you in the wrong place I will cover you with my cloak. At my funeral I want this to be the story that is told of me.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

a funny thing was said on the swing

I am still laughing about this. Steve and I were on the swing in our backyard last night, just watching the sun set and swatting mosquitos. It was a moment of deep conversation.

I said, "Did your dad have a big head?" (Steve and our boys are notorious for their big heads.) He replied, "O he had a good sized melon, sure enough."

Hmmm. So more thought, and I said, "My mom had big feet. I have her big feet. Why do you think God put us in families whose genes have big feet and big heads. Everyone else gets all the fun big stuff."

Without a beat Steve replies, "Because he really didn't want us to reproduce."

I laughed then, I am laughing now. It is funny. Think about it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010 more thing on unscrambling eggs

My friend wrote this:
My question is, how can family relationships move forward when you are thinking more than you are letting on and you know that others feel the same? Should we just continue on as if there are no elephants? Or is a flat out confrontation in order? I over-lean, probably, toward just keeping silent.

I want to reflect on this. I believe wisdom is in knowing - not in the fixing. There will ALWAYS be undercurrents in human communication because we are all so much deeper than we realize...and life is sometimes too fragile to just blurt out everything inside, if we did know what it all was.

I don't think this is the same thing as 'elephants.' An elephant needs to be pointed at - because it is big and it is already stepping on everyone's toes. I am talking about the more subtle parts of communication. Let me illustrate:

When we were in PEI there were conversations between my son and his mother. (She really IS his mother, not me.) In a very real way, I was not involved in the conversation. But WHAT IF ... what if my presence in the room confuses their relationship. I am, after all, a stranger. And yet SO NOT a stranger. I am more intimate than breath. And what if my son finds himself looking at his mother through what he thinks are my eyes. And what if this makes him feel defensive or scared? And then he acts badly or weirdly with his mother. Then my presence in the room is big. Even though I am sitting in a corner trying not to pay attention. Trying to be small.

Wisdom, it seems to me, has a way to deal with this. I find that if I can acknowledge that things are not always what they seem to be, then I can relax when they seem a bit off kilter. I don't have to judge... I can say ... oh, this is complicated, and give the benefit of the doubt. This is a graced way to experience things.

And I have to keep moving toward differentiation - being who I am even if it is complicated. Just aiming to be a peaceful, modifying, non-anxious presence. Not hiding myself. But not pushing against the pace of grace.

My experience is that in these situations what is important will sort itself out. And kindness goes a long way to sooth the air. And that honesty when it is appropriate can be brief and gentle. And I realize that my hopes (noble as they seem to me) can do violence to others when I make them the most important thing in the room. I can become manipulative, and coercive, and then nothing healthy will happen.

So - what have I learned? To acknowledge the mess. To own that I am part of it, even when I am not actively involved: just being me can be a problem in some situations.

This is why communication is so important. Why we need to learn to listen below the surface to others, to situations, and even to our own selves. When I don't pay attention and know what is in me, all my stuff tends to force itself out and hurt others.

And it is why we need to treat each other with dump truck loads of grace. CSLewis says we have to wake up in the morning and forgive our spouse simply for being who they are. I laugh and believe he is dead on. I need to be forgiven for being who I am sometimes. Not just when I drop eggs, but when I am just being me.

So when I can't understand I can still smile, pour some tea, give some space, join in chopping vegetables, make a joke, kiss a baby, let someone serve me. But not if I am all tied up in what I need to have happen.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

on unscrambling the egg

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.
Families, as I know them, are very like scrambled eggs. Now, some families look like they have no scramble, but in my deepest heart I know EVERY family has its own private pile of egg shells under the table.

Last week I spent with my intimate family. The setting is wonderful - cabins on the beach of Prince Edward Island, Canada, steps from the crystal clear north Atlantic. We spend hours walking knee deep in gentle ocean, feet squishing the crystal clean sand, no chance of cutting a foot or losing one's balance. Life is everywhere: Hermit crabs, moon snails, bald eagles, fox, and a few bats of course.

Life abounds inside as well: our very precious grandchildren - a ten year old granddaughter and two little twin girls who had their second birthday at the beach; my son Mark, who I met only three years ago and his wife, both of whom are successful scientists in their own right and partners in parenting; Steve and I and Mark's parents, Liz and Jim. We all get along with only a few dances around values and beliefs. Intentional kindness and generosity flows between us. Together we rid the world of more than a few unnecessary lobsters.

But there are also undercurrents. I feel them: times when I don't know what is happening; conversations that don't seem to be about me at all, and yet I know that my presence affects the room, just as the presence of every other person does. Sometimes when we talk it feels like we know each other, and sometimes it feels like the platform for our relationships is too small and confining. There are times I feel blind.

