On 35 Years of Marriage

We get to the Athens Central station early but already it is filled with travelers. We look around at crowds of Greeks on their way to Thessaloniki or other stations along the way to celebrate Nativity.

A train security man, zealous for our safety, periodically walks the yellow line along the platform, presumably shouting at all of us in Greek to not, under any circumstances, walk into that yellow line. We dutifully comply.

We stand and I look at my husband as he leans against a pole, our train tickets in hand. I smile, overwhelmed with a sense of great love for this joy-filled, fun, adventurer that I have married. He grins back and I capture the picture.


It is this picture and event that I remember as I wake up to our 35th wedding anniversary. Though it is six months after the train ride, it captures what this year and our married life has been. This is us – the grin, the train tickets, the sparkle of adventure that we see in each other’s eyes, the luggage, the chaos, the jostling, the unknown.

35 years ago we said “I do” to all of this and so much more. Would any of us say the words “I do” if we knew what was ahead? Perhaps that is the beauty and mystery of marriage – that despite all the mistakes, all the failed marriages, all the hurt that can happen, there still emerges this splendid hope that two people can combine intimacy with individuality and make it.

My faith tells me this is more than a man-made institution, that there is a spiritual mystery beyond understanding that undergirds these fragile vows made in the beauty and unwrinkled days of youth.

Though promised in innocence, they have matured in the fire of life and emerged from that fire scarred but worthy. Worthy of celebrating, worthy of announcing, and worthy of remembering and looking ahead.

It was a year ago that we made the seemingly radical decision to upend our life in Cambridge and step into the unknown. Many of you have followed us on that journey and its unexpected ending. The year has been a paradox with some of the most difficult situations accompanying some of the best. The year mirrors marriage – the good, the hard, the sad, the lonely, the loss, the bargaining, and the acceptance. Unexpected joy and unanticipated grief met together, and we are still reeling in the aftermath.

But today, we forgot all that in a near perfect celebration.

We spent the day with our oldest daughter, an example of the grace that comes with adult children. She is here with her young family and we spent the day in sunshine and the relaxation that only a perfect summer day in Rockport can bring. The wonder and excitement of a three-year-old and the miracle of a seven-month-old punctuating our time with appropriate exclamation marks of joy.

We completed it with a balcony dinner of clams and linguini made by our daughter, accompanied by a perfect white wine.

As the sun set over the Atlantic Ocean, God’s stamp of approval came with the sunset and a sky painted in blues, greens, purples, pinks, and oranges.

This indeed, is us.

Celebrating a Quiet Life

Ask anyone about my father-in-law Richard Gardner and they will tell you that he was a quiet man, a listener who married a talker. He had simple tastes and led an uncomplicated life.

On Saturday we gathered in beautiful rural Georgia to celebrate his life.

My father-in-law died in November, the day after our grand son was born. My husband received the news in Kurdistan. He was alone with no family to sit with him through those initial numb stages of grief and loss. Our Kurdish friends stepped in, sitting with him through the evening hours and inviting him to meals for the next few days.

Richard Gardner was a quiet man and a good man. He served in the US Airforce until retirement, including tours in Vietnam, Germany, and many parts of the United States. He worked hard, sometimes working not only his airforce job, but also others in order to provide for a family of five growing boys.

My father-in-law made sacrifices and so did his wife and family. His family particularly felt the absence of a father during his military tour in Vietnam. They moved across the country and the world, uprooting a family of seven many times over. Their orders came from a military machine and when they said go, you packed up and you went, no matter if it was the middle of the school year.

In more recent years he had developed Alzheimer’s and his memories of the past were more current than his memories of the present. The stories of long ago would surface as treasures found under the sea of a long life. One particular story was when he arrived back from his service in Vietnam to the west coast. Vietnam was not a popular war and the ones who lost in the game were soldiers who lost much only to return as unsupported veterans. The story my father-in-law told was of arriving late to the commercial flight that would transport him back to Florida, where his wife and four young sons anxiously waited for him. He ran to catch the flight and the flight staff opened the door for him. As he walked in, out of breath and tired, every person on the plane stood up and clapped for him thanking him for his service. He told the story with eyes full of tears.

This story came from a man who was a listener. The rest of the family are story tellers, but Richard? He was a listener. This made the story that much more poignant and beautiful.

In a world of platforms and influencers we desperately need to recognize the value of a quiet and faithful life. As a story teller myself, I am slowly learning that some stories can only come in the quiet, that honoring stories means you have to wait for some of them to be told.

In a world that talks far too much, we need the quiet listeners. We need to learn and grow from them, to wait quietly for the stories to come.

There will be no more stories from this man. Those are saved for eternity when we will be caught up in that great story of God that feels more precious every day.

On Saturday we said final goodbyes to this quiet man, a man who was ready to die. At his memorial service my husband quoted these words from the Russian novel Laurus:

Your body has become unsuitable, prepare to leave it; know that this shell is imperfect.”

Richard’s body had indeed become unsuitable. My husband went on to talk about the thin veil that separates life from death. One minute we are breathing, the next we are gone.

Richard Gardner is gone. We are still here. May we storytellers and talkers learn from the quiet men and women around us, and in doing so may we be changed.

A Life Overseas – ‘Tis the Season of Incongruity

Deck the halls with calls for charity! Fa-la-la-la-laaa, la-la-la-la!

‘Tis the season of incongruity! Fa-la-la-la-laaa, la-la-la-la!

#CottageChristmas or starving children? Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!

My heart is caught and I cannot win this thing! Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-laa.


I don’t know about you, but I can’t do this. The sense of incongruity is overwhelming me this Christmas. I go from essays and photos of unbelievable beauty to my current reality, which includes messy, messy relationships, rain and mud up to my knees, no sign of Christmas lights and beauty,and long, long hours of no electricity.

