•October 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Holy Vernacular readers, I’m excited to share a new site with you.  I’ll be blogging there from now on.

And the site is the place to go to explore and imagine a bigger life, with more recess and fun, more adventure, relationships of depth where you are known for who you are and celebrated, and it’s even a forum for asking the “What if?” questions.

We plan events; we consult on making your events and workplace more spacious; we write and speak.

Check us out at: http://spacious.me, and send your friends too!


•September 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Readers… stay tuned.  Everything’s going to be moving over to the site of my new venture, SPACIOUS.  It’ll launch before long, and meanwhile I’m working on it 24/7 and writing things that’ll go there (as well as a book).  Hold tight.

Sibling Synergy: Every Mother’s Dream

•August 10, 2011 • Leave a Comment

They played together.  They ate chicken nuggets together.  Maybe they jumped on their parents’ bed when the babysitter came, practicing for Olympic gymnastics while listening to Kenny G.  They plotted things and covered other things up, and they had nicknames for each other that were theirs and theirs alone.

They look somewhat alike, but beyond that they’re simply bonded by the shared experience of growing up with that particular pair of parents (or family circumstance).  They “get it” in a way that others don’t, good and bad.  Sure they used to squabble over which Power Ranger each got to be in their backyard games.  They might have even bit a chunk of flesh from time to time out of a stray arm or stolen a CD or trashed the other’s favorite shirt.

But mostly, they bonded, they’re connected, and they’re relatively glad to be brothers and sisters.

That’s every parent’s dream… that their children will like each other, bond, be close, even share some of life’s experiences together. It’s even the reason that some people have a second child (or a third) … so that their children will have the joy of siblings, companionship in the family, someone to fight with in the back seat of the car so the parents can talk in the front.

So I’m reflecting today on the good news/bad news of the Dougherty siblings, on the lam, wielding guns, robbing banks and thought to be hiding outside Colorado Springs at this moment.  Have you heard the story?

On one hand the parents can be glad that they’re bonded, that they want to spend time together, that they have common goals.  On the other hand, well… the other hand seems obvious.

So I’m wondering how it works when any three siblings are on the run together.  Do their roles in the family hold true?  Is one the clown?  Does one dominate?  What are the birth-order dynamics at play?

Do they say things like, “I know you are but what am I?” and “It takes one to know one?”  Do they scream out at rest stops, “I call riding shotgun.  Mom always lets me do it on Tuesdays?”  Do they fight over who got the biggest piece of the last cinnamon bun from Holiday Inn Express?   Do they bicker over which radio station or playlist to listen to?

In the quiet moments between gunfire, do they talk about that weird way that their dad used to sit and stare into space on the front porch?  Or do they wish for some of their mother’s lemon chicken?  Or do they wonder if they should risk getting caught by calling Grandma on her birthday next week?

“Kids will be kids,” they say, and although these three are solid grown-ups, I can’t help but picturing them as scared kids who started a game (maybe an extension of something they used to play in the basement) and who now are out there wondering where this all ends (and perhaps where it all started).




Quotidien Wonders

•August 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

“The wonders of God are everywhere, and most people miss ’em.”  That was the way a man named Sahr greeted me at Reagan National Airport one time, when we were seated near each other in the terminal.  And I agreed with him, and we were off and running in a conversation that has stayed with me.

That was a wise and true statement.  My mind is occupied these days with big ideas, long-held dreams coming to fruition, exciting possibilities, new friends, travel… every day a boatload of mental activity and stimulation.

