Periodically something will happen to remind me to be grateful for all the work that others do. Work that seems impossible to me. Work that scares me and fills me with an admiration and awe that fills my whole chest till I think it will explode. At these moments I am reminded of the ways in which we are all given gifts and not one of us has all the gifts it takes to live out any day, any year, any life. We are beholden to those around us to pick up the slack and to do things that need to be done. There is great freedom in this….even for those us who have like Anne Lamott….’tiny, control issues’.
These realizations came flying over my head last week while I was visiting one of our dear ones at a local hospital. Having made my way through the twists and turns of the hospital hallways, those mazes that can send any sane person running for the nearest door, any door, I found myself outside once again breathing in the fresh air, thankful to be outside and headed toward my car. At that moment of relief, I heard overhead a loud, thumping, chopping sound and looked up to see the emergency helicopter. I watched as, slowly, this enormous, flying machine hovered, seeming almost to stop in the blue, summery sky. It inched down, down, over, over, until it landed gently on a proportionately tiny piece of the hospital’s roof. It seemed impossible to me! How could any human do this? And how could any human be calm enough to land this huge hunk of metal while also carrying the cargo that was undoubtably someone in severe need of medical help? I said a prayer for those inside and those waiting to receive them. 
Getting in my car, I thought of that helicopter pilot and was thankful for their gifts and training, something so beyond my abilities or imagination. Then I thought of all those others whose work seems impossible to me……sky scraper window washers….surgeons….deep sea divers….astronauts…..jack hammer operators….semi-truck drivers. And then there are the others whose work brush my life every day and whose skills and gifts are so different than my own and who make my life easier, more enjoyable….the cashiers….highway construction workers…coffee baristas..cooks and wait staff….mechanics…receptionists….the faceless person who delivers my newspaper in the dark hours of the morning. I gave thanks for all those whose gifts and work I so often take for granted and reminded myself how intricately woven together we are. 

In the Christian scriptures the apostle Paul reminds us that we are each given gifts and skills to offer to one another and the world. These gifts are sometimes visible early in our lives. Other times they emerge or are honed through education, training and diligent practice. Often we are surprised by the gifts that can emerge in us and can find ourselves denying their presence, maybe frightened of what naming and claiming them might mean. But the truth of the matter is that the gifts and talents, the skills and training we discover is our passport to being a human in community. How we are able to act on and offer those gifts makes for a rich tapestry of life.

Every day we are beholden to countless people. Some we are aware of and others stand at the margins and in the shadows. Today might be a good day to begin paying attention to all the gifts that show up in each day, ways in which the offerings of others brush your life. Starting with the food on our plates is always a good place….what and whose gifts made breakfast, lunch and dinner possible? Imagining all the hands and lives that went into any meal can be a staggeringly humble experience. Taking the time to say blessing over the planters, the producers, the harvesters and the haulers can stretch a meal time by many minutes, even hours.

Once the meal is over, we could turn our hearts and minds to all the others whose gifts are offered each day. Before we know it the day is filled with blessing for all to whom we are beholden. And we can’t forget the helicopter pilot……



