Sunday, May 13, 2012

Red Flannels

I hurried into the drugstore and collapsed the borrowed umbrella.  The night sky was pouring out rain like there was no tomorrow, but inside it was dry and bright.  As I hurried over to the appropriate aisle to grab a couple of pints of Blue Bell, I glanced at the line forming at the checkout counter.  My sister was waiting in the car.  It might be a long wait.

I patiently took my position in line behind 3 others and scanned the immediate area.  There was a tall, older man at the front of the line.  He seemed to be in a good mood despite the weather and the lateness of the evening.  We had missed closing time at the first store we stopped at by 10 minutes. The cashier was called away from her post for a moment.   My eyes wandered distractedly to the floor.

I noticed the shoes first.  Tennis shoes.  The kind that kids wear.  Then the pants.  The ensemble was topped off with a plain white tee shirt.  But it was the pants that drew my attention.  They were red plaid flannel pajama pants, the kind that even adults wear out in public.  I shook my head.  What can be said about a culture that accepts pajamas as appropriate street wear?  We have gone past informal to ridiculous.  I wondered if this middle schooler would wear pajamas to a job interview. 

Then, in the middle of my rant, my eyes were drawn to the counter.  There lay a small package of inexpensive chocolates, and underneath, a Mother's Day card.  He handed the cashier a ten dollar bill, received his change, and vanished into the dark and the rain.

I won't forget him.  Or the mother that inspired him to brave the weather to express his love for her in a simple way.  I wish I had had the time to say something to him, to thank him for inspiring me.  But those moments had been wasted.  In my inner tirade about fashion, I had missed the glorious humanity that stood before me, the act of love that was unfolding.

I had dashed in for ice cream, but left with something much more substantial in my soul: the picture of a young man who braved a rainy night to find a gift to express his love for his mom. 

In red plaid flannel pajama pants.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Framing a Soul

I made the first phone call in December. A neighbor had given me the number. Then the world began to spin with questions and answers and plans and the proposal. After the meeting in which the contractor explained in great detail all that was involved and the final cost, I was exhausted. Exhausted and horrified.

Reality exploded expectation, leaving behind despair.

Picture 332

All I wanted was a little sun porch, but the contractor saw so much more: a new roof and completely residing the house. To make it fireproof. And termite proof. A house that would last for years. It all sounded good, (especially after the uncomfortably close wildfires that destroyed so many homes last summer), and previous attempts to reattach our aging vinyl siding in places were unsuccessful, but the final cost was too much. Way too much. Ridiculously too much. More than we had originally paid for the house itself.

But there were obvious repairs that were needed, and after dragging my feet for a few months, I started looking for other contractors. I found three, and spent a seemingly endless day meeting with them all, one after another, going through the same questions, showing what I wanted done, asking what was practical.

The first one's mantra was, "just tell me what you want and I'll make it happen." Although he obviously had experience, I needed more assurance that what I wanted was architecturally sound and would be aesthetically pleasing.

Number 2 contractor was more helpful, and told me I could save money by doing some things myself. He could give me a materials list and I could do the purchasing and arrange for delivery. But how was I to know which materials were sturdier than others, or where to get them? And his window for completing the project was very narrow. He was an entrepreneur juggling several different businesses.

The third contractor's bid was reasonable, and I felt comfortable working with him. A few more weeks passed before I got up enough courage to commit to the project. I was afraid of two things: choosing the wrong contractor and choosing the wrong plan.  I needed to be able to see what the finished product would look like.

So I went online to find a free CAD program (SketchUp) and set about creating a crude mock up of what I thought we wanted.

Perfectionism is a killer. It's all about the fear of being wrong. It consumes and stifles, and in the end, not doing anything is worse than not doing the wrong thing.  My Dear Professor talked over the details and costs and assured me of his confidence in me to make a good decision.

And so, with a deep breath and a trembling hand I called Number 3 and gave him the green light. I was not prepared for the noise, the mess, the chaos.


A flimsy foundation had to be replaced with a solid one.  The old and rotten had to be torn away to make room for the new. A plumb line was needed to make the lines straight and true.

On the first day, after the crew had finished and left, I opened the door to see the bones of the porch, and the exterior walls devoid of siding. My initial reaction was sheer terror.  It felt so exposed.  The previously uncluttered view from the front door was blocked.  The space seemed too small. The perfectionist voice inside heckled, "You've gone and done it.  Wasted money, wasted time, wasted opportunity."


Reality exploded expectation, leaving behind despair.

After I raged within for awhile, I sought wisdom.  Wisdom told me expectation will always turn to despair in the light of reality. Take a deep breath. Wait. See what develops.

So I waited.


The ensuing days brought wonder and astonishment. The obstructed view became an upward view. What was taking shape was a thing of beauty. A thing created by gifted craftsmen.  As the work progressed, I began to relax and trust.  Although communication with the head carpenter was difficult (he speaks Spanish and I speak English), on the morning of Day 8, I managed to express how much I liked what he was doing. He grinned and said, "I make it beautiful for you."

And he has.

We are currently on Day 16, with 60% completed. It's almost time for the celebration. Visitors have offered comments of approval and delight.


It's not very different, the framing of a house and the framing of a soul. We get a vision of the kind of life we want to live and start on a journey to find it. We want it fireproof, we want it to last, we want it to be practical, we want it to be beautiful.

But we don't want it to cost too much. 

There are many voices who offer paths toward realizing that vision. Some say, "do whatever you want, it doesn't matter,"  others say, "you have to follow these steps to earn it".

