Friday, November 15, 2013



It is one thing to let ideas compete with ideas, 
and it is one thing to argue and win in a dispute; 
it is something else to be victorious over one's mind
when one battles in the actuality of life. 
Soren Kierkegaard from Words of Love 
(HT: Gutenberg College graduation, 2013)

Tuesday, November 05, 2013 we bought a maple tree

My mother-in-law has just spent several days in miserable pain after radiation treatment for cancer. Knowing that she was hundreds of miles north, her children scattered from California to Colorado to Wisconsin, has put me on edge.  Fortunately, her husband (who has not felt well for months) is being amazing, and he is finding, within himself and his church community, the strength to go on.

But all the same, I am itching to jump on a plane.  I would love to make butternut squash soup and read Wendell Berry aloud, clean the bathroom or collect autumn leaves to bring joy to her bedside table.  I don't want Roger to have to worry about the trash or meals or transportation or anything but communicating to his wife the intense love and devotion he has for her.

We have not had a smooth and idyllic run of it, my mother-in-law and I.  My husband and I have been all about making a mark in our family different than the marks of our upbringings.  That she has managed to be so gracious to us is suddenly amazing to me.  She understood our need to be Us, and she has had to stretch her own comfort zone to find room for the ruckus that is our family.  Take our family size, as one small (or is it huge?) example.  For a woman with serious environmental convictions, this has created plenty of opportunity for her to stretch.

On a recent visit, she and I had a chance to be alone together in the car for a bit.  Roger had been having a bit of a health crisis while she was gone, and it brought to light the brevity of life. I asked her what her thoughts were about staying on the island where she lives if Roger died first.  She told me that she had entertained thoughts of living in our granny flat.  Oh, I cannot tell you the joy that brought me.  I would love a chance to live next door to her, learning and stretching and growing with each other.  I know the rich reward of that, and I was thrilled that she would even consider it.

Even when things are looking so fragile, as they are right now, it doesn't mean the whole jig is up.  There could still be those days.  But yesterday I realized that I had let that dream take root in my heart and it made me sad to imagine that it might not happen.  I can understand if she chose a different option, but knowing that she is so ill and could have a short time here on earth, well that just did me in a bit yesterday.

And so Claire and I got in the car and drove to the nursery.  It was wholesale day for the regular customers, and we found a few plants to add to the front yard beds.  But the crowning purchase of the day was a maple tree.  The price was right, the color is majestic, and it is a TREE, a grand and glorious tree.  Part of its beauty and grandeur is the autumnal display of red and gold, and soon those leaves will be gone.  But spring, ever hopeful spring, will come and the leaves, Lord willing and we don't kill the thing, will grow new and green and abundant.  The branches will reach for the sky and seasons will continue to change.  Time will move on.

There was something in my restlessness yesterday that was soothed by planting a tree.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An Eagle Project (is all funded, thanks to so many!)

Our son Brennan is getting ready to begin work on his Eagle Scout Leadership Project. It will be here, on this hillside overlooking our church, and will involve several steps.  He will expand the area by eight feet, he will change the surface from a rough bark to decomposed granite, and he will build and install a pergola.

We had been brainstorming with friends and had been looking through books, trying to find a plan for what Brennan wanted to build. Then we went to a dinner party and at some point in the evening our friend Dave looked up and said, "Hey, John. THIS is what you want to build." Voila. We had our prototype.  Thanks, Pat and Becky!

 My favorite part of this project is that it will be done in memory of my mother.  Mom was a little worried (maybe appalled would not be too strong a word?) when I gave her the news that a fifth child was on its way.  So many children, so much work!  But then Mom moved to our home when Brennan was only 3, and he became a source of great joy and pride for her.  Bren would go have a visit with Mom every afternoon, and those visits quickly became a favorite part of her days.

And now there will be an outdoor worship area at our church, built in her honor and in her memory.  I am so pleased.



The project is now fully funded, thanks to the generosity of so many.  The work will begin soon.  I am very grateful.