Oasis… a fertile or green area in an arid region (as a desert)…….. something that provides refuge, relief, or pleasant contrast. I have been thinking about the word ‘oasis’ lately and noticing how for many people who live in climates that can be frigid much of the year, summer can be a sort of oasis. People drink of it, storing up what will be needed when green no longer is visible, when color has become drained from their sight and the warmth of the sun reflects not off moving water but the brilliant white of snow and ice. Summer in Minnesota can have both an edge of laziness and a frantic quality. Giving into the heat and humidity, we allow our rhythms to slow down and take on a pace associated with our southern brothers and sisters. While at the same time we are frantically counting the days, trying not to miss any of the experiences and delights that only come to us for about 12 short weeks and just so many weekends. We can have a sort of grabbing movement as we try not to miss a thing.
As humans, we all need oasis time. It can come with any season and it represents that ability to know when we need to slow down, to drink from a stream that will quench our thirst, to find relief from the pace or the pain of our living. Mostly, an oasis is not a fancy place but a cleared out bit of territory where we can remember ourselves. An oasis can be a hillside or a favorite chair. It can be a few moments in our car sitting in the parking lot, radio off from the bombardment of news, staring at children playing, soaking up their child-laughter, the kind that causes you to smile despite yourself and the world’s woes. It can be a walk with a friend, especially the kind of walk and the kind of friend that allows silence in your steps together. An oasis is not flashy but it is necessary.
Several weeks ago now, while on a trip to see the Seattle sons, I happened on an unlikely oasis. We were staying in a neighborhood and walked one morning to the lake nearby. Crossing streets and down the hill past well manicured lawns overflowing with colorful flowers, we came to an intersection with a round-about. This round-about was also filled with a lovely, little garden and nestled among the flowers was a bench, perfect for two people. It even came with its own bird feeder. The bench was literally in the middle of the intersection. It was too good to pass up so we walked in and sat down. We had found an oasis that defied traffic.

I don’t know how long we sat there…..long enough to finish our coffee and have a nice conversation while planning the day ahead. It was early morning and people were making their way to work or whatever their days held. As people curved and turned going left or right or in circles, we simply sat there. Some people moved through the intersection as if nothing was there… flowers, no concrete circles, no bird feeder, no humans. Others smiled at the two people perched in the middle of the street. At least one gave that nod of the head we tend to give in greeting to people we don’t know but still want to acknowledge. It was a sweet and curious experience.

An oasis. This experience caused me to think about all the people I know who often believe they have no time to slow down, as if somehow the world will stop spinning. I can often count myself among them. Finding that bench in the middle of the intersection has become a metaphor for me of how it is we can always find a place to rest and recharge even with traffic moving around us. Sometimes this very place of cars whirring and driven movement is the most important place of all to claim an oasis moment. 

What does your week hold? Are you taking the gifts of summer for granted? Have you strolled down your street or walked around with lake with no real purpose except to store up the color and the beauty for a time in February when ice abounds? The poet David Whyte reminds us about the beauty of slowing down, of finding a ‘pleasant contrast’ to the haste of our days:

Enough. These few words are enough.

If not these words, this breath.

If not this breath, this sitting here.

This opening to the life

we have refused 

again and again

until now.

Until now.

May today have you finding some oasis moments……


I & We

They are the we of me.”…..Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding

For the most part we move through the world as if we don’t need each other. At least in this country, we come by this honestly. Most of us have been raised to be what has been called ‘rugged’ individuals. Writing those words brings the image of a kind of cowgirl, adventurer, Ayn Rand character who can do what needs to be done in all situations, without anyone’s help….thank you very much. Being able to accomplish any task, moving to the top of any ladder, has been the bedrock of the American dream of success. It is what we have been trained to do since childhood and the way we have often come to make judgements, right or wrong, about other people.
A few weeks ago I was riding in my car…..all by myself….half listening to the radio when this phrase caught my attention: “At some point, the ‘I’ became ‘we’.” Moving along in my solitary way in my tin can with wheels, I rifled through my purse to write down the words in one of the small notebooks I keep nearby for just such a time. I said the words aloud to myself: At some point, the ‘I’ became ‘we’. A feeling of calm and a certain joy engulfed me. I felt my shoulders relax and my breathing become deeper.

I have found that it is hard and difficult work to move through the world as an ‘I’. While my steps up or down any ladder may momentarily bring a feeling of accomplishment, it means nothing until I share the experience with someone else. The joys are not as joyful. The pain can threaten to overwhelm. Not to mention that it is simply not as fun.

Over the last weeks, I have been in the presence of people who could never have done the work of living if they had approached their lives as an ‘I’. The circumstances that had come their way could only be handled as a ‘we’. It took hands reaching out from one individual to another forming circles of compassion. It took tears being dried with a gentle stroke of a hand not their own. It took words formed in love, meals delivered with grace, silence held by more than a solitary being……the most powerful kind of silence. At some point of rugged individualism, the tools of ‘I’ failed and the grace of community moved in to form ‘we’. That forming provided strength and hope and a faith to move through the days they thought to be impossible.

