Love and ashes

(I started this post early in the morning and was pulled away from it many times for dad’s care. It is now late evening on Valentine’s Day/Ash Wednesday, but I wanted to finish it, to share my heart with yours. May we know the blessings and gifts in both love and ashes.)


I stare down into the cup of yogurt, stirring it. Never have I been more in the present moment, noticing its creamy texture, the bits of peaches that glop through it.

Outside, a winter wind whips around the corners of the house and I follow dad’s gaze to the window, then back to me.

He opens his mouth, like a small bird, his eyes wide. I scoop up a small portion of the yogurt and spoon it into his mouth. My heart breaks as he takes it, slowly swallows it.

This has become the “new normal” in dad’s ongoing care, five years into his stroke. He has been stripped of everything — his ability to dress or toilet himself, to walk without a walker or wheelchair — but he could always feed himself. Until now.

During his hospitalization last week for a heart condition, he almost choked to death. Throat muscles and swallowing after a stroke are often compromised. And even though we had always cut dad’s food into small pieces and monitored him, he had been aspirating food and liquid into his lungs. We didn’t know.

Now, his food must be pureed and he must be spoon fed, all liquids and all foods. And so, we face another challenge in this caregiving journey.


It is Lent in the Christian tradition, and today many receive ashes on their foreheads, reminding the world of the fragility of life. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

It is a time of stripping away all that keeps us from focusing on our true goal and essence — a relationship to our Divine creator, however we name that Source of Love — and remembering we are here for a short time.

Lent is a time to have a change of heart away from those things, whatever they may be, that block an authentic relationship with the Divine. It is a time of “metanoia.”

The word, metanoia, comes from two Greek words: Meta, meaning above; and Nous, meaning mind. Metanoia invites us to move above our normal instincts, into a bigger mind, into a mind which rises above self-interest and the ego.

You might say, then, that metanoia is about “letting go” — and if anything in life invites us to let go, it’s suffering. No, we don’t ask for suffering. We’d rather it go away. But the truth is, it’s part of the human experience and how we choose to respond to it, matters.

Franciscan priest and author Richard Rohr writes: “I define suffering very simply as ‘whenever you are not in control.’ Suffering is the most effective way whereby humans learn to trust, allow, and give up control to Another Source. I wish there were a different answer, but Jesus reveals on the cross both the path and the price of full transformation into the divine.”


Today is also Valentine’s Day, a day of expressing and reflecting love. I find it fitting that both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day come together this day. Pure, authentic love is born of a burning away of the ego, many times the result of suffering.

Author Sue Monk Kidd writes: “I don’t hold to the idea that God causes suffering and crisis. I just know that those things come along and God uses them. We think life should be a nice, clean ascending line. But inevitably something wanders onto the scene and creates havoc with the nice way we’ve arranged life to fall into place.”

That re-arrangement of our life will be unique to each of us. But, when we are stretched, when we are nailed to our own personal crosses, we can be born into deeper levels of compassion and love — if we allow it.

Now, I scoop up one last glob of yogurt for dad. I spoon it in his mouth and he swallows, slowly, mindfully. I am mindful, too, that this time, although tedious, is a precious gift.

Dad is silent. Since the stroke, he is often quiet or has difficulty finding words. This time, he surprises me. He takes my hand and kisses it three times. My heart breaks and I want to drown in tears.

“Thank you,” he whispers.








Hard wired to love

Right now the snow is falling in thick, lazy flakes outside my window. All is hushed. That’s what snow does. Quiets a restless world. Invites us to a deeper peace when the distractions of this time of year or our personal lives pull us elsewhere.

Snow gives us permission to catch our breath, do nothing. Nap. Write. Read.

Now I sit with the dog and the companionship of a friend. I am in wonder at this snowfall, even though I have seen many. And in awe how this world unfolds in its own natural timing and beauty if we allow it.

Yet, it seems anything but this. Read or see the news, travel the threads on Facebook and we discover a world in turmoil.

While this snow descends peacefully, in other parts of the globe — and in this country — we find political strife, women being abused, the potential for a nuclear war and countless refugees fleeing their homelands to find security, survival and hope.

Has it always been this way? Will it always be?