Only one voice is the Way.
He will take my desires for small things and turn them into desires for eternal things.

Only one voice is the Truth.
He will take my expectations and show me a glorious reality I could not dream.

Only one voice is the Life.
He will teach my trembling soul how to breathe without fear. 

It will cost me all I have but, in the end, that will seem like nothing at all.

If I turn toward that Voice... if I trust.. if I wait,
                             He will make something beautiful out of my life.

Counting gifts with the community of gratitude:
345.  words of wisdom
346.  his confidence in me
347.  a reasonable bid
348.  skilled hands
349.  an eye for beauty
350.  gratitude that transcends language
351.  chaos that gives birth to order
352.  fear that gives way to trust
353.  a new upward view
354.  a new space
355.  learning to wait
356.  stripping away the old
357.  despair that gives way to joy
358.  a good plan
359.  a solid foundation
360.  a plumb line
361.  the eternal beneath the everyday
362.  hammers & nails
363.  the Master Carpenter

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Meditation for Holy Saturday

(based on an ancient homily, from the Book of Common Prayer)

Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and He has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, He has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, He who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won Him the victory. At the sight of Him, Adam, the first man He had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: 'My Lord be with you all'. Christ answered him: 'And with your spirit'. He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: 'Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light'.

'I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by My own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in My image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in Me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

'See on My face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in My image. On My back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See My hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

'I slept on the cross and a sword pierced My side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced Me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

'Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


 "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.  The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."  2 Peter 3:8-9 (NIV)

Long ago, in a place far away, there was a church that broke my heart. Its people were wounded and wary. They tentatively gathered every Sunday morning with their emotional backs to the wall and arms folded across their chests.

 The posture of protection. Generations of them. Generations.

They went about the business of living and trying to love with hearts numbed by years of hurt. They built walls to keep out the stranger, the different, the unknown, and longed for the good old days when everyone knew everyone else. Surely it was safe back then.

They wrapped themselves in memories warmer than their realities. Incomplete memories that glossed over the bad times in favor of the good. They told themselves, "in secrecy and denial is our strength."

But they still hurt. With every critical word, the pain showed through. And so I knelt in the quiet of a dark and empty sanctuary and prayed, "How long, O Lord? How long before their hearts hear the words from Your heart, the Word that proclaimed to the world Your love? How long before they throw off their threadbare quilts and accept the warmth and healing in the robes You offer? How long?"

One day I heard a song. A song that gave me vision. A vision of what those people would look like with their arms open wide to receive the love and healing He promised. And I longed to sing that song in that place with those people.

"Hear the sound of hearts returning to You
We turn to You
In your Kingdom, broken lives are made new, 
You make us new

But that time did not come. The prayer remained unanswered. "How long, O Lord?" I despaired. And then the day came that we moved out from that place to another, and then another. Moved without seeing the answer. Moved without singing the song. Distance and time blunted my prayers. Yet I waited.

When I had almost forgotten, a small, gentle breeze began blowing. I heard short stories from the church that broke my heart.  Stories of praise, celebration, confession, and healing. I was encouraged.

"Hope is stirring, hearts are yearning for You
We yearn for You"

Could it be...?

 Sunday morning I stood in a different church and sang familiar words, those words that spoke to me so long ago, I had almost forgotten the song.  I stood among different people who embraced the words. And so did I. This new church broke my heart. But the tears were tears of gratitude. A still small voice within asked, "Can it be? Is this the answer?"

Someday we will ALL stand together and sing the song. In a new place. Where all the tears will be wiped away. Where all things will be new.  Someday.

Today, today my heart rejoices in answered prayer.

 "Hosanna, Hosanna!"

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Friday Night Lights

I scrambled to the highest spot on the rock that I could find and waited.  The clouds were amassing across the sky in beautiful patterns and the air was warm.  It had been another mild, sunny day in January.  No snow.


Yesterday, while walking in a neighbor's pasture, we stumbled over emerging sprigs of bluebonnet.  Bluebonnet: my home state flower.  This will be our first bluebonnet spring, together, in Texas in 28 years.  Before we set out on the journey that took us far away from all we knew and loved, I never thought much about spring, or bluebonnets.  In those 28 years of exile, of Yankee winters and snow blanketed landscapes, the humble blue and cream wildflowers became enshrined in our memories, a colorful icon for all that was home.

(Spring, 2009)

Before Dad died, we paid a visit to his hometown of Ennis, smack dab in the middle of bluebonnet country.  We went to the cemetery where his family was buried and stopped to take a picture of the humble rent house he had brought his new bride to in 1946.  They didn't live there very long.  Grandfather offered him a job in Houston, and they moved into a new house built by my uncle's contractor father-in-law. The same house that welcomed me and my baby sister into the world.  The same house my baby sister and I sold after Dad's death 61 years later.

I scanned the sky.  Beautiful cloud formations against the deep blue.  Cream and blue, the color of bluebonnets.




  The rocks at my feet photographed white as the sun set.  White like snow.  The dead leaves on the drought starved tree shone golden.



A wind stirred as the sun slipped behind the horizon.  Just for a moment, a quiet. cool breeze.

Friday night lights.

And all the while, as I waited for the revelation, for the sun to touch down on that brushy rim,  a song played in my mind:

"Glorious, my eyes have the seen the glory of the Lord
Glorious, He stands above the rulers of the Earth"



Glorious, glorious
Lord you are glorious!"
Paul Baloche, "Glorious"