Monthly Archives: February 2015

In the Garden

I love seeing posts from Facebook friends from places like the beach, a favorite restaurant or even their local Crossfit gym, declaring, “I’m in my happy place!”

This morning, when I saw that today’s Lenten-practice word was PLACE, I remembered a cross-stitched saying by Dorothy Frances Gurney that was on my grandmother’s wall when I was a young girl:

“The kiss of the sun for pardon,

The song of the birds for mirth,

One is nearer God’s heart in a garden

Than anywhere else on earth.”

My happy place is in a garden. Any garden. Or, in a nursery; full of plants that will eventually make their home in someone’s garden. I love the ritual of planting — of digging just the right size of hole, loosening and, when needed, augmenting the soil, adding fertilizer, arranging the roots, filling the hole, watering in the plant, and stepping back to see the fruits of my labors.

I like to read the plant tag that tells me how large the plant will become. The photo in this blog post is from my own garden. I bought the pink and white sunpatiens in the spring, when they were very small. I could scarcely believe the plant tag when it stated that these puny starter plants would become 18 – 24″ across. With time, and water and fertilizer — Voila! these lovelies graced the stone path through my garden for nearly an entire summer.

That’s what a garden is for me — a place of possibilities.

In my view, James Taylor hit the nail on the head when he penned the lyrics to his song, Up Er Mai (named for a trek he made up a mountain in China):

“We could never have guessed

We were already blessed

There we were, where we are In the garden.”

I’m with you on that one, Mr. Taylor!

What’s your happy place?

Leaving a Mark

Admittedly, I am not the most graceful person on my feet. “You’re like a bull in a china shop” was a exasperated phrase uttered frequently by my mom when I was growing up. Last week, I bumped my shin into the side of my dresser. As someone who bruises easily, I thought, “Well, that’s going to leave a mark.” Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed a nasty bruise on my shin. It took me a minute, but I remembered my recent not-so-pleasant encounter with a piece of furniture. Sure enough, it leave a mark.

“REMEMBER.” That’s today’s word in the continuing Lenten-practice. It’s about leaving a mark.

On my silent, contemplative walk today, I saw a tree that had been burned at one time. I wondered how it happened. Was a child, a teen-ager or an adult to blame? Was it accidental? Was it as a result of a childish dare, or of adolescent rebellion? All I know is that whatever happened, whenever it happened, left a mark on this tree’s trunk for all to see. And, if the perpetrators still live in the neighborhood, I can imagine that they remember what happened, every time they see this tree.

Because it left a mark.

Today’s encounter with the burned tree deepened my awareness of the mark that the words and actions of others left on my life. Like, the day in sixth grade when my teacher told me that I had a beautiful voice after my first-ever (nerve-racking) public solo of “Streets of Loredo.” Mr. Dunn’s words left a mark. I also remember the sting of shame I felt when my first grade teacher held up my ditto homework paper (Note: those of you who are younger than 50 might need to look up what a ditto is) and announced to the entire class that I had gotten every one of the problems wrong. “I can’t believe it,” Mrs. Paul said, “because the assignment was as easy as pie.” At the time, I didn’t understand whether making a pie was easy or hard, but I can tell you that those words also left a mark. Another vivid memory, all of these years later.

Today’s encounter with the burned tree also deepened my awareness of the mark that my own words and actions have left on someone else. I remember the look of delight on a friend’s face when something I’ve said or done left behind a mark of love. I also remember hearing the catch of hurt in another’s voice when something I’ve said or done left behind a mark of judgment or pain.

Our minds are filled a lifetime of memories that are added-unto every day, as our life continues to unfold. We remember a fun day, a caring hug. We remember an unkind word, a shove on the playground. Each of these experiences leaves its mark on how we see ourselves.

Please, God, I pray, help me remember the crucial lesson of the burned tree trunk as I move through my days.

Our Perfectly Imperfect Path

“… there are no wrong turns, only unexpected paths.”

Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

I was reminded today of an old story, recounted by Mark Nepo in The Book of Awakening. This story offers rich insight and thought-provoking questions about today’s Lenten-focus word: “PATH.”

A young man in Alaska is stranding in the bitter cold on the side of a road, holding a handmade sign reading, “MIAMI.” He has been standing there for such a long time that his frigid fingers can barely hold his sign, and he is swiftly losing hope of hitching a ride to this warm destination. After many hours, a friendly trucker stops and says, “Well, I’m not going to Miami, but I am going as far as Fort Lauderdale. Dejected, the young man says, “Oh,” and sends the trucker on his way.

My chuckle over this story is short-lived, as I realize how many times I have turned down an opportunity because it wasn’t exactly what my metaphoric handmade sign stated. How often do I lose sight of the possibilities, right where I am because I insist on all or nothing?