I scroll through Instagram and the abundance of beauty is eye-popping. Pristine cottages bedecked with lights and color and living rooms with soft lights and all white furnishings with that splash of red and green color that just makes them pop. And then in the next picture, I catch my breath as I see a starving child in Yemen and an organization begging the world to take notice.  I breathe fire as I see another picture reminding me of the never-ending war in Syria and the continued devastation on people. And it hits home as I take my own pictures here in Kurdistan and I am reminded that there aren’t enough resources to meet the needs of the population, honor killings are still part of the landscape, and we can barely get funds for a single project.

‘Tis the season of incongruity – the season where the contrast feels too stark and I don’t feel like I have the ability to cope with these conflicting images.

And yet…

And yet, God’s story has always been a story of conflicting images. There is the image of the manger and the image of the cross, the image of judgement and the image of mercy, the image of truth and the image of grace. What I am seeing and feeling is nothing new to God.

God came into a world of contrasts. A world of the beauty and the broken. He came in a way that was so gentle, so unassuming – how could a baby threaten anyone? He came into a setting that was the height of incongruity – a king in a manger. For 33 years he lived as one who is unknown, going through daily life as we do – an image that is so mind boggling I stop thinking about it. We are told that he set aside greatness and “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death” – a violent, horrific death. And then, the glorious resurrection and the words that we live by every single day: “He is not here! He is risen!”

My heart longs for peace and harmony in a world of broken incongruity. Read the rest of the piece here.

Ladies Day Out

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I am driving from the downtown area of Rockport when I suddenly decide to stop and sit a spell by the ocean. The day is perfect September, all blue sky and mild temperatures. It is low tide and the beach has lost the crowds of summer, leaving pristine sand and so much space. I easily find a bench to sit on and pull out my notebook and pen.

It is then that I begin to observe a group of ladies gathering at the beach. They come in a large group and they are every shape and size. They unpack beach bags and bring out books and suntan lotion. Older wrinkled bodies are revealed without embarrassment, just relaxed satisfied smiles and pure delight in their surroundings. They are short and tall with dyed hair and grey hair. They pull large caftans off of fat bodies and beach coverings off of thinner ones. Their bathing suits seem to perfectly reflect their personalities – the one with dyed hair made up to perfection with the loud Italian voice has a bright coral suit with splashes of white flowers adorning it. The one that struggles to walk has on a black suit with white piping, unremarkable in its style.

Their canvas, beach chairs face the ocean, their backs are to everything but the cool, blue sea. Because really – nothing else matters.

There are no kids. There are no husbands or boyfriends. Just a group of contented women, enjoying a perfect September day on a ladies day out. Their conversation is lost in the waves, but their laughter is loud.

“Look at us!” it says. “This is a day that asks us to leave all our troubles behind. It asks us to enter in with joy and abandon, to splash in a cold, late summer sea; to squint at a bright sun; to smell of coconut lotion and salt water.”

Not all days are like this. Many days require great patience, others require tears, still others ask for anger. But this day? This day says “Welcome! Feel the joy and sand. Feel God’s pleasure. Take it in. Let it revive you. Let it heal you. Let it sustain you!”

And then?

Then go out into this world with strength for what comes your way.

This group of women? They are seasoned and spiced with life. There are undoubtedly countless tragedies among them. Tragedies of broken relationships and marriages; tragedies of death and separation; tragedies of selfish choices and unkept promises – because this is our broken world.

But tragedies are not a part of today’s outing. No – today’s outing is suntan lotion to make them feel young again, ocean waves to cool wrinkled feet, laughter and joking over seagulls stealing sandwiches, and maybe – just maybe a little frozen rosé to sweeten a near-perfect day.

I sigh as I leave these ladies of a certain age. Unlike them, my responsibilities are calling hard today, and I have already ignored them to vicariously participate in this ladies day out. I am rapidly becoming one of these women, and one day soon I hope I too will gather at the ocean with all my friends. Our bodies will be exposed with lots of flaws and little embarrassment. Our laughter will echo across Front beach so all the neighbors will hear and envy us.

I will be the one in the coral suit.

This piece is for the two Carols, Karen, Amalia, Suzana, Leslianne, & Poppadia Paula – with so much love. 

One Fall Away

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I slipped and fell on my way to work today. It was early morning and I was walking from the subway to my office. Unnoticed black ice was the culprit, and in a blink, I was down and struggling to find my footing.

It’s not a big deal – except that it felt like a big deal. It felt like a massive, defeating event and I suddenly realize how fragile I am and how fragile I feel.

Security and safety cannot be guaranteed. We don’t live foolishly, we recognize the laws of the land and the laws of gravity, but we can still fall and hurt ourselves. We can still get in car accidents and end up in hospitals. We can still be victims to unscrupulous people who wish us harm.

We are all just one fall away – one fall away from tragedy; one fall away from illness; one fall away from a life changing event. No one goes to work on a Monday morning expecting to fall, or to die, or to hear that someone else died. Yet, every single day people go through events that change their lives.

Last week I went to a service of interment for my Uncle Jim. He died in February, but was buried at a the same veteran’s cemetery as my father, just an hour and a half away from Boston. My cousin Jayna is my youngest cousin in that family and had flown from Texas to carry out the arrangements.

My cousin knows what it is to wake up one day and have your life change. Her husband died unexpectedly in late summer, leaving her a young widow with two small daughters. When she woke up on the day of her husband’s death, she could never have dreamt of what she would go through.

God gives us grace for our falls, not our imagined falls. God gives us grace for reality, not grace for what we imagine. And he has given her grace, so much grace. She walks steady and takes care of her girls. With the support of friends and a church community, she is dealing with the unimaginable.

