Wednesday, October 10, 2012


I gave a service in Virginia's beautiful Northern Neck this week. The topic was endings. I was asked to put this excerpt on the blog.

The common thread between our stories is that most everyone I know at some point in the past thought that they would be different at this point now.  I credit that difference to our lives being non-linear, our development coming erratically, and to put it diplomatically: our self-awareness and worldly wisdom being not exactly, well, on point.
I believe the Buddhists really do have an edge on the rest of us. The state of mindfulness takes all the painful zing out of an unexpected ending. If we have been in the moment accepting now for what it is, then the ending is just another version of this moment. When we live in the now and stop the monkey mind from yelling “What if???” and “It’s supposed to be like this not like that!”-then we see that all endings are pretty surprising.
This past week I visited with patients in a large Richmond hospital as part of a continuing education program I am in to become a certified chaplain. I have been there only three weeks and have already given up on the elevators. Taking the stairs is a superb tool for mindfulness training.
When I take the elevators, I walk in the box. The doors of the box close. The doors of the box open. I see a patient or ten. I get back in the box.
The doors of the box close. The doors of the box open. I go down a hall that looks identical to the last. I see another patient or ten. I get back in the box. The doors of the box close. The doors of the box open.
When I take the stairs I have a better understanding of where I am in the labyrinthine hospital layout, and where I am in here {pointing to my heart} and I begin to see patterns that were invisible when I traveled via box.
I leave the chaplain office, climb the stairs three floors, and turn right. There I meet premature infants as little as a pound in size. They live in boxes but the doors neither open nor close. When I step back, turn left, and walk down a hall I meet pregnant women confined to the bed so that they may have infants who are larger than a pound.
They look like sci fi mamas because often they are not allowed to move off their backs so all I see is a head, a belly, and pillows. When I exit and turn left down another hall I meet families who had normal labor and seven pound babies. Sometimes they are mad about hospital food and the sound of construction in halls and often are wondering how their hair looks. I get very confused on the third floor.
I walk up a flight and I turn right where I meet men and women of all ages who are being monitored at all times by machines. They look out their windows as they worry about their families and homes. I met two young men in two rooms who were despondent because each was depressingly certain he was the youngest person on the unit. Their rooms were nineteen steps from each other but they were together in concern and in youthful spirit. I was with each of them when their lovers visited and saw them gaze at their girlfriends as if starlight were trapped in women's bodies.
Nineteen steps down  from them and around a corner is a man in his nineties whom I visit next. He is a bit confused, but when I lean over his bed he reaches up and gently strokes my hair which has fallen over my shoulder. He says, “You are such a pretty girl” and as I look into his face I see the reflection of starlight in his milky blue eyes.
I go back to the stairs and I walk up to the top of the hospital where the intensive care unit sits right beside the psychiatric unit, both closest to heaven. In intensive care I visit with a wife in her 30’s who tells me about how the man in the bed on the ventilator stole her heart when they met and how she asked him, “Why steal it? I would have just given it to you.” He has already spoken his last words but we pray that he will live just one more day. “I just don’t want it to end today,” she says.
I make the few steps next door to the behavioral health unit for a group session where the patients are walking their twelve steps but not with their feet. They have strong bodies and perfectly healthy hearts. “We are dying,” they tell me, each in her or his own way. Their families say they just need to go to church. Or they need to just stop taking those drugs. If I took the elevator I might agree with their families. But I take the stairs and I know that they are dying. There may very well be a cure, but right now they are dying.
There are endings to each of the stories I walk in on in the hospital. I rarely learn the ending to theirs, not that ours are any clearer. As I walk up and down the stairs I think about the endings, all of our endings. I fear some of them. I hope for some of them. I go home and I wonder about all of them.
But I can’t enjoy supper with my kids when I think of all the people I see in a day in terms of endings and beginnings. Such thinking puts a timer on our stories. If when I am sitting with someone in their now... if I am thinking in terms of endings then I can’t concentrate for all that ticking.
While I take the stairs I have been thinking that wherever I am in my life there is someone a few houses down, a few streets over, a couple of seats away in the labyrinth of life struggling with the same thing but calling it by a different name. How our stories will end seems overwhelming but isn't that because we are not the authors? It is not our place to say when the story is over. We can control some of the action, we get to write all of the emotion, but the ending is not ours to know.
What makes not knowing bearable is that in this moment... right here... in the eternal now.... if we are being who we are meant to be... the ending doesn’t matter at all.
May it be so.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

L'Shana Tova

Any journey in faith is always an embracing of a very big "what if...". Many of the "what ifs" of the world's religions suggest answers to questions about meaning and purpose within the cycle of life. What if we were created with a purpose? What if the only moment is this moment? What if we will be resurrected when we die? What if we loved all people as if they were our sisters and brothers? What if we spent our energy throughout our lives building the kingdom of heaven on earth?