When I think about the sacred stories of the Christian household, I think about all the ways in which the Spirit moves people from ‘I’ to ‘we’. Rugged individuals….Moses, Esther, Abraham, Ruth, Mary, Paul,even Jesus…..staked their very lives on becoming ‘we’. Often we forget this in our Western tellings of their stories. We want to make them into the Hollywood version of themselves. But it would not be true and we and our faith communities might be gentler, kinder, fuller places if we were to remember this and delve deeper into the ‘we’.

At what point have you moved from ‘I’ to ‘we’? Who makes up the ‘we’ in your life? Who do you call when life falls apart or the joy is too great not to be shared? What circles surround you that help you question? That challenge when you need to be challenged? That affirm when you need affirmation? 

Today is a good day to let go of the need to be rugged and to instead reach out toward all those who are our ‘we’. The Universe teaches us that we were all created to be in relationship. We can see it all around. Today is a good day to celebrate our ‘we’. How might we all offer your gratitude for the ‘we’?


Ever Widening Circles

It is the little things. The little things that are so simple, so mundane that it is easy to gloss over them with the simple, mindless movement used for brushing teeth or wiping down a kitchen counter. It’s often the little things that bring a touchstone, provide a ritual reminder of who we are and what it is we value most. These are the places and times of pure enjoyment and recognition of the privilege of being alive.

One such quirky ‘little thing’ for me is the ritual exercised at the end of each month when I make my way from calendar to calendar in our house and in my office as I turn the page to the next month, the new month. Yes. I am one of those people who still, in addition to the digital calendar on my phone and computer, has paper calendars. Lovely calendars of beautiful artwork that makes me wake up and feel something….joy, beauty, blessing, hope…..when I look at their pages. The sterile, factual black and white letters and numbers of my digital calendar can never do this. 

So on Wednesday as I made my ritual walk from calendar to calendar,turning the pages from June to July, I looked back at what had been in those first days of summer. Memories of lovely time with family and friends washed over me. Just as I turned the page on June, these words printed at the bottom of the page of one calendar, echoed their truth:”We experience ourselves as separate from the rest….We must free ourselves from this delusion…by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” The words are those of Albert Einstein. Not bad as a source of wisdom. I jotted down the words onto one of the many scraps of paper I keep tucked into books and a compartment in my purse so I could spend more time with them later.

What I realized about these words is that they make up a piece of my own personal faith statement and what I hope guides my life. This being a part of an ever widening circle of connection has been something I commit to every day. It is what keeps me honest and sane and, hopefully, a gentler, kinder human being. It is also what fills me with wonder and awe and deep humility that I get to have this life, this living, on this floating ball of blue and green in a Universe I can never possibly understand or comprehend. This widening circle is what keeps me from making more statements of surety than I ought and nudges me to try….to try…to understand more fully all I might believe to be ‘other’. It is always what keeps me in love with the world in all its beauty and terror.

Over the past weeks we have been overwhelmed with talk about ‘other’. I cannot call them conversations because that implies a give and take of listening that has rarely been present. In all the various media, we have been present to the digging in of heels and hearts over love, how we care for one another in illness and health, what symbols we hold sacred. I have been hoping for an ‘ever widening circle of compassion’, one in which we can see how intertwined we are in this living, not separate as we often like to act and speak. This ever widening circle of compassion calls us to a humility about which all our faith traditions speak. It is the language of love…..even when we disagree, even when we are still working on edging out thoughts and beliefs of separation. 

While in northern Wisconsin these last few days, I was reminded of this delusion of separation. Each day we were treated to an incredible sunset in which the Sun was hot pink, red, orange and various shades that seemed as showy as a Vegas dancer. Why? Because our skies are the same skies as those in Canada where fires are burning and sending smoke and color our way. While the beauty was amazing, the haze created kept us from seeing the night sky as we often can. A gift and a challenge. Isn’t it nearly always so?