My heart can suddenly become flooded with hunger, with longing. Layers of hopes lay in me propped up by words that can't find a sentence to live in. So many eggs to unscramble. And the hope of unscrambling them seems, at times, utterly forlorn.

But this I am again assured of - deeply and fully assured of: there is one great divine unscrambler of eggs. He is slow. He is often unseen in his work. The One who is unscrambling my life is the One who has done it so many times before - the One who joined Ruth and Boaz, both from an ancestry of incest and failure and from their union gave Obed, David and Jesus. Scrambled lives are not lost. They are simply how we people do life. God does it differently. Unscrambling is His particular work, not ours. What a relief. My sureness of this sets me free from so many deformative patterns - manipulation, rushing the pace of grace, 'mother' martyrdom, self pity - all those kinds of thing.

With all I have learned, I own that I keep dropping eggs. I am a messy person. My kids seem to be pretty messy too. We might not be like you at all. Your family might actually have no weirdness or big egg stains on the floor. But I am guessing you are like me. Will you hear me if I say something to you? It is a GREAT RELIEF to own both the ongoing scramble of my messy life, and the fact that it will never be me who makes it all whole. I think this is what grace is. Knowing the truth and being at peace. Knowing I cannot fix our family scrambles. I cannot even fix my own soul. But that is not at all saying it won't be beautifully restored in ways beyond my wildest imagination.

On Prince Edward Island I discovered that my heart can hold a load of unrealized hope and still be free not to manipulate to make any of it come to be. I can maintain a laughing soul even with a very large pile of egg shells crunching under my feet. I experience a beautiful freedom in knowing who I am, and knowing that I am not the answer to anything that needs to happen in anyone's life. I feel free to smile, to love, to share what is reasonably mine to give, and every now and then to drop an egg at the most inappropriate time. Surely this is grace.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


You can hear my mother's day sermon on the First Alliance Church website. I think it is easy to find. If not, call the church and get help.

So... I decided to add another blog right away so we don't dwell on the last one. Some things just need to be acknowledged and moved past.

I wanted to comment on something that has just happened to me. Over my years this same kind of thing has happened repeatedly. Now I recognize it, which is growth.

Re-formation (being changed) happens in this simple way: the movement is from - through - to.
It happens like this: I am living in some way of thinking or being. I am not challenging myself, not really able to see any other way of living or being. Without my planning, something happens or begins to happen that disturbs and challenges that settled way of thinking or being. I become disturbed, dissonant. Then I receive an insight or aha. And suddenly find myself in a new place, across the river, in a fresh way of being and thinking.

So... back to me. :-) I share this because I want to influence some women toward health. I have tried to be honest and one such honesty is that in the last couple years I have struggled with a sense of belonging and being loved. Interestingly this feeling mostly applies to my family.

Following the simple from - through - to it happened like this:
From - I have had a busy and faithful life creating and raising the Tribe Elliott. I have been the mama!
Through - Then dissonance begins. My adult kids phone me less and less and when they are in stress I don't hear from them. I wonder if I should call them, but am unsure if I would be welcome or if my call would add another stress. I feel my age. My body betrays me. Steve and I live comfortably but not like young lovers. I wonder if he has any physical attraction to me or if I am just what is. I question whether I matter to anyone.I doubt myself. This is how I am experiencing menopause, yet another season of a woman's life when she has to become reacquainted with who she has become and achieve a new level of acceptance (and humor!) about herself.

So... in dissonance. Uncertain. Needing an aha, an insight. Well, the aha came quietly and unexpectedly when I heard an Indian man talk about how India, in choosing whether or not to place sanctions on Iran, had to consider the fact that they would be neighbors of Iran a thousand years from now. (I blogged about this a couple blogs back.)His comments really startled me, though I was unaware they pierced into my deep self.

To - I didn't know this was my aha, until a week later when I realized I was no longer feeling any struggle at all about my place in our family life. Somehow the invitation to remember my life in a long perspective, (instead of whether I am losing the 'young Marilyn' or being set aside by my kids) entirely shifted my self concept. I see further ahead, and far back, all of which was available to me but unseen because I was in a knot. Suddenly I see the richness of my life as a whole, and I am grateful, joyful and able to let the other members of my family be where they are while I go on living as well as I can.

I know that we revisit our issues, and I am not through all my menopausal turmoil, nor am I in some kind of unrealistic bliss. But somehow the deep sense of un-belonging is washed away. I have crossed the river and am confident I won't go back. At least not til the next season of my life crashes up on the shore like a rogue wave.

My advice? Pay attention and be mindful of what is happening in your life. Notice when something you depended on is being assailed. This might not be a bad thing. Watch for insights. They come from strange places. And when you are given the grace of re-formation, live into it. This is gift.

