Empty room

How have I grown so afraid of this place,

stark and frameless, patina of footsteps,

so individual that I can hear my spirit breathe.

How have I forgotten that I must stand here

in the empty room, spread my arms wide

and call for you in this echo chamber.

Sometimes I don’t recognize my own voice.

Lord, there are always so many things to do, to say

to retrieve and remember, and I am holding just one life–

my own. Where are your hands in the white that washes

everything this sun-kept gold? Where is evidence

of a resurrection that I can follow in my own life? Where

are your Words within the scape of this fallow? Lord,

what do I do first–believe, obey, sit motionless and wait?

Entering is always a posture no matter the door chosen,

and we always find ourselves in the uninhabited only to hear:

He is not here.

My own salvation is this mecca. Daily. As much as it takes.



Praise said the woman, for there are always rafters and trees and eagles overhead, for there is always a voice louder than yours, for there is always someone coming alongside to prop or cackle. To rearrange.

Praise. Let Word order. Let Light penetrate. Let air and breathe coalesce to fill you with peace. You can come alongside, you can walk with me but I am only going where I am going.

Praise my journey set like exact time on a birth certificate. No one changes that. All the worry about clothes falling off and bread

and where the next drink will come. All the untouched sunrises and sets. All the moments when the Great Artist fluttered His hands and created dusk and recreated you.

Praise for the easiness of play and all the good done when I give up the doing of the hard goods. Praise for eyes that see suffering for what it is in the everywhere of every person, and no longer need to require more in the name of the Lord.

Praise the silence of true suffering. Praise the lips who move in reverence of the honest moment. Praise all generosity that arises from this place.

Praise the authentic vocabulary of belief and the speak-easy way the Psalmist’s heart topples on his page. Praise the misunderstood and the beyond- comprehension that is the mind of God and the heart of man.

Praise when we touch that, and we feel something like a bird-wing, and, cradling the unknown, we gently go on our way.



I returned home from a faculty meeting yesterday with newfound affirmation that teaching during the pandemic has been difficult in ways that are challenging to articulate, even for college professors.

For empaths, it has been a two-year marathon of absorption of others’ stressors, anxiety and loss while also dealing with our own personal installments of the dynamically-draining trio.

For teachers, even those of us who support masking in schools, it has been an exhausting marathon without water stations of attempting to forge connection with faces we can only see slivers of while hiding behind our own masks. Wearing the mask causes me to wish I never had to talk at all, so forcing myself to talk in a classroom and project my voice so that at least half the room can understand what I am saying is drop-dead exhausting. There is always repetition involved in classroom instruction, but with a mask on, the necessity of repeating oneself, then sending emails to reinforce the information that students only heard half of has added so many hours to my day that I really don’t want to do the math.

During a pandemic, the grumpy get grumpier, the lazy get lazier, and the delegators seem to go into overdrive. In classrooms, every one of us– students and teachers–are doing more, more, more, but to less, less, less effect.

My super power as a professor is my ability to read a room. Guess what, I read mouths. Turns out the mouth is the facial feature that reveals the most in terms of nonverbal communication. The eyes without the mouth are not so readable.

My course evaluations last spring were the highest I have ever received (and they were already high), but as I read the students’ comments and looked at my numerical scores, I did not feel proud or happy about the results. I felt as though I had gotten away with subpar performance because my students were, themselves, so in need of caring, love and support.

My face is permanently chapped from wearing a mask and my lipstick tubes are all dried up from lack of use. I am dehydrated–physically, spiritually, emotionally, and in ways I am still processing. And, after yesterday’s faculty meeting, I realize I am not the only one. As one faculty member shared “There is just a heaviness about everything.”

When empaths like myself, who are much more comfortable leaning into others’ problems, actually take a moment to share our own struggles, the nonjudgmental caring we so naturally give doesn’t always come back to us in spades. That’s because non-empaths don’t really have the awareness to gage the amount of strength and resilience it takes to listen about others more than to speak about oneself.

My burnout as a teacher is not something I am proud of, but, it is a thing, a real thing. It isn’t the result of my lack of faith or character or willingness to endure when the going gets tough. When the going gets tough, all empaths know that we are the ones who sensed it and felt it weeks, years, months before our sanguine neighbors did.

Listening to my colleagues yesterday strengthened my resolve. This pandemic has affected each one of us, albeit in different ways. It has affected our campus community from the top down.

So, I am not going to apologize for feeling the way I feel, nor am I going to attempt to work my way out of it by working harder. Nor am I going to internalize shame or guilt from well-meaning Wesleyans when I do share.

I might put my friends who are also empaths and colleagues who are in the same lifeboat on speed dial and just share with them. Wait, and blog about it. You do what you’ve got to do. And you are enough. God did not create me to go through a pandemic and not be affected by it, and chances are He hasn’t created our children, our friends, our students, our colleagues to accomplish that either. It seems as though we’d be neither human nor infused with God’s Spirit as believers if we were capable of that feat.


God’s Joyful Surprise

I think I want to be surprised. When I come face to face with God and my life, I want to have served Him with some margin for mystery, not always knowing, not always overtly mentoring.

I hope the poem that is my life will not have always hidden the abrasions of minor keys. I hope there will have been times of uncertainty, when I didn’t just know but I obeyed anyway, not acutely

aware in the moment that an act of kindness or a teachable moment

was obedience. God’s Word hidden in my heart–may that always be

a work of art in progress for which I more than anyone need Grace.

The challenge for the contemplative is the stumbling block of knowledge. May I never know enough. May I always need wings.



As you grow older, closer to

light, abyss, memory,

as you read about strangers’ deaths

in acquaintance obituaries,

as you contemplate so many strangers–

Do you long for more quietude, less of?

Are mountains no longer for climbing and

were they ever, always?

Can you now, finally, hear the words?

They are mouthed in the fragrance of sunwash

and light on water and ancient tongues.

Seek the Lord.



you are my life in soft light,

love delivered seamlessly, ebullient

gratitude used correctly in the same life

sentence, righteousness arranged just right.

Grace, I hold to you. I look for you

in the winds. I claim you as color changes

in clear water that shimmers through my desperate

hands. I drink you in.

Please, Grace, work your magic and spin me

better than I actually ever am–first filter

like blue eyes that can only envision blue-white snow.

Turn what I despise into what I most love

so that I can understand the Great Father’s love

for me, a love that makes it easy to expose

the innermost wretches of my heart.

I line up my failures and the dew of the sea

rushes over them, shines them into

something else–a birthright of purity,

celestially new.


Christmas Life

My Christmas is so much like my life–contemplative

and a bit messy around the edges. I read about adventures

and new recipes, then I pull out my 40-year-old sauce pan

and make the same fudge from memory. Ancient on repeat

seems to be the default bell, jingling from the wings of an old

angel atop the tree. My favorite aunt mailed me fudge once

and I was so touched and homesick and filled with good. She knew

she was dying, and although she had not spoken the word to me, I knew it, too. I can’t really recreate the beauty that has passed before me

but I can remember and I can go through the motions, stirring and stirring until something in my heart begins to taste. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about–the feeble attempt to share the unbeknownst? Bonhoeffer tells me faith requires a first step of obedience and in the same breath obedience requires faith. There is no first ingredient to the formula. Salvation is like a train that a man running hard away from himself can jump on at any time and at any place, and the miracle is, he will squarely find himself again. He might run or he might stay. He might place his head down on the tracks, then pull away at the last possible moment. He might stand in a long, civilized line and purchase a roundtrip ticket in first class with a sleeping car and chicken with wine. What is faith, really, but the idea of no idea?

A baby? A manger? An unusual star? Do I dare believe this? Open the box. Taste. See.


Quiet Time

Sometimes I must tell time to be quiet, to “shush”–

Time is an indolent child, unraveling a blanket

thread by thread with a radar for my distraction.

The lid of winter closes down and I realize it has been days,

weeks, months, years, a lifetime of serving two masters.

Here’s how to stretch an eternity in the present like salt-taffy

held in tension and rain: bed down in the love of your ancestors,

write a long letter, give something away, sit with someone who remembers you young. Double your day by letting the morning sun

dance in her dusty shadows without you. Be a watchman, be a lighthouse

for the word that will come from the Lord. Pay attention to how God

knows you and speaks to you, and only command your ears to stiffen for that. Pick up the threads of your own soul and let them meander

into the wind of the unknown and weave.


Hummingbird Cake

You are having these conversations with your God that no one else is having, and sometimes it is easy to forget that and to think that the mediums God uses to connect to your soul are the only ones available to mankind.

The Word is the Word and that goes for everyone. Sure. But within that Word are connotations and whispers and secret language because nothing makes us feel more loved than a love note in special, contrived

shorthand that might look and sound and feel like a jibberish to everyone else. Sometimes I open my Bible and a passage stands out to me and it feels like a piece of hummingbird cake saved for me because I was a little child who fell asleep at the birthday party. Sweet taste for my tongue only.

But that cannot and should not discount the sweet tastes of others, who may be meeting God on a different plane in a different time zone, listening with their own eccentric ears and experiences.

God’s Word doesn’t change. Truth doesn’t change. But the ways God places His truth into the palms of his adored children are for Him to decide…not me.