And sometimes in the process of thinking forward, I miss now.  Quiet, good things.  I’m stopping to recount a few.  I could stand to dwell in the present moment for a few minutes.  Here are a few snapshots of the last few days:

  • A few days ago, I was feeling lonely… sad… just down.  I stopped and prayed, rather demanding of God that he send me one of my cool friends… just some sort of encouragement from the ether, that’s all I wanted (demanded).  It can be lonely working on solitary projects all day. And I  wanted someone to show up.  Within a few minutes I heard a noise at my office window. I looked over and there was, on the ledge, a male cardinal staring at me, sort of pecking on the screen. It stayed there a while, 10 seconds or so.  I know the habits of “my” cardinals, the ones who live in my yard.  And they do not usually come visitin’.  Since cardinals are a sign of the Holy Spirit, of God’s presence, I had to deduce that God sent me the A team… himself to cheer me.  It worked.
  • I’ve been studying the book of Esther in the Bible.  She was a cool Jewish woman who saved her people through bravery.  I’ve been meditating on her life.  So yesterday when I was surprised by a stranger in my front yard (literally surprised, for I was listening to a loud lecture on earphones), I was a bit taken aback to find that her name was “Esther.”  I ended up spending an hour and a half with her, and in the end we ended up at her faraway home where she gave me a piece of beautiful Peruvian pottery.  I can’t make sense of everything that happens (or much of it) but it was a wonder.  She’s a wonder, 65-year-old Peruvian Esther.
  • I have a friend, let’s call him “N.”  My Spanish isn’t good enough to know as much of his story as I’d like to know.  And that hurts me… to know that there are things I want to know, should know, about a good man whom I care about, a man from El Salvador who works three jobs here and hasn’t seen his family in years.  I studied Spanish for a while so I could actually hear his story… and yet I got busy, let the lessons lapse, and thus I keep showing up in all our conversations saying the same lame things, “It’s nice to see you,”  “How’s your family?”  “Have you been working alot?”  That’s enough to break my heart… for there is so much to find out about people and so much more to ask and say, and we rarely bother.  Sure it can be because we have a language barrier, but it can also just be a complacency barrier or a trust barrier.  I don’t like it when I accept barriers to communication and love with people, needless ones.  But the point of wonder in the exchange with N was this: no matter how many times we have the same limited conversation, he offers such grace to me, this time simply saying, “veintiocho agosto,” an acknowledgment that my birthday is coming.  He’s a gentle wonder.
  • And this morning I watched my husband as he left the house for a run.  And I thought of an old acquaintance, Ron, who ran by my house about 15 years ago on a beautiful day.  We waved and smiled, and then about three blocks later he dropped dead of a heart attack.  Was I the last person who knew him and greeted him on that sunny day that forever decimated his family?  Maybe.  So I was thinking of the wonder of how most of the time we get to see the people we love again.  When we part, we assume we will.  And mostly we do.  And that is beautiful.  I’m grateful and not taking it for granted that my husband returned to the house, that I got to taste the sweat when I greeted him with a kiss.
  • And finally, I’ve got a kitchen full of ripe tomatoes and a tomato sandwich to look forward to after a few hours of work.
Life is good.

Fire and Rain

•July 21, 2011 • 1 Comment

“I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain.  I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end.  I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend….”

Yesterday I had a full day.  I got up and got dressed and did my usual routine, including the application of mascara. And then my usual routine continued with something bringing me to tears.  Feeling tears rush down my cheeks is as common as showering, dressing and putting on the mascara that my ophthalmologist wants me to not wear due to her insistence that I am practically deformed-looking as my eyelids continue to droop in midlife.

So after making a mental note to go buy some waterproof mascara, I took off to go downtown and meet a friend for lunch.  This friend and I have been hanging on the topic of fire lately, reflecting on what it means to be on fire and to need to be on fire because there are icebergs to melt (a favorite quote of mine from abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison). Images of fire have been lapping at me in prayer, in conversation, in my mind. In fact I’m doing edits on a book I’ve just written, and the central theme of it is the beauty of being on fire vs. keeping ourselves fireproof.

And there’s so much to say about fire and its uses and roles and dangers and beauty.

But today I’m thinking about the juxtaposition of fire and rain. Of course I’m playing James Taylor as I write this.  I have three versions of his song on repeat. And I know all the stories about the song coming from his time in a mental institution and the death of a friend there.

And though I’m not in the institution nor did anybody in my life die, I’m singing that chorus: “Won’t you look down upon me Jesus? You’ve got to help me make a stand… you’ve just got to see my through another day.  My body’s aching and my time is at hand. I won’t make it any other way.”

