Sunday, March 3, 2013


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1. to fill or litter with things in a disorderly manner;

2. disorderly heap or assemblage;

Clutter is no stranger to me. I have small piles of things all over the house. Next to the chair where I sit in the morning to have my morning coffee is a stack of books, a notebook and fountain pen and various other things that have drifted there. Next to the chair where I sit in the living room is my laptop. As I look at the table on which my laptop sits I see an external hard drive, another stack of books, some sermon manuscripts that never made it to a file drawer, a copy of last year’s tax return and some other odds and ends. On the dresser next to my side of the bed is another stack of books, the most recent copies of the Sun Magazine and Christian Century. And of course, with each stack is a pair of reading glasses.

There is nothing inherently bad in any of those stacks, but there is little room for other things in any of those areas. That is the problem with clutter. We attach ourselves to things we value, but when other things come along there is no room. Sometimes it is necessary to clear the surfaces to make space for new things.

During this Lenten season, I am paying attention to internal clutter- those things that clutter my heart and mind. As I try to create a more spacious place for God to dwell I am aware of how easily I let my life get full – it is full of good things, but sometimes so full that when something new comes along there is no room.

I hope by the time Holy Week arrives there will be enough space to be aware of the darkness so that I might then have a greater awareness of the new life that can emerge when there is room.

Sunday, June 20, 2010



–verb (used with object)

1. to bring forth (young) from the egg.

2. to cause young to emerge from (the egg) as by brooding or incubating.

3. to bring forth or produce; devise; create; contrive; concoct: to hatch a scheme.

When these baby birds finally hatched, their initial survival was dependent on their parents to feed and keep them warm, but as they grew the parents had to let them go. When dreams or ideas are hatched, we sometimes have to let them go so they can mature.

I have been thinking of a woman I know – a long standing resident of the town in which I live. As a school teacher she saw how devastating poverty was for her students. She wished that every student could, at the very least, begin the school year on level ground. So she hatched an idea. She began asking people in her church to donate new boxes of crayons and backpacks and pencils – the essential things for an elementary school student. She inspired other people to care about children they would never see or know, and from the basement of their church they distributed these items to school children who showed up to claim them. Her dream led to an idea that was hatched. That one idea inspired other people to dream and to hatch new ideas. Many years ago this “Back to School” project outgrew the church basement. Other organizations got on board. The women who hatched the idea in the first place gradually gave other the reins to other people and now it has grown so big it takes place at the fairgrounds. I doubt it is what she had in mind when she first hatched her idea, but she had the wisdom and maturity to let it grow beyond her own dreams.

A few years ago this same woman wondered what all the school children who qualified for a free lunch would do in the summertime, so she dared to dream again and let another idea be hatched. She inspired some other people to work on the idea and they got together and gave away free bag lunches in the local parks. In 2005 they gave away 3000 lunches. Last year they gave away 9000 lunches. This year they are getting food from the Central Missouri Food Bank – they have to keep records and post some information required by the government. I doubt this was part of the original idea and dream, but this woman was wise enough and mature enough to let the idea grow. If they abide by the new guidelines, Central Missouri Food Bank is refunded enough money to cover the cost of the food for children in Kirksville as well as enough to help feed children in other communities.

Today my blog post is dedicated to this woman who has hatched some grand ideas to benefit children she will never see or know.

Monday, May 31, 2010


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Function: verb
Inflected Form(s): hoped; hop•ing
Etymology: Middle English, from Old English hopian; akin to Middle High German hoffen to hope
Date: before 12th century
intransitive verb 1 : to cherish a desire with anticipation
transitive verb 1 : to desire with expectation of obtainment
2 : to expect with confidence
When my husband first showed me the robin’s nest there was only 1 egg. Each morning for the next few days there was one more egg. On the fourth day the mother laid her final egg, and then sat patiently, keeping them warm until time for them to hatch.
For the couple of weeks these eggs have been in the nest I have hoped they would make it to the hatching stage. I hoped the mother would not be caught by a neighborhood cat. I hoped neighborhood children will not discover the nest and knock it out of the low lying bush. I hoped the winds accompanying the spring storms would not be strong enough to blow the nest from its perch.
There are no guarantees but I have continued to let my hope build. I have waited expectantly for the eggs to hatch.
Sometimes what we hope for doesn’t come to pass. Couples can’t conceive. Pregnancies end tragically. Our dreams are crushed. Relationships don’t turn out as we hoped. Death comes prematurely. We begin walking down a road with a goal in mind only to find that a detour is necessary. Sometimes the detour takes us to places of pain and sometimes joy. Sometimes we choose the detour and sometimes we have no choice.
Watching and waiting for these eggs to hatch coincides with changes in my children’s lives. So as I hope for these eggs to hatch and the baby birds to be healthy, I find myself hoping for my own babies to be healthy and happy and to find their places in the world.