The way to the heart might be through the stomach…

I am reminiscing this morning about all the wonderful places my husband and I have shared a meal together. Eating out has been something we’ve always enjoyed. Our first date was at Applegate’s Landing, a Midwestern version of an Italian restaurant in our little college town. Then there was Sal’s in Delano, California, our family gathering place for delicious, authentic Mexican food. Once while en route to California on a road trip with the kids, we ventured out in New Mexico for a dinner for two for some of the best Mexican fare I’ve ever eaten, and true to form, I can’t remember the name of the place. We had so few date nights in those days, everything about that meal from the chips and salsa to the honey we drizzled on our dessert tortillas, was special. Santa Fe’s Cafe Pascual’s and El Encanto in Scottsdale are two restaurants that we will make reservations for every time we are in proximity. El Encanto’s tamales, with their sweet masa, are unforgettable.

There was that Italian restaurant we were taken to on a job interview, “Papa or Mama–something.” This was the dinner where the 2-year-old son accompanied us. He was so well-behaved I think it actually worked in my husband’s favor because they offered him the job on the spot. While my husband conversed with his possible future employers, I scarfed down lasagna like only a woman in her third trimester can do.

Our week in Ireland several years ago provided us some of our most memorable eating experiences. In Sligo, we became chummy with our taxi driver (we had the same one for almost a week and on our favorite driver’s day off, his uncle came to pick us up). He even delivered our laundry to and from the laundry service place while we hiked Knocknarea, and as he transported us from place to place, we conversed about poetry and food. His mother was an amazing cook, and we were very close to securing an invitation to eat at her house. I think he wanted his family to experience listening to us butcher the pronunciations of all the local landmarks. At any rate, his suggestion for the best local food in Sligo was Lyon’s Cafe. We ate there several times for lunches–it was that good AND it was not pub food. I had remarked to Taxi-Driver-Friend that dark, damp, over-greasy fish and chips was not my thing. At the time, I did not appreciate Guinness the way I do now. I must go back. While in Sligo, we also ate at an amazing cafe on the coast with seafood chowder that tasted like a book taken at face value for a “beach read” that ends up a part of your inner life forever. The name escapes me (I should keep a food diary) but I remember the exterior clapboards were painted deep blue and there was a statue of Yeats nearby (not helpful in Sligo as a landmark…Yeats is everywhere). There was also a sign on the shoreline that read “For Yeats’ sake, pick up your rubbish!” While in Northern Ireland, Magherafelt in County Londonderry to be more exact, all we had to do for one of the best “fancy food” experiences of our lives was walk across the street from our Seamus Heaney B&B to Church Street Restaurant. We ate several suppers there and everything we consumed from the wine to appetizers to soups and salads to seafood, steak, chicken was delectable. My mouth waters as I remember. This was a place locals obviously loved but it also felt like a restaurant where important celebrations were taking place around us. It was humbly elegant.

The best pizza we’ve found in Chicago is Lou Malnati’s. Best French Fries–possibly Boise Fry Company, Boise, Idaho. The accompanying burgers were not bad either. As for barbecue, I’ve lived in Texas and Oklahoma and I’ve tried North Carolina’s smoked offerings. Of this I am most certain: KC Joe’s. The sauce. In a pinch, Hickory Hut in Salina works for us. Best meal while in Hawaii is a hole-in-the-wall Teriyaki place –Mark’s– that made us so happy, my husband put the name of the place in his phone so we can head there straight from the airport next time we are on the island of Kauai.

Prague was the site of two of the most expensive and formal dinners we have ever had the pleasure of partaking in. One took place in the famous “Fred and Ginger” building, compliments of Glen’s company, and the other was one of those 12-course delights where the Chef brings out two tablespoons of food with a wine pairing over and over until it ends up costing you hundreds of dollars per person, and like the Emperor in “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” you find yourself, not naked, but starving (so “naked” in the metaphorical and gastronomical sense). The company of our friends made this memorable and fun and the room-service hamburger filled our growling stomachs at around midnight when the dinner finally ended.

The best meals are those that check all the boxes–ambiance, occasion, and ingredients. My favorite food memory shared with my husband took place at our 25th anniversary dinner in Asheville, NC, at the Grove Inn. I ordered a baked chicken with a delicious sauce that included sweetness, a bit of a kick and pecans. We dined outdoors with a stunning view of the Smoky Mountains. Our waitress was perfect–attentive but not intrusive–and, not only were we celebrating our anniversary, but earlier in the day our son had called us to tell us he was engaged to be married to his high school sweetheart.

While in Scotland on a company trip, we were served a feast fit for Mary Queen of Scots at Stirling Castle, one of the castles she lived in as a child. I have seldom tried a food I didn’t like, but on this evening, I couldn’t bring myself to try the haggis. Since traveling there, I have learned through 23-and-Me that my genetic profile is predominately Scottish, Irish, and Native American. In fact, some of the ancestors who immigrated to this country from Ireland, were also Scottish along with the the Scottish Scots. So in a sense, I’ve probably tasted haggis.

I’ve made several trips to Oregon in recent years to visit my daughter, son-in-law and grandson and I have to say that every bite of food from start to finish in this state has been delightful. Even the Portland Airport serves fresh, delicious food. The best French dip sandwich was eaten at my daughter’s butcher shop (also a lunch spot) in North Plains. We love Tom’s Fish and Chips at Cannon Beach, as well as the lovely breakfasts at my favorite hotel–The Stephanie Inn. The best news is foodies tend to begat foodies so when in Oregon, we have family to embark upon eating adventures with.

Once, with another daughter, I attended the Madison Food Festival, in Madison, WI. It will forever be a life-highlight. Macaroni and Cheese Pizza from Ian’s, Cheese-curds from everywhere, the best ice cream ever…everywhere. We would leave our hotel room, walk across the road and eat bread and cheese concoctions until we were so full we would hobble back to the hotel room and crash on the bed for a few hours. Then repeat. For three days. It felt both sinful and holy at the same time to do so. Mimosas and Brunch at the Old Fashioned topped off our long weekend. You think when you give birth to your daughters that you will have this long stretch of time for making memories, but life moves so quickly and there is always so much to do. I will never forget this time of laughter and eating and dream-sharing with my daughter. Also, I gained ten pounds in three days. I think it was my heart, not my stomach.



God looks upon us and perhaps he sees

a trembling leaf folding in the rain

He sees, in all of our capability, a fragility.

We are dying in clusters now, laying low

and allowing fear to make us mean and disparaging

toward one another, as we try to make sense

of the senseless, we try to give voice to our limping hope.

In the distant horizon is a sun-sized moon and remembrance

of when we could run and when we believed so big in ourselves,

thinking we believed in God.

I think I will stand before God tonight with all of my wrinkles,

with make-up off, and I will celebrate the end of me that is

the beginning of God; my weaknesses that lay bare like open

trees, my voice cracking and soft and devoid of meaning.

Perhaps we can become like prayer, vacuous sounds that rise up

into a blank sky, that tell us nothing, yet fill us and equip us

to accept and to love and to heal.


When you miss someone

and that feeling is new

you can pinpoint the hole left in the place of daily filling

acutely aware, no beauty goes without notice

breath and friendship not taken for granted,

your mind can move forward and back at grief’s bidding,

it feels like paralysis and flight all at once

Every day, the face of the Earth loses a speck

and gains another, but I do not. I gain much from my loss–

words already spoken, a faith now cradling my restless head,

the significance of ordinary things. Is it marking time?

Or is it grabbing the colors of a universe bent upon painting

and framing the eternal in each one of us? When you miss someone

your soul is on fire, you know life in a singular way

you pick up the pencil and you trace the shapes.



These two are those friends…

The ones who read your blog when no one else does.

The ones who drive over in the dead-end of night to help you through tragedy, who make Amtrak reservations because you just lost your parents in a plane crash and cannot bring yourself to get on a plane.

The ones who cry at your 25th anniversary wedding vows on a cruise ship to Alaska while the inebriated ship captain with the “Princess-bride” lisp mispronounces you “huthsband and wife.”

Those friends. The ones who invite your daughter, who is struggling at school, over once a week for sewing lessons. The ones who watch your baby for the weekend so you can attend a marriage retreat and baby pukes on their new carpet and they don’t mind at all.

She was the one who brought a basket of freshly-baked muffins to my house the day our oldest son left for college. They were the first ones to hold our youngest as a tiny preemie.

Once when I shared with her how disconnected I felt from my own extended family, and how painful that was for me, she labeled herself as my “sister” on facebook.

They are those friends, who have called each of our four children on their birthdays and sung them the “Happy Birthday” song every year of their lives since our kids lost their grandparents. The prayers for my children are like jewels strung from their hearts, now all the way to heaven, where I know she will still be praying for them.

When it comes to faith, I am confident that I possess belief in spades, belief that will endure no matter what. But these friends, these friends have more than that. Together, they were a dynamo of love together, full of grace and acceptance and humor and fun. They led, always, with their hearts. And they held on to you in such a way that you knew there must be a reason for everything and a God much bigger than reason.

They were our card-playing friends. Easy to laugh with. Easy to cry with. The only thing they ever judged was barbecue. Christ-like yet authentically flawed and human, always pointing to Him as their strength and reason for living.

You know. Those friends. Two of our greatest gifts. Today, we say goodbye for now to her.



Writing really can’t be taught or caught.

It’s more walking uphill backward and barefoot carrying a screaming baby or bird and giving it your last morsel of trail mix even though

you know you won’t eat for days. You hoard your drops of water and you hide your dictionary because the ideas are signposts pointing

the way to everywhere simultaneously. No one understands. You don’t understand.