No melodrama intended.  I’m fine.  I have a fun, productive day planned. But I’m sitting with the reality of life… of the shadow side of all the bright and shiny striving and hoping and longing; I acknowledge the rain that balances the fire or even douses it sometimes.

I’m thinking about cruising along yesterday on one of my favorite DC streets with an incredible view of the city, looking forward to meeting my friend for lunch and then an afternoon and evening with other great people and other good work. All was well with the world and with me, and then I was just crying, crying, crying. And the mascara was flowing and stinging and burning my eyes. And my nose was turning red.

It may have had something to do with passing a group of toddlers wearing t-shirts indicating they were part of a program in one of our local shelters for homeless families. And though they were adorable and freshly scrubbed and happy looking as they toddled along, my heart did throb a bit over the inequity in this city, in this world, between those kids and the ones a few miles west who will spend their days (and, actually, lives) with vastly different prospects.

It may have had something to do with the memory from the day before of sitting in a chair getting a pedicure while watching starving children and their mothers in Somalia on the big-screen television.

It may have had something to do with a conversation the night before with a very good group of people about where we belong and what forms us and my own realization of the admixture of loss and joy in that realm.

And I was struck with how poignant life can be, even in the best of circumstances.  We don’t have to have tragedy for reality to touch us with its ache.

We can have mountaintop experiences and then descend to normalcy with such speed that we get a case of the bends. We can have such a deep connection with dear people that, when our time with them is over, we just long for more as if we were gasping for oxygen. We can have all we ever wanted and somehow know there’s even more to be had.

Everything good in this life is a beautiful, incomplete approximation of the perfection of what will be when God has restored it all one day. And our souls just know it.

Deep down we want that consummation of a perfect new heaven and new earth.  We want the deep intimacy that comes when all our longings for connection are satisfied, when all pain is ended, when all tears are dried up, when all injustice ceases.  We even want to live with the integrity that we aim for instead of continuing to insist on our own luxury at the expense of others.

This is a sort of homesickness for God communion, now and forever.  And I am feeling it so deeply I could explode.

I feel it even as my fun car propels me to beautiful people. I feel it even though my desk looks out over a gorgeous tree in which two cardinals have landed to cheer me as I have typed this. I know that ache even as I have good and meaningful work to do in a comfortable house with air conditioning and fresh water and enough food.

I admit the homesickness even as I am one blessed woman, on fire and excited about my life, energized to do things that I hope will matter.

I’ve seen fire, and I’ve seen rain. And they both have their place in a life in touch with reality.

But some days reality is a little too much for me.  So I put on James Taylor, admit it to you, let the tears flow, and march on.

Who are your brothers and sisters? How do you define your generation?

•June 24, 2011 • 3 Comments

Wally had a big influence. Where would any of us be without our brothers and sisters?

I love the spaciousnessof having a wide variety of friends. You people make my life complete. You know who you are. Thanks.

No need to repeat what I’ve already said about it in Catapult, an online magazine I enjoy, so I’ll link you over to an article I had published there today about MY CHOSEN GENERATION.

And I’d love to hear about other people’s posses and cohorts, whether multigenerational or not. Or about your dreams for such things.

“Not Elvis”

•June 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I see him most days as I zip around the neighborhood. He’s been an Elvis look-alike, dress-alike for years, a clearly cultivated persona. This is not bloated Elvis, or flamboyant Elvis or even dying-on-the-toilet Elvis (was that a myth?). And he’s not even Army Elvis or daddy Elvis or “I’m with Priscilla” Elvis. This is generic Elvis. Elvis at his core without any of the drama going on.

Yesterday I saw him in all black, bell-bottom pants, and a wide white belt. No guitar.  No sunglasses.  But the haircut, the sideburns, the 70s-era duds and the swagger.

Usually he’s alone, and he seems quiet. I talk to strangers a lot but he doesn’t seem particularly open to that so I’ve left him alone.

On Halloween the local drugstore has him hand out candy at the neighborhood’s sidewalk party for kids. That’s my only evidence that he admits he’s Elvis-y.