The Psalms offer up a model for responding to suffering, surprise, and tragedy. We are never told in the Psalms to pull up our bootstraps. We are never told to minimize suffering. Instead, we are offered up a blueprint for offering our suffering to God, for openly acknowledging pain, for openly asking God why our souls are disturbed and why our enemies are winning.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God*

I feel undone by a fall on slippery ice, and I know why – because it represents those much bigger falls that could be around the corner, those falls that are irreversible and cause more damage than a few bruises.

Today as I struggled to get up from the ground, a man came out of nowhere, helping me to my feet and asking me if I was okay. I gratefully accepted his help, acknowledged my own frailty.

It reminds me that even as we are only one fall away from disaster, we are also only one person away from help.


 “The Psalm begins in pain: Help God – the bottom has fallen out of my life!….By setting the anguish out into the open and voicing it as a prayer, the psalm gives dignity to our suffering. It does not look on suffering as something slightly embarrassing that must be hushed up and locked in a closet (where it finally becomes a skeleton) because this sort of thing shouldn’t happen to a real person of faith. And it doesn’t treat it as a puzzle that must be explained, and therefore turn it over to theologians or philosophers to work out an answer. Suffering is set squarely, openly, passionately before God. It is acknowledged and expressed. It is described and lived” – p. 138 of A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

This is 58

It’s my birthday. One week ago I woke up in a foul mood. It was a mood rife with I hate life and life hates me. I hated who i had been; I hated who I was; I hated who I would become. I began to believe my feelings were truth.

Thankfully I have people in my life who won’t allow me to wallow. (Things like “Snap out of it, ya big baby” might have been said by family members.) Sometimes you need empathy and other times you need to “snap out of it, ya big baby!”

So today I’m here to talk about 58.

What is 58?

It’s a massive thank you to a Mom who birthed me, nurtured me, and continues to love and challenge me in ways she will never know.

It’s a Dad whose memory is eternal; who lived life well until the day his body could no longer go on.

It’s four brothers who live around the world; who model tenacity, joy, and faithfulness to me and to their families. It’s four brothers who teased me mercilessly when I was little, and have my back now that I am older.

It’s four sister-in-laws who love well, who have raised amazing children, who continue to wrestle with the big and hard questions of parenting and faith.

It’s nieces and nephews who I would kill for; who are opera singers and nurses; diplomats and day care owners, who make the world a better place for you and me to live in.

It’s a husband who makes me laugh every, single day. A man who can make friends with an inanimate object like a wall and make that wall feel special, not to mention the people he befriends from around the world. A man who tells stories in virtual reality, prays for and loves his children so much it hurts, and will remember the names of refugees long after he has met them. A man who affirms my writing, challenges my faith, and prays with me every night.

58 is four (no five) adult children who are smart, passionate, and gifted. Who meet the challenges of life with stubborn resolve. 58 is the cutest grandson on ever earth who has a waddle toddle and is growing to be his own person.

58 is the dearest friends from here and around the world that a woman could ever hope for – friends who love the world and their families; who are not caught up in what culture says is worthy and instead fight for what is true, good, and right.

58 is cousins who live as far as Moscow and as close as Washington DC; cousins who are also friends.

58 is a creative job with often horrid bureaucracy; fighting for good healthcare for marginalized communities and pressing forward when it’s hard.

It’s colleagues who make me laugh hard, work harder, and allow me to get mad and cry.

58 is a body that sometimes betrays me, but responds pretty well when I treat it properly; it’s 10,000 steps a day because modern medicine allowed for a bionic hip; it’s wrinkles that I can only partially hide; it’s girlfriends laughing together because we never thought we’d have beards or boobs that hang to our knees. (The boobs that is)

58 is curling up on week nights and watching Stranger Things; it is knowing that grilled cheese served in candlelight with the man you’ve been through hell with is really great.

58 is a church community that I never thought possible; it is entering into Divine Liturgy with the blind, the lame, the deaf, and the troubled. It is working out my faith with a community of broken people, all desperately in need of the Eucharist.

It’s realizing that #metoo is no match for who I really am and no man can truly take away what God said is good;

58 is knowing in the depths of your soul that no matter what, you are God’s beloved and no amount of wrinkles, stretch marks, saggy boobs, or dementia will ever, ever take that away.

58 is you reading this and letting me know in a million creative ways that you care.

And 58 is a Mimosa, calls from Family and friends, and celebrating this thing called life — because tomorrow anything could happen.

58 is pure grace.

Also, I made a little video – watch it if you like!

A Shared Umbrella

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The insistent ring of the alarm. Heavy eyes, still swollen partially shut with sleep. Awareness that it is Tuesday, and I must wake up. The slow methodical movements of my body on autopilot knowing what has to be done to go from sleepy-eyed to one of the many productive people rushing through mass transit to make this machinery called the ‘economy’ work.

All of this for what? For a paycheck? For retirement? For a new dress? For a re-built transmission on our car? For an electric bill? For kids college? There are days when it feels so trite. So nothing.

To add to these bleak thoughts, it’s been raining. Hard. Not short showers where the sun blinks through as though crying a little and then bursts forth into smiles; rather it’s downpours where the bottom of your jeans get wet, your purse is soggy and water seeps through your shoes. It smells like rain and all the trash of the city is mashed together under foot.

Umbrellas are everywhere and instead of people bumping into people, it is umbrella on umbrella, small spokes getting caught in other small spokes. Most have their own umbrellas, but occasionally you will see people sharing, heads bent together to ensure maximum coverage. While those of us who are alone are walking quickly, impatient with the raindrops and downpours that stymie our progress, those who are sharing are often laughing or talking intensely.