I am called a writing instructor–a teacher– but I don’t teach, actually, really. I walk around, masked these days, looking at whittled shapes

that young people who have lived so fully already, have carved out of their own skins and memories and I talk to them about how to re-arrange or mix so the formula (the 5 paragraph essay) gets its own fresh dose of life. Nothing happens for a reason and nothing in Creation

is so formulaic–look at a bird-wing and say it isn’t so.

I walk around with my hands open showing them a lost alchemy, talking to them about the used bookstore I love in Breckenridge where poetry occupies such a small shelf, and I hope they’ll remember the one I shared last week as a warm-up, I hope they will remember

one stanza or two when the Science stops making sense yesterday. I hope they remember that Grammar needs us more than we need her, and we are so much more in the reflection of our beating time, so much more and so much less all at once–Champions, we are

of a broken page.


Olympic Moments

The Summer Olympics. I’ve been watching the Summer Olympics since the days of three channels and rabbit-ear antennas with aluminum foil pressed around for better reception. Some casual observations:

  1. Remember when the athletes looked almost inhumanly fit, almost like they were from another planet? They are still fit; however, so is your neighbor down the street who is a Crossfitter-marathon runner.
  2. Remember when getting know more about the athletes was limited to special feature sections on one of three channels with rabbit-ear antennas? Now, I can Google the athlete and record an event or watch livestream anytime I want. Why does it seems so overwhelming now?
  3. Remember when the TV Guide came tucked into its bed of the Sunday paper? Now, there are so many channels and so many guides with live links that I find myself guessing and hoping I don’t miss any of Simone Biles’ routines. Even though I know there is Youtube and it has all been recorded. I want the best opportunity for viewing–I am going for the Gold in television viewing, which makes me an Olympian, right?
  4. Remember “Wild World of Sports”? The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. I dozed off to these words almost every Sunday afternoon of my childhood. I am not sure “Wild World of Sports” as a title would work in 2021.
  5. My son told me once that there are 2 types of people: the one who wants to win and the one who doesn’t want to lose. Which one am I? This seems like a trick question to me.
  6. Olga, Nadia, Marylou, Carly, Shannon, Nastia, Gabby, Simone…I once watched Olympic gymnastics and decided to try some balance beam moves atop one of our wooden fence lines on the farm. On my dismount, which didn’t go well, I almost bit my tongue in half.
  7. Sugar Ray Leonard. I went through a phase when I wanted to be a boxer. In retrospect, a boxer’s mouthpiece would have been a good idea for my gymnastics phase.
  8. Now there is 3×3 basketball in the Olympics. I grew up playing half-court ball in Oklahoma. I’ve always tried to tell people that 3×3 is an entirely different sport from full-court basketball. I feel vindicated. I was an athlete ahead of her time living in a time-capsule state.
  9. Why is beach volleyball so addicting to watch? I plan my days around Olympic Beach Volleyball, and then the Olympics end and I forget it exists until the next Olympics. I feel like my calves are getting toner just watching the athletes.
  10. If you watch the Olympics and you aren’t familiar with the story of Jim Thorpe, be sure to Google and YouTube after you read this post. I am surprised how many people have never heard of this great athlete. There is a Facebook meme that floats around from time to time showing Thorpe in an old football uniform and wearing shoes that neither fit his feet nor match. What isn’t always told about Thorpe is the tragic irony of his burial and his children’s legal battle to try to bring his body back to Oklahoma for re-burial, which is what Thorpe wanted.
  11. I am not entirely sure our world creates true amateurs anymore. Most small towns, like the one I live in, start recruiting basketball players when the babies are still in the womb, or so we like to say. Even though most of us never rise to Olympic glory, many of us train, skip church, skip family events as though we will. Thrill of victory. Agony of defeat. It seems that now, anyone can run a marathon, pull off the Murph on Memorial Day, eat food that comes in little tubes like astronauts and fork out gzillions for the right equipment. Amateurism in sports is murky as are many other “cut and dried” aspects of competition that once we did not think about or question. In the real world, amateurism has been replaced by professional mediocrity. I formulated this idea while attending a sports fair prior to the Austin Marathon, where we were all lined up to buy expensive special socks, protein bars, some kind of weird tube-food, and elitist Gatorade that was called something else. All of this so my sister and I could run-walk the 5K and other family members could complete the big race with varying levels of fitness and training on display, proving forever than almost anyone can eke out the 9- minute mile if you deprive yourself of dessert, skip alot of church, and become “evangelical” enough about keeping your feet blister-free and in Brooks.
  12. The Olympics teaches us that life is about the journey, not the destination. This is what I tell myself as I channel surf my thousands of options, searching for beach volleyball. My face feels ready for my Wheaties Box, however, I will need to get a new recliner prior to the photo-shoot.


Don’t order that Big Mac!

Everyone go back to vacation and post pics of your food and the wildlife and the beach sunsets. Yes, Delta variant is on the rise and it is unsettling and yes, mostly un-vaxed people are afflicted, and YES many un-vaxed people appear to be getting their information from social media and unvetted news sources. In short, they are listening to people who aren’t “experts” in the field. Ok, well facebook is anything but a forum of “experts” so stop feeding the monster. If the only place you have to debate about the Covid vaccine is facebook, you are probably not qualified to provide “expert” opinions. Chances are I am not an expert either.

I am certainly not an expert of other individuals and the complexities of why they are not making the choice that is right for me. As a society, we need to clear the stage so that it becomes impossible to listen to nonsense instead of having those important conversations in private with our own medical providers. It seems to me, we are drowning out the voices that people should listen to. Shhhh! Vacation pics! We are all experts at that. Kindness. Love. Empathy and Mercy as we attempt to minister to people who, just like us, suffer the consequences of the choices they have every right to make.

My thing is fast food. Over 20 years ago, after I gave birth to Baby #4 as an older mom, I realized that, with my genes, the only chance I had of still being alive at this kid’s wedding was to give up fast food and the convenience of that. I was also aware that my being able to idle up to a drive through window and order a Quarter Pounder and large fries with a soda was a part of my class privilege. No one feels the need to question an unhealthy “skinny-fat” person driving a Lexus about her choices. It seems to me the best thing we could do to help our fellow Americans navigate Covid and heart disease and stroke and cancer and kidney failure and lupus and high risk pregnancies and just about every health problem that could be faced is not to increase minimum wage for fast food workers (which isn’t a bad idea) but to eliminate fast food altogether and force our society to relearn how to soak a pot of pinto beans and to eat slow again.

This pandemic is a complex issue and everyone who diminishes it down to a black and white decision is making it political. So stop. Everyone. Stop. In your spare time (some of you will have loads if you stop posting Covid articles on Facebook), read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Find the photo I saw this past week of a bottle of alcohol that was labeled “Government Whiskey” and was distributed along with bad cheese to Native Americans on reservations. Attempt to understand. Go stealth with the preaching to people you don’t even really know on social media and have smaller, more meaningful conversations with the people you personally know that are against the vaccine in the context of friendship and care.

And no more Taco Bell for you. 🙂


What did you learn?

Today I engaged in a roundtable discussion with some of my amazing colleagues at McPherson College as we spent time processing what it was like to teach during the Covid-19 pandemic. The fact that President Schneider allowed time and space for us to process our experiences made me feel valued. The organizational question asked of us was “What did you learn?”

I didn’t share much at the roundtable because, well, I am a writer and why waste a good journal prompt on the spoken word when I can hoard the idea, listen to others and rush home to fill my blog with all of my insights and ideas. Here is what I learned:

  1. Most of what works in teaching during a pandemic works even better when not in a pandemic. Open communication, flexibility, patience and grace. Flexible deadlines and the willingness to communicate the same message again and again to students who have questions is something I have always done as a teacher. It was even more important during hybrid course delivery.
  2. Today’s students are often living in pandemic-like situations even when the rest of us, who are insulated from hunger, poverty, abuse, neglect, and anxiety about where the next ——– is coming from, can easily pretend the world is a stable place. When all the unknowns during Covid-19 left me taking on bad habits or attempting to escape rather than get my work done, I realized that we, as teachers, often expect our students to juggle these kinds of stressors all the time.
  3. I am not a teacher-centric teacher. If a student doesn’t know how to write a good essay, I don’t consider that an insult to me or that it is beneath me to teach such a student or that someone else in the faculty food-chain should have taught him this instead of me. The truly valuable educational moments are not mine, as the teacher, to dictate. I can plan for teachable moments, but they aren’t always going to happen according to my best-laid plans. Teachable moments operate much more like Nirvana.
  4. Flexibility and inconsistency are not the same thing.
  5. I simplified my lesson plans and it helped me to teach better. Post-pandemic, I will continue to simplify.
  6. I was cognizant throughout the pandemic that part of my job as a teacher was to model for students an honest but positive quest to thrive while in survival mode. I might not be teaching my dream lesson plan on Zoom (because my dream lesson plan consists of fully exposed faces in face-to-face format) but I could still have a good day.
  7. It was easier to allow at-risk students to fall through the cracks during the pandemic and it was much more difficult to pull them up through those cracks after they took the plunge into failure.
  8. It is ALWAYS important to take time to connect because without human connection, retention won’t happen. They will always remember how you made them feel is often quoted, but the pandemic taught me that this remembering and feeling is the only gate through which any kind of meaningful learning can be attained. This is foundational.
  9. Children learn what they live is another well-known parenting mantra, and we readily accept that this applies to small children, but what we don’t always remember is that the children in this premise grow up often to become those self-fulfilling prophecies I studied about in sociology class. Good teaching changes narratives rather than just reinforcing existing ones.