Monday, July 26, 2010

thinking about the F-Word

On Mother's Day I had the joy of preaching to my church, (a church I love and feel a deep sense of family with,) a sermon about the Samaritan woman. I tried to take a perspective that opened the story from the woman's perspective as it happened. This, I have learned in my biblical studies at Asbury Seminary, is a valid and strong approach to the opening of a scriptural story - contextualized, human and attentive to the moment in which it happens.

Aware of the tendency in my tradition to condescendingly dismiss a woman's preaching as "woman's material suitable for women to listen to" I made the statement during the sermon that simply because this sermon was about a woman and spoken by a woman, it was no more a sermon for women than last week's sermon, spoken by a man about a man, was only for men. I simply wanted to name the demon in the room and possibly gain the audience of some who would normally dismiss me.All in all, it was a good sermon, if I say so myself :-). I had meditated on this text for several years and felt confident that I was opening the scriptures in a way that was valid, insightful and maybe a little provocative (in the sense that it might help people think newly about the text.)

The next Friday night, attending a fund raiser for a local ministry, a man from our church approached me and said something about my "feminist sermon." I was a bit shocked, knowing the derogatory sense of the f-word. I said, "You know that wasn't a feminist sermon!" He said, "Well, after the service I heard people saying, we all know she is a feminist."

My husband knows how strongly that short encounter wounded my spirit. I told him he could not speak of it in my defense - it was my experience to work through. I am not new to these kinds of offenses. I am not offended at being called a feminist in the sense that I understand the word. I am, however, deeply wounded by the word in the sense that was meant that day.

This morning I happened upon a short article written by a Christian woman and I thought it brought out some interesting facets of the discussion of this f-word. Should this conversation interest you at all you might want to read it.
Here is a snippet - this article opens up some of the issues from inside the evangelical woman's heart. Like all woman we as Christians experience common issues and struggles, and yet fear the f-word. I am not trying to make a point here, honestly. I am just finally able to talk about a rude moment in my life, not unlike many other rude moments of the same ilk. Just thinking.

My own evangelical students may be most inclined to accept the “nothing at all” label, affirming (as I once did) the belief that feminism is incompatible with their own Christian faith. As I read about Rowe-Finkbeiner’s subjects, I thought often of traditional Christianity’s response to feminism, about the young people in my classes, and also about my initial eagerness to reject feminism ...
Young evangelical women no doubt share many of the same concerns as Rowe-Finkbeiner’s subjects. Like those the author interviewed, my students worry about their careers, and about work and family choices they will make; they struggle with issues of self-identity, and with the inaccurate images of women they see every day in the media. Certainly the impetus for their concern may be different: many Christian women in conservative churches and households, for example, may face unique pressures about the tension between staying home to raise children and pursuing a career. However, like the young women featured in The F-Word, my students struggle to understand their place in contemporary culture, struggle to find a place in contemporary culture, even as they refuse to name that struggle feminism.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bali memory

Our kids, Ben and Kari did their first triathalon in Bali this summer. They swam in salt water with fish and waves, ran on sandy soft beach and then rode their bikes through incredible Bali traffic. I have been in that traffic and thought we would likely die. I am proud of them.

Steve and I think a triathalon is having dessert after appetizer and dinner.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

on perspective

When we were building our church in Calgary, Alberta there was great debate about what roofing material should be used. Truth told, it was more about money than vision, but the question was whether we buy the cheaper 50-year tile roofing or invest in a metal roof that has a longer roof-life. (Made that up. Roof - life. Like shelf - life, only on a roof. Pretty dynamic for first thing in the morning, huh?!)

Okay - my friend who is an ancient Franciscan Friar poked fun at our group when I told him of the dilemma. He pointed out that the Roman Catholics put tile roofing on their churches because they expect their church to be there in hundreds of years. Us protestants feel much more temporary, and build for this generation, expecting our church to become a pizza parlor in 50 years. Or the pastor has little vision of the church beyond his own life, while a priest knows the church is not dependent on him nor owned by him. So says my dear friar.

Today I heard an Indian man from New Delhi commenting on Iran and the issues of political relationships. The issue in question is the pressure India is getting to participate in sanctions against Iran in response to Iran's nuclear policies. The man said, "We are neighbors. We have to live with Iran now and a thousand years from now."His words took my breath away. I so often take a short cut view of the world. Short cut solutions. Expedient actions. What we can do today. Tomorrow be damned. That sort of thing. The sort of thinking that causes the Gulf oil disaster. The kind of thinking that makes me willing to fight with my neighbor, or the man in my church. They won't be here forever. It doesn't matter. What if I saw the world and life in a perspective that went far out from my life. Into my great grandchildren's life. Into a church generations past my own.

