Losing My Religion

An old friend called me today. He asked where I was preaching? After initial trepidation, I nervously hemmed, hawed and complained how my mother-in-law’s health was declining, how my daughter’s school kept me busy, how I didn’t really have the time or the resources to devote to looking for a new appointment. I left my job as head pastor shortly after the 2016 election and the sad truth was and is that I don’t see my self ever preaching again. At least not from a pulpit in a church. The reality I live with, but haven’t really fully admitted to myself until now, is that I don’t know if I will ever go back to church again, except maybe for a cousin’s wedding or a niece baptizing her newest chick.

For the better part of past 48 years I was fully committed. I saw my very being, a complete identity framed by the liturgy, hymn and sermon presented to me, for me…. like weekly manna for my own consumption, the very gift of God. Church had been my safe place when my home life was chaotic and unsure. Youth group, choir, Awana’s, Vacation Bible school, were the constructs of permanence in a life that had no boundaries or structure. Everything church represented to me in those years made me feel alive, it gave me purpose and a sense of a greater calling. I went to seminary to study the scriptures in original Greek and Hebrew. I had a love affair with the Biblical text, consuming it over and over again like a cinnamon bon without calories….I could not get enough. If the Church was the bride of Christ than I was the Maid of honor ushering in the bride for her encounter with Christ.

Everything about my life was framed by the moral tenants of my evangelical world view. I had no problem what so ever with the patriarchy, the misogyny the violence that was right before my face. I had a pat answer and a tidy conclusion for all the questions anyone would bring, we all did. The doctrine of life consisted of defeating the abortion pushers…those people who wanted to kill babies, rip them from a momma’s womb. A blind eye turned to the systemic oppression that precipitated the choice which brought no joy but necessity.  And in the same breath I said yes to the death penalty as it was perfectly acceptable and necessary: people needed to pay for their crimes with their life ,if that was the cost.

I fully subscribed to the notion that the man was the head of the home, the head of the relationship and all needed to be sourced through him and his understanding of God’s call and provision. That being gay was morally abhorrent to God….That sin was sin but some sins were worse than others. Lying, gluttony and sloth escaped the judgment of the pews.  I organized my life around trying to be just good enough to not commit the sins that the church frowned upon.

Ironically two things happened along the way. One, my loving incredible husband could care less about being the head. He was more interested in being a partner, a friend, a lover – being in “charge” just wasn’t his style. For 25 years I tried to make him be who he wasn’t. It was all crookedly framed by my strong personality attempting to underhandedly usurp his headship so it looked to the world that I was the obedient wife. I cannot tell you how many times I now say to myself….”How the hell did he put up with me for so long”?

He went along for my ride, as I drug him to marriage conference, adult Sunday school, endless church services, small group and even as the husband of a seminary student and future pastor….. never a complaint he uttered…. He loved me fully and completely, this was how he showed me his unfailing love, by being present and accepting of me in all my crazy ideas. All the while I often felt guilty for my unrelenting desire to lead while making him out to be the head.

The second and perhaps biggest thing was the 2016 election. That nauseating, futile realization that the Emperor was truly naked.  All of a sudden it was as if someone changed the rules while I was looking the other way, the scales fell from my eyes. All the things the church stood for, held tight, and built its moral reputation on went completely out the window. The new language was framed loosely around God’s mysterious way of bringing about his will. It had always been code for explaining a situation that didn’t morally or ethically match up, but this time it just didn’t sit …..I saw the Emperor bare butted and all I could do was scream…. He’s Naked, He’s Naked. It became so clear to me, how could they not see. They pushed this line that black was white, up was down, wrong was right,  and sin was ok (as long as it provided a pathway to power in the Supreme Court) . It was as if they all had a meeting that I wasn’t invited to and decided that they choose political power over decency and inhumanity over love. That was their line and they were sticking to it…..I could yell and scream….What is wrong with everyone?….Can you not see this? Hello,… is there anybody sane out there …..We don’t go for this….. This is not the church….. But they had a taste of power  and the lotus leaf proved more palatable than any moral rational.