Along with the sharing of umbrellas comes the inevitable sharing of life.

Several years ago, while still in high school, my son Micah did a project for a video contest. His skill and technique have improved ten-fold, but I still loved this, one of the first projects he did for competition.

Called “A Shared Umbrella” it tells with few words and many actions the story of a teenage girl, defeated and done with life. At her window, high in an apartment building she looks out at a bleak city scene of rain and sorrow. Pills are poured out in her hand, she’s ready to end her struggle, her struggle with life and with pain.

She looks out the window and sees two strangers – one dressed in a suit and tie, a business man off to work; the other dressed in old clothes, clearly without money. They are both waiting for the same bus. The business man waits with an umbrella, the poorer has none. And then in an unexpected act of humility and kindness the business man walks over and holds out his umbrella, sharing it with a stranger, offering a shield against the rain pouring down. They stand together until finally the bus comes carrying both off to their respective lives.

Just this simple act is enough to give the girl hope. If an umbrella can be shared among unlikely people, then life may be worth living. It is a small act of redemption in her bleak world.

I love his piece. I love the images, I love the graphics, and I love the story.

Offering protection and hope through sharing an umbrella is seemingly so simple; why do I make it so hard? Especially today, when nothing feels redemptive, least of all sharing an umbrella.

Today as I walk in the rain, I am acutely aware of my humanity and frailty; ashamed of my blah spirit and my feelings that none of this makes any difference; aware too of the humanity of all around me.  And with that awareness, tired as I am, I want to offer hope; I want to share my umbrella.

But first – can I have some sun?

Embracing the Sacred in the Ordinary

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I wake early after a holiday weekend. It is dark and cold outside. I shiver, pulling my sky-blue, fluffy bathrobe around me. “I can do this” I think to myself.

Who am I kidding? I can’t do this. This day after day routine of early rising, walking to the subway, dodging leftover piles of snow, trying to make sure I’m alert and centered…all of it is too much.

I can’t do this alone. Not for a minute.

Waking, showering, brushing teeth, putting on make up, dressing, scanning an app to see if I can catch the bus or if I’ll end up walking, rummaging around a refrigerator so I won’t have to buy my lunch – so many mundane, routine things. They say that character is formed in how we respond to the routine. I believe it because that’s when my true self comes out. Muttering that I wish I was more organized when trying to find lunch, outright cursing the bus schedule, shaking my head in frustration when I am jostled in the early morning rush – all of these are things that I do regularly. Is there a sacred rhythm to this? If so, can I find it?

This early morning hour reveals who I am in ways that I don’t like, in ways that I often get to hide. But when I am stripped of the audience, there they are, my heart naked before God, if not before man.

I think about this today as I begin my routine. How do I incorporate worship into every act, every day, every moment? How can these acts echo my spiritual life?

I think for a moment about the book I am reading: Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. The book responds to the question “How do we embrace the sacred in the ordinary and the ordinary in the sacred?” The author goes through a day in the life of a normal routine, helping us see the routine through the lens of liturgy.

In the first few pages, the author talks about not wanting to get out of bed and it feels particularly appropriate today:

“I don’t want to face the warring, big and small, that lies ahead of me today. I don’t want to don an identity yet. I want to stay in the womb of my covers a little longer.”

Later in the chapter,  she goes on to say:

As Christians,we wake each morning as those who are baptized. We are united with Christ and the approval of the Father is spoken over us. We are marked by our first waking moment by an identity that is given to us by grace: an identity that is deeper and more real than any other identity we will don that day…..Days can pass in a bluster of busyness, impatience, and distraction. I work to build my own blessedness, to strive for a self-made belovedness. But each morning, in those first tender moments –  in simply being God’s smelly, sleepy beloved – I again receive grace, life, and faith as a gift.”

I stop for a moment and I remember that I am beloved. No matter what happens today, it will never change that I begin this day as a child of God.

I move on to pray the Jesus Prayer. I mean it with all my heart. I know I am beloved, and I also know that I need mercy. I need strength. I need a motivator worth more than a pay check; an incentive that counts more than a retirement account.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me, a Sinner.

I repeat the words as I go on with my morning. I plug in the white lights that I’ve put onto a plant, my preservation of Christmas lights to move me forward in the new year. The plant illuminates the room, rather like the Jesus Prayer illuminates my soul.

The day has begun. I move forward as one beloved and armed to face the day.


*Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren, pp 52-53

An End of the Year Reflection on the Page Called ‘Today’

I’m looking out on a grey sky and freezing temperatures. Ice clings to branches and fences, winter embedded firmly in the outside world. We have been in Quebec City the last few days, a quick and delightful trip across an international border to what is arguably the most charming city in North America. Last night we got home to a cold house, a house bereft of light and warmth.

Quebec City was dressed in its holiday best, with lights sparkling off outdoor Christmas trees, and every window in shops and restaurants decorated with beautiful ornaments, lights, and greenery. Coming home I work to infuse the joy of yesterday into the melancholy of today.

Today marks the end of 2017. Tomorrow comes and brings with it a new year.

The end of the year brings out the melancholy in me, and I reflect as I sit by a still present and ever-lovely Christmas tree.

There are so many things I did not know as I began 2017. I did not know last year that my father would die in October. I did not know that I would face challenges as a mom and daughter that broke my heart and confused my brain. I did not know that I would watch friends across the world who have been in refugee camps get married and begin new lives. I did not know all the times I would laugh so hard it hurt or cry so hard that there were no more tears. I did not know that I would read new words, write new essays, make new friends, and hold tightly to old ones. I did not know the words that I would say that would hurt, and the other words I would say that would encourage.