I have something to learn about this. Today I am going to look at everything I see and choose from this lens and challenge myself to a long view.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What I learned yesterday

This morning over my coffee I had a realization. I realized that I often form an opinion of a person from one experience of them. And I realized that this is far too small a framework from which to assess any life.

I even know what this is called: Implicit Personality. This theory suggests that within 30 seconds or a minute of interaction with a person we react to them based on a central trait. From that one trait which we notice (probably based on our own issues) we create a composite of traits - we add traits. Then we begin to respond to them based on the traits we have assigned to them even if these are not real. We believe the traits we have imposed on them are who they are, even though we are the ones who have plopped these traits on top of them.

Let me try to put it into a picture. I meet a woman who is laughing and communicating well in a social setting. Ah I say to myself, I know that kind of person. She is confident, smart, and knows how to manage her life. Then, if I feel insecure about that kind of women I might say, "I can't be her friend." Or if I feel confident and want a friend like that I might say, "I must get to know her. She is so fabulous."

Well, who is she really? I only know one thing about her. She is being present to this group in a relaxed way. Everything else I have added to the one trait I see.

The trait we notice is usually something that triggers us. If I have body issues, and I encounter a person who is overweight or not well groomed I might begin to add traits of thoughtlessness, insincerity, wastefulness. If I meet a man with a pony tail and a bit of a strut (this is actually one of my trigger traits) I think - this man likes power. He wants to dominate. And so on. I add and add.

Now, I have sometimes justified this by saying to myself that I am intuitive (which I am) and I can read people (which I sometimes can.) But you know what? I have gotten things wrong, terribly wrong, more than once. I have laden a life with traits - and dare I say it - even repeated those traits to others, without any real knowledge of a person.

We are all complex. Every personality has layers and snarls and large pastures of beauty. I am going to slow down in my evaluation of what a person is. I am going to give second chances and third chances. I am going to suspend my judgment and be one who thinks, "maybe this is the best she can be today, I do not know what is happening in her life."

That's what I know for sure today.

Monday, July 19, 2010

on knitting needles

Sometimes I feel concerned that I am not 'changing the world.' My best life happens in a quiet gentle way, it seems, and yet there are plenty of thumbs in my back pushing me to be a change agent, a leader, a world influencer.

But I feel a smaller, quieter voice calling me to the gentle life. Calling me to go quietly, to plow my field with oxen instead of a high powered tractor with air conditioning. Calling me to knit with fine knitting needles.Some people knit their life with big fat knitting needles. Progress is fast. Resources are used up quickly, maximized, renewed. What is created is big.

There is a set of these knitting needles in my closet. I have used them. I knit at a furious pace, clicking away and drawing interest from others as my large patterns came into view.

Now I knit with very fine needles. The pace is slow. I often have to pause and really look at my work to see what is being made. Not many people stand around watching me. And more than likely my needles end up stuck into the ball of wool while I answer the door and listen to children who look at me with sticky faces and tell me about their adventures.

I think I am okay with this.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Doin it wrong

For those of you who are on the invitation blog - I have to apologize - I just deleted it. ARGH. So I had to restart - and lost a bit but not everything. And had to change the address - I have re-invited you. If you don't get an invite re-nudge me okay? This is why I need someone to help me administrate it! ARGH!
And I had to change the address... sorry. Again. sorry.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

on being uninvited

Since the air was so fresh this morning I opened our front and back doors wide and let the breeze blow through. Sitting in my favorite place on the couch I saw from the corner of my eye a swish and thought it was Walter (the cat) coming in the front door.

Then another swish and I saw it was a huge black cat who had breached the boundaries and was heading into the center of Elliott world. I jumped up. Smacked my hands. Yelled "You! Interloper! Out!" The cat looked terrified and scooted back out the door.
I closed the front door behind it.

It made me think about what it feels like to be uninvited or unwelcome. We all have those experiences where we walk into a situation with tip toes and a sense that we might be yelled at to leave. Not literally of course.

We are uninvited when obvious friends keep talking and we just stand there, obviously unincluded, looking stupid. We are uninvited when no one makes eye contact. Or when we try to participate and no one notices or says a 'yes.' When someone is protecting their space we are uninvited.

What if we took on a disposition of inviting people into life as one of our regular practices. Even if we are not the official owner of the space.
Take a grocery store. We don't own the store, but we can still invite people in. Talk to them. Treat them humanly. Smile. Make space for them.

What if we tried that today. Just for fun. See what happens.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

on what matters

So last night I scrolled down through a lot of my old blogs - it was a fascinating look in the mirror and I was interested to see what has mattered to me. Ever wonder what matters to you? Do you know?