Though his whole life has — for years at least — been about being Elvis. So I imagine if I talked to him, I’d find out that he does “admit that he’s Elvis-y.”

But… he’s not Elvis. And neither am I. And neither are you.

And I’ve been thinking about what it feels like to define ourselves by who we wish we were or admire or by who we model ourselves after. When in reality, whatever you are, you’re NOT that. Cause you’re you.

How obvious is this?  On one hand it doesn’t even bear writing about. You could hit the “trite/delete” button and just go on with your day.

But I’m thinking about all the things I’ve done in my life to have people think I’m something that I’m not. Or things I do so that people will know who I actually am… but that could just happen without an audience, without so much studied self-awareness or desire for others’ affirmation.

I was with a friend in another country recently. And she was telling me that she is most at home there (not her native country) and that her heart has been drawn there since she was young. She said that when she’s anywhere else, she’s thinking about who she is and how she’s doing in her interactions with people and in her moving about, but when she’s in her adopted homeland she just IS. And feels free.

That made so much sense to me. Sometimes we find that homeland with geography. Sometimes we find that homeland with particular people. That’s something I’ve found as I’ve come to be able to feel God’s excitement over who I am (He sees you that way too!).

It’s getting more and more possible to just be me, in the crap and in the glory (as I wrote about in my last post). I’m full of both. Nothing unusual. And it’s normal and okay.

That realization makes it less and less necessary for me to be so “out there,” so focused on my persona, so adamant that I am an INDIVIDUAL, so pushy in my desire to say something meaningful to help somebody or to be a solution to something (HA!), to overshare personal stuff so as to be the poster child for risk and vulnerability, or to need to have my energy and passion flit and fly all over the place.

I’m not knocking Elvis; I’m a fan.  Nor am I knocking “Not Elvis.”  He’s a neighbor.  In fact I hope I meet him. And his story may be totally different than I thought. Or he may really be Elvis. What do I know?

But I am thinking about how much I tend to define myself by what I’m not, or by what I am, when really I want to just BE and not think so damn much about myself either way.

That would be a real trip to GRACEland.

Taking Care of Business Elvis-Style

Glory and Crap

•June 20, 2011 • Leave a Comment

A perfect illustration of life:

I was on a walk.  Feeling a little sorrowful (can sorrow really be experienced in an itsy-bitsy dose?).  Feeling a little wonderful.  The normal twin emotions of living between “now” and “not yet.”

The weather was (my) perfect — 68 degrees and breezy, and I was walking in an area with glorious high trees.  They were swaying in the breeze, rustling as I walked by.  I was arrested by the combination of that sight and what hit my ears.  Here’s what it looked like:

I had my iPod on a random shuffle and had probably been bouncing between Teenage Lobotomy and Chain of Fools, or some such combo, when a glorious segment of Bach’s Mass in B Minor came on.  It resounded not just through my earbuds but through my spirit. Listen in: 2-13 Osanna (Da Capo) (pretend you can watch the video along with it).  You get the idea?

I was so overcome in all of my senses, that I just decided to lie down and watch the trees, listen to the music, smell the nearby flowers, feel the cool grass, and not rush on.  And as I settled into a spot on the curb, I realized I’d put my hands in dog crap.

I actually laughed out loud.  It cracked me up.  For that is what life is like, isn’t it?  Our glorious times marred by, well, crap.  And our crappy times potentially redeemed and made glorious.

I love how life imitates, well, life.

Working on “Spacious”

•June 6, 2011 • 2 Comments

Readers… I’m working on something really exciting, and I wanted you to be the first to know (though I admit my husband’s been in on it for a few years now).

After 12 years of working towards it and 5 years of targeted preparation, I’m getting really close to launching a website and enterprise called “Spacious.”

It’s a compendium for people who want MORE!

That’s all I’ll say about it today.

But I did want you to know what I’m off doing, since I’m not posting as frequently as usual.

Stay tuned… this is going to be good, and you are the people I have in mind each day when I sit down to continue creating “Spacious.”