Sign Language

God, You continue to move, like the wind, like a bird

sleep is flight for you, and I continue to move, not always

in graceful ways. Stillness is a part of dance. White space is integral to poetry. Rest empowers our wakefulness. Emptiness-fullness. Darkness-light. Instead of focusing on contentment, Lord, today I focus on its movement–on my walk. Lord, what do I do with my arms of praise? What motions might signal the elusive enough? How do I hold myself?

As an empty vessel that allows other sinners to fill me up? Do I reach

like a child in front of a blue fir for the wisps of lowest imperfection? Do I settle for this and with these stretches name myself? Let me strive for the top where the fronds are star-like and the sky

intercepts light. Let me bend my legs only to jump for more. Let me only entertain Your words and Your responses to me. Slowly and perhaps for years more slowly I am learning this; but you know what? It doesn’t matter how awkwardly we catch the current. If we learn to listen only to this, we fly.



This is my favorite poetic first line ever written. Sharing this poem today as we celebrate all the freedoms. This poem was published in 2013 in Relief Journal. It takes a stab at our tendencies as Christians to claim free grace for ourselves then revert immediately back to legalism. It’s a picture of what it looks like when we reject our freedom in Christ and try to earn instead of receive.


God is nothing more than a psychopath                                                       

if He is everything you need him to be—

a neutered animal hiding in the bagpipes,

some pretty floral tones of devotional cover

with stretched tape measuring your thigh in shorts,

delivering pears in foil boxes at door-point.

Breathe and let the micro-manager work

His magic. Turn wine back into water.

Free from law we must obey the rules—

they multiply like cells under microscopic scrutiny.

Sweetener in your coffee? Disposable diapers?

Bible without embroidered cover? Days of the week

without to-do? Leavened bread? What, exactly,

are you praying for, exactly?

Have you so soon forgotten your legacy—

how you are related to the last century?

There is no male or female but we know

there are always cousins. Life is an organ

which must be touched at all times by all appendages—

sweat while you play. The bricks of heaven

lay before you in the street you cross

to get to the other side. And God waits in the phone booth,

 sheds the skin He died in just so you could try on these wings.


Hello Life

How many of you are coming out of your caves of hibernation thanks to the Covid vaccine? What refreshment to hug friends again. I can almost feel the snakeskin ripples in my soul begin to soften. I see the world with fresh eyes.

I have a newfound concern for those who have been even more isolated than I was during the pandemic–those older than me. Those making forced life changes. Those who lost spouses during this past year.

Now that we know how vital community is, that God’s plan is for us to “get by with a little help from our friends,” let us pray for the lonely, the isolated, the grief-bearers. Let us pray that God will use us to alleviate loneliness and lift up the spirits of others.

I still don’t fit in most of my pre-Covid jeans. Like my thighs, my socializing muscles feel flabby and neglected. Unused. I plan to keep moving and to keep putting myself out there in yoga pants.

Is it just me or are we all having “It’s a Wonderful Life” moments as we lay down our summer patio rugs and water our flower pots? I have missed all the imperfections, all the cracks in the concrete and uneven burners and soggy dip and hovering insects all made perfect by conversation and laughter and touch and grace.

This day made by the Lord for life.


Psalm 51:10-12 (in my own words)

Re-create me, oh God, in your drenched image again and again

for as long as it takes. Daily like a sun rising before the eyes of the moon. I feel loved as the old me, partaker of the dirty ground,

but only as I flap new wings. I will forget how long I have wasted and how long you have waited on me. There are no broken paths ahead or behind as your Grace transforms, but I will recall the tripping and the bleeding: a dull idea that might torment me were it not for your re-joining and rejoicing.

This one caveat that is too beautiful to believe–You never let go of me.

I reach with wriggling eyes into my own heart: clean!



It’s true, we creative-types need re-charge time alone. For the month of June, I am basking in my life-life balance, while ignoring all the challenges of my work-life balance which will be thrust upon me come August 14. I believe introverts are complex and difficult to understand (if you are an extrovert) and perhaps to the sanguine-mind our melancholy-bents and our ever-present superpower of being able to peer beneath the fashionable facade, make us to some “not worth the price of admission” when it comes to friendship.

That’s okay. I am participating in an insightful Bible study with a fantastic group of ladies from my church where we are contemplating and discussing the quintessential introvert-extrovert relationship between two sisters–Mary and Martha. I really like this study, written by Joanna Weaver, because she refrains from pitting the sisters against one another in black-and-white terms, but rather focuses on the fact that both sisters are wired with strengths and weaknesses. Mary and Martha need one another. The body of Christ needs both. Families need both personalities; otherwise, life would become mundane and boring or chaotic and out of control.

I married an extrovert and I know I was attracted from Day One to my husband’s energy and comfort-level in new situations. I know that he would say that he has benefited from my leading in times of reflection and prayer together, times when we deeply consider our relationship and our walks with the Lord. Meshed together in marriage, we have one walk together, and we don’t always strike the perfect balance. I have steered us away from potential bad decisions because of my ability to intuit false people. He has taught me to see the best in people and has put me in situations (always holding my hand) like para-sailing, driving in Northern California during thick fog, or attending his work conferences where we are forced to mingle. These activities taught me that most things work out just fine. I would probably never have tried so many adventurous activities without the steady hand of my extroverted spouse.

God puts people in families, in churches, in friendships for His purpose. One thing I have learned over the years is that it is okay to only half-listen if the person listening to you is doing that. I must also realize that my extroverted friend doesn’t get to sing karaoke solos with me either. Introverts need to remember that we can be too judgmental, prone to emotional shut-down, and that we are walking around usually depending on others to plan and execute all the fun in our lives. I find myself often thinking “oh that would be fun” but I never get past the daydreaming state.

My success as a teacher came as a surprise to not only me, but to the head of my department and to the vice president of academic affairs who hired me. Teaching is performance to me, like playing basketball, running a half-marathon, hosting a dinner party. Introverts like Mary in the Bible aren’t devoid of all skills except for washing feet with oil and listening (although listening is another superpower of most introverts). I have led meetings in church where I was offered a job after the event because I was so prepared and organized and the CEO in the room appreciated that I didn’t waste his time. Perhaps Mary didn’t hog the microphone and sing, but it doesn’t mean she couldn’t sing.

Here is a list of celebrities who are introverts: Barack Obama, Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, Glenn Close, Lady Gaga, Meryl Streep, Michael Jordan, Leonardo Di Caprio, Julia Roberts. I wonder how many teachers who are introverts get the best reviews from their students because they are able to create presence in the classroom, make eye-contact and remember their students names and all the struggles that they share?

And Martha in the Bible wasn’t completely deficient in going deep. She is the one who ran to Jesus on the road, demonstrating and expressing her deep faith in His power to raise her brother from the dead. If she had not taken the initiative to open her home to Jesus and his disciples and host a mega-gathering, the sisters and their brother might never have developed an intimate relationship with the Lord.

Most, if not all, of my close friends are more extroverted than I am. They have prayed over me, listened intently to me, cared for my children, and walked with me through joy and sorrow. They reach out and they hold on to me, and I cannot imagine life without them. In short, extroverts are generous, loving, beautiful people. I believe Jesus felt this way about Martha.

Accomplishment happens when we live for God’s purpose in the way that He wired us for success. The pace looks and feels different for the Marys and the Marthas, but the important thing is obedience to God’s purpose and plan for our lives. Permission granted from above for you to do you.

It’s June and this introvert is feasting upon a re-discovered inner life.

He walks with me and he talks with me and He tells me I am His own.



Sometimes it is the road itself that brings you to the end of the road,

as though the journey births the song and the song, the journey.

I’ve seen a new mosaic: grief and within that laughter and conversations and peppery snacks shared, death of a loved one

and its aftershocks: the way love and loss sometimes intimately weave and sometimes wave across the water from distant shores–all in a single day.

Today is a day within herself. She is a friend from a foreign country

about to darken my orange door. She is a body that contains breast-fulls of yesterday, mostly in sounds. I watch for her like a lighthouse

perched on rocks. I am one with this morning–eager and shaken and free.



I’ve only been handed, for the most part, two narratives in a nutshell about my own creativity, the first being– this essay is too creative–and the second–you’re not really all that creative are you?

The first assessment happened as a comment on every essay portion of every- standardized- test- ever- taken, and the second from every person who has crossed my path in life, having not yet grasped the importance of knowing self in isolation, not in comparison to others.

Identity is a tricky thing. The moment I try on an adjective the way I slip into swimsuits to see what fits best as I am packing for a beach vacation, is the moment that an identifier becomes a role. Roles constrict and require conformity, which is the least creative word in the dictionary, it seems to me.

Strive not to be creative, but to create. Strive not to be an “academic” but to think. Strive not to explain yourself to others but to know yourself in the quiet way a sparrow dips for drink. When I write a good poem, it feels more like participation in community than it does self-discovery. Even if no one reads it. And, when someone misreads me, I try to focus on their fledgling reading ability, and not the makeshift meaning they have forced themselves to accept because they’ve mispronounced my life.


Choose the Transcendent Moments

I started a new Bible study this week: “Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World.” So far, I still have a 50 percent allegiance to both sisters. In short, I have to “Martha” before I can productively “Mary” but if I never get to “Mary”, I can begin to feel a despair of sorts setting in.

My Grandpa Andrew, who unbelievably began to work a full day on the farm at the age of 8, told me once that the key to a happy life is to be able to “work with the best of them but also to be able to party with the best of them.” If you are Martha-ing, Martha with all your might, but if you find yourself in a Mary-moment, then you must be able to lose yourself in the transcendent beauties of life.