And just like that, I was an alien, a foreigner in my beloved home, the place which once inspired me, challenged me to behave in Godly ways, called me to be a mother who stayed home with her children, who didn’t drink or smoke or curse and was obedient to her mate. This place that I loved that I had spent my life serving had settled for a thrice married, cheating, lying, insufferable king who mocked disabled, called immigrants rapists and murderers, conspired with an enemy for economic gain, unrepentant, proud and incorrigible and just down right ignorant. A man who so completely was the antithesis to Christ, it seemed almost a joke…. If he had been democrat….which he was till he decided the better angle was the church, he would have been crucified. This was the new reality. Everything I witnessed , everything I saw, everything I experienced , could not be unseen, unfelt or denied….. the marriage bed was violated, the bride of Christ was really only a perpetrator of judgement and hate, of envy, of seeking unrelenting power. And that shattering, that break of the glass that held my fragile understanding of faith broke into a million little pieces. I had lost my religion.

Two years out now, I am slowly adjusting, though I will never fully understand the appeal of dissent.  What has emerged in my absence from the church is this beautiful, messy, imperfect mosaic of my future faith. An understanding of Spirit, of life, of love, of unconditional acceptance, not driven by class, or race, gender, status or acceptable behavior. It is fueled by the pure essence of Love. Without the institution of church and its confines I am able to experience the reality of who God is and always was to me…..the God who sat beside me at three when I was frightened and alone, during abuse, and neglect and defeat.  I had always known this love of a God so powerful it drew me through the mountain, and valley and badlands, to a place of freedom, of security and empowerment. Giving me wings to fly, a voice to speak and the permission to know. My religion boxed that in and made God a Genie who only answered the chosen. Though I have lost my religion, I am now so very grateful, because I have not lost God.  I can now fully embrace that I am the child of the most high God, warts, and doubts and anger and all. And I am enough in that knowing, and  not  the church, nor the powers of government, or those who blindly follow can ever take that away. I am enough. without title, position or congregation, even if I never go to church again, I am loved.

Where I Am

Where I am ….


I’ve spent the better part of the last 18 months being angry

Angry at the election,

Angry at the people, who voted him in,

Angry at the Evangelical church for endorsing a lying, racist, thrice married, self admitted sexual predator, as one being “sent by God” to make “America Great Again”.


I keep trying to calm my emotions and

Keep trying to be tolerant and accepting and grateful.

And then I see pictures of children ripped from their parent’s arms and I am

Right  back there again, incensed , downright furious at what is playing out in American History.

It has been a long stretch of anger for me,  for a person who was taught that anger was bad… and good, obedient girls don’t get angry….

But alas, I feel like the Psalmist who lamented  “Beside the streams of Babylon we sat and wept , trying to remember Mount Zion.”                               Psalm 137.1


When will this nightmare end?

It feels like a lifetime for me….


I left my job, disconnected from a lot of people.

Left friendships and familial relationships

all under the umbrella of infuriation, disgust and disbelief…..


Yet I know if I want to continue to grow, if I want to be whole: body soul and spirit, I need to do something with this anger. I cannot just let it fester and allow it to define my breath and my being.

Because anger unresolved will surely turn to bitterness and bitterness will slowly choke the life from my spirit until I am no longer able to see the goodness in anything.

So I ask the deep questions, why am I so angry?

Why did this election upset me so much?

What is beneath the anger and resentment and fury? What is the emotion beneath the emotion,  because anger is a secondary emotion, derived from other primal feelings of loss, shame, fear and our sense of justice.  What shift in my reality created such a division in my soul and spirit that I felt the only way to emerge with my dignity and remain emotionally unscathed was to leave the career and calling I had spent the better part of my life pursing?


I have never in my lifetime voted democratic – and yet this time , though I was unhappy with the choice. I felt as if it was a vote against and not for. And I stand still in shock that good people that I know and love are standing behind a man who has such a degraded sense of morality that cheapens the very idea of what it means to be holy and pure.

My heart is broken, and I

think a lot of it comes from my own sense of failure.

Being part of the church,

And pouring my heart and soul into teaching the ways of Jesus.

And yet  feeling as if it made no difference at all! That nothing I said or taught made much of a mark in the places that really mattered.  It was as if the lines were drawn in the sand and party and not principle made up people’s minds. That people bought into the fear being propagated instead of seeing truth and that makes my heart ache.


But I guess this is just  My truth, this is just  My reality,  

The bigger truth is that so many were so happy to see this win….

and I am trying so hard to understand why, really I am-

I want to know why…., but it eludes me still.


The choice was a hard one I get it-

but how can it seem so obvious to me  and others do not see?

When so many of the choices not only -do not reflect Christ  but often feel like the  antithesis of what Christ would choose.


And yet the Evangelical church at large still stands behind and cheers as if their new savior has come.

And this feels a bit like rejection to me.