We were given a great gift as humans — free will — and I often ask myself: When we will use this gift to create peace? Lasting peace. True love of each other so that we will live on the planet as was intended. An earth ripe with blessings, that provides all that we need if we only consent to partnership with each other to do what is right and good.

And yet. I have hope.

The other day, I was at the grocery store and bought about five items. No express lane in this store. The woman ahead of me also had a few purchases in her cart. But the woman in front of us had enough groceries in her cart to last a month.

She looked at the African-American woman ahead of me, then at me.

“Why don’t you both go ahead?”

“Really?” I asked. “Thank you,” we both said in unison.

When I got back home, a package was waiting for me from a family friend. She had said to be on the look out for it and I had no idea what it might be. A book on caregiving arrived and I was extremely touched by her act of thoughtfulness. She took time out of her day, to buy it, mail it.

On Facebook, more videos are being posted of the extreme good being done in the world. The woman who was so moved by the homeless man who gave her his last $20 after she ran out of gas that she started a fundraiser for him, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars. He is taking that money in turn and helping others.

Or the man who ordered online items — socks, coats, food — for the homeless. He had the products delivered to those in need right there, on the streets.

Small gestures? Perhaps. But how can we ever measure how this good ripples out and multiplies in myriad ways we may never see or understand?

Yes, we hear much today about divisiveness and hatred in our world. But that’s not who we are. I believe we are hard wired to be kind and loving. In other words, it’s in our DNA to be good.

God, or the Divine or whatever name you wish to give the great source of love, is in our genes.

When we don’t allow that good to express, we short circuit. Humanity goes awry and we lose our way home. To each other. To love.

The late author and spiritual teacher Henri Nouwen encourages us that “we become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, a handshake, a kiss, an embrace, a word of love, a present, a part of our life… all our life.”

As the snow falls, I am reminded that each snowflake is unique in design. And beautiful. So are we. We each have a special gift to give the world.

In most instances, that gift will not be grandiose, but a small, simple offering of our presence to one another in our daily lives — with a smile, a kind word.

When we share those gifts, we are like the gentle snowfall outside, quieting our world into peace. We become beautiful. We become what we are hard wired to be. Love.


There’s nothing to be afraid of

My mother grew up in the hills of Tennessee where she recalls an elderly gentleman who used to spin yarns. He’d tell his tale and then, in his folksy Southern accent, say, “You can believe it or leave it alone.” That’s how I feel about the blog post I’m about to share. You can believe it or leave it alone. 

I share this story in the hope that you, too, may find peace in whatever life brings this year. There is nothing to be afraid of.


I tend to worry. Believe me, I’ve prayed endless prayers to trust more in God, to be healed of the anxiety that often grabs at my gut and stares me down with its unsettling eyes.

I can tell you all the reasons I get anxious, but that knowledge doesn’t help when I’m in the midst of some health-care challenge involving dad or mom, or someone I love, or some concern about my own health. I can tick off the numerous causes that prompt my “inner child” to become so fearful.

None of those reasons matter. Because in the end, the fear — and let’s call it what it is — is about me wanting to be in control and not having faith in a Higher Power. 

Thankfully, I’m not always anxious. Sometimes, grace will enfold me and I’ll be more at peace. Being human, however, I can be pulled away from trust in a nanosecond and find myself face down in the ugly muck of fear.

But the last two weeks, something happened.

A friend recently died. I’ve been praying for her spirit because that’s what I do. I pray not only for many loved ones still here, but also those in that space you can call “heaven” or “the other side” or whatever name you want to give it.

Ultimately, we are one energy. And whatever dimension or space our spirits inhabit when they leave our bodies, I believe we are always connected and in need of prayerful love and attention. So, I had been praying for my friend.

The week before Christmas I put out my decorations, including a small stuffed bear in a Santa outfit. When you press on its left paw — and you must press very hard (envision a dog’s squeaky toy and that’s how hard you must press) — the bear plays in tinkling chimes “Jingle Bells — dashing through the snow.”

Two days before Christmas I had been out shopping in a soft, falling snow. I had entered my place and sat my bags on the floor by the chair where the bear rests. And then it happened. The bear began to play.