I don’t believe Mary just sat on her tush at the feet of Jesus all day and did nothing else. She probably had work to do, too, and engaged in that, but perhaps Jesus had settled in to tell a story or someone had asked a question of him, and Mary overheard on her way to the kitchen to retrieve more napkins. She tarried and seated herself at just the right time to listen…to absorb….to experience.

Mary not only rested and rested differently, but her attitude also caused her to approach her work differently.

As a teacher, with summer on the front burner, I am approaching the onset of Major Mary Time. Writing, reading, exercising, cooking, deep-cleaning my house, spending time with my grandchildren, planning my classes for fall semester, traveling, swimming, sunning, sharing meals and drinking coffee with friends. All of these activities sound restful and replenishing to me, mostly because of the long stretches of time I can pursue without interruptions.

Each one of us has a Mary Button and each one of us has a Martha Button, and good thing, because we need them both. It takes preparation to be able to hit the snooze button on special days. It takes work to create a home environment where people can relax and share and sleep and live.

On a desert island by myself, I am a Mary, but I would have to learn to forage and build my own fire, or this Mary would starve on said- desert -island. I need my Martha side, too. Marthy. We all really need to be Marthy. With a God-given grace for timing and tact.


the low bar

My prayer this morning for myself is to move my body and mind away from activities that, in the eyes of the Lord and in the presence of the Word, are too low-risk to afford any substantial benefit to me or to others around me.

There are so many of these invulnerable pursuits and many of them hover around our keyboards masquerading as objects of action. Hashtags, digital photo filters, offerings of cable news-mongering. Others are less obvious: guilt-talking at exercise class about the donut I ate for breakfast, disallowing myself a single drop of contentment until ALL my floors are cleaned, rushing to fill silence with noise.

What are the pursuits and activities in my daily life that push me further away from that sphere of vulnerability where Christ’s mercy hovers and holds. Sometimes it is my own tears, my own justifiable anger. Sometimes it is this guise of busy-ness. It’s perfectly okay to be a Martha (sometimes we have to be) but not when Christ is whispering to us to slow down in a moment that He created for us to worship, to meditate on His Word, to pray, to just allow nothingness.

Silence is a great distance-breaker and in silence we can actually move much closer to the thing we fear, the thing we need to forgive, the thing we need most to say. Silence is like a humming worker bee in the house of your soul–a soul-Martha–flittering and flushing out and making those preparations for us to experience deep contentment and belonging in the arms of God.

I am so thankful that today, I accepted the gift of time to ponder and pray without media distractions, without looking at the sink full of dishes, without hearing the bleep of text messages entering my phone space. Wherever it is we are trying to get as individuals, as people, as a nation, I have this feeling in my gut this morning that this might just be the way back.

The best reparation for violence (even 200-year-old violence) is assumption of an attitude of peace today. Not debating it. Not posting a meme. Not stirring up the pot and allowing our precious, God-given time to keep others from their own restorative moments. The place where we talk about systemic sin and consider acts of reparation needs to be a face-to-face place, where the bees have invaded and restored our abilities to absorb and manage and act with complexity and vulnerability.

God is not saying ignore racism or ignore immigration issues or ignore environmental concerns. God is not saying shut down all talk of “Who do you say that I am” in the marketplace. God is saying Facebook is not the place for these discussions. As a former journalist, I love the world of spin. I enjoy a good debate as much as anyone else. But God seems to be calling me to a truce of sorts, to a walking-away, to a sharing of my photographic moments as though the moments of my life are poems to be legitimately published so the self-publishing must cease.

If you haven’t been silent, really silent before God and if the hush of that hasn’t felt like spring water spilling over into a parched ground, I pray that for you today. It’s been a gift this morning.



It’s the end of Covid-teaching-year and on behalf of all teachers everywhere, I want to say, not the usual “cut us some slack” but people, salute us everywhere we go, buy us lunch at Panera, donate your beach vacations to us, put us in your wills, and in honor of our dedication to risking our health in order to hang on to the potential greatness of your children, please read aloud to your most precious every single day this summer.

I can’t even describe how tired I feel as a part of a collective fatigue that began when we were abruptly shut down a year ago, told to isolate ourselves from the only support-system we really have (other teachers at our schools) and move our classes online indefinitely. Some of us thought “Zoom” was just a sound little boys made when pretending to drive matchbox cars when this state-of-emergency happened. Some of us thought not attending church was always a bad decision brought on by spiritual drought or disgust at egotistical church leaders, not something to be praised and encouraged. Some of us, the English teachers, thought masks were the things of Metaphor, something donned as a costume so deep, baritone ballads could be performed.

How the world changed since March 2020, how social life diminished, and how pizza boxes became something to be feared, and yet, how the demands of teaching did not diminish at all. In fact, the demands of our profession increased in height and breadth like an adolescent giant on magic beans. While the demands increased as we, the teachers, began to dream about personifications of stress, our approval ratings and public rhetoric about our chosen profession (which already were not so great) began to morph from disgusting to absolutely terrible.

Some of us taught online and some of us went to our classrooms and most of us engaged in a weird hybrid form of the two extremes all the while grappling with what it would feel like if we contracted Covid- 19 on that one day when we couldn’t bear it any longer and let a child hug us or come within two feet of us and talk or hand us a germ-ridden paper to read. And worse yet, what if we contracted Covid and we had no symptoms but we then passed it to another loved one in our family who ended up on a ventilator. Or, what if we ended up on a ventilator for a job that feels more like a mission field, especially when we try to plan our retirements.

I sometimes felt empathy leap from my heart across a six-foot span where I tried with all my mental might to propel it toward a struggling student in a mask whose words I could barely understand and whose eyes I could barely see. During Spring 2020, I actually assembled care packages and mailed them to my Composition I students because I felt so bad about the learning situation that had been thrust upon them. My students were so gracious, but this year, that grace has hurt.

It seems that everyone, everywhere has an opinion about what we, the teachers, should have been doing better, sooner, longer, faster, higher. It’s a strange profession, where we inherit students who have never been read to, who have come from homes who have not prized learning and thinking and eating meals together, and we are expected to take advice from these same adults about what is best for our current generation of students. The same society who won’t pay teachers as though teachers are “essential workers” wants to play the “essential worker” card and thrust us into unsafe environments so their kids can play sports.

Teachers, everywhere, are deeply tired. Most of us, despite everything, love our jobs and wouldn’t choose to do anything other than what it is we do. This summer, if you see a teacher sitting on a beach towel somewhere with eyes closed, remember that the fundamental question in education that has emerged from this pandemic isn’t “Do you respect teachers?”. It is, do we respect you? I have learned and earned a certain resiliency through this pandemic. My best is good enough, and more importantly and I am putting this in all-caps for emphasis MY BEST IS ALL YOU ARE GOING TO GET. Don’t be an unteachable public with unyielding ideas about what teachers aren’t doing enough of. Or go ahead and be that, if you must. For those who wanted schools to open, whose big idea was it not to put higher ed. on most priority lists for the vaccine? I’ll be somewhere in the sun, on a beach towel, with ear buds playing my favorite music and a fruity drink in my hand for as long as it takes.


Empathy Principles

  1. The validity of someone else’s opinions/beliefs isn’t dependent upon my ability to understand them. Logic is the slave of Emotion. Treat what a person thinks with the same kid gloves you would handle how it makes them feel.
  2. Abstract hate is a self-inflicted wound. If you hate someone else for saying hateful things and for promoting and spreading hate-filled ideas, and you decide to publicly post about your hate of the haters, you just became the thing you hate. And worse yet, you just endorsed hatred as the appropriate response.
  3. There will always be people who can afford to escape to Cancun. There will always be people who can get a reservation at French Laundry.
  4. Sometimes it rains in Southern California and sometimes it blizzards in Texas. It is impossible to ascertain WHY bad weather happens to people who don’t own coats while the snow is still falling. Maybe it is no one’s fault. The same people who get red-face angry at religious people for tying up all narratives into a crisp, red bough of “all actions come with a consequence” and “sinners in the hands of an angry God” seem quite judgmental about environmental truth and consequences.
  5. You might hate AOC. You might loathe Rush Limbaugh. They are human beings with families of their own. What you say about them says much about you, how you were raised. Don’t embarrass your ancestors by lowering yourself to the standards of someone you have no respect for.
  6. Respect is an action, a decision. By demonstrating your capacity for it, you make the best argument. Sometimes silence sets the table. It’s where all the cooks place their best dishes. It’s where all the children want to eat. What if we all took a moment to chew our food and listen?


Lord, if you are moving, let me still myself.

Let me be a pauper of a vision to myself

so that all eyes–my eyes–stay steadfastly on You.

Sometimes I declare You give me words and I thrash

about. They are like unruly children with a fierce

energy and agenda of their own. Slow me way down, Lord,

like a low creek bed in a cavernous mountain. Create

a covenant in me, between us–the intimate bounty

You pay let me always remember. Let me always

cling to the truth of cost and sacrifice and that none

of it was me.