Like I am no longer part of the family,

It is a hard reality to see that the place I believed taught me the essentials of loving Christ, of being holy and pure and loving  my neighbor has been usurped by a sense of acute nationalism that reeks of fear and scarcity: as if the pie is not big enough for all to have grace.


And in this – somehow I am being judgmental for not towing the party line …as if


…Jesus is a Republican .

It feels so  much to me that the premise of loving my neighbor has been replaced by the feelings of fear  and lack and loss of control in a changing dynamic.

And the dichotomy of this feels  so personal to me,

it hurts deep into my core and feels like betrayal ….did we not read the same scriptures, did we not love the same God?


Reflectively though, I know it stems from a sort of benign neglect  on my part. I once was in that place of surrendering  all my beliefs for the party line…. I believed  that it was all a renunciation to what was “right”, “holy”, and “proper”  a way to believe and to  way to vote.  It was easier to adopt the narrative given to me by my parents, the beliefs of my church, and the choices of my tribe then to take the time to sit with the difficult questions and wrestle with the injustices perpetuated by my own kind.  And there are so many injustices , so much done in the name of privilege and race and heritage.

But when I went to  seminary and was  forced to stare the ugly reality of the Biblical texts straight in the face: the reality that my tribe- in all its whiteness -had made these rules because the victors usually craft interpretative forms.


That the original language and its context of what the Bible really says

calls me be transformed by its hearing  and that it is not so much about who wins as it is about a deep dying to self for the sake of others,  that behavior is a scapegoat used to control- but the true reality is that t the Kingdom of God is here and now and how I treat people, and accept people,  and love people really matters not only for a heavenly realm or my place in it, but for an earthly reality.


Almost a decade later, I know more facts and systematics, and creeds that I need to,  but somehow I am still humbled by how much unknowing there is left.

And how much more comfortable I am in the discomfort of  the unknowing -because all that I really need to know is that I am known and loved by God.  And that God is a God of love….deep abiding love , that welcomes the stranger, and cares for the poor, and loves unconditionally….


And that one take away  from that is a lesson I learned in my childhood faith…. which I cling to like an old stuffed bear  as it grounds me and gives me strength:

God is a God of Love- that God loves all humanity  – and that God is a God of forgiveness.


That this triune knowing…. which relies not on dogma or doctrine or party  to express essence but shows itself fully in love for my neighbor, in welcoming the stranger, in feeding the hungry and drink for those who thirst.

It is most present when I listen to those who need to be heard, when I refrain from judgments for those who feel ashamed,

when I cry with those who grieve and sing with those who feel joy.

And it is in this knowing

that I am most certain…..

that  I must release the anger,

that  I must let go of the hurt, and continue forward.

That the people I love may not be there yet ….but I will love them anyway, despite .


For I am fully aware that

God allowed this space and

This place in history for reasons I cannot know.

And for that reason I will say: I am grateful, grateful for the breaking open  of my soul to trying to understand what to me seems impossible,

that is happening for reasons I am now unaware, That  the stepping forward of those who have been wronged, and the awakening of society to calls of justice louder than those who cried before are being birthed in a crucible of great prejudice….

But still I am grateful

And I  acknowledge that the reasons why I feel so wounded by so much of the past eighteen months of  what feels like hypocrisy and lunacy to me


Feels like a blessing  and answer to  prayer for others…. that to them it is a dream come true


I will try and put aside my judgments and agree to disagree

and that feels like growth to me.


I want to be ok with it all , to see the light …because the light will shine.

It has been a shedding of the old me , the me who was  afraid to  question the  coming into  a larger place, which leaves space for my doubts and my disappointments and the knowledge that God is ok with all of those.


I am still so very disappointed with the Evangelical church at large, a place that originally nurtured this knowing-

this growing -this faith,

and traded its place for power and position and took so many along for the ride.

But if I want to be whole…, If I want to continue to grow

I must allow it to be as it is,

and forgive,

both for my part in its propagation, and for the continued hypocrisies and injustices I feel it portrays.


And so I forgive ….again and again and again…

I forgive….

and I release.

And continue to search for the gratitude I will find in these lessons I’ve learned, and the growth it will bring to my journey in this tenuous

yet tender season of life.



It has been five years since my father died, my Facebook feed reminded me with its On this day feature…. one, two three, four, five years ago today.  We were at Camp Geiger in North Carolina, waiting for Logan to graduate from his Military Combat Training: a month long required training after 13 weeks of boot camp to instruct the new Marines in the use of powerful weapons. “Every Marine is a rifleman or riflewoman” they boast… “from the KP To Infantry…. if Marine…. then skilled in the correct use of weapons…”

It was one last time that we would get to see him before he would be placed or deployed anywhere …From Iraq to Okinawa or maybe even Ft. Dix NJ only 20 miles up the road (that was my hope). I knew we would make the eight hour drive to Camp Geiger even if we could only visit him for a few hours and even though my Dad was in the hospital, after all ….Dad was recovering and said he felt better than ever before.