How could that be? I hadn’t touched it. I stood there, baffled, listening. The music stopped for a few seconds, then it started again.

What was happening? I’d had the bear for 10 years and not ONCE had it done this. Ever.

I let it go, attributing it to some fluke, but a whisper of something else nagged at my soul. Could it be my friend letting me know she was OK?

I woke up on New Year’s Eve morning and walked into the kitchen to make coffee. When I turned on the light, half the power went out in my place. I’ve lived here for some time and that had never happened. I called our maintenance man and he was baffled. None of the switches on the fuse box were tripped and nothing was amiss. He tripped the master switch anyway and the power came back on.

Again, I dismissed it. But that pull to listen returned. I kept feeling a message wanted to be heard. But what?

Yesterday morning, I was getting dressed and next to the stuffed bear.  It hadn’t played a tune since that last mysterious occurrence. But once again, the bear began to play.

As before, the music stopped for a few seconds. Then it started again and wouldn’t stop until I finally said out loud, “I know you’re here. You can stop now.” And the music immediately stopped.

In my heart, I felt something wanted to be conveyed. But I had no idea what that might be. I prayed and asked that if my friend — or another angelic being — was trying to tell me something, that I might be open to hearing it. Nothing came.

I don’t watch much television. Hate commercials and usually turn them off. But last night, I caught one advertisement for TurboTax. A strange pull came over to me that I was meant to see this. What? A tax commercial?

The TV ad showed  a toy bear, about the size of my own stuffed bear without the Santa outfit, toddling a step at a time toward a frightened woman. This lady peeked out from behind a closet, terrified, believing something terrible was waiting for her.

And then, as the bear giggled and danced toward her, the words read:


I sat there in awe.

I shared all this with a friend who pooh-poohed it, attributing it to natural causes. You might, too, and that’s OK. As I said in the beginning, you can take this tale or leave it alone.

But for me, it was a clear and direct message from God that my prayers have been heard, that the Divine does want me and all of us to be healed of worry and fear.

I know experiences will come this year when I will be tested, when fear will shove me back into old patterns. Will I truly have learned to “let go and let God?”

I don’t know. But when challenges come, I will hold on to these words: “There is nothing to be afraid of.”

I will allow myself to breathe into the fear, knowing the Divine spirit of Love has got my back. And I will learn to trust. A step at a time, toddling toward faith.







The face of the New Year

We all long to be seen.

It is one of the deepest desires of the human heart. When we are seen, we are validated, affirmed. We feel to the core of our being that we are recognized at soul level.

In another’s face, we feel her or his heart meeting us. In Africa, certain forms of greeting mean “I see you.” And in Connemara, Ireland, a phrase used to describe admiration is, “The face of the people is toward you.”

This past year I have felt seen in various guises.

In my father, who, through clouded, cataract-laden eyes, greeted me with a smile every time I came into the house. In a dear friend who offered sanctuary, a space to heal and renew after days of caregiving. Another friend, who affirmed my writing and encouraged me to go forward.

Decades ago, when I was going through a rough time in life, I remember a spiritual director with whom I felt truly seen. He offered unconditional acceptance, presence, and generously allowed me to find my own way and my own soul.

Allowing ourselves to be seen, however, takes some courage.

I still struggle with this because it invites vulnerability. Perhaps this is why children and animals offer us the most authentic measure of being seen. They are not laden with expectations or past wounds, so in their faces we find the expressions of sacred innocence, of acceptance.

This Christmas, I leaned over into the crib of my four-month-old great niece, and in our first meeting our faces found each other in laughter and joy. And in my friend’s dog, who sees me — not only as someone who will play with her — but knows she can lick my face and hands in pure abandon.

This past year many lost the faces of those they loved. A family member or dear friend. A beloved pet. And while those physical countenances may be gone, the souls that embodied them live on.

Yes, we grieve. We cry. But on some level we know their spiritual faces are ever with us, seeing and loving us in new and other realms.

In this coming year, we will find more joys and sorrows, more losses and gains. How we approach the “face of the new year” will depend on the proportion of depth we bring to it.