I did not know that I would learn more about the difference between hope and expectations; that confusing the two can be dangerous and disappointing. I did not know that I would learn that you don’t quit living when someone you love dies; that instead you love harder and fight for what is lovely and good and true and right.

But if any one epiphany stands out from this past year, it is this: Faith isn’t about a particular outcome; rather, it’s about full confidence in one who already knows the outcome. It’s about trusting in the character of God as one who is good; as one who loves to give good gifts to his creation. Faith is belief that there is one who holds us when we can’t stand, who hears our tears when no one else is listening, and who whispers “I am with you” when all around us are asleep.

We don’t know, we can’t know, at the beginning of each year what will follow.  It’s a bit like picking up a new book, one that we have read no reviews on, one whose cover looked interesting but that’s all we have. We pick it up and we begin to read. We enter into a story. All we have is the page that is open, the page that is today. There is no page called tomorrow.

We enter the story in faith on that page called ‘today’. We enter and begin a rhythm that takes us from minutes to hours; from hours to days; from days to months; from months to seasons; from seasons to years with faith interwoven through all of it.

So today, as we close out 2017, I challenge us to walk in the faith of today. It’s all we can do, and it is enough.

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:
“Rejoice evermore. 
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.” 
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.”*


*― Wendell BerryHannah Coulter

A Fight to Live

On Sunday afternoons we observe post liturgical nap time. It is a sacred time where the apartment is absolutely still as we go to our respective spots and either nap, read, or rest in general. We have done this as long as we have been married and I don’t believe it will ever change.

This Sunday I curled up on our impossibly soft couch with an article in the New Yorker called “The Death Treatment”. What is normally a restful time was interrupted by a chilling read.

The article centers around the story of Godeleiva and Tom, a mother and a son in Belgium. In September of 2011 Godeleiva sent an email to her son and daughter telling them that she had filed an euthanasia request with a Doctor Wim Distelmans and was waiting the results. Her reason? Psychological distress. She had been in therapy since she was 19 years old and was now 63. She was done, finished – it was time to die.

Wim Distelmans, a Belgian oncologist, has become a sort of celebrity in Belgium. His accomplishments are not artistic, though some may call them so; instead he is seen as one who is promoting a “tremendous liberation” for promoting assisted suicide as a human right. He lectures across the country – at clinics, schools, and even at cultural centers.

When Tom received the email declaring his mother’s intent, he talked to his supervisor who basically told him there was no way Distelmans would approve the request without first talking to the family. But the next time Tom heard from his mother was the day after she was euthanized. He received a letter written in past tense saying she donated her body to science. The rest of the article dives deeply into the Belgian law and it’s intersection with Tom’s personal story and his struggle to come to terms with his mother’s decision.

The practical implications of the law in Belgium gave me an icy chill and at one point I thought I might have to stop reading the article.

In the past five years, the number of euthanasia and assisted-suicide deaths in the Netherlands has doubled, and in Belgium it has increased by more than a hundred and fifty per cent. Although most of the Belgian patients had cancer, people have also been euthanized because they had autism, anorexia, borderline personality disorder, chronic-fatigue syndrome, partial paralysis, blindness coupled with deafness, and manic depression. In 2013, Wim Distelmans euthanized a forty-four-year-old transgender man, Nathan Verhelst, because Verhelst was devastated by the failure of his sex-change surgeries; he said that he felt like a monster when he looked in the mirror. “Farewell, everybody,” Verhelst said from his hospital bed, seconds before receiving a lethal injection.

The laws seem to have created a new conception of suicide as a medical treatment, stripped of its tragic dimensions. Patrick Wyffels, a Belgian family doctor, told me that the process of performing euthanasia, which he does eight to ten times a year, is “very magical.” 

I know people with all those illnesses and disease states. I know them and I love them. They teach me much about what it is to live well in the midst of suffering.

For terminal illnesses, the Belgian law requires that two physicians consult on the case while the non-terminal cases require three. But, the article states, doctors are applying “increasingly loose interpretations of disease”.  Indeed, 13 percent of those euthanized in 2014 did not have a terminal illness.

“We at the commission are confronted more and more with patients who are tired of dealing with a sum of small ailments—they are what we call ‘tired of life.’ ”* 


Six hours from Boston, in the city of Rochester, New York, a man I love very much is nearing the end of his life. He is 91 years old and he is my father, my dad. He has a cough that stuns the onlooker and his body is weakening by the day. He can no longer do the things he loves, the things he has done his entire life – some simple, like driving, others more involved, like traveling across the country and the world.

Yet, despite his body betraying him, he continues to fight to live. “We live by degrees – we die by degrees.” As long as he has breath he will fight to live. He sees life as a gift, a gift from God. He does not see suffering as something to be avoided at all costs, but something that can, and is, redeemed. He does not see suffering as a mistake, an omission of God’s love, but a place where his love can shine through.

“Suffering is not the absence of goodness, it is not the absence of beauty, but perhaps it can be the place where true beauty can be known…That last kiss, that last warm touch, that last breath, matters — but it was never intended for us to decide when that last breath is breathed.”**

My dad is suffering, but he is still living. Because living matters. Because my dad’s story matters. Because my dad’s story is not complete on this earth until God says it’s complete, until he enters into the glorious grace and arms of his Father and hears the words “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”


As I finished the article, the light was fading into dusk. Autumn’s soft chill had me wrapped in a blanket and light from both outside and in bathed the room in a soft glow. My mind was alive with thoughts and feelings of life and of death. I often struggle with tears as I think about the universal suffering in the world and the personal suffering of individuals. But as I thought about the article I had just read and contrasted it to my father’s fight to live, I had a moment of crystal clarity: My dad’s fight to live is a beautiful grace.  