Steve often says that other men have wives who wake up in the morning and want a new dress or want to go out for dinner. I wake up and say, "Are you sure God really exists?"

Stuff like that. Hard to answer at 6:15 in the morning, even WITH coffee.

I don't ask those questions because I am of little faith. Although that may well be true. I think actually I am of HUGE faith because I can't leave God, although sometimes I have to sit on the other side of the room than He. A friend told me a couple days ago that she and God are not talking. At all. I was able to assure her that He was all right with that.

I am reading a novel that has a moment when the boy who has only known terror and abuse has a sudden redemption that will affect all his life. The author wrote, "He was trying to discover some obscure figure in the carpet from the randomness of his own fate. It did not look like the work of God, but it might have represented the hand of a God with a joyous sense of humor, a dancing God who loved mischief as much as prayer and playfulness as much as mischief."

Now I don't know everything, or even some of everything. But I do know that God is full of some kind of ridiculous joy, is the one who tickles children in church and who lets us be any kind of mess we truly are. My questions are there because I really do believe.

Monday, June 28, 2010


I am toying with the idea of writing a blog for women, for women who are trying to figure out their faith and bodies and responsibilities and dreams. If you are interested in being invited to such a conversation, because I hope it would be a conversation, would you email me at

Put 'invitation' on the subject line. That's all you have to do. We'll see.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

beach wisdom

Got this in an email from my son in law, Curtis, who IS a great dad. I thought it was soaked in salty wisdom and wanted you to read it.

As you may know, we're on vacation right now with the girls at Atlantic Beach. And we've quickly fallen into a lovely morning routine. Sleep in 'til 9ish. Breakfast together. One episode of "Are you smarter than a 5th grader?" Then off to the beach 'til lunch. Upon arriving at the beach, Kyra and Meg along with their boogie-boards make a quick beeline for the surf while Rae and I set up the rest of our stuff. Within five or ten minutes, they're calling for me to join them ... which I do. And here's what I've noticed. When I join them, they don't do anything much different than prior to my arrival. They stumble through the surf; try to catch a big wave with their boogie-boards; pick up shells; look for sea-cicadas and other critters. But when I'm with them, their joy elevates. And this isn't to say I'm some great parent or amazing dad ... but their experience is somehow heightened when I'm taking it in with them.

Last night over a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, Rachel and I were reflecting on this ... and we wondered if this is maybe part of God's hope for us. That we too will find the experiences of life heightened when we recognize our Father is with us ... because He is.
One of the pleasures I have in the way this little family lives is that along with a devout faith they are completely free to embrace ridiculous joy.

Leaving behind firm footprints

I have been re-reading old journals of mine, and came upon this poem I have notated as "written by a woman from Kenya." I wish I had made a clearer notation - is this one of my African women friends or did I read it somewhere?

In any case, it is written by a woman who communicated to her mother in Kenya that she was homesick, longing for her mother and her 'home'. Her mother wrote back, and the woman made the mother's words into this poem.

Daughter, do not romaticize home
Do not, my daughter, for many who are home have jail for home.

Thousands who are home have streets for home
Millions who are home are crying for home
The whole land is crying for home.

The whole land is crying
The waters are bitter
What shall we drink?

Daughter, do not romanticize home!
Do not! Daughter...
you who have chosen the path of people's struggles
Must find the courage to build new homes,
To start new lives,
Wherever you are -
Be it in the air
Be it on the seas
Be it in the trees
Be it in the desert.

Create new life.
Create human beings out of these
And build new homes on whatever patch of ground your feet tread.

Walk well.
Step solidly.
Leaving behind you firm footprints.
Walk well along the path you have chosen to take.

My morning meditation today was in the book of Proverbs. This proverb caught my eye, as it always does: a wise woman builds her own home, but a foolish woman tears hers down with her own hands. So many women are busy tearing their home down. Wishing they had someone else's home. Someone else's person or people. This month I have had a little family living in my home while they wait for their new home to become available. I have deep satisfaction that my home is built well enough that it can become a peaceable resource for others. A well built home (and that doesn't mean the same thing as a well decorated home :-) is a treasure on this ragged earth. My sisters, don't underestimate the work of building a home.

Monday, June 21, 2010

joy in small and large packages!

So... I am laughing out loud. This is the best email I have ever gotten, I think. I sometimes get overwhelmed by the seriousness of world issues, politics, environmental problems - all things so far beyond me that I feel the grip of paralysis in my heart. But then one of my young beautiful honest little momma's in my mentoring circle sends me this:

A few weeks ago on your blog you posted that you needed to hear some good news. Here is some:
I had orgasms three days in a row last week. Seriously.
I passed my prospectus defense and now I am ABD.
This is news I thought you would like to celebrate. :)

When we are the 'too serious' about everything we miss the point.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Sanur Plaza Hotel. Star date June 18, 2010. Sitting in the lobby talking to a young pregnant woman. About women stuff. Real woman stuff.