I am reminded of the old saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Like an ancient labyrinth, I see the winding turns of my life – paths that sometimes make unexpected hair-pin turns, and then end up, after lengthy travel, in a spot that is closer to where I began than I’d like to admit. Was I looking for my own “Miami?” And, when I think about it, aside from my self-imposed cold from standing outside with my sign, wasn’t my “Alaska” a beautiful place in its own right?

And then I read Nepo’s reminder that in our lives, there are really no wrong turns. The unexpected path, when honored and journeyed, often brings us to a place that we could not have imagined. Like our young hitchhiker, perhaps our life’s purpose, or our soulmate is found someplace other than Miami.

Maybe what we need today is found right here in the path, where “X” marks the spot?


COVENANT. That is the focus-word for the 6th day of Lent in this year’s word-a-day practice. As I entered the day with this word in mind, my thoughts went first to the obvious: the covenant-sign of a rainbow that God placed in the sky as a covenant to Noah after the story of the flood. A visual reminder of the covenant of life between God and humankind.

“Okay,” I thought, “that’s that. Today’s word is pretty easy.” That is, until I decided to look up its origin in the dictionary. That’s when my preconceived notion was put on its on its metaphorical ear. The word, covenant, has its origins in the Old French word, convenīre, which means to come together or to agree.

Come together? Agree? Those are two-sided concepts; not one-sided. Somehow, I always thought of this particular covenant as something God promised to us. That beautiful rainbow after the rain, there in the sky just to remind us to receive the promise of life. An open-my-arms-wide-and-recieve kind of covenant. Nothing required on my end except to just receive — right?

Wrong. I really did know better. I worked with legal documents for many years in my job with a major technology corporation. An agreement always included two parties and two signatures. There was always reciprocal terms – Party A does this and Party B does that.

I thought of the vows that Randy and I wrote to each other for our wedding day. I lovingly spoke my vows to Randy, and he, equally-lovingly, spoke his vows to me. It was a public declaration of our commitment to, and compromises for the other. Can you imagine a wedding where vows were spoken by only one spouse?

This realization stopped me in my tracks. If God entered into a life-focused covenant with Noah and all humankind, what is our part in this covenant – not only to God, but to each other as human beings, as well as to our own selves? How often have I failed to live up to my end of the agreement? What is it that I covenant with God each day? With other human beings? With this planet? With myself?

These questions; so close to my heart as I went through my day. I can tell you that it changed how I viewed the other person in the elevator, in the parking lot, walking in my neighborhood. It changed how I looked at the beauty of the natural world around me. It changed how I view myself. And it changed my conversation and communion with God.

Each of these, an entity to whom I make a love-filled vow every single day – and open wide my heart to hear its echo back to me.

Cyclamen in February

Today’s Lent-practice word is JOY. Finally, an easier word! Snippets of joy from my day included:

  • The extra-creamy smoothness of my morning smoothie
  • Planting cyclamen on a February day
  • The comfort of warm water flowing over my shoulders as I showered
  • The anticipation of sharing a coffee conversation with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in weeks
  • The over-the-top, from-the-toes joy of the coffee shop cashier as he delightedly took our drink orders; so glad that this shift was in a new Tully’s location away from the one he normally works, serving “grumpy” (his words, not mine!) Boeing workers
  • The warmth of the light-lines being off-and-on painted across the right side of my face as the late-afternoon sun danced between passing trees as I drove (nearly the speed limit!) down Interstate 405
  • The clink-clink of my cat’s collar tag as it clanked against his food bowl, as he happily ate after a few weeks of unexplained lack of appetite
  • Amongst the bills and unwanted catalogs, receiving an actual card from someone I love in my mail today
  • Daylight at 5:20 pm!

And being reminded of this lovely quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:

“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God”

And you, friend? What brought joy to your soul today?


Today is the third day of Lent — the forty non-Sunday days before Easter. For me, it is a period of intentional time dedicated to introspection and reflection. Like the silent, contemplative walks that I’ve recently enjoyed with my companion, I find a surprising amplification of this seemingly solitary practice when I am aware of the millions of people around the world who are similarly-focused.

This year, the United Methodist Church that I attend invited us to a Lenten practice of focusing together on one pre-determined word for each of the forty days. We were encouraged to share a photograph on social media each day that speaks to us of the word for that day. Eureka!  As someone who has struggled for months trying to develop a daily discipline and rhythm of writing, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I welcomed this opportunity to not only think about a visual image to represent the ‘word of the day’ but to also form a daily practice of writing about it. .