Monday, March 1, 2010



Function: verb Inflected Form(s): dripped; drip·ping Etymology: Middle English drippen, from Old English dryppan; akin to Old English dropa drop

Date: before 12th century

transitive verb 1 : to let fall in drops; 2 : to let out or seem to spill copiously;

intransitive verb 1 a : to let fall drops of moisture or liquid; b : to overflow with or as if with moisture 2 : to fall in or as if in drops 3 : to waft or pass gently

Yesterday the icicles began melting. Drip, drip, drip – all day until the sun began setting and it was again too cold for anything to melt. Each time a drop of water fell, the contour of the melting icicle changed. The changes were small – sometimes barely noticeable, but by the end of the day many of the icicles that had clung to the gutter along the front of my house were gone. Enough drops had fallen to melt them entirely.

As I watched the drops fall to the ground I began thinking about how we are slowly changed over time. Life’s events shape and reshape us. We experience joy and sadness. We live through times when we are acutely aware of God’s presence and other times when we are not sure God was ever present. Drip by drip we are changed. Rarely do I look back over a day or week and feel changed over that span of time, but as I look back a year or two or ten or twenty, I know I am different. I am different because of the path I have chosen to live. I am different because of the life partner I have chosen. I am different because I chose to devote time to being a mother.

I am changed when I choose to think poorly of another of God’s children. When I choose to hold on to anger and resentment I am changed. Sometimes the changes are barely noticeable, but drip by drip my life is impoverished. I am changed when I open my heart to someone else. Sometimes the change is barely noticeable, but over time the changes etch their effects onto my soul.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


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Function: adjective
Date: 14th century
1 a : treated, affected, or crusted over by freezing b : subject to long and severe cold
2 a : incapable of being changed, moved, or undone : b : not available for present use c (1) : drained or incapable of emotion (2) : expressing or characterized by cold unfriendliness

(adapted from Ash Wednesday homily)

As I drive through the countryside of Northeast Missouri, it is hard to imagine springtime – hard to imagine that anything will be green again. It is hard to imagine that anything will grow – that anything might be hearty enough to push through the frozen ground and up through the snow. Everything is frozen.
Tonight (Ash Wednesday), our liturgy will ask us to consider what it is that freezes our souls. What are those things we do that keep us frozen with fear? What keeps us from living fully in God’s presence? What keeps us from being more fully aware of God’s love for us?
What are the habits, both big and small that diminish our souls? What are those things that keep our souls buried? What is it we use to medicate ourselves – to make ourselves feel better in times of anxiety?
Those things are different for every one of us – for some it is alcohol or food or the need to buy one more new thing or the inability to spend any significant time away from technology. For some it holding on to fear that keeps them immobile. For some it is the constant need for the approval of others; for some it the desire to be in control. For some it is the temptation to project their own fears onto others No matter who we are, we have those places in our souls that we manage to keep frozen. Those places we try to hide away in hopes that no one sees.
It is those places that our liturgy will invite us to examine tonight and for the next 6 weeks – to be brave enough to take an honest look at what keeps us frozen –frozen to ourselves, to each other and to God.
Lent is about repenting, and for most of us it is about slowing down enough to know where those frozen places are for us – to recognize those habits that keep the ground of our own souls so frozen that nothing can grow, to name them, to let ourselves feel the sadness that they cause in our lives – recognizing that they keep us from being fully present to God and to each other.
The liturgy asks us to repent which simply means to turn, to turn from whatever it is that stands between us and God – to turn from the cold to the warmth, from the dark to the light – to move close enough to God to let those frozen places thaw so that they become less hard and brittle.
Observing the season of Lent is about opening ourselves up to the spaciousness of God – to let ourselves imagine what there might be trying to push its way out of the darkness and into the light.
And so, during this Lenten season, we take on new disciplines that open us up to God. Some might set aside more time for prayer or meditation or to read devotional materials that draw our attention to the spiritual life. Some of us will fast from food and other things we are to use mindlessly.
When we allow those hard and frozen places to give way to God’s love and grace in our own lives, we are more able be loving and extend grace to those around us. So that when we let go of those things that keep us frozen, and when we turn our attention to God, we are turning our attention to those things God cares about – letting our concerns be shifted to God’s concerns.
The Biblical witness to our faith is clear about what those concerns are – the prophet says it this way: “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them?” And he goes on to say, when you have done this “The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;”
My hope for us all is that we might have observe Lent in such a way that when Easter comes we can celebrate that God can bring life from death, that frozen places can become fertile ground – places where lovely things grow and flourish, and that our own lives will be evidence of it. Amen