As I looked at the Facebook memories feed, I instantly was taken back to those moments right before I knew- the innocence of not knowing… the naiveté of life before a significant shift occurs to mark the end of an era, the photograph taken right before I found out. The smiles that didn’t know that in just a matter of moments my life would be different forever.

Ethan and I, so full of pride bookending our beautiful unsmiling boy dressed in his crisped cotton cammies, arms at his side. Me with my red Marine Mom top proudly displayed and Ethan in his Retired Marine Shirt that I accidentally bought without reading the small embroidery thinking it simply said US MARINES – darn reading glasses, never around when you need them.  Ethan always felt like an imposter wearing that shirt,  as if someone found out they would say…. “Liar you never served” no one ever did.  Red was the uniform parents were instructed to wear- Red so when the graduates looked out at us they would view a sea of scarlet waving parents and friends wishing and praying for safety from what was to come ….For some it was the last time they ever saw their boy or girl.

Another picture on my Facebook feed was of the graduates lined like camel colored crayons in a box each one stacked in perfect space and place alongside the other waiting for command. The clock on the back wall read 9:15 as if memorializing in time, the very moment when….  I was reminded that is when the phone rang from an unknown caller.  I silenced the ringer and after decline, took a picture of those kids in flawless order – three more times it would ring.

Bulletproof focus betrayed my reality, I though it was a telemarketer, it was a number I didn’t recognize and the cell lines had just recently been made open on the market. I remember stuffing the phone in my pocket determined not to let anything rob me of that moment. It was a few short beautiful moments, filled with awe and relief…. From where Logan had been…..how far he had come…. Unwilling to entertain the thoughts of where he would go I was happy to be present in that moment with Ethan at my side and Logan safe in front of me. I didn’t have to think about what would come, what could come, and I remember feeling so proud of him, and so, so happy.

When the graduation was over the parents and guests were herded over to a make shift bazaar like area with tables set up like a flea market bearing the goods of Marine regalia and souvenir. Like mewling, hungry infants searching for the comfort of mother’s breast we rushed to buy something we could hold in our arms that would remind us and sustain us in the emptiness of letting them go. Something to mark us as Marine Mom’s and Dad’s, something tangible to help us try and forget for a moment that we were sending our babies into deep harm.  No real consolation -just material comfort and anything would do at that point to take away the fear of not knowing…..

I bought a brand new scrapbook that was made from an old cammie uniform folded in perfect square with USMC stitched on the left pocket. I’ve done exactly one scrapbook in my whole life and it painfully betrayed my lack of crafty prowess…but I had great intentions of filling that one with Logan’s memories of boot camp and MCT The letters I so cherished as my only connection to him those long lonely weeks. Sad, scary weeks with no contact, he left with the just clothes on his back…not even a toothbrush, or glasses.  They were instructed to bring NOTHING…that’s a tough one for a mom who sent her kid to camp with two huge suitcases and a carry on for a weeklong excursion – just in case they needed something.

Sending him off with nothing made me feel useless and unprotective, and my mom radar was going wonky….what if he needs?…. Ethan reminded me often, he will need for nothing…. So I was left ,waiting ….waiting to see if he would survive, let alone make it through 13 terrible weeks to the crucible.  I remember hearing his bellowing voice for the first time when I went through the gates at Bush Gardens…. our stop on the way down to Graduation. … “Mom- I’m a US Marine”…. It was perhaps the most terrifying and wonderful words I have ever heard in my whole life.

Yes, I had great plans for that scrap book,  A testament to how some times hard things and scary things turn out ok, and how at some times the thing in life we are most often afraid of, turns out to be the best thing that could have ever happened. I was determined that was what the scrapbook  would represent. I would look at its finished pages while he was away -wherever they sent him- and I would remind myself how hard he worked and how far he had come and what could have happened had he not decided to join the Marines.

When the woman handed me the receipt and put the scrapbook in the bag, I saw Ethan coming from behind one of the tents. And though he didn’t say anything right away, I knew….I knew something was terribly wrong, my soul just knew something awful had happened. When I had silenced my phone for the third time, they called Ethan. He held the news as an offering for my delight and innocence for just a few more moments during the whole graduation, quietly grieving himself while faking a smile and figuring how he would tell me. He let me fully relish that moment of pride for my son.