In addition to the sky, we watched as a family stopped to prod a large turtle with a stick across the road to help hurry up its nature lest it be shattered by a less observant driver. Four humans poured compassionate connection onto this prehistoric creature. Only a few moments later a covey of grouse flew in front of our car while one of its members instead plowed into the side of our vehicle narrowly missing flying into the driver’s open window and my husband’s head. Shaking ourselves out of the shock of this encounter we turned our car around to check on its stunned body before watching it move quickly to rejoin those with wings. The experience widened our circle of compassion. 

How are you committed to widening your circle of compassion? The joy of it is that it is work that lasts a lifetime. The hope of it is the healing of the world.


Grace Squared

Grace squared. Grace multiplied by grace. It is a term Anne Lamott uses in one of her essays. I thought of these words, this concept as I drove through the Wisconsin countryside yesterday and was treated to field after field of wildflowers. All along roads and far out into fields, color dotted the green grass and flanked the pavement. It seemed almost too much of a gift to receive. Yellow, orange, dainty white and the occasional purple made brush strokes across the landscape…….all colors no one intentionally planted…..placed there simply to surprise and dazzle by an unseen hand. Grace squared.

The last weeks I seem to have been blessed by this grace over and over. In Washington a week ago, we climbed on the pathways of Mount Ranier. Higher above us snow covered the rock that climbers had come to conquer. Further down the mountain fields of wildflowers took my breath away. How did they get here? Whose plan was this? Why do they flourish so in all their variety and beauty? The sweetness of each blossom seemed to provide miracle upon miracle. Unlike the well thought out placement of the lovely flowers that make up our garden and the yards of neighbors, these colorful wonders have no particular rhyme or reason in their presentation and yet are more beautiful than any well manicured garden. The randomness only contributes to their beauty.

Driving along the country roads of Wisconsin, climbing further and further north, I became aware of the tall, white Queen Ann’s Lace that lined the roadside. I was reminded of a time when I was a small child. My mother and I had picked these dainty but showy flowers. At home in our kitchen my mother filled drinking glasses with water and drops of food coloring. Cutting the stems of the flowers she placed them in the colored water and I watched as the color traveled up the stem and into the petals creating a rainbow of flowers that had only minutes before been a pure white. At that moment I had the feeling that my mother must be the smartest and most clever woman who ever lived. These roadside wildflowers had created an experience of magic that dazzled my young eyes and heart.

Wild flowers are a sign for me of a God who wants us to wake us up. They are a visual reminder that there are things for which we do not, can not, plan. They are also another reminder that humans are not always the ones who create the beauty or paint the pictures of wonder. The seeds of these wild flowers came from……who knows where? They made their way to their planting place through the power of wind and wings and the walking about of mostly the four leggeds who carried that seed and then deposited it. From there the seeds spread and multiplied and created the blankets of flowers I have witnessed of late. It is a wildness we are a part of, a wildness that we don’t often think about or remember. It is a wildness on which we depend.      

Grace…..the free and unmerited, unasked for favor of the Sacred. Grace squared becomes a free favor that shows up in an abundance, that has us saying: ” What? Are you sure? You’ve got to be kidding! This is just all too much for little ‘ole me.” The appropriate response is then one of deep gratitude: ” Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

And so that is what I have been doing for days now. Thank you for the Queen Ann’s Lace! Thank you he-loves-me, he-loves-me not Daisies! Thank you for the purple lupines! Thank you for the Marsh Marigolds! Thank you for the buttercups! Thank you for the Paintbrushes in all their colors….orange, magenta, scarlet! Thank you for the dainty lilies and especially the Pasqueflowers, spreading peace in their wake! 

For wildness and those who sow it and for the Sacred’s wake up call, my heart is filled to overflowing…..thank you!