“I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus—and He will provide. He has given me so much to be grateful for, and that gratitude, that wondering over His love, will cover us all. And it will carry us—carry us in ways we cannot comprehend.” from Kara Tippetts

*From the article: Although their suffering derives from social concerns as well as from medical ones, Distelmans said that he still considers their pain to be incurable. 

Sacred Spaces

On Saturday, my youngest daughter, my mom, and I shared laughter and joy in an unlikely space – a women’s fitting room.

We began with tea and decadent sweets at a European tea house and restaurant. In an elegant space we sipped our tea while whipped cream, chocolate, raspberries, strawberries, almond cream, and meringue mixed together in fruit tarts, chocolate mousse cups, and Viennese Torts. It was delightful in every way.

Satisfied and full of whipped cream we headed off to shop for dresses for my mom. Some may say that dress shopping after whipped cream is not a good idea. They would be wrong.

Earlier in the day my mom looked at my dad and said “I’m going to buy a dress.” She added, slightly defiantly “I might even buy two dresses!” He looked at her from his recliner, nodded, and without hesitating said “One for my funeral and one for your birthday.”

Just one day prior, my father had officially gone on hospice. Hospice – where you know the end is near, but you don’t know how near; when what you’ve done all your life to keep as healthy as possible changes. Instead, you weigh the options with the goal to be as comfortable as possible as you journey toward the end.

It doesn’t matter how much you have sat and talked with friends who have lost parents, when it happens to you, it’s all new. It is a new map with a final destination. The stops along the way are sacred and hard. They include both hard talks and soft moments; funeral plans and sipping tea.

So this weekend held the hard and the soft. The tea, whipped cream, and dress buying was the soft.

We marched in to the store with a purpose: Two dresses. One for a funeral. One for a birthday party. My daughter and I scooped up florals and plains, ones with little jackets and others with none; navy, teal, tan, and burgundy. We loudly found the fitting room and the fun began.

The old clothes came off and the new were tried on. Over and over we erupted into oohs and aahs followed by laughter.

“That’s beautiful Grandma!”

“Well, it would be if it zipped up.”

“Oh.”

“Try this!”

“I look like an old lady!” (My mother is not old. She is 89.)

All three of us looked in the mirror. Three generations stared back.

You’re right! You look like Grandma K!” (Grandma K is my maternal grandmother.)

“And I look like you!” (That was me looking in the mirror.)

“And I look like Marilyn!” (That was my daughter looking in the mirror.)

We women know what it is to watch our bodies change. We have watched this all our lives. We see ourselves in mirrors and sigh, even as we know that mirrors can never tell the true story of our bodies; will never reveal true beauty. True beauty is revealed through the eyes of another.

Women’s fitting rooms can be horror shows or sacred spaces. When we are alone with our own thoughts and imperfections, it’s like watching a horror show unfold. The aging female body, with its bulges and bruises, scars and wrinkles does not do justice to the lives we have lived, the loves we have known, and the sorrows we have wept over. But when we are with those who love us and see us through the eyes of love, those horror shows become sacred spaces of laughter and love. Each bulge and scar is a badge of honor, for battles won – or lost, but at least fought.

The same is true as we walk through death and the dying process. It can be a horror show or a sacred space. We, along with the person dying, bear witness to bodies that betray their owners. We can no longer laugh about bulges and scars, because each breath is a labor. But when we walk this same journey and see it through the eyes of love, it becomes a sacred space, a sacred journey.

My mom now has a funeral dress. When she put it on my daughter and I gasped and said “You look like the queen!”

The truth is that I wish she would never have to wear it. I wish that life didn’t include death. I wish that all of this was easier. I wish our world wasn’t broken. I wish there was no Aleppo.

But my wishes will not make it so. Instead, I will choose the sacred space. I will walk this sacred journey with all the love I can. And while I do I will drink tea, eat whipped cream, and thank God for the joy of generations in a women’s fitting room.

The Resilient Orthodox – Explosions of Life

There are times when I feel like life has exploded, as though all parts of it collide and nothing goes the way it is supposed to go. From unexpected expenses to surprise illnesses, life laughs in the face of our careful planning, mocks our ideas of control, and smiles sarcastically at our shocked expressions.

I’m left wandering aimlessly, feeling like this is all a big, fat joke authored by a pre-teen boy who can’t get enough of cheap joke books.

These are the times when my cynical side says “Why pray? Why read daily scripture? It won’t make a difference so why do it?”

I walked into Divine Liturgy yesterday feeling this way. Our church is in the middle of a busy city neighborhood. Parking is difficult and no matter what hour we are there, life is teeming around us. As I walked up the steps, a friend met me and stopped, asking how I was. In the middle of the noise of the city, I found myself pouring my heart out to her, touched and healed with her empathy. On those concrete steps, the questions of what is this all about, the whys, the anger at the suffering of those close to me all poured out of me in a flood of words and tears.

I entered the service comforted and heard by the presence of another.

I went through the motions of the service: Venerating icons, crossing myself, singing the Beatitudes and all the while I was saying the Jesus Prayer, an internal plea for mercy and grace.

It was during the homily that I began to relax. Our priest, Father Patrick, talked about being away on vacation with his children and six grandchildren. “I saw what your life was like,” he said. All around him were explosions of life, he was not in his study surrounded by his books and icons. He was not in church serving the Eucharist or praying before icons. Instead, babies with diapers and toddlers with messy faces were ever present. “I saw how hard it is to continue the disciplines of prayer and scripture reading in the midst of this,” he said. But he didn’t stop there. He went on to say that he also saw how absolutely imperative it was to continue these disciplines in the midst of this, how we can’t go on without these practices. Because these explosions of life demand so much that we can’t do it alone.