Chocolate Bunnies, Homeless Men and Inequity

•June 2, 2011 • 12 Comments

People donate all sorts of things to homeless shelters.  So when it’s time to serve dinner, along with the main course and some sort of vegetable, there’s often a plethora of random sweets.  Perhaps there’ll be slices of cherry pie or chunks of cake. Sometimes the cake might have an Elmo theme, donated as it was from a bakery that had a no-show for an ordered cake for a five-year-old’s birthday (a story in itself). Anyway, you get the idea: there are lots of food items donated to the homeless, and they are sometimes a bit random.

So it wasn’t a big surprise when there were boxes and boxes of chocolate Easter bunnies out on the dessert table on Tuesday night when I showed up for my dinner-serving shift.

Yet the bunnies — their presence so out of season and jarring somehow — were a big hit. And watching the men grab, hold onto, and save their bunnies for later was poignant.

Often when I’m there at the shelter I pray for the men, wondering what went wrong in their lives that got them to the point of being an overnight guest at this place in which they’d never hoped to end up, in spite of it being kindly- and well-run.  I know there are some stories of “had it all, lost it all.”  I know there are issues of abuse, addictions, injustice, racism; many factors drive people into a shelter.

Yet seeing so many men (in their twenties or in their eighties or in between) with glaringly green boxes of Easter bunnies encased in the molded plastic interiors, I could see quite clearly a room of little boys.  Some tough.  Some shy.  Some teased for their lisps.  Some bullied for their girth.  Black.  White.  Asian.  Well-dressed.  Sloppy.  Well-muscled.  Shrinking. Grateful.  Angry. Playground-lovers.  Spelling Bee champions.  Boy-men.

And I thought, with an ache, of the mothers who did what they could, often against horrific odds.  Who are, in many cases, still out there somewhere praying, hoping, and wondering where there boys are.  Not knowing that they are — at least many nights — in this place with good food and Easter bunnies to spare.  It’s not home, but it ‘s not the streets either.  And there are opportunities to begin turning life around.  There are many stories of redemption.  Many mothers’ boys are climbing their way out, or at least staying out of the weather for a spell.  I hope the mothers sense it.

I’m a mother.  I have a son.  And Tuesday night I thought anew of my own jokes, when my children were little, that I would “consider my parenting a success if we can keep everyone out of jail.”

In my part of town, staying out of jail is generally possible and even quite likely (thus the fodder for joking).  In other parts of town, that’s no laughing matter (nor should it be in mine, actually, as an acquaintance’s grandson awaits trial for murder).  That could be any of our children.  Yet (as Shane Claiborne says) something that’s front-page news in one part of town is “business as usual” in another.

All our children struggle.  “Affluenza” is as damaging a plight — in a different way — as poverty is. We privileged or relatively privileged people generally can anesthetize our pain more subtly and can buy our way out of transgressions more easily than can the poor.  But many of our children are similarly languishing in invisible prisons of their own making, longing for (at least metaphorical) refuge from the storm, for the neighborly atmosphere of a shelter with food, love and Easter bunnies to spare.

So here’s to the mothers who gave their little boys chocolate Easter bunnies just like I did, but sometimes have to wonder if the promise of Easter, the redemption of Easter applies to everybody, in a society where not everyone has the same chances, the same breaks, the same opportunities.

Of course God’s gifts and grace apply to all.  But here on earth, we Jesus-followers don’t always do what it takes to see that the kingdom of heaven comes here to earth (as much as we can effect that) on our watch.  We look on silently and let some lives go better than others; we assume that some parts of town just produce people who can’t or won’t do as well as our children well.

We presume that our children will stay out of jail or homeless shelters, and we assume that “those people” will end up in them.

Yet everybody is somebody’s little boy or girl (and the orphans, widows and aliens are God’s particular favorites).

And everybody appreciates a good chocolate bunny, whether they devour it as they did when they were eight or tuck it under their arm and take it with them out into the stark reality of life.

I’m thankful for the visual that jarred my thinking.  God help me.