House becomes a home

My husband and I have always been vagabonds. Every home we have ever lived in has always been negotiably for sale. We’ve lived in and renovated several homes in our 38 years of marriage, and now in our late, late 50’s we find ourselves in a 4,000 square-foot Tudor home, sitting on an acre of landscaped grounds with a pond in the back. It’s a home that feels both expansive and cozy at the same time. I love my home. It has been a bumpy ride, but I finally feel a sense of belonging and commitment to this home. It’s like the Cherokee in me feels finally connected to a deeper heritage, something deeper than myself. Perhaps it is all the wonderful memories. Perhaps it is the sound of my grandsons calling out “Grandma’s House.” Perhaps we are just getting older and less energetic and want to stay put.Whatever the reason, it feels good to feel like a permanent fixture. I no longer feel the need to apologize or overcompensate by buying everyone’s bbq at sibling gatherings because I am the one who lives in the small town. I think this house just happens to be the place where I have grown finally comfortable in my own skin. Today, I received the most amazing gift from a favorite college professor of mine who has graciously served as a constant mentor to me since my early 20’s. Two beautiful works of art now hang in my kitchen–gifts from him as he downsizes into a smaller apartment after the death of his beloved wife. What a treasure to have received this love gift from him. Hanging in my kitchen near my walnut kitchen island, I can only feel one thing–I am home.


Jan. 20, 2021


Beautiful inauguration. Beautiful speech by our new President Biden. Wondrous to see a woman as our vice president. I just loved watching the body languages of former presidents and their spouses. Bill and Hill don’t look very connected. Laura Bush is so elegant. All those high-end pant suits and pretty coats. So nice to see the Flag and police and National Guard back in the high-life again.

Really refreshing to see all the optimism on my facebook feed. Let’s keep that up. From this point on, anyone that blames anything on Trump should be banned from social media. The person in the driver’s seat with the key fob in hand must take responsibility for his own driving. The road is fresh. Let’s start anew.

Let’s move on, liberal left. Speak his name no more.


Pace of Life

2020 for all of her shutdowns, cancellations, and isolations, has seemed to create a frantic stir within my soul. My inner life has been off-kilter. What seemed to work, at least marginally, prior to 2020 no longer does the trick.

I realized this year that after our youngest son departed (prior to his return for virtual college in 2020) I was prime for, not a pacemaker (thank God) but a pace makeover. Yes, long after the baby had grown up and spread his own wings to fly, I was still consuming food, conversations, texts, relationships at the pace of an aging soccer mom.

Raising our four children had been the primary role of my life. I was scheduler, short order cook, cleaner, organizer, concierge, informal sports and life coach, spiritual life director, laundress, family fitness guru–and I loved my life, especially because these duties simultaneously overlapped for a few years with the new and exciting role of Grandma. And as an aside, I earned a masters degree and began a new adventure working outside the home as an English professor. And somehow through it all, I still had an amazing (albeit neglected and imperfect) relationship with my husband.

Fast-forward to 2020. Fast-forward to tomorrow. Fast-forward to anywhere but now. My reptile-brain mostly functioned for many years in overdrive as I performed one task while planning the next. It was the only way survive. The strange thing is, I could still feel the edges of peace around my existence so I thought I was fine.

Until I quarantined for 12 weeks in 2020 and taught online classes for the fall semester. Not by choice, my life was shredded down to “bare bones” and it didn’t feel good to me. I reached out with my eager fingers for those soft edges of faith and inner nourishment and I couldn’t feel anything but the phantom limb of words I hadn’t attended to for so long.

So 2021 is going to be a year of replenishment for me, and specifically that will include immersion in the Word of God and writing about that, because, well, when I take in life force, that is what I naturally do. I don’t have big plans for 2021. I just want to sit around a fire pit and talk into the night with old friends. I want to be able to get within six feet of my precious students. I want to continue some of the positive effects brought about by staying home so much. For one: less Netflix. Has anyone else completely soured to the idea of watching television as entertainment? Cooking and eating in. Me, myself, and I around a table with my husband can still be a family meal. Driving less. Mediocrity at times is okay. I have always prized my ability to aim higher and do more than is expected of me in every facet of my life. For a new pace, God’s pace, to intervene and shape this year, I have to lower some of those personal standards and prepare for His higher purposes and attainments in my life. This is incredibly difficult to even write about, much less do. So…prayer. I’ll be praying more.

2020 has welcomed me with her thorny arms into an era of less-is-more. I can chew my food. I can linger over thoughts and conversations and books. I can spend time in quiet praise of all the wonderful I have almost drowned myself in, one drop at a time.

And….I’ll probably write a bunch about my daily failures and small successes along the way.

What about you?


God’s reply: “Nonsense, my child.”

You are not enough.

Your nose is too long.

Your hair is too short.

You have thunder-thighs.

You have toothpick legs.

You are too strict.

You are too soft.

You speak with a funny accent.

You take yourself too seriously.

You are so traditional.

You are so avant-garde.

You live in a small town.


You neglect your children, working outside the home.

You have checked out on the mommy track.

You don’t read your Bible every day.


You voted for _______!

You’re too quiet.

You talk too much.

You are so privileged.

You are so poor.

Your skin is so_____.

What would you add to this list?



God, sculpt upon my tongue

the quiet prayer, for a meadow

can be burgeoning with noise, a cackle

of ideas like so many grasses vying for the sunlight.

Let us stop pointing out what isn’t Christ and stare upon

the still photograph of a mother and her child or the humble outstretched hand of the giver, the attention of the powerless

on pushing forward some kind of greater good, however small.

For there is nothing less Christlike than pointing out what isn’t Christ in others, whether left or right. This kind of judgement isn’t forward-thinking or progressive in any way except to diminish or censor or damn. This kind of judgement conserves nothing, preserves nothing that is worth remembering.

How are any of us truly among the slighted? We have been saved by grace.

I think today, I will drink a glass of cool water and I will walk in quietude and stew over the fewest of words: the baptism of my soul into the unspoken waters of life. Delete my thoughts, Lord, and fill my mind with love. Make my brain a heart, apolitical, not logical, just so ordinary, part of the human race, where everybody gets it wrong.

The great commission must now haunt Your Church. There has only ever been one thing to do. Let us be about the doing of it now.


An untitled piece

Today. Jan. 7, 2021. So far 2021 has not produced the peace and resolution we are all so hungry for on so many levels. I just turned off the news and my writer’s mind feels like a jumble of glass mosaic pieces, abruptly shattered by a giant, anonymous hand, like I am in the midst of a terrifying fairytale in a fictitious country, not the United States. Right now, in this moment, only words are coming to me, so I thought I would record those:

Guard. Guard your heart and mind today. Think of words, yours and others, as potential blades that can harm others. Anything that is not an act of kindness is an act of violence.

Consume. Be mindful of what you bring into your mind and body. This New Year I have resolved to improve upon the parts of life that I can control, so I am eating as healthy as possible.

Fringe. What exists on the fringes of my life, of my relationship with God? Are there hungry people who need bread? Hurt people trying to touch the hem of Christ’s garment. Am I standing in their way? Am I anxious because I am trying to protect parts of my life and lifestyle that I really don’t need? Whatever is lost that doesn’t cause me to be lost in the spiritual sense is not really a loss, is it?

White. I don’t identify much as a white person but as a person of mixed heritage. Today my identity or identities feel fractured and bruised. Perhaps we need to, as a nation, recreate the Crayola box and designate some new colors. Disenfranchisement is a color. Those who feel powerless are a color. Anger is a color. Disbelief is a color. Unpaid bills is a color. Violence is a color. Addiction is a color. Educational inequality is a color. I want to heal our nation of these. Freedom is like Grace. She can’t be misused or she isn’t free. Unlike toilet paper in a pandemic, you can’t exhaust Freedom’s supply, but you must pay attention to both neighbor and self when deciding how to mete out the rights. Even after the playing field is made even (and I pray this happens) there will be some who are able to run faster and farther, who will succeed more than we do and we must refrain from the temptation to shame and blame. We can’t just rearrange the Hate. We must replace the Hate with Love.

Think small. Right now, think small. Rather than post–pray. This is both prayer and post. God says, embrace the hypocrite in YOU. Bring all of your layered and complicated social and intimate relationships to me this morning. Where there is brokenness, there is opportunity for great work.


Cleaning out the Inboxes of Life

It’s the week between Christmas and New Years Day and I find myself quarantining again in order to spend time with a grandbaby. My husband and I are in Beaverton, OR, where the weather is cold, wet and overcast, so we are spending an abundance of time indoors, where our rental duplex boasts a different space heater for every location in the house.

I don’t typically make New Year’s Resolutions; however, I do usually reflect upon my life, and this year–2020-has been one for the books, you know, the books no one wants to read that lurk in the back shelves of an unvisited library. I don’t know about you, but I am ready to pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly at 10 p.m. (because I am lame) and say goodbye forever to this horrendous year.

I am not focusing on big changes for 2021, just smaller, incremental ones. I have too many passwords, and too many unread emails in my inbox. I want to de-clutter my life, simplify. I want more quality time with my loved ones, more presence. I want do continue my routine of drinking a cup of hot lemon water every morning. I want to continue this feeling of needing less, doing less with more intention. Less Netflix–more reading. Less talking unless I really have something important to say. Less expectations–more grace. Less guilt, more thankfulness. Less closed-mindedness, more open arms to beauty.


A poem from the past

I wrote this poem several years ago when I was still on the active-parent list. My muse, our youngest child, was accepted into Georgetown Law School today, so this is, as always, for him:

How to Make Mason Jar Fairy Lights With Your Kids

Here’s what you need to get started:

·  Jar

·  Glow in the Dark Paint

·  Paintbrushes (preferably longer)

·  Paper

·  School Glue (optional)

·  Glitter (optional)

Enamor of the sort that ignores chiggers is necessary. Your life served up like sloppy-Joes

on a plate which marks in invisible ink the map to the secret whiskey. The ability to roll your eyes

then flick that bright attention necessary to make them forget.