The High Holy Days changed how I understand the cycle of life forever. I was in seminary. I was learning Hebrew. I was NOT calling the Hebrew Scriptures the Old Testament and so I was feeling a bit out of place among my Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist classmates. I began attending sabbath services at synagogues wherever I could find them. And then came the High Holy Days. I had a fresh brain full of a beautiful new language and I went to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services (after some serious work to get tickets, but that is another story.) The services were so intensely meaningful to me that they changed how I saw ministry, faith, life and death. So year after year I kept going, and if I couldn't go because I was a minister of a congregation I hosted a UU variation on the services.

I think back on all the High Holy Day services I have attended and the variations on them which I have led, and they each serve as a beacon to my better understanding of the intricacies of the phases of life. The High Holy Days are the time for us to look back on what has become of our lives including that which we could control and that which was beyond our control. To borrow from a different tradition, the High Holy Days are a great time for learning the lessons of serenity: accepting the things we can't change, courageously working to change what we can, and becoming wise to the difference between the two. What if we can do it better next year?

I consider this some powerful philosophical and spiritual stuff and I believe it stands in stark contrast to the New Year's observances of December 31 and January 1. When the celebration of a new year is removed from spiritual concerns we seem to find a way to make it about ourselves and not our better selves.

A new year becomes about my house being de-cluttered, about my weight, about my goals, my stuff, my vanity, more of my my my crap. But when the new year is part of a spiritual belief, part of ritual, part of an understanding of oneself in relation to others the focus becomes something beyond my self-interest and my control issues. For me the High Holy Days are about how life works and how it changes depending on where we stand on our lifeline and with whom we stand.

As a young woman, the prayers, rituals, and readings of the High Holy Days taught me the humility to face my own responsibility in relationships needing reconciliation. As a mother who lost a child in pregnancy I learned to think of the cycle of death as a natural part of life and to be observed solemnly but hopefully every year keeping the love for those we have lost alive. As a woman of a unique faith journey (raised Unitarian Universalist by an atheist and a Methodist, attended Presbyterian seminary, being spiritually Jewish and denominationally UU) I was reminded annually that we are all responsible for our own convictions, hopes, and disappointments and how we will allow them to shape what we understand as Truth.

The past three years have been, without exaggeration or maudlin pouting, the worst of my life. But the lessons of Rosh Hashanah are that some years are just like that. Ever notice how the iPod shuffle seems to favor some albums over others? Ever hit five red lights in a row on a stretch when you normally just get one or two? It happens. Life is benign. There will be tragedy. There will be wild success. We have control over some of it but almost always less than we think. What we do have control over year in and out is how we will be with others. How we will get up and brush ourselves off. How we will honor those we have loved and lost. How we will forgive and ask for forgiveness.

We begin Rosh Hashanah again  today. I am not going to any services this year. The Unitarian Universalist churches in town chose not to observe it and it has been too emotional a year in the Book of Life for me to trust myself to be surrounded by strangers in a Jewish community, even though they are always welcoming. I prefer not to sob on strangers. So I am asking my New Year's "what ifs" here.

The year I look back on - I lived in 28 places in the past 395 days. I have not said "Thank You" enough. I have said "I'm sorry" at the wrong times. I have worked for reconciliation in the wrong ways and sometimes for the wrong reasons. I have some tears to shed as I reflect on the past but what if I can do it better? What if I can receive love more willingly? What if I can hear a person's heart in spite of their garbled words? What if I have the power to make a difference in spite of my vast limitations?

This year has been abundant in blessings and signs of hope. I have been written in the Book of Life day after day. I have seen beautiful people begin their lives. I have been able to say goodbye to those who lived full lives and rest peacefully. I have watched my children blossom. I have had the blessings of living parents. I have been embraced by wondrous friends and loved by a huge extended family. I now have a place to live for a more extended stay. What if that is more than enough?

Three years of loss but this is the beginning of a fourth year. My Florida relatives swear the bad streak always ends at three and they have known more tragedy than can be numbered. What if they are right?

I stand in this place - mid-life, going back to school, mom of kids who are growing in independence and wisdom, daughter of parents finding their way into senior years, a divorcing woman - and I wait for the sun to set and the New Year to start, I am content. I am at peace. I have reconciliation to build and dreams to pursue and I am grateful for the days of life in which I get the opportunity to move forward in my journey.