The estimated cost of the project is $567.00, and we currently have half of that money raised.  I am hoping to do my part in helping Brennan raise the remainder of his needed funds so that we can get the project started.  If you are interested in donating to his project, you can do so with this paypal button:

If you do not feel comfortable using paypal, you can email me at acircleofquiet(AT)yahoo(DOT)com and I will let you know where to send a check.

We really appreciate your consideration of this project.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hollyberry pond and the lone white duck

A white duck appeared on the pond about four or five months ago, all by itself, and it is waddling and paddling around whenever I drive by.  There are dozens of mallards, some wood ducks and coots, but just this one white duck.

Did the neighbors who recently moved leave him behind?  He does sometimes cross the road and go wandering through their yard, looking more at home there more than he does in the big pond.

He has caught my imagination, and I find myself making up stories about the little white duck as I am driving.  He is always mingling with the Canada geese, imitating whatever they are doing, and I have him pegged as a very earnest, somewhat insecure little fellow who would love nothing more than to belong.  He is most carefree when he is the middle of the geese crowd; it is then that you can see him diving down, his tail feathers wiggling above the water line, while below the surface he is fishing or playing or whatever it is ducks do in the water. As the geese move along, he quickly catches up with them and slaloms in between the larger, darker birds.  When swim time is over, and the geese somehow signal it is time to march single file up the hill to the kind neighbors on the left, he knows the secret code and pops out to get in line with them.  He waddles along, and he seems to be saying, "I am so happy to be here."

I need a name for this little fellow (assuming that he is a he...I am only guessing.)   Any suggestions?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

~ Collect for the nation in The Book of Common Prayer

Saturday, September 07, 2013

On the porch with Liza

Every Thursday at 1:00.
Unless we forget, of course,
Or grace needs to be ladled out
For some embarrassing reason.

The porch rockers sit ready,
Perhaps a little dusty,
But nothing that a quick sweep of the hand
Can't brush away.

Cars trundle by
As the heat sneaks onto the shaded porch.
We sip our cold drinks
And settle in for a slice of heaven.

Angst might be confessed
Or hurt shared or advice sought.
What ifs and whys rise to the surface with
Dreams and worries and almost always laughter.

As we rock, the little girls
Tumble and giggle, fuss or jabber,
Parading new outfits
Or splashing in the stream the hose has carved.

Hannah Coulter opens to the next chapter,
And the gentle cadence of Wendell Berry
Takes us to another time and place,
Making this time and this place deeply ours.

A song bird splashes yellow across the sky,
While Gordon barks gruffly to protect his turf.
The wandering hen cackles and pecks,
And this humble hour steeps in wonder.

We feel Hannah's heartache
And healing and passion,
Returning to a particular word or phrase
And marveling at a man writing what a woman feels.

A chapter is all we read,
And when it is over we sigh
Over the beauty of it all,
And we take one last, deep breath before moving on.

Every Thursday at 1:00.
Another chapter, a dear friend.
I return to simpler days,
And share an hour on the porch with Liza.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Brennan Manning (April 27, 1934 – April 12, 2013)

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”

It is hard to remember who I was when Brennan Manning came into my life.  I know I was pregnant with our fifth child, and I know where we went to church. I can recall the messages about effective parenting and women's roles and the Right Way to Do Everything.  I can almost remember the recoil in my soul on Sunday mornings, and  I know well the work we've done to unravel the falsehoods from that season.

“To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life story, the light side and the dark. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God's grace means.”

Into this rich soil Brennan Manning was planted.  I could digress into the value of manure to help seeds grow, but let's not get crass.  Manning's message of Christ and His grace was gruffly honest; it was not about neat and tidy living, and it was fresh air and clean water and sweet music to my weary heart.  Brennan Manning's way of speaking of God's love for His children could very well have saved my life.

“In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” 

And so we named our baby Brennan.

"There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are.”

And this last Friday, Brennan Manning found his eternal rest, at last.  Rest in Peace, kind sir.  Thank you for speaking to a weary and earnest mother; God used you to breathe the words of grace back into her heart.