I love the Irish writer John O’Donohue who speaks of the manner in which we view a landscape or a person for the first time. He advises us to take time, to be present to that moment, because we will never see that person or have that experience in the same way again.

Each day of this year will be much the same, moments that are fresh and untouched. How will we approach these precious seconds of time, what will we inscribe on them in those first meetings?

For myself, and for you all, I pray we may come to see ourselves with deeper love and gratitude for the holy beings we are. I pray we may recognize the common clay of our bodies as connected.

And instead of resolving to “do things” such as lose weight, exercise more, eat healthier, or stop this or that — all worthy goals — perhaps we can learn how to simply “be,” and in that being-ness discover ourselves more authentic, vulnerable, compassionate in the moment.

Meister Eckhart, mystic and theologian, wrote that we should worry not so much about what we do, but rather about what we are. And what we are, who we are, is love, pure and simple.

So, my prayer for us all for 2018 is that we may see the face of this new year with new eyes.

May we ask ourselves at the end of each day, as O’Donohue writes, “What did I really see this day?”

May it be love.


(Wishing you all a blessed, joyous New Year, with gratitude for pausing here with me in these moments.)





Another Christmas story

As children we are sometimes oblivious to what our parents are going through. Especially at Christmas. Dad used to tell this story in his inspirational lectures before he had the stroke. Perhaps it’s time I share it now, with some modifications.


We had just moved from tropical South Texas to the Philadelphia area. Dad’s work had transferred him to what I felt was an alien planet — cold, bleak and unfriendly — but my siblings and I adapted.

As Christmas approached, we were excited and rambunctious.

Little did we know that even though dad now had a better job, making ends meet was difficult because of the move. I was 10 years old and had no idea we might be poor.

My mother was worried about Christmas. Dad kept telling her to have faith.

“But we don’t enough money for toys, a Christmas turkey … or even a tree.”

“God will provide,” he assured her.

My mother trusted God but she also knew that we would expect toys and a Christmas tree. On Christmas Eve day, my father phoned my mother from work and said he had an extra $10. In the early 1960s, that amount of money could buy a great deal. Not enough for a tree or toys. But at least we’d have Christmas dinner, he told my mother.

On the way home from work, my father stopped into a church. He knelt and prayed. He thanked God for taking care of his family. He asked that this be the best Christmas ever for his wife and children.

He held back tears, not knowing how God was going to do that, but his faith was deep and strong. He knew God would answer his prayer.

As he walked down the aisle, a man approached him.

“Sir, my wife is ill. I have an infant son and I’m out of work. We have nothing on this Christmas Eve. If you can spare even a dollar, I would be so thankful.”

My father stood there, not knowing what to do. He needed this money for his own family. But it was Christmas Eve and this man was in need. Dad dug into his wallet and handed the man his last $10.

“Go and take care of your family. Merry Christmas.”

The man began to cry.

“God bless you, sir,” he told my father, hugging him.

As dad left the church he wondered what he was going to tell my mother. He knew she’d be upset. When he got home and shared what had happened, she looked at him with tears in her eyes.

“But what about our Christmas?”

A knock on the door interrupted their conversation. The neighbor across the street and his adult son stood there, holding a huge, fresh-cut Christmas tree.

“We’re not sure you could use this,” said our neighbor, “but my son came into town for Christmas and didn’t know we already had a tree and bought this one. Can you use it?”

“Yes, we can!” my father said, thanking him, as we all stood there, our eyes growing wide.

Then came another knock. The local volunteer fire company was delivering Christmas dinners, complete with turkey and the trimmings. My father was having a difficult time settling us down at all the excitement.

“But what about gifts for the children?” my mother whispered, as we decorated the tree.

“God’s come through so far. Just wait.”

My mother still wasn’t sure, but at least she knew we had a tree and a Christmas dinner.

Later that evening, as it grew colder and a soft snow fell, my mother thought she heard another knock on the door. When she went to open it, she found two huge boxes, brimming with wrapped gifts.

“Someone must have known we were in need and delivered them,” my mother whispered.

I still remember that Christmas. Life was hard and we may have been poor, but in hindsight, I see how rich we were. My parents gave us the greatest gift of all — one of faith, that all things are possible with God.