Four-year-old fireflies can smell night like ancient hounds. Don’t bother trying to hide.

You’ll be so sniffed out once they’ve learned how to articulate their own directions. Snacks

and any kind of mashed potato concoction can mesmerize them long enough so that you can sneak out

of the paper Mache’ wings, but keep your bra on at all times. In fact, sleep in it. Fireflies

have this way of getting between in early-dawn moments.

Drink and pour water. Sprinkle it over their tiny heads. If the drops are as big as the heads, take immaculate care. Don’t force them into days where they are likely to become invisible. Listen as though you are Barbara Walters to the barely speaking.

Never wash off the places they have sullied you. If you do this one thing, glitter is optional for them and for you. Let them light upon anywhere they like without a coach. Remember, you are the one in the jar.


Top Ten

I don’t know about everyone else in Covid-land, but I have already found the NY Times online formula and plugged in my place in line for the distribution of the Covid vaccine in my county. As a teacher with some risk factors, I hope to receive the vaccine prior to the start of my spring semester. No judgment here for those who may choose not to be first in line to receive the immunization. I trust Science, but I also know my history so I get the fear of it all.

Personally, I cannot wait to return to some semblance of normal. I live mostly in anticipatory mode when it comes to major life changes, mostly because as an empath I don’t always face changes without some awkwardness and holding tight to the status quo. I am already making a list of what I want to do when I am free do do anything again. Here are a few of my first random ideas:

  1. Go to Target every day for a month because I can. Maybe buy far too many candles and new pajamas.
  2. Attend in-person worship again. This is so big for us, and the only reason it didn’t pop into my mind as the first, most important thing is that we have already been sneaking to in-person worship every Sunday that we aren’t in quarantine to gather with family. I think the first time I smelled the pews and botched the new Covid-safe communion wafer-and-juice-in-one-container was the day I realized how difficult 2020 has been for all of us.
  3. Exercise classes. Sweat. Locker rooms. Talking to other women while sweat drips from our faces. Sore biceps. Someone sneezes. It will be okay again.
  4. All my grandchildren in one room. Oh for the day when navigating visitations doesn’t feel like “Sophie’s Choice.”
  5. Teaching. Really teaching again. Leaning over a student’s paper and offering hands-on revision instructions in the moment in the classroom. Breaking students into discussion groups where they are actually close enough to converse. Hearing the sweet chaos of ideas and relationships.
  6. Traveling. My husband will once again be hoisting my overpacked suitcase onto trains and airport baggage check-in stations all over the world.
  7. Here might be the sweetest revelation for introverts everywhere: staying home and eating in will once again be a curated choice, not an edict from above. I”ll still be reading books and writing poems, only happier.
  8. March Madness. This one is probably truly #2 on the list right after Church. Rock Chalk.
  9. Dinner parties, concerts, coffee dates with friends, lunches, Bible studies, showers, weddings, poetry readings.
  10. Lipstick.

What is on your list? Share in the comments section, please.


The angel on your shoulder–the Jesus in your head

I laugh a little when I ponder the reality that every time one of my daughters makes a parenting or a consumer or a home decorating decision, they must contend with the ever-present Mom-in-their-heads. As their mother, I am the standard, one that they often surpass and rise above, and sometimes one that they feel they fall short of. If they hit or miss the mark, I am that mark.

They both selected white Fiestaware for their wedding gift registries. They both like neutral paint colors. They both demonstrate terms and gestures of respect that could only have been taught to them by a southern grandmother (mine). They are naturally inclined to practice attachment parenting. They always have at least six boxes of Jiffy cornbread in their pantries and they hoard toilet paper even in non-pandemic times. They read their Bibles and they began reading to their own children from the time they brought them home from the hospital.

They’ve got a healthy dose of Mom-in-their-heads. When I parented them, I tried to impart values more than I tried to harp on the specific applications of those values. I wanted, more than anything, for them to feel a sense of fresh air freedom as they painted the walls of the homes they would make with their spouses. I knew that my imprint would be a lifeline in their own fingerprints, but I wanted them to be able to define love by me and through me but also apart from me. I wanted to be, as the poet Christian Wiman writes of God, both “a part” and “apart” from the miraculous creation of their families.

So I told them stories, not so they would feel the need to repeat my mistakes and triumphs, but so they would fall in deep love with the prospect of someday creating and retelling their own.

As pastors and teachers and advisors and neighbors and social media friends–oh, that we would take this lesson to heart, that Christ is less interested in steering our own hearts like a pilot in the midst of a nosedive and most interested in simply and fully inhabiting us while still allowing us to be us. Leadership is less about telling people how to vote and how to feel about vaccines and where to buy our clothes from and who to vote for, and it’s everything about sharing with others the specific touch we felt when a word from God or a vivid remembrance of beautiful discipleship and mentoring influenced us to act out our understanding of obedience at a given time. Don’t tell me to act in the way you felt led. Tell me how to position my mind and heart so that I, too, can be led. There is a weariness that comes with the selfie-ness of

our senses of justice and journey these days. It’s all application when the world is so famished for the source.

Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.


It’s going to be a weird Christmas

You know you are in for a novel experience at Christmas time when you can’t even fully explain your family’s holiday- Plans A and Plans B- to your sister over the phone. I was smack-dab in the middle of my futuristic narrative last week when I was abruptly cut off. She claims her phone died. I think she felt lost in the hopeless boredom of watching a mouse in a maze as I spouted the if-then-but scenarios.

This must have been what Mary felt like (along with a greater degree of physical discomfort) as she bopped and bounced on that donkey on the way to Bethlehem. She must have felt estranged and empty at times of anything but blind faith in a vision which made her sound crazy when she tried to recount it.

I can’t honestly tell you what Christmas is going to be like in my house on December 25, or how a family that usually shares bites of food and hugs when we move from one room to another will handle wearing masks and socially distancing from one another. I am not at all confident we will manage not to pass our Christmas baby around, although we are fully committed to all of these safety protocols going in.

I don’t honestly know how many of us will show up for Christmas. Coronavirus is on the rampage in our state as it seems to be everywhere right now. Every day I learn of a new friend in our small town that is suffering from this virus. I am fearful of becoming ill, but I am also filled with concern about the longterm affects of coping with this pandemic and the measures we have all, in good faith, been forced to participate in. I pray that our four grown children and our four little grandchildren will be able to hold to memories of the zany indoor snowball fights and spread of touchable food on my kitchen island and game boards and puzzles spread across card tables throughout my house.

It’s been a dreadful year this 2020. And now, we have all these RULES for Christmas. What I find most helpful amidst all the unknown is that I must now forage for simple blessings, that to be honest, I gave up noticing many years ago.

I find myself in Christmas quarantine ten days before the event that I have no control over, finding comfort in small things: sharing a lunch with my husband, text messages from my Bubble wishing me a happy isolation, the hanging of pictures on the walls of my home, where I relish the new faces of the babies I hope to hold.

The first Christmas was fragile like this I think–a garment with an un-hemmed potential for hope and faith. I am rediscovering those words and their meanings in Scripture this December. We all have the chance to choose thankfulness for whatever happens this season. To be “loved with an everlasting love.” To have been “drawn” with an “unfailing kindness.” (Jer. 31: 3).

Christmas 2020 is already complicated. I am choosing to keep my mindset simple. Read it and Believe it, my friends. Merry Christmas.



Peace doesn’t have to be simple, but it can be.

Peace can be a self-acceptance that we extend like a grace-garland

to others. Peace can be a place where we finally name ourselves

“Who-I-Am-in-Christ.” Peace can be movement or still-life.

Needing less. Doing less. Filled. Vessels without our own agendas.

Lingering for a Christmas moment on the precipice of obedience.

Not someone else’s formula for me and not my own. Peace

can be walking while listening. Harnessing that power.



We sleep in fits. We pray in dreams.

We cannot seem to find our way

this year. You have returned to us simplicity

and quiet praise of long charades. It is December

and we go through motions of an automatic dance.

We cling to the lungs of faith, a faith we have not given

breath. Help us, Lord, to find our thankfulness as a warm

repose, as a reminder that this solitude, while stark,

can rewire our attention spans for You. A candle burning

cinnamon, remembrance of friends’ laughter and the multitudes of stepping among crowds and gathering in front of shops and trees

and altars, of passing babies and sharing food. I hold these thoughts close to me this season. I do not welcome evening dark, but neither will I shun her lessons to me. In this stillness, Your presence

shines so real to me, Lord. For this I am thankful.


Christmas Reflections

I am challenging myself to use writing as reflection during the upcoming holiday season. More quiet time…less fussiness. These are free-writes–no editing and revising. Christmas prayers to start my day.

My gift to the Christ-child this season, but more accurately it is my gift to myself.

11/22 Christmas Prayer

I like to find all my broken parts

smoldering scars inside

hurts from long ago to yesterday

waking up in ice and white loveliness

strewn like boot prints across snow

This is the season of love

Healing is a fluid drink

Ingested over time

warm to touch and soothing

mosaic pieces of words and smells

This is the season of taste

Everything slows down

The Gospel sleeps among us

perfect in wordlessness

There is time for silence to approach

our humble narratives

May I create beauty around me this Christmas,

rather than worry about my own lack.

May I revel in burned cookies

May I celebrate with children for whom

this season reaches with embrace

You came yourself as a child.


Listen to the Sensitives

I was the 4th grader in the front of the room who cringed as the student two desks away was removed from the classroom by Mr. Reynolds, the school principal, for a tough-love form of corporal punishment.