Sunday, February 14, 2010


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Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English derk, from Old English deorc; akin to Old High German tarchannen to hide
Date: before 12th century
1 a : devoid or partially devoid of light : not receiving, reflecting, transmitting, or radiating light b : transmitting only a portion of light
2 a : wholly or partially black b of a color : of low or very low lightness c : being less light in color than other substances of the same kind
3 a : arising from or showing evil traits; b : relating to grim or depressing circumstances

It is still long before daybreak when I awaken in the morning. The house is dark, but I don’t have any trouble finding my way from the bedroom to the coffee pot in the kitchen. There are landmarks along the way. I stop at the thermostat on the wall and turn the heat up a little. I know just where it is – it is in the same place as yesterday and the day before. Then I make my way around the coffee table and between the sofa and chair into the kitchen. I know where everything is – the furniture is where it has always been, so the darkness is easily navigated.

We all have interior landmarks we count on to help us navigate our inner lives. We give ourselves to vocations and jobs that shape our identity. We find companions to walk through life with us. We give birth to children who need us to walk with them. We find faith communities that sustain us. Eventually, these landmarks shift in some way – we lose our jobs to a failing economy or we have given enough years to it that we retire. Companions die, children move out, faith communities change. Spiritual practices that helped us feel connected to God seem flat, and we don’t know how to connect anymore.

What we counted on yesterday to help us navigate is gone or changed enough that we no longer recognize it.

My workday is flooded with people who are groping around in the darkness for something to grab, something that will steady them. The only way I can do my job well is to know what steadies me when my own landmarks have shifted.

On my office wall hangs a print with these words.
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown!”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way."

These words remind me that there will be times in my life when I will walk in darkness. It is inescapable. So I try to remember to put my hand into God’s and know that I am safe there.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


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Function: preposition
Etymology: Middle English betwene, preposition & adverb, from Old English betwēonum, from be- + -twēonum (dative plural) (akin to Gothic tweihnai two each); akin to Old English twā two
Date: before 12th century
1: by the common action of : jointly engaging
4: in preference for one or the other of
5: in confidence restricted to

Twice in the last couple of weeks, I have sat in the room of a patient actively dying. Both times family and friends have filled the room watching attentively for signs of life and then for none. Breathing patterns change when someone is close to death; when they are hanging between this world and the next. Patients begin to experience periods of apnea, and there are long spaces between each breath. The space between those breathes becomes longer and longer, and the expectation and dread that fills that space becomes palpable. We all watch and both long for and dread the last breath. With each exhalation, I find myself counting the seconds between 1,2,3,4,5…20 inhale. Families are both relieved and saddened at the inhalation, and the question is always “How long do you think this will take?” Sometimes it is hours and sometimes days.
I find when I allow myself to fully enter that place with families, my own breathing becomes shallow and when I leave I have to remind myself to breathe deeply. Time becomes marked by the inhalation and exhalation and the time between is just that, the space that is separated by the inhale and the exhale. I have to remind myself that most of life is lived in the between spaces. The danger in working with the dying is that I am always waiting for the next death, and sometimes I forget to use the time between. I forget to write and take pictures. I take for granted my soul mate who shares life with me. I forget to say “thanks be to God” for the little things – for meals shared with others, for laughter and tears, for good books and music – for all the things that fill the between spaces.