As I stood in that hot parking lot C at Camp Geiger with a bagful of intentions and a sweet nostalgia for Logan’s transformative journey ….Ethan’s eyes let me know before he ever said the words….

“Sofia called…..”

He didn’t need to say anymore

I knew

I knew

I knew.

And my body, unassisted by will, crumpled to earth in disbelief.

He was gone …

Just like that

My Father was dead.

My father who had been feeling so much better,

My Father…. who was telling me dirty jokes 10 hours earlier,

My father …who I didn’t answer his call when he called for the fourth time the day before so I could trouble shoot why he couldn’t turn up the volume on the brand new Ipad my sister bought him the week before as an early Father’s day gift.

My Father… with whom I shared such a complicated

and strange and funny and difficult and kind and messy and loving relationship with was dead.

My Father gone:  In a moment, his life was over.

And Logan’s bus was leaving in five minutes and I had to pull it together so he wouldn’t know ….we didn’t want to worry him until we had more information about the service and if he could even get leave to come home. We would figure those details on the way home….

So I kissed my son clutching the bag with the scrapbook of intentions and watched him carry his heavy cammo, backpack filled with military issue and climb onto the bus for Pensacola, Fla for the next leg of his journey. Smiling like nothing happened I was trying to be a good Mom and give him just a few more hours of peace until he knew and everything changed for him….

Ethan and I drove back to NJ that day and for eight, seemingly endless hours we spent half the time in silence and tears and half in laughter and memories… of all my Dad had done, all the stories he told, all the crazy, unpredictable, outlandish sometimes immoral things he had done in his life…. if nothing else my father was colorful and complex and wild and beautiful and caring and he loved his children with all his heart even sometimes when it didn’t feel that way.


Ethan and I realized on our way home that day….that we would have to navigate a new normal now, a new place for us both,  neither of us had lost a parent, our children had never experienced a death in the family. Being parents ourselves, we realized the gravity of the loss we understood and in that moment though we never spoke of it we considered our own mortality and thought of where and how our children would be when we were gone. The awareness of the terrible and beautiful fragility of life hung like a sheet between us in the car and we both felt its heaviness… how strange and precious life was.

As I scanned the pictures in my phone for one that captured the y totality of what and who my Dad was,  to use for the  Facebook post I would begin….“ It is with deep sadness’…  I so wanted to include the other pictures…. this was the last picture of me – taken before I knew my father was gone. See the smile on my face that was the very last time I knew that I still had a father who was living…. That was the very last time I was whole…. We are so often surprised by death, by its difficulty and its inconvenience, an uninvited guest in the party of life, but death really is the only guest on everyone’s event list. Promised to show up for absolutely everyone at some point without fail.

Logan finished his service in the Marines on January 28 of this year. Went the entire term without deployment. In my heart I know I was one of the lucky ones, I dodged a bullet to my soul,  I got to see my boy again, got to hold him and tell him I love him, and I am so very proud of the man the Marines allowed him to become.

And as I look at these pictures on my Facebook feed….this day a year ago, two,  three, four and now five.  I am swiftly reminded, to be present: where I am, to honor the moments I am in, to be kind always, to answer the phone, even when I don’t want to talk, because it may be the last chance I ever get to say hello.

RIP Dad   6/11/2013



The Things We Forget



Most people make “to do” lists whether its digital….there’s an App for that… or mental, “Ugh gotta do that today” or ……like me where only good old fashioned paper and pen remedy and insure that my “to dos” get “to done”. I keep various lists …books I want to read, movies, I want to see…. where to get the best pizza in Midtown Manhattan…. These are my hope lists …filled with things that I may do… things I would like to do…The things I look forward to…The mere survey of these lists fills me with delight, the prospect of adventure… pure serendipity of a desired task completed. Then there are my other lists. The things I know I “should” do, things I ought to do, however in the tyranny of the urgent, these tasks never seem to rise to priority. They are the someday lists, the things I’ll do when I’m not making beds and making lunches and making small talk with other moms who are not interested in making small talk with me.

The lists that upon completion, will feed my inner approval junkie and fill me with a sense of great triumph as I ponder how “together” I really am.

One item on that list….sort, print and organize all my photos into books arranged by holiday, vacation, or season . I did this a bit a couple years back but still have boxes of physical pictures and hundreds of unbirthed photos taking up residence in my smartphone. Another item on that list is to transfer all the 8 mm videos and VHS home movies taken when the kids were little and develop into watchable form.