“I want neither a terrorist spirituality that keeps me in a perpetual state of fright about being in right relationship with my heavenly Father nor a sappy spirituality that portrays God as such a benign teddy bear that there is no aberrant behavior or desire of mine that he will not condone. I want a relationship with the Abba of Jesus, who is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy Mystery."


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance

When loneliness comes stalking, go into the fields, consider
the orderliness of the world. Notice
something you have never noticed before,

like the tambourine sound of the snow-cricket
whose pale green body is no longer than your thumb.

Stare hard at the hummingbird, in the summer rain,
shaking the water-sparks from its wings.

Let grief be your sister, she will whether or not.
Rise up from the stump of sorrow, and be green also,
like the diligent leaves.

A lifetime isn't long enough for the beauty of this world
and the responsibilities of your life.

Scatter your flowers over the graves, and walk away.
Be good-natured and untidy in your exuberance.

In the glare of your mind, be modest.
And beholden to what is tactile, and thrilling.

Live with the beetle, and the wind.

~ Mary Oliver ~

From The Leaf and the Cloud: A Poem

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

A bouquet of unmerited favor

It all started with a trip out to the front yard, where our terraced flower beds are showing the years of neglect we have thrust upon them.  Weeding had started over spring break, but the heaps of pulled weeds barely began what needs to happen for things to be made right.  It's daunting, and like many daunting things in my life, I can find a hundred unnecessary things to do in the name of not doing the daunting ones.

But yesterday I knew I could at least survey the reality.  Call it a mess.  Figure out a plan.  I tricked myself into going out front with the idea that I didn't actually need to do anything. I could just look around, agree that it is a mess, plan out a few weeks of concentrated work, and be done for the day.  Plan I can do.


Before I even came around the corner, I could see the frilled edges of the first purple iris, flapping in the wild winds, rich layers of color bouncing and dancing and sparkling.  Iris are the flowers of my childhood front walkway. They are a reminder of my friend Alison.  They are so beautiful.  And even in my yard, they are bold and strong and healthy, touting their royal purple in the midst of weeds and crummy soil.

The rosemary is blooming and curling and growing strong in Madelaine's herb patch.  I played many a holiday hide and seek game in the Rogers' rosemary bushes.  My apologies to those brave and hardy plants, but those memories are sweet and the fragrance so very welcome.  The branches of our much smaller plants are curled and whimsical and dotted with blue flowers.  They are healthy and spreading and very much at home.

As I went from corner to corner, surveying the scene, flowers were pushing forth in the midst of the weeds, stronger than last year, dotted with color, waving bravely in the wind.  They were not daunted by their surroundings.  They were beautiful.

I went back inside to get some clippers so I could gather the first fruits of this neglected garden into a bouquet, a bouquet of unmerited favor.  I expected a mess, I braced myself for the results of months and years of having better things to do.  Instead I came in with my arms full of color and fragrance and joy.

I keep passing the bouquet, watching the flowers catch the light as it arcs across the kitchen windows.  The colors and textures change with the hours, and the abundance of it all just amazes me. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

From the archives: Author birthday extravaganza

Today is the birthday of three favorite authors:  Madeleine L'Engle, C.S. Lewis and Louisa May Alcott.  In honor of their birthday, I have listed some favorite quotes and books and one movie.

The Insistence of Chronology

During our mortal lives, however, chronos is not merely illusion. My body aging is aging according to human chronology, not nucleon or galactic chronology. My knees creak. My vision is variable. My energy span is shorter than I think it ought to be. There is nothing I can do to stop the passage of this kind of time in which we human beings are set. I can work with it rather than against it, but I cannot stop it. I do not like what it is doing to my body. If I live as long as many of my forebears, these outward diminishments will get worse, not better. But these are the outward signs of chronology, and there is an other Madeleine who is untouched by them, the part of me that lives forever in kairos and bears God's image.
From Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts and Reflections of Madeleine L'Engle

But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not.  It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him. 

From Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Every few weeks she would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and fall into a vortex, as she expressed it, writing way at her novel with all her heart and soul, for till that was finished she could find no peace.

From Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Favorite books by these authors:


(worthy of note:  we love the movie of The Inheritance, but the book didn't do it for us.  The father in the movie is a great character, and he is fabulously quotable.)

Last year's meme post in honor of Lewis, L'Engle and Alcott.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Psalm 8

 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth,
You have set your glory above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants
You have ordained praise because of Your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

When I consider Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which You have set in place,
what is man that You are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

You made him ruler over the works of Your hands; 
You put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is Your name in all the earth.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sabbath poem

One day I walked imagining
What work I might do here,
The place, once dark, made clear
By work and thought, my managing, 
The world thus made more dear.
I walked and dreamed, the sun in clouds,
Dreamer and day at odds.
The world in its great mystery
Was hidden by my dream.
Today I make no claim; 
I dream of what is here, the tree
Beside the falling stream,
The stone, the light upon the stone; 
And day and dream are one.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Change is in the air

As we settle into the routines of school, change is settling in on branch and leaf. Breezes blow, and the slant of shadows speaks to the coming dark. I love autumn, the cooler temperatures and the smell of moist earth. I come alive as the temperatures drop, although after a mere twenty-four years in this county I have almost acclimated to our searing summer temperatures. The rain cannot come soon enough, as the dirt road along our fence sends up billows of dust whenever cars drive by, and the pond down the hill is showing signs of longing.

   photo credit: Isaiah Eyre, wedding photographer extraordinaire

But change is more than a weather pattern. With a son newly married, the fabric of our family has changed. It feels shrunk down as my ready to dance boy has become a fine man, living on his own with the woman of his dreams. He takes with him a volume of noise unmatched by any others on this little hillside, and our house feels bittersweetly larger in his absence. But we also feel expanded to include this beautiful, eyes sparkling woman who loves my son with a passion that inspires me and makes me laugh with joy. She loves adventure, she works hard, and she brings beauty with her wherever she goes.  Like a tailored suit, made just for us, she fits into our inner circle with an ease and grace that feels perfect.

Change never seems to come single file, and at church we must come to grips with the fact that our rector is retiring.  This fantastic man who met us in hospital halls to pray for Mom, even though the weird smells and the aura of disease were unpleasant for him.  He carried the Eucharist to her bedside, and he made me promise that I would call him, no matter the time, when Mom's time on earth was done.  He met us where we were, disaffected Baptists, and brought with him the Book of Common Prayer, the wine and the wafer, the liturgy of our childhoods.  And now we have returned to those roots, to what many see as a denomination fallen away from the truth.  I see our church differently, though.  It is a place where we can be without words and still pray prayers that have stood the test of time, a place where the sermon shares equal time with the Eucharist, where confession and the passing of the peace bond us together.  We have a community that exhibits grace and an eagerness to grow in their faith. 

 A few weeks ago Claire was baptized and we stood in front of our congregation as these words were read:

Will you who witness these vows do all in your
power to support Claire in her life in Christ?

And we all boldly responded "We will!"

Claire responded to questions with a quiver in her voice, and our rector's voice broke as he continued the liturgy.  It was a tender ceremony.  Not only was Claire surrounded by all her siblings, her new sister-in-law, and her dear friends, she was embraced into a community of faith.  She knows that these are her people, that she is part of the membership.  

Over the last eighteen months, I have thought a lot about how hard it can be to be a young person at this time in our history.  The stress feels very different, the isolation and pressure and uncertainty seems much deeper. That Sunday in church, gratitude welled up inside of me as I realized that my daughter belongs to these faithful people.  Times are changing, a new rector will be here November 1st, but she is a part of the family.  At some point she may be called to go it alone, to wander in the wilderness, but she knows she belongs to the membership and that they belong to her.

And we know that, too, which helps us as we fidget in the changing confines of our world.  We are not alone.