I have tried to do it alone the past few weeks. I rationalize that I am too tired to stand in front of our icons and pray. I rationalize that nothing will change even if I do pray. I make excuses, I blame, I dismiss – but all the while, life explodes around me and I have no tools to cope.

These explosions of life call for explosions of grace, but I can’t see grace because I’m to caught up in trying to do it by myself.

I found myself deeply comforted by Father Patrick’s words, by his acknowledgement that this is hard. None of this is easy. And it’s precisely because it is not easy that I need these beautiful and grace-filled disciplines of prayer and scripture.

Life comes with its explosions and the only thing that can withstand it is grace.  Beautiful grace, that hard to define something that we don’t deserve but we get anyway. That good word that has not been corrupted through time, instead it shines through dark days, and says “boo!” as it surprises me around hard corners.

Yesterday grace met me on concrete steps and through a homily. Today is a new day. Life is still an explosion, but the explosion of grace is at the ready. I open my hands, ready to receive. It’s all I can do and somehow it is enough.

“Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.”*

A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams. Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving somebody is grace. – Frederick Buechner

*Frederick Buechner

The Full Time Job of Healing 


I am on medical leave. For the first time in many, many years I have time. I am not moving. I am not job hunting. I am not on limited vacation time. Instead, my full time job right now is to heal. 

It is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done. 

Here’s why: 

  1. Healing takes discipline. It takes discipline to set aside time for physical therapy. It takes discipline to eat properly, discipline to not just veg out and binge on television shows. It takes effort to get up in the morning when you hurt, discipline to put your feet on the ground. I am not disciplined and at heart, I’m pretty lazy. I would far rather have a quick fix then a slow, steady process. But healing has its own agenda and schedule., and it demands discipline. 
  2. Healing takes rest. So much of physical and emotional healing is about resting. And true resting is when both your body and soul are at rest. I find myself trying to rest, but my mind buzzes anxiously with thoughts about what I think I should be doing, how I think I should be reacting. Rest is uncommon in the Northeast. Instead, what is applauded is achievement, academic success, graduating from top schools, busy and successful career paths. Rest is something that we don’t talk about or give permission for, instead opting to glorify busy. But healing demands rest. Our bodies have undergone trauma – whether it be from surgery, from illness, or from an accident. The body’s needs for rest increase. Our bodies also need proper nutrition to augment the rest. 
  3. Healing takes humility. Giving up control is hard. Having to have others help you dress, bathe, cook, drive, clean, even put on your shoes is deeply humbling. Actively watching out for self-pity is also humbling. It’s easy to clothe self-pity into “well I’m just being honest about how I feel..” But at the end of the day, it’s still self-pity. It takes humility to follow the guidelines and restrictions of others, to trust medical personnel. It takes humility to allow strangers into your home to see how you live, and to give you suggestions and ideas of how to live better. It takes humility to accept that healing doesn’t happen on the timeline we request. It takes humility to respond to questions about our bodies, to use assistive devices when we go out the door. 
  4. Healing takes time. Above all, this is true.  Neither physical nor emotional healing comes quickly. Instead it’s a long journey.  Yes, there are things we can do to heal as quickly as possible, but ultimately it still takes time. 

And so I have time – and my only job during this time is to heal. 

Years ago, I listened to a recording of a woman who spoke on suffering. It was a powerful talk and I probably listened to it over fifty times in the course of the next few years. One of the many things she said was this: 

Our churches are full of wounded and hurting people who have never taken a season to heal. 

These words are profoundly true – true for the ones who need physical healing, true for the ones who need emotional healing. 

So I will not fight this season, nor will I wish it away. Instead, I gratefully accept my season to heal, and the gift of time. 

Hospital Time


I’ve woken early today. Only the birds sing outside, alerting me that it is spring. 

I have been on hospital time since Friday. It’s a strange, twilight time where what we think of as important vanishes, in its place comes a subdued submission to all of life. 

Hospital time is well-known to many – the cancer patient going for weekly chemotherapy; the dialysis patient praying for a kidney; the family of the child in an accident, an induced coma taking the child away for a time. 

Hospital time is part of the human experience, a definite part of aging. We are seen by doctors, recommended to surgeons, and humbly, like sheep being led, go to classes and appointments, lest we be the .3% who doesn’t do well. 

On Friday last week I entered into hospital time. I had a 3-week lead time, so in a sense, hospital time came on slowly, incrementally. 

But on Friday, it was real. Friday I was stripped of my normal identity and became a woman who was being prepared for surgery. With the signing of my paperwork, hospital time began. 

Outside, the world rushed on. Social media erupted over something, the stock market rose and fell, news stations put their overly dramatic news teams onto things both menial and important. 

But none of that mattered. What mattered was hospital time. 

When I think about Eternity, I think about hospital time redeemed; a time when all creation is healed and time surrenders to the Creator. No longer are our moments filled with rage at injustice, fear of the unknown, sadness of loss, or worry about the millions of things that are out of our control. Because time is redeemed and reconciled to our creator. 

In the meantime, I am still in my other world of hospital time, taking the moments to heal and rest, realizing that life will go on without me at its center. And in this time, I am enveloped in grace. 


Readers- I would love it if you entered this book giveaway for Passages Through Pakistan at Goodreads! 

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That Holy Ache

Spring 2017

 

I awake with that Holy Ache.

If there is any time I feel this acutely it’s on Monday mornings, where I try to move between a resurrection Sunday and the real-world Monday. Where I move from the weekend rest and peace, to the week day chaos and problems.

We who are human know this Holy Ache. It is something that transcends cultures and generations, something that will be part of us until our life on this earth is complete.

It’s the one that reminds us that we are in between. We are in the not yet; the messy middle. That place where we know what we see is only a fraction of the real story, yet we ache for that real story to be revealed, to come to fruition. We are ‘between the lost and the desired’.