When I consider my early (pre-IPhone antics) I realized that I schlepped that monstrous over the shoulder camera mostly because I thought it was what I was supposed to do. Take videos of Kids in various stages of growth …check!!!

Somehow though I ended up sticking all those tapes and mini cd’s -unwatched- filed on the entertainment shelf somewhere between Barney and Caliou.

Even when the big purple dinosaur and the strange bald headed kid were replaced by Harry Potter and The Olsen Twins, the family tapes still remained  unwatched, lonely and collecting dust. I didn’t have time to watch videos of my life, I was busy driving carpool making costumes for the talent show and breaking up fights.  And then Ethan got his MBA and then I went to seminary…. I couldn’t watch life I was too busy rushing through it and wishing it away.

When all the VHS tapes journeyed to Goodwill replaced by shiny new DVDs and Blue Rays: Hannah Montana, Lord of the Rings The Chronicles of Narnia, I still brushed the tapes aside with a nonchalant “Oh wouldn’t it be nice to sit down and watch those…. Maybe we could have a movie night for the whole family and get a good laugh”

But with lax games, year round wrestling, work, and family obligations we seemed to never get around to it. Eventually digital advances made it impossible for me to watch them at all and  the cameras were replaced by the Iphone …VHS machine to DVD player and then Netflix and DVR’d episodes of Modern Family, Survivor and Big Brother made the burgeoning DVD collection obsolete.

One day when I was in a mad cleaning frenzy I gathered the tapes, put them all together in a burlap bag with Woman of God written on the front from an event I had attended the weekend before. I didn’t feel very Godly as I crumpled the tapes into the bag. Clearly my guilt and lack of follow through was short lived though as I placed them in the attic where I threw all things which reminded me of how easily I could be recommended for an intervention on the TV show Hoarders.


And then Alex graduated high school and the next year Logan… who joined the marines and within a year was married. By then I had graduated seminary and had a small church I was pastoring and working as a Hospice Chaplain during the week. I spent too much time in people’s homes who where dying. More often than not…. a great deal of the family angst revolved around what to do with all the stuff…. So much unnecessary stuff, stuff that would not improve quality of life and stuff that was unnecessary in the keeping of life. I found that tragedy and grief are excellent curators of the necessary.

There was always so much stuff,

stuff that held great memory and meaning

yet not enough memory and meaning for the children of the dying to want to add to their own piles of stuff.

I grabbed the bag with Herculean resolve and decided I was going to get those tapes watchable and then sit down and watch them. I actually put them in the trunk of my car determined to fit it in with my weekly errand run…. And two years later, while running errands the Spirit moved and Tadaaaa… this Woman of God acted.

While walking through Costco, I saw they offered a video transfer service so I ran back to my car and rifled through my trunk under the bags of cleaning I was supposed to drop off for Alex, behind the Target return for Rebekah which included of one of every strapless bra they sold that might just fit under the dress we bought- but did not bring with us- for the Freshman dance the following day….

In the very bottom of the trunk….a Woman of God ….the bag of tapes. I picked them up delirious that I was actually going to be able to cross that chore off my list.

The photo kiosk asked for general information: name, address phone number… but then it asked to personalize the DVD’s with themes such as Holiday, Kids, Birthday etc…. They were asking if I to remembered what was on each tape. As I flipped through the various dusty and clumsy tapes, I realized that I really had no clue what they contained, what treasures they would yield.

They were made long before the Iphone became my right arm and keeper of all videos, contacts and appointments …recorded in ancient history when my face had less lines and the voices of my children still had the small lisps of beginning language. Chronicled when I purposely had to lug out a camera that somewhat resembled a sport’s film crew on the sideline of a big game.

What they held? I was at a loss …Something I felt was important at the time, something that would prove worthy of replay at some event in the future. That was all I knew and so I chose …”child” as the theme.


Unlike before when I nurtured procrastination like an Olympic sport with me taking all three medals, when I received the email that my tapes were done I got into my car and went straight to Costco for nothing else but those new tapes. AND, well…. since I’m bearing my soul, I must admit, I did grab one of those nuclear rotisserie chickens that are so good I don’t even want to know what they do to them for fear I will no longer be able to make it a weekly staple on my dinner table. A hundred dollars later, armed with dinner and my “Woman of God” bag filled with shiny new DVD tapes containing the story of my life, I headed home.