But I didn't write this for me. As the New Year begins, I was also thinking of you because that is what all those High Holy Days services taught me to do: stand on your spot in the life cycle and pay attention to everyone around you. They might need a hand. If your last year has been peachy, maybe you could send this along to someone who has been tripping along with me in the briar patch. (We often can't see each other in there, you know?)

A blessing for Rosh Hashanah:

May your new year be sweet, my friend.
May your pain be brief and may it have a purpose you can grasp.
May your healing come with smiles and wisdom.
May your opportunities be well-marked so you do not pass them by.
May your shame fade in the dusk of every day.
May the love you give and the love you encounter be abundant.
May you learn how to build bridges of reconciliation and hope.
May you trust and be trusted.
May your name be inscribed in the Book of Life so that we may meet on the path this year

Happy New Year or l'shana tova.

In love,

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Scientists Link Children to Theism in Beflusterformed Parents

I became a praying woman this summer.

"But you are a minister," you say?

Let me rephrase. I became a begging, praying woman this summer.

God, thank you for so many blessings but, babe, these kids gotta go. Somewhere. Anywhere. Preferably a jobs training program, a really intense one. But they gotta go.

Here's the funny thing, at ages 10 and 7 this was one of their best summers ever. They learned how to play together. They weren't whining all the time. They could entertain themselves sometimes. They were funny and happy often.

So what's the problem? I think what got me was the intensity of focus. Those kids spend way too much time staring at me.

"You got something on your lip, Mama." That's a zit, you little twit.

"You sure are white." That's because I don't have adoring grandparents with pool access. And I prefer the term "very light-skinned".

"Your roots are showing." Ok, THAT'S IT! Back to school with you, you little perfectly visioned monster.

It was never ending: You dance funny. Your boobies are ginormous. Your breath smells like raisins and I don't like raisins. Stop falling asleep, I want to tell you something. Rub my back. Scratch my hair. Bake me a cake.

Heh heh. I did bake them cakes. Each odd in its own way. And the little boogers thanked me repeatedly, hugged me, ate every bite, and mourned them when they were gone.

And when they want to tell me something, it is often great. I love the funny little things they tell me about their theories on the origins of humanity. She wants a really big piece of paper to write Earth's family tree on. She says she'll write really really really small. He says she can't because there are several lines of humanity including the crew that came from the mating of the pink-butted with the not-so-hairy primates. Then there are the ones that come from the flat butted and flat forehead mating, and so on.

And I do dance funny, and my roots are showing, and I eat the raisins because no one else will. And we are leaving my breasts out of this.

Aw crapola.

Dear Divine Force, last night he made sure I ate what I needed when I felt hypoglycemic. She brushed my hair. We held hands to share what we were thankful for at supper at 9:30 PM, in my ex-husband's house because my stove won't boil water. And they were thankful for me. Thank you for them.

Truth is, I cry on the first day of school every year. I didn't this year. My car had to go in the shop. My camera broke. My phone shattered. A very important check was delayed in being deposited in my account. She clogged the toilet. He leaves a mess wherever he goes, and he goes in every room in my house. I took them to school. I took pictures with a borrowed camera. I got everyone in classes with great teachers on time. And I bolted to do 10,000 things on a list that I know I put somewhere safe. No tears.

When I picked them up, they smelled like feet and had trouble staying awake. No tears.

I dropped them off on the second day and she blushed when her teacher told her what a lovely girl she is. And he hugged me extra tight.

"I'm so proud of you, baby" I said to him. As a 5'1" 5th grader he didn't even mind I called him baby and he didn't stop hugging me. I started crying right there in the school hall. Lots of tears.

"I'm proud of you, too," he said. "You didn't cry until the second day!"

Hey, Spirit of the Universe, sorry I can be such a dumbass.

Thursday, July 05, 2012


Since the demise of my marital condition I have spent 11 months homemaking on couches and in guest rooms. I have tackled the questions everyone has to answer as a relationship ends: Who am I? What does my past mean? What am I afraid of? Whom do I love?

I still tackle these most days.

I work daily to be a loving mother who cares about and encourages her kids in their ever-present condition of becoming. I get teeth brushed, hair washed, and something nutritious in them and me most of the time. We play, talk, wonder and sleep together on the half-time custody schedule.

I've earned money by taking whatever job my friends and associates offer me since applications don't bear fruit. I've done a passel of funerals, sold a lot of chicken salad, scooped behind many a beloved pet of someone else's.

I wrote a screenplay during National Script Writing Month. It wasn't very good and I didn't mind a bit. We all need our sanity projects.