The lobby is elegant and huge. As big as half a foot ball field. There are groups of chairs in squares... eight chairs, two each side by side. The chandelier above us is easily 25 ft. across. I notice it and hope it doesn't fall on us - it would surely kill us. Huge ornate statues of some kind of flying dragons watch over us. The lobby is open to the outside air and a breeze is lightly swirling. Buses and taksis (their spelling) are pumping exhaust fumes into the breeze. A man with a security wand is examining every parcel and lump on a body (you may remember the bombing of a Balinese hotel a couple years ago - we have been assured the perpetrators were caught and shot. No tolerance for terrorists here. Please tell your friends Bali is safe.)

We sit in two chairs. No one else is around. We begin talking about woman stuff. Real woman stuff. Babies. Sex. Men. Tiredness. Fear. Guilt.

Then two Indonesian men come into the room - the huge room, and sit in two chairs in our square. They light up cigarettes. Then two more men join them and start talking. They also light up cigarettes. We are all crammed into one square setting of chairs. We are talking about being responsive sexually and they are smoking and talking Indonesia. We are talking quieter and quieter.

Before the whole thing is over ... which means we leave ... there are seven Indonesian men sitting in our small group of chairs... smoking. Did I mention the whole lobby has probably ten such settings of chairs?

Don't for a minute assume the men were there because of us. They totally ignored us. I think it just says something about how they use personal and public space.

Just thought it was a strange moment. Hope they didn't speak English.

Monday, June 14, 2010

98% water

We are, apparently, 98% water in our human bodily makeup - something like that (I am reaching back into my biology information from high school.) But whatever they told us in high school I would like to confirm that we must be, indeed, 98% water.

I am experiencing Bali through the waterfall of sweat pouring off my head, my arms, my whole self. I cannot describe the extent of liquid that is me moments after exiting air conditioning. It is not a pretty sight. At one meal I simply and slowly poured a glass of water on my head and it made no difference in my appearance or attire.

98% water. And by the measure of water I have lost in the last couple weeks I think I should be half a person by now. Sadly, that is not the case either. The more water I lose the more swollen I become.

This my friends is the state of marilyn these days. Another time I will give a more erudite report on my journey through the exotic land of Bali, but for today, this is the best I can offer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sure could use a little good news today

It is seven in the morning and coffee was made with a paper towel instead of a coffee filter. Caffeine addiction is the mother of invention, apparently.

One of my routines in the morning is to sit on the couch and watch the first twenty minutes of Good Morning America to catch up on the news. The news started off this morning with the devastation of the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf, which breaks my heart. And then immediately a few vignettes about a) the dropping stock market, b) the financial crisis in nations of Europe, and c) the infidelity of a star's husband who says, "I would never hurt her."

I am watching Spong Bob Square Pants this morning. If this keeps up I might have to learn about sports.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

blackberry winter and other happy things

Yesterday I had the best moment when my phone rang and online were Ben (son in Indonesia) and Rachel (daughter in NC). Something about hearing both their voices together made me feel like I was at home. It was nostalgic and funny and wonderful and surprising all at once. And maybe the really great thing was hearing my kids laughing and talking without angst or divide - being friends.

And I love folk lore, ancient wisdom, common wisdom. I learned yesterday that we have just gone through blackberry winter. The old women in Kentucky say that spring has three cold spells. The first is redbud winter after the redbuds blossom. The second is dogwood winter, obviously after the dogwoods blossom. This last spell is blackberry winter. You know what that means. Something in me expands with joy when I hear life explained in these kinds of ways. I feel like I've just received a fabulous gift.

Our day today is heavily gray, moistly warm, breathlessly calm and utterly delicious. I am in a graced place.

Friday, April 30, 2010


I put my tin can into the recycling. It is pretty small in that big bin. I refuse to use chemicals on the lawn and in the garden and I watch my neighbors haul 50 lb bags of the stuff out of their cars. I guard the creek by our home from the destruction wrought by kids who want to climb trees and pull out eggs and baby birds, who want to make turtles into pets, knowing that since we are at the bottom of the street and the storm drain runs into our creek we are killing the wildlife with all the chemicals anyway.

And today my soul is weeping over the oil spill in the gulf. Weeping. It is seeping out through my pours. Can we not weep over the loss of nature? The pain and destruction of eco-systems? The destruction of wildlife who have no idea why their ways are not working ...why they cannot fly, cannot fish, cannot breed?