While driving it occurred to me that when I did watch those tapes from a lifetime ago, that it may be an invitation into grief… an excavation through seasons buried, a journey to a place I no longer lived with diapers, and preschool, and grade school parties. A story of someone I used to be….

who Ethan used to be

and who we now are…

with more wrinkles and wisdom and winsome longing for the littleness of our chicks.

When I finally sat down to watch them, I was no longer a pastor at First Baptist, no longer a hospice chaplain at a crossroad I was stepping into a new chapter of my life looking back at another. On a Sunday morning Ethan and I cuddled up with a fresh pot of coffee, my laptop and a stack of videos and journeyed into a morning of bittersweet rapture …a viewing of where we were then…The first thing that struck me was how young we looked, how bewildered, and cautious, and callow in our parenting attempts. And then there were those babies….Oh those beautiful sweet, messy, cranky babies!

God I missed those babies. I missed my 23, 27, 29 year old self…. what I wouldn’t give to be in that place again, to say …I know, I know…. I know things now that I wish I knew then. I wanted to say Just Stop! Just stop and look long and hard at those babies, hold them more, relish their laughter. Remind myself to be excited that “banana” was on the other side of that knock, knock door for the hundredth time that day and not orange …because then it would be over….

I wanted to tell that uncertain girl wanting to do well and be right, not to get so frustrated by the nine thousand Legos and copious amounts of Thomas the tank trains that always found their way under her feet that a clean living room is overrated and cold anyway…. Oh Ami…Why? Why were you in such a hurry to get them grown? To have them be independent and able to take care of themselves to have full day school and an empty bed …I wanted to let her know that those days would come sooner than she could ever imagine.

I was calling out to my younger self to turn the camera onto Rebekah as she recited the names of the animals on a zoo trip, not Urrrrgggh!!! Why was she taping the stupid animals when her baby was right there…talking and wanting to be heard? I scolded the younger me…. “Look at her, see her, and that sweet three year old voice”

Shocked to hear my own voice on the other side of the camera… Who was that uptight frantic person? Could that really be me? The unseen narrator barking orders, trying to get it right and have it be just so. Most of the video orders entailed “ Wait, wait don’t do that” “sit down” or “get over here” and a lot of “stop hitting your brother… we’re trying to make memories here”…. Why did she get so angry when they bickered and fought? Clearly now on the other side of 20 years that bickering was harmless at best and possibly even kind of adorable.

Doesn’t she know that one day she would kill or die to have… or to see a wrestling match down the long hallway where they would be as bear cubs spinning and rolling? Why didn’t she look up more, to not be so intent on keeping order and listen closer when Rebekah first learned her ABC’s and sang that song all day- every day…. To watch with awe her Wiggles dance: one foot up one foot down like a tippy toe march to Brown Girl in the Rain, Tra la la la la …..Oh how she loved to sing. She still does, but her songs now inform that she is on her way to fully- grown. Songs now sung from behind a closed door where she spends most of her time at home….love songs and pop songs I no longer recognize as my radio is now tuned to NPR or news.

It was easier when the songs were ABC’s. A time when safety meant everyone under one roof, fed, clean and in bed. When life’s choices consisted of whether to have mac and cheese or Corn Pops, to play cops and robbers or dress ups…. Life choices aren’t that easy anymore.


And then I found the tapes my dad made and gave to me to develop one year. I had totally forgotten about them… they were   from Christmas 1995 twenty years before smoking took his breath and his life. He was just a little bit older than I was now…and I thought he seemed so old then. Funny how time seemed so expansive then but felt so elusive now, running away too fast before I am able to catch it or my breath.

My father amused the boys with his potty humor and silly jokes. He always loved Christmas …no matter what was happening in our lives financially he and my mother made Christmas magical. He made it that way for my boys also.

He took a video of them opening presents, my sister Maria only a few years older than them by their side. They were so happy, carefree and loved. Rebekah wouldn’t be born for another seven years. That Christmas Poppy spent hours setting up a train set for Logan….Logan loved anything with trains that year.

Oh Daddy…how you loved them….you knew then how time would rob me of those moments. You knew you had to chronicle them so I could remember. You knew that time would pass faster than I could keep up and one day I would want to remember, when I had space in my head for more than the “dailyiness” of living that often drove me to drink too much and sleep too little….

I wish I could hear his voice one more time….to have him meet Logan’s wife Liv, to see what a beautiful young woman Rebekah has grown into, to see how much Alex resembles him. To just tell him I often listen to his last voicemail so I wouldn’t forget what he sounded like that day…. “Boo, it’s Daddy, give me a call.” … He would be dead less than 8 hours after that message…..and I didn’t pick up the phone.