Today’s word is: ALONE. Admittedly, my first, visceral reaction was, well, “Yuck.” As someone who has been alone for nearly 2 1/2 years after being widowed, I winced at the word. Sure, I have a plethora of family, friends and a faith community that often fills my days. And I also spend a good portion of my time alone. ALONE. It carries a certain sadness in its five combined letters, doesn’t it? I can think of plenty of other words that I’d much rather focus on.

But here it is. ALONE. Okay, let’s give this a go.

As I sit in ALONE, reflect on ALONE, let ALONE wash over and seep into myself, I feel an unexpected lighten-ing within. I’m alone as I write this post. And, aside from the whirling sound of my washing machine as it enters the spin cycle downstairs, it is quiet. I am dry. I am warm. I am neither hungry nor thirsty. My heartbeat and breathing slow. I am calm.

I begin to wonder how many people at this very moment are in a place that is not at all quiet? How many people right now are not dry nor warm? How many are both hungry and thirsty? How many in a state of turmoil? How many would love to have a washing machine with a spin cycle? I feel them. Somehow, in this moment, I see them. I sense oneness with them, though our present circumstances couldn’t be more different.

In the confines of this house, with its roof and walls, sure, I’m alone. And yet, I can hear my next-door neighbor’s dog barking. I know that there are other people who are home right now in my neighborhood.

I wonder: Is there some arbitrarily-defined distance between one living being and another that somehow constitutes aloneness?

I often visualize a metaphorical river that runs beneath all things. A river of life. And all of us – people, animals, plants, insects, sea creatures, and organisms – have metaphorical roots that tap into the very same water source. I look up the word origin of ALONE on and am stunned by the obvious. ALONE comes from the Middle English ‘al – one’; all (wholly) one.

Suddenly, my initial reaction of “Yuck” to the word, ALONE has been turned on its head. I am really not ALONE. You are really not ALONE. And yet, we are all (wholly) one – connected by the same river-waters into which our roots plunge. ALONE. It’s a great word!

“Then how can it be said I am alone

When all the world is here to look on me?”

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

And a Worm on the Sidewalk

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been walking in the mornings – not at all something unusual. Except that it is Wonderfully Unusual.

A friend recently invited me to join her in her new practice of intentional, silent, contemplative walking. Together. While this seemed to be a practice more suited for solitude, I was intrigued, and agreed to join her.

At first, it felt strange to walk silently next to someone with whom I actually wanted to be better acquainted. I have questions I want to ask her. I want to engage in one-one-one dialogue; of listening and sharing. Yet, in the thud-thud rhythm of our feet on the sidewalk and synchronized swish-swish of our rain-jacketed arms, I’ve noticed something completely unexpected. As we walk in silence I am keenly aware of a deep-calling-to-deep connection — a sacred journey of sorts — smack-dab in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. How profoundly powerful, to walk side-by-side with another person who, for those moments, has the same intention of being fully present.

As a spiritual seeker, I’ve developed a level of observation that often allows me to see the sacred, not only in nature, but in ordinary and often man-made things. Yet, I’ve noticed an accelerated deepening of my senses as I journey with my silent companion. Somehow, in this joint activity, I become more fully myself, with a heightened sense of awareness and ability to notice things that seem to be wanting to show themselves to me:

  • A plethora of well-chewed gum, stuck to a sign post at a neighborhood bus stop – a youthful statement of rebellion, as well as a desire to be noticed.
  • A bright red rocking chair in a garden clearing near the sidewalk – a sign of welcome and of radical hospitality.
  • A broken sidewalk – a powerful testament to the man-made concrete conceding to the God-made roots beneath it.
  • Three cherry trees, planted in a row, at the same time, in the same soil and light conditions. One of them in nearly-full bloom, another beginning to bud and the third still deep in its winter dormancy – each a reflection of the perfect balance of the wisdom found in diverse reactions to the same situation.
  • A child’s pedal-powered, 1950’s-era red metal car now parked in a garden and reimagined as a planter – embodying the passing of time and the sometimes-unwanted truth of the consistent presence of change in our lives.
  • And, a worm on the sidewalk – a tender reminder of the very moment I fell in love with my husband over 20 years ago when he rescued such a humble creature from a hot sidewalk and placed it carefully in someone’s garden.

Would I have noticed these things, had I been walking alone? I have no way of knowing. Perhaps so, yet I am quite sure that their message to me would have been more muddled, more abstract, less substantial.

And so we journey on. In this contemplative, companionable just-short-of-power-walking pace, the miracle of our need for each other plays itself out. Like the glorious frog-concert that was part of our recent walk past a neighborhood pond, we each sing in our silence a song of harmony and oneness.

Shhhhhh — listen – can you hear it?