My efforts seem a waste. The only reason I can think of to continue is because this is the way to peace for my own soul. It seems to have precious little real impact on anything else.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

back home

My friend just sent me this: we in Calgary are facing a Snow storm right now, highway travel is almost down to nil, with blowing wind and snow coming in sideways., only in Calgary.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Great story

This is a story from my kid, Ben, in Indonesia. Worth looking at:

singing the right songs

This is an entry in Thomas Merton's (monk) journal, Conjectures. It is a glimpse of monastery life.

"Music is being played to the cows in the milking barn. Rules have been made and confirmed: only sacred music is to be played to the cows, not "classical" music. The music is to make the cows give more milk. The sacred music is to keep the brothers who work in the cow barn recollected. For sometime now sacred music has been played to the cows in the milking barn. They have not given more milk. The brothers have not been any more recollected than usual. I believe the cows will soon be hearing Beethoven. Then we shall have classical, perhaps worldly milk and the monastery will prosper. (Later: It was true. The hills resounded with Beethoven. The monastery has prospered. The brother mainly concerned with the music, however, departed.)

So. I think this story has an important message. In any group where there is a longing for more there is a risk of edicts defining spirituality in the narrowest of terms. Instead of increased engagement with life and vulnerability to the powerful invitations from God to participate with him in a wide awake life, we start being "religious." We think (figuratively speaking) playing Christian music will make put more cream in our milk.

Formation is about life. Engaged life. Awareness of God and the invitation, the 'third way' that is always waiting to be heard.

Monday, April 26, 2010

without pressure

On Sunday morning I was in a time of contemplative prayer and meditation and I came upon this reading from Amy Carmichael.

The son greatly wished to make a "Song of Lovely Things" to sing to his Beloved - but he could not find singing-words.

He heard the voice of his Beloved saying, "You are walking on the road where all who love Me walk. Some of them walked this way singing, and they've left their songs behind them. Find their songs. Sing their words. They will be your song to Me."

But the son became full of grief, because there came a day when he could find no words to sing - neither his own, nor those of others. And yet he wanted with all his heart and soul and mind to ascend to higher places, to stand in the presence of his Beloved.

And He who is love eternal whispered, "Then, I, too, will approach you, silent in my love."

And the son entered into this silence, to meet the eternal Beloved there...

After a while there was a sound in the gentle stillness, a voice that whispered, "Even your silence is, to Me, a song of lovely things..."

I was once like Miriam, I led the women in worship and praise of God - I was a force that strengthened and encouraged many in healthy directions, strong choices and understanding. But this is a different season. My energies are different even though my heart is the same.

I am being led in the way described by Terese of Liseaux as "the little way." I am grateful for those who are raised up to lead the chorus, because I am no longer the one who will sing the first song. And in the silence I hear the voice that says my silence is a song of lovely things.

a full mind

My mind is full today. I am pondering so many things. I don't even know what to say to a friend who is willing to listen, because there is so much going on inside me. Ever have the experience where you feel like the wall between conscious thought and unconscious thought is thin? I feel like there is something I know now, that is new and bright, that is just beyond my conscious reach. I want to get at it... it is like a sparkling ring I can see at the bottom of a pond but every time I put my hand down to pick it up the river bottom stirs and I can't find it.

The time is not yet nine this morning, and already two friends have brought me chocolate to get through my day. smile That speaks to a few things - one is the QUALITY of my friends, another is the gift of grace that is going to be needed today.

This weekend I had some profoundly creative moments. I was able to envision a day of formation for a retreat we are leading in Indonesia. I drew out a creative plan for a woman's class for the fall. Ideas were flashing back and forth, meeting each other and birthing new possibilities. Even so, I feel like I am missing something important.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

new day

I just walked into my office and dropped my butt into my desk chair. I will be in this chair for much of the day ... and it occurred to me to wonder if, like the goldfish that grows to the size of the environment, if my butt will grow to be the size of this chair. A very terrifying thought. I will go to jazzercise again tonight.

But mostly I am thinking about awe. Last night at our leadership mentoring class we talked about cultivating a disposition (habit) of awe. Of being amazed. Of feeling life and experiencing gratitude. All my life I have woken up alive and happy. I have woken up earlier than most of my friends. My 'line' was that I wake up great and it is down hill from there. :-)

But in this season I seem to be perpetually tired, and I wake up feeling unwell, pretty much every day. I hope it is a passing thing. But instead of letting my bodily experience determine the beginnings of my day, I chose to be in awe of life. In awe of the gifts of my day, which are many. My people, my work, my home and the environment of Wilmore which is now spotted with red and yellow and white and purple blossoms.