We witnessed firsthand the true meaning of Christmas, how God was manifest and born through the love and kindness of neighbors and strangers.

And God had answered dad’s prayer after all. It was indeed the best Christmas ever.


Thank you all for the gift of your readership and presence here. I wish you and your loved ones a joyous Christmas, a blessed holiday season and a Happy New Year!






Forever in our hearts

I lost a friend today. A Facebook friend.

I didn’t know her as you would know most friends you call up and go out for dinner to chat. I knew little of her history, her life, what kept her awake at nights, her favorite color. But I knew enough.

She loved cats. And bubbles. The ocean. She called it her happy place. Her heart was open to life, despite whatever horrendous stuff it slung at her. In the end, it handed her cancer.

That didn’t stop her from living. She took trips, went to the ocean, made sure she told people she loved them.

Even before the cancer, she was brave and strong and I told her that in Facebook shares. I don’t know if she believed me. But I always admired her courage, how she stepped through every life challenge with grace and determination. I shared with her once that she was my hero.

Part of a spiritual group on Facebook, she shared her love, generosity and positivity and we loved her. Her last post was on December 4 and she assured everyone she was OK. She went home to God on December 13.

I wish I had known her better. Wish I had asked what her favorite color was and what kept her awake at night. But as I said, I knew enough. I knew her heart. It was as vast and as deep as the ocean she loved.

She wrote a final FB farewell to us all, wanting no fuss at her passing, but simply asked us to do one of two things in her memory: Perform a random act of kindness or an act of joy (bubbles, perhaps?) 

It’s the kind of thing she would ask and even though I grieve her passing — it makes me smile. It’s something she would want us all to do.

So be kind to one another. Blow bubbles. Everywhere.








A little love at Christmas

At this time of year my life can feel like the scrawny, humble Christmas tree that Charlie Brown buys in the perennial favorite, A Charlie Brown Christmas. He tries to make it beautiful, but instead the branches limp over in defeat.

The season can do that to us. The pressure of commercialism, buying gifts, doing everything we feel needs to get done can leave us empty and exhausted.

Or, perhaps the holidays trigger dysfunctional family issues, grief over the loss of a loved one or beloved pet, or remind us that we are alone and don’t have the perfect romantic relationship as portrayed on the Hallmark Channel.

It’s a Wonderful Life is another Christmas movie that speaks to what seems to be failure. Most of you know the story. Poor George Bailey can’t seem to catch a break. He wants to leave his father’s banking business and travel the world.

But he falls in love with Mary, marries her, follows in his dad’s footsteps as bank president, and is stuck in his hometown of Bedford Falls. Some sneaky business dealings place the bank in trouble and George is driven to suicide.

Until Clarence his guardian angel appears and saves George. He grants George’s wish: What would his life be like if he had never been born?

When Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel and told she is to be the mother of the Christ, she is in fear. What will happen now — and how? Her heart must have been troubled as she traveled to visit her cousin Elizabeth to share her news.

But when Elizabeth affirms Mary by declaring, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear!” Mary’s fear leaves her.

Only then is Mary able to proclaim the Magnificat, a grace-filled prayer of praise and thanks. An angel couldn’t evoke Mary’s powerful words. But another human being could.

Sometimes we fail to see the power we have as humans, how the smallest of acts can be life-changing and blessed for others.

Charlie discovers, with the help of Lucy, Linus, Snoopy and his friends, that his tree is not so scrawny after all, but filled with beauty.

And George discovers the impact — no matter how insignificant his actions — he has had on many lives. He just never knew it. Mary finds her fear at “what happens next” disappearing when her cousin affirms her as a channel of God’s grace.

We can find ourselves somewhere in each of these stories.

I know when my life feels like a scrawny Christmas tree, or I feel like George and my life seems to have little meaning, or like Mary, I feel alone and afraid – I can open up my heart to receive the love and support of others. And I can love myself.

The point is, we matter to each other; we need each other. As Clarence tells George, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”.

Your life may feel like Charlie Brown’s scrawny tree, but Linus knows better. He tells Charlie, “I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.” 

A little love. Sometimes that’s all we need – what we can be for each other.

What greater gift is there?