A Holy Ache.

That ache we feel when we read or hear the news and our hearts stop with the horror of it all, the longing to make all right, to gather up all the orphans, the widows, the sinners and show them the love of God. The holy ache that acknowledges we are capable of so little in comparison to the great need. That ache we feel when we are at a funeral of one we love, knowing we will never see their faces, hear their words, hug their bodies again. That ache we feel when the rich thrive and mock while the poor struggle to survive. That ache we feel of injustice and wrong and all those things that remind us we are in the between.

It used to be that the holy ache would direct me to despair. It’s all too much, I thought. It’s too hard. Seeing through a glass darkly is not enough. But lately I have embraced the holy ache as an integral part of my faith journey – a critical part that brings me to a greater love and desire for God.

Yesterday our priest said it well. We are caught, he said, between irrational joy and sorrow.

I have embraced the holy ache as an integral part of my faith journey

Irrational joy and indefinable sorrow.  Waking to the smell of spring, knowing we are alive, seeing new buds coming out on trees and bushes fills us with joy, even as we face the sorrow of a world that is not as it should be.

So welcome to today’s Holy Ache – may we walk in faith that aches will be redeemed and in the middle of Holy Aches we may know Holy Joy. 

“The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast.  We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy.  It is not hard to see why.  The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency.”

Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” from The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis

A Brief Reflection on Airports and Life


I am bleary-eyed at the Orlando airport. There’s a reason why the infamous “they” tell you to get to the airport early – long security lines extended far into the lounge area. We sighed as we inched our way through, a bright green electronic sign informing us that the process would take 35 to 45 minutes. 

Earlier we dropped off a rental car. As I handed the gentleman the keys, he asked me if I was Parisienne. I smiled “no” pause “but is that a compliment?”  “Oh yes!” He replied. My children laugh at me as the glow of an early morning compliment radiates off my 57 year old non-Parisienne skin. 

And then we trudge our sleepy way to security. Unfortunately, the compliment did nothing for a bad hip, so my ego has been kept in check. 

A busy, international airport is an odd way to end a family funeral. You go from familiar to anonymous; from engaged in conversation to people-watching; from significant to one more passenger in an enormous travel machine.

Yet somehow it works. It’s a bridge between worlds, and I am not expected to communicate on this bridge. I simply cross it. 

Death and funerals are a pause in life’s paragraph. A pause before continuing into more sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. They are an important pause, sometimes changing the rest of the story. Many resolutions based on the brevity of life have happened at the death of a loved one. 

Many would voice sadness over this – the question of why it takes something as permanent as death to make us pause and reflect. I think it is a gift. We are usually far too busy with the ordinary to realize that perhaps change is in order. But then, in the middle of the ordinary, the everyday chores stop so that we can remember a life, and in remembering reflect on our own. 

So in this airport moment between worlds, I stop. I pause. I pray. 

I thank God for the gift of life, and the gift of death – the circle of a broken world on a journey to redemption. 

The moment passes, the flight is ready to board. We are on our way home. 

On Snow Days and the Waste of Hate

This piece was written last Thursday morning, when I had an unexpected and delicious snow day.

It’s a Thursday morning and I wake up to a world of white. Snow has been falling steadily since the early hours, providing much needed excitement for weather people who have been increasingly bored this winter by the warm temperatures and happy humans.

I have an unexpected snow day. It’s hard to describe how welcome this is — it’s like Paschal cheese after Lent; like your first meal after you deliver a baby.

Snow days are pure grace.

I used to hate snow. I couldn’t bear the flakes, the cold, the wet. I hated the shoveling, the scraping off of ice, the misery.

And in a way, all of those things are still true. Snow does wreak havoc. Snow does cause disruption, it does slow things down. Snow is not convenient.

As I look out on this world of white, I can’t help thinking about all the time I have wasted hating snow, wishing it away. I can’t help being reminded of the times that I have  hated that which life brought me.

Hate is such a waste. Hate takes so much energy. It exhausts your body and your mind, it plants itself and needs little water to grow. It is nourished easily and depletes us of that which is good. The roots need little encouragement to go deep, and they are painfully pulled. Hate depletes the soul.

Hate is a giant waste of time, and I have fallen for this trap. I have wasted time in hate – not only in hating snow, but other things. I have wasted time fighting life instead of accepting it. Hate destroys creativity and limits our minds. Hate takes away our motivation and leads us to settle for less.

Supposedly hate is the antonym of love, but I think hate is the antonym of life. Because you can’t really live if your mind is filled with hate.

I sit in complete quiet, the white world around me. Hate feels far away, its roots pulled, replaced by something so much better. And I am grateful.

Until Next Time

baby-hands

His eyes are so much like his mom’s that I am startled. He nestles into my shoulder, knowing that I’m not his mom, but that somehow – I am safe.

I stare and stare and I have no concept of time. I realize that I could stare at this wonder all day.

This wonder is my grandson.

I look in the mirror and I am somehow less concerned about getting older. I know that this is the way it will go, season after season, year after year. The proverbial circle of life is continuing, and somehow this is right.

He is all sorts of perfect. His soft, clear skin is a contrast to my sun-spotted aging arms. Yet my arms are still strong enough to hold him, to cuddle, to be there as an extra set when parents get tired or need time away. His eyes follow me, then crinkle up. For a moment I’m unsure – will he cry or will he laugh. He laughs, proving our connection in more ways than he knows.

I get chuckles and grunts, coos and yawns. I am smitten by this child of my child, baby from my baby.

Too soon our time comes to an end. The house is empty – only shadows remain as the day wears on.

I smile at the memories. “Until next time Baby” I say softly. Until next time.