So it is almost nine and I still feel unwell, but I am in awe of this moment and where my life has been allowed to run. Thank you God for putting my boundaries (and we all have boundaries/limitations) in pleasant places.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter dinner and folks

So it has been a productive day til now and I am fading fast. Had a headache all day. This is the kind of stuff you love to read, right? So what will I write about. Hmmmm.

Let me tell you about Easter Sunday dinner at a family home in Lexington. Honestly, it was the healthiest group of people - all ages, all generations, gentle with each other. The food didn't matter, but it was good.

I loved watching grandpa sit and watch his grandsons with utter warmth on his face. I loved the corn hole games and ordinary talk about nothing much, and the peace.

Not every family has this. Let me tell you. Hardly any families have this. I felt like I was in a huge beautiful Easter card. So at home.

And can I tell you that I profoundly missed my kids this Easter. I had a great sense of loss for the many thousands of ordinary moments I miss because no one lives near us. I miss the family bursting in the door and robbing my fridge and scandalizing Walter. I miss nothing bigger than ordinary stuff - the best stuff.

But sitting in a chair with nothing to do but be with good folks on Sunday was a very beautiful salve to my missing.

Friday, April 2, 2010

puberty and the sequel, puberty two

So I was thinking... people have written books for girls in grade three and four that talk about their body. "Things are going to change" the book reads. And page by page it outlines what to expect and how to handle this new body that is emerging. New products are introduced. "Girls, you will want to buy deodorant. Keep your body clean and fresh."

But where is the training book for a woman who is in her second puberty? A book that says, "You will wake up tomorrow and not know who you are! Don't be afraid. This is normal. Remember when your mother started acting crazy and began eating her hair? She went through this stage too!" And the book could have pictures of bodily changes. "Hair will start growing in strange places. Don't be alarmed. Men will notice but since no one is lusting after you they likely won't pay any attention to it" and "if you've had children you are likely to begin to lose bladder control in certain situations. The key is to never ever under any circumstances join your grandkids on the trampoline. Ridiculously loud laughter might create this problem too but we do not recommend allowing a slightly damp situation keeping you from laughing your head off as it offsets your probable growing depression."

Actually - I am being silly but this season is about rediscovering a whole lot of new truth. Truth about beauty and comfortability in one's own skin. Truth about rhythms and practices of life that are not so jarring. Truth about how to understand others and engage them in ways that are not self referenced. Learning what peace means to one's own self, and pursuing it.

I find that I cannot live the life other's want me to live. I cannot be who others want me to be. If ever there was a season for a woman to know herself and be that person as fully and openly as possible, it is this season of puberty two.

But the up side (and it is big) is that there is less to compete about. Fewer people really care how I wear my hair or if my choices are eccentric. I think it was Elizabeth Taylor who said that fifty was glorious because one became invisible and could live life much more freely. (Obviously it didn't work that way for her, but for us plebes I think there is something in this.)

So women, we must stand up for each other's need to express our lives freely and with strength in very uniquely personal ways. Let's be the ones who say loud 'yes' to each other, and celebrate each one's choices and eccentricities and forget about competing, comparing, status and pecking orders. Who cares if the towels match? In this season become the artists, writers, dancers and lion tamers we were created to be.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


I just read in the Oprah magazine, which I got for $2.99 at Home Goods (where I was DRAGGED by Bobbe Underwood) that men raised with a sister had more happiness in adult life - and it had reasons - all tied to what women do for each other ... no I am not going to tell you - go get your own Oprah magazine (at Home Goods where there is all kinds of good stuff for cheap.)

Anyway, I digress. So Bobbe and I spend the day together looking for an Easter outfit for her, trying on clothes, sharing a Chipotle Burrito Bol, laughing at ourselves, helping each other make good decisions that aren't based on obligation and expectation but on what makes our hearts sing.

For instance, Bobbe does not garden. Not in the sense that I garden. I garden like some people eat chocolate. Bobbe sighs and picks out a few obnoxious weeds and tries to remember to water her potted plants. I read to my plants. Name them. Give them treats.

Bobbe was feeling a sense of "I need to plant pansies." Of course, all good homeowners plant pansies this time of year. But you know what? It is ridiculous for Bobbe to plant pansies when planting pansies is work and not pleasure. Her yard is beautiful and has enough green... so I helped set her free. We decided together that Bobbe should get a couple lovely potted flowers and put them on her deck where she sits.

The wisdom is this: don't let other people download their causes or their pleasures on you. Listen for sure. But appraise and be honest. CSLewis says that each person's life can only contain so many themes. Do you know what your themes are? I do. But I have had to listen to my life to know. The joys of listening to our own life is not only knowing what we can say no to, but we know how to live our own life beautifully.