I wanted to let him know I still hear his words “Never force anything and Have charity in your heart ”… often as I try and micromanage this space of middle age, I realize how much my forcing is driven by fear and frustration. That fear which comes so naturally to me, is a cancer I must fight everyday to keep it from making residence in my heart. That charity is really what keeps me grounded and connected to what matters in my world. If only for one more moment, one time, a chance…. to pick up that phone and tell him, I am listening, I am here.


Three hours later, when the pain and the beauty of memory was more than we could both stand, I put the new right on top my desk a palpable reminder: To do NOW… what I know I will regret not doing NOW in the future. To spend time in the messy dailiness of what I have left on this parenting journey, to not get consumed with the lists and the demands but to get engaged in the life that I am so happily able to have. To turn my eyes and my heart towards them…. each one of them and to look and really see…. to be mystified by the temporal beauty every moment holds, right here, right now.

To become fully aware that it is not in my to do’s for tomorrow but in the knowing of what has already gone. To let that awareness keep me bound in the space of today, where I am, where I live and where I love…so much love.

The Things We Remember


Rudy was an oral surgeon before Alzheimer’s robbed his body and brain of memory and meaning… when I met him as a hospice chaplain he was in the end stages. I would visit him every Monday by 10 am…. He spent most days alone in his room in a bed in the dementia unit at the facility where he lived. It was a beautiful facility with halls and rooms decorated like a swanky hotel, there was a pricey patent leather Steinway in the Lobby donated by one of the residence’s family for the purposes of the familiar….

The rooms where grand with high ceilings and crown moldings and beautiful sunny yellow paint…..

Their grandeur and cheer betrayed only by the hospital beds, wheelchairs with restraints and the stacks of chucks and diapers lined up on the dressers. Dressers that were impeccably dusted, yet unfilled- only a few changes of clothes and one pair of shoes, topped by one graying, faded wedding photograph from the glory days.

The dementia unit was only two blocks from the office where Rudy spent over 40 years in practice but it might as well have been a million miles away…

He did not know where he was, nor who was around him. He was trapped inside the confines of his own decaying brain, he existed solitary and separated from the bustling reality around him.

He would usually be back in bed by the time I arrived- fresh from his morning wash, tired from the breakfast activities which consisted of aids wrestling oatmeal into his mouth careful to block the combative arms which reacted in muscle memory to a time when he once acted on his own will…. As he lie there his head still wet, small tufts of white hair that rested just above his ears, he smelled of A and D ointment (knick-named “buttpaste” by the aids) which kept his skin dry and free from sores that hindered so many in his state. He was dressed only in a crisp white cotton t-shirt and a diaper…. In the shadows from room darkening drapes that were drawn…. He mumbled unrecognizable words while scuffling in and out of sleep.

He was fully unaware of my presence, and as I made my rounds and logged time…. I would sit by his bed and pray. Sometimes, random petition… “Lord please bring him home”…. “Relieve him of this burden of a being alive but not living…”  “Be with his wife who is unable (because of her own declining health) to visit.”

Sometimes I would just recite the Lords Prayer…and sometimes I would sing softly…. Once as I sang, he moved his hands as if he were sowing something…. Almost to the exact rhythm he would carefully stich the air…. It took me a while to understand what he was doing, but as I watched him, it occurred to me that perhaps he was remembering surgery….

Somewhere in his brain imprinted the memory of when he was fully alive and practicing what he loved, what gave him purpose and meaning….and perhaps the sound of music playing and the sound of singing prompted that memory to return…

Perhaps, he would listen to music while he was working all those years ago and that day on a random Monday fifty years past his prime something clicked …. He would smile as he sewed.

And I was taken by how our brain stores memory ….how we keep those tiny parts of preciousness stored in the recesses of our minds for comfort in times of darkness. It was in this place where I began to question…. What is it all for anyway? Why bother…if it all comes to this….laying in a bed, alone, half naked, unaware of anyone or anything…what is the purpose in this … if everything happens for a reason …what is this reason?….Why is it, that a life which was once so full and filled… could become so empty and vacant ….sewing the air ….

a life once so full…. now dark and silent and unaware….

I didn’t have any real answers to those questions then,

I still don’t…. but when I would go home to Ethan, I would hold him longer than usual, purposely being present in that moment….so grateful to be able to love and to be loved and to know love…. starkly and furiously aware of the fragility of life and love and haunted by how in a moment or a memory it could fade…away.