A couple months ago I thought I was coming to a pretty good handle on it all. Not a lot of answers but at least the questions weren't making me almost wet my pants any more. Winter was over. I had housing set up for at least four months, money for groceries, and my pillow stayed dry four out of seven nights a week. Felt like I was on the upswing, you know?

Then I fell.

I was house sitting and setting out in the morning to get my kids from their dad's house to take them to school - a morning ritual which saved my emotional life on more than one occasion. I had my computer bag on my shoulder for midday job hunting. Heading out from the second floor guest room I made it down one step and my hip gave out.

So there I was: alone in a house across town from my kids falling down a flight of stairs.

I thought that in falls like that there's a delay before you feel the pain. There wasn't.

I thought that there's a point in a fall when your body stops fighting it. There isn't.

I never thought about it, but if I had I would've thought that when your spine gets shaped like a C with an ear stuck to shoulder and hip stuck to elbow that there isn't anything you can do about it. There is. But I don't recommend it.

Falling is just gravity voodoo. I saw a young buzzed guy fall off a barstool the other day (yes, DAY). He burst out laughing and hopped back up. I saw my son fall the next day. He shook his shoulders a little and moved on.

I fell down that flight of stairs and within 20 minutes managed to get my spine mostly back in place, climb in the car, and drive to where my children were. I screamed like a Banshee for much of that process but I still made it happen. My neck hurts as I type this, but it's way better and I probably wouldn't notice if I weren't talking about it.

It's the other falls that keep us limping. Stumbling out of a relationship. Tripping into unemployment. Slipping into mid-life. The gravity storm of grief. Those falls can knock you down and keep you there if you don't learn how to emotionally and spiritually give yourself a chiropractic adjustment and some serious recovery exercises.

On my stair tumble I broke my tailbone. I messed up my spine and neck which gave me shooting pains in every which direction for long weeks. My computer didn't even get a bump. I was lucky. But I did lose something when I fell. My chutzpah, my defenses, my denial of the extent of the losses of recent years... something tumbled out of me that I have yet to pick back up.

I recently met a woman who took a fall at a family event and was laid up for weeks of recovery hundreds of miles from home. Two years later she's sporting a plate, some pins, and a healthy wariness of stairs. She walks just fine. The same woman has been married twice and says she'll be alone the rest of her life. She likes being alone. Except it sure would be nice to have someone to go to the movies with or to look over an unfamiliar menu with and wonder together if they should risk the special. Each type of falling is different.

There's an old joke about a devout but frail Presbyterian widow who believed in the doctrine of predestination so firmly that when she fell down a flight of stairs she hopped up on the landing like a stunt woman, brushed herself off, and declared, "Well, I'm glad that one's over."

This one ain't over. I'm moving again, still looking for work like dozens of my friends. The divorce papers come through soon. I'm trying to jump up, right the stool, laugh, and climb back on but the gravity voodoo keeps catching up with me. That's just how it is going to be for awhile. Guess it's time to laugh harder.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Why People Don't Do What I Do

There are a million good reasons not to be me. I don't and never have done anything the easy way. I seem incapable of it. Take, for example, Winding River Gathering. We are gathering today at 2:30 and 4:00. That is a genius idea for people who, like me, do not like mornings. We are 100% funded by cover charges. That is an asinine idea for having any sense of security on the 6+ hours leading up to the event. If people do not show, future services are not a go.

Another example, why didn't I go to business school? Have you ever tried to get a job outside of ministry when you are a minister? The world thinks I'm a zealot, or cult leader, or evangelist. (Giggle.)They think that in my ministerial career I just showed up for two hours a week, read from the Bible, and spent the rest of the time ironing my robe. Ha! As if I ever ironed my robe. How do so few people know that ministers are marketers, HR specialists, volunteer coordinators, group dynamic specialists, crisis counselors, teachers, writers, public speakers, project managers, and major fundraisers? Sure, those weren't the jobs I signed on for under the title Minister, but those were the jobs I did.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


My bar went out of commission back in December. The shock has passed and the pain is starting to hit. You don't see many writings from women ministers extolling and eulogizing their bars. I'm out to change that.

When I was a child my grandfather, Skip, had a bar that was his second home. It was called Marie's. It was on the side of a busy trucking road near West Point, Virginia. That branch of the family is a matriarchy, and Skip was a flawed man with a bar love, so the negativity regarding the evil Marie's among the formidable women who raised me was palpable. I never heard the name said without a sneer. If they hadn't all been good Southern women they would have used spit as punctuation. I do recall that the adjective of choice to describe the joint was "damn"(sic).

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

This Chickie Thinks - 3/2012 edition

It's been awhile since I did any installments of my spiritual advice column. It turns out that my post-marital-separation, blue funk, one-size-fits-enough response of "Tell 'em to stick it!" is not universally applicable after all. (My apologies again to Gladys from Wichita for offering that gem in response to your question about what to write in a sympathy card.)

Anyway, I thought I'd give it a whirl in a different direction and share my responses to two difficult questions my children threw at me today. The point of these illustrations is not the answers to the questions but the framing of the discussion. I doubt that this is the best way to do this, but it worked out well enough that I don't think I'll have nightmares tonight.

Besides, we all know that we read advice columns in order to say, "Oh, please! I could answer that soooo much better."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

New Orleans, 2012

In my new favorite movie, "The Names of Love", the main character, Baya, is out grocery shopping when she runs into a friend who reminds her of a meeting. She dashes out of the store, leaving her date at the register where she had been only moments earlier before she remembered to get coriander. When she gets home her own body odor becomes too much so she jumps into the shower. The phone rings and she is reminded of a birthday party. Out she dashes to get the birthday present. The date, who is still waiting at the register, sees her walk by the front window on her way to buy the birthday earrings wearing only her boots, purse, and eyeglasses.

This is how I understand life.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Elation and Deflation - Oooh!!

I had one of those moments the other day that only movies with inspirational soundtracks have. Then I had a moment out of "The Three Stooges". And then I had a whole series of moments that, for better or worse, are only possible in my life. And you people wonder why I eat so many Peanut M&M's. It's the unpredictability of it all, man. Makes me twitchy.

Let us begin with my moment of sheer stunning glory:

Friday, March 02, 2012

Winding River Gathering Returns March 25

I said that I wouldn't have Winding River Gathering again until I had something to say. Guess what? I have something to say and this could take awhile.

A few reminders or an introduction to Winding River Gathering for the curious. Not a religion, social club, political party, or church - WRG is my way of holding events for people who want a combination of soul/brain nutrition they can't find elsewhere.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Geek Love Day

Wow! I just saw the introduction to the Star Trek:The Next Generation episode featuring Stephen Hawking playing poker against Cmdr. Data, Einstein, and Newton. I was consumed by feverish shivers of dweeb happiness. This made me think of all the little geeky passions of life. In honor of Valentine's Day I am sharing geeky stuff I love.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Shacking Up With a Ghost

I'm thinking it is time for me to try my hand at a memoir. The story of the places I have lived since my separation would be a good one. I think there have been 11-15 but I can't be sure. Let's just say I am at my 13th abode because that will work best considering I am living with a ghost.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Funeral Break

I am working on a funeral for a dignified English-American woman for tomorrow. I think I will have to wear eye shadow, and stockings, and something will have to happen with this unruly hair. I can write a funeral in my sleep (keeping in mind I sleep 9.5 hours), but stockings? This is going to take awhile.

I rarely link on my blog. The dozen of you who read it seem to be using my words as case studies in your Psychology of Oddballs class, so I hate to disappoint you or threaten your GPA but I have a lot of work to do tonight.

I was sent this link today from a family I served in the last year or so and I like it immensely. Imagine some offbeat Southern expressions, a rock n' roll reference, and a funny story about sex and it could have been written by me.

Oh no! I can't put any of those things in tomorrow's funeral. I will be up ALL NIGHT.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Whatever Mantra Gets You Through the Day

Did you get a look at the bodyguard for the Australian Prime Minister today? I want to be that guy.
The Australian PM, Julia Gillard, was surrounded by an angry group of aboriginal protesters and security decided that it would be best for her to leave quickly. As a part-time protester, I can't help but wonder about the history of poor communication there, but that's a subject for another day.

So off the PM goes with the riot police and the bodyguards.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Almost 50 Ways to Be Late

In an effort to look on the bright side, I have decided to view my punctuality issues as a gift.

There are many of you who are no doubt plagued with the curse of habitually being on time, or worse - early. You have been looking for a savior. I am here for you. Follow my simple tips and you will never find yourself seeing all the previews, getting the best seats, or waiting for others again.

(Caution: These steps do not work for Germans or Swedes who seem to be wired for punctuality. Even I am on time in Berlin.)

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Days, Memories, and the Moon Rolls Round

"Welcome to the worst twelve months of your life."
This was my family physician's response to news that my husband and I had separated, thus earning him the nickname of Dr. Smiley from now on.

There's only one way to take a comment like that from someone you respect greatly: be thankful that five months of it are out of the way.