I was the little girl who was mostly motivated by trust and love, reaching for approval like a tree-climber who spies redder fruit on a distant limb. My grandfather disciplined me with whispers and the changing tones of his eyes. I needed nothing else.

I was the young adult who found the need for thickened skin to be the most challenging task of any job I might undertake, any relationship I might enter into.

While most people struggle with vulnerability, I am a poet who is most comfortable in the quietude of authenticity, all the masks and roles discarded around me, their colors creating a prism on the floor.

I don’t small-talk or sound-bite very well, although I can debate with the best of them, mostly because sensitive people really listen and absorb the ideas and feelings around us. Ideas and feelings don’t really become our own in the same way this happens to others.

I don’t argue with people to persuade them to change their minds, but get them to open their minds to complexity. To be vulnerable is to be uncomfortable, to be right about nothing. A word always fills the glass of one by taking water from another. Unless it is a poem.

Words are masks, and as a person whose life is to create with words, I believe myself a sort of unwilling expert, able to verify the truth of this statement by my own brow lines.

If we listen to the chants and callings from the divided and divisive sides in this nation in 2020, if we read the social media posts from left to right from Left and Right, not as Talking Points coming from Talking Heads, but as severed heads rolling toward us on a hill of Ireland-green grass that immediately turn brown when touched by the breath of their collective rhetoric, then we begin to empathize with the fact that he who lives by the word, dies by the word.

In this time, during this pandemic, it is time to listen to the sensitives and to adjust the timber of our tones, as my grandfather did, as though sensitives are always listening. Because they are.

We must remember that tone is not as easily canceled as diction. What is offensive and reprehensible to say about a minority in this country is also offensive and reprehensible to say about Donald Trump. For it is in the saying of it that we keep the potential of vicious oppression alive.

Right now, these words are everywhere like the germs of a virus ready to penetrate us, ready to isolate us from one another to ensure that what has been great about this country (in the midst of so much that is terrible about this country) dies alone on a vine that our own Tweeting (not someone else’s) keeps us from being able to reach.

As a writer, I have learned the power in manipulation of words. I can change, delete, re-arrange on a blank page and with the same 25 dictionary-approved signs, tell a myriad of stories, with my own hiding in plain sight.

It doesn’t matter who started the fight, we are all headed to the principal’s office. It is our country’s backside that is going to emerge battered and bruised, stoic and tearless, toughened and ready to endure more licks with the paddle.

While the sensitives avert our eyes and wipe our tears with our own sleeves, feeling as though we have done more wrong in feeling the tragedy than those whose mouths have constructed and perpetrated it.

It isn’t about who holds the paddle. It’s about abolishing this kind of governing. It’s about returning to ordinary, to behaving again like ordinary Americans. We can refuse to listen to propaganda. We can stop reacting to what others are saying and start listening carefully to what we say.

We can, when we speak, when we tweet, when we choose our media, realize that we, too, hold a paddle in our hands and it is our choice what we listen to. One person, even at the very top of this country, can’t force me to be hate-filled. That is my choice, my right.

Actions must speak louder than words in politics: our words. The kind of tolerance that is dangerous is not a tolerance of those with whom we disagree (and their words), but a tolerance of those with whom we agree whose rhetoric is just as bad.

In 2020, I disagree with everyone. Every news anchor on cable television who doesn’t talk to me like Mr. Rogers did. I am hiding in the classroom supply closet behind next year’s textbooks, waiting for our President to wash out his mouth and hand the soap to Whoopi Goldberg and Mika. Stop crying on national television because your prayers have been answered and start caring about the ones whose prayers have not. Here’s how you can show you care: stop telling entire groups of people across this country that their prayers are irrelevant, that their beliefs don’t contain the wings you ascribe to your own.

We are a country of ordinary, awkward prayers, buoyed by this sometimes misguided belief in our own resiliency. There are moments in my own life when I don’t want to be known as American, sometimes because I don’t understand, really, what that means, and sometimes because I clearly do.

Before there is power, there are words that we equip with that power, words that we condense into slogans and brands. Then we stand on the sidelines and watch who will carry the flame, who will attempt to douse it. We pay very little attention to the people who say nothing, until it becomes time to award the blame.

Perhaps a month-long shut down is in order for this particular virus that seems to live in all generations. Let’s all collectively sit down and shut up, perhaps read a little Shirley Jackson, and practice intent listening. Let the ratings plummet. Let Facebook have some alone, mirror-time to put on her makeup and make herself presentable. Let us pay attention to deeper voices, well-chosen words, kindness and respect toward everyone, and by everyone, I mean everyone–even old, white men.


Faith for these times

Here is a poem I wrote several years ago. I have always enjoyed the rhyme in this poem because I seldom rely on rhyme as much as I have here. I was steeped in Irish poetry when I wrote this. The green grass that has erupted on our lawns this past week brings hope, and when I feel hope, I always realize the cradling hands of faith. These are religious words that have been misused and sometimes overused to the point that we often ask ourselves in our most challenging moments: What do they really mean? What does it mean to have faith? Sometimes I write poetry to try to explain that to myself and for myself.

It is a beautiful nourishment to see neighbors, friends, and even strangers act in faith.




God loves those who hang by a thread

over fallen lights, whose grip on the slim

of the unknown is a slice, who hang on,

but do not have words for it. God sees

the articulation of that resolute silence,

that beautiful thing, as a drop on a sliver

of green, just eyes averting to the blue upward,

just a heave of nothing but the upturn of a lip

that can’t sing. God listens anyway

though no one else does to the rhythm of a dangling

silk on the sleeve of a dream and He calls that

a faith, the faith of a seed in a famine of noise,

a posture of white knuckled, no-matter-what

holding on–tendering abandonment to soft string.



-Kerri Vinson Snell


Your homeschooled student doesn’t want to write and what to do about that.

I briefly homeschooled two of my four children (who are now adults) for different reasons, with each homeschooling stint lasting an academic grade for each child. Each time I homeschooled I received amazing support from our local school district and local homeschooling community so I was never alone in the endeavor. As someone who has always had an interest in homeschooling, the idea wasn’t thrust upon me as the only option, which is what many parents today are facing. I had already read many books about homeschooling and had sort of settled on my educational approaches (Montessori and Unschooling were my philosophical methods choices). I hope you are receiving good support from your school districts wherever you are.

I felt no qualms about teaching physical education, history, literature, writing and reading; however, math and science were another matter. For math and science, I needed HELP. My hope with this blog post is to provide parents who feel as though you are floundering with writing assignments with some ideas and options.

  1. Writing during times of national and personal trauma (i.e. a pandemic) will be like no other time. It’s difficult to be creative when you are in the midst of “fight-or-flight” responses. Rather than assign writing in the traditional way with a single, large project looming over your child’s little stressed out brain, provide prompts for “free-writing.” Let them write without worrying about punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Teach them that this is what real writers in the real world do. We write our first drafts with reckless abandon. This is first-draft writing. No censor. No right-and-wrong response. No worry about when to break a paragraph or how neat the penmanship is. Refrain from marking all the mistakes with a red pen. Let the student keep a folder of these first drafts. After there is a good selection in the folder, have your student pick her favorite. From here you will teach the slower, more tedious process of revision.
  2. And a word about revision. Most writers wait days/weeks/months before we are able to look at a first draft with the fresh eyes of an editor. Give your writer time and space before you expect them to know how to make the first drafts better.
  3. Always have several prompts prepared for each writing activity. Most students need a narrowed and creative approach (prompt) which provides them the structure they need to walk through the writing door. You can always instruct students that it is fine for them to write from their own ideas if they choose.
  4.  You want to challenge your student writer without too much frustration. Remember, to prize the IDEAS over perfect spelling, grammar, topic sentences, etc. I teach college writing and I can’t emphasize enough that critical thinking is developed through freedom of expression and love of learning, not diagramming sentences and perfect subject-verb agreement. Teach your student how to correct spelling and revise paragraph order as REVISION work, not as the thing which qualifies them as a creative thinker and writer.  The goal here is to develop a love of writing. The rest will come.
  5. Let your student experiment with writing nonfiction, fiction, poetry and hybrid forms. When I was a young child, I wrote poetry to understand my own questions and previous knowledge about subjects I was learning in school.  The child who hates essay-writing may adore the ABC-derian poem.
  6. Develop writing assignments that provide students with a built-in audience. Write letters to nursing home residents. Let them keep a blog about this time of quarantine. Let them create a Book of Questions as they watch current events unfold before their eyes. Let them draw more and write less if they prefer. Let them listen to music if they find this helpful.
  7. If giving them a page limit is causing frustration, let them write to a timer. 15 minutes of writing without stopping for any reason followed by a 3-5 minute break. The Pomodoro method works for writers of all ages and abilities.
  8. Be sure the student has had an adequate amount of exercise/play before writing class begins. I have developed the ability to sit for 4-6 hours at a time and write if need be, but not until I have completed an hour of high intensity exercise.
  9. Finally, write with your child and always include a time to share writing with one another.







Writing Prompts for These Times

Parents across the country find yourselves joining the words “home” and “school” as a real thing in your lives for the first time. If that seems like a bad joke or an oxymoron (the way #alonetogether does), you may be scrambling for resources–something to accomplish after your kiddos complete their toilet paper roll art projects.

Here is a writing project for you.

An Aubade is a poem or song that welcomes the dawn or laments the ending of night (or both). An Aubade can also be a song. According a  March 12, 2018 explanation in the  New York Times, the word was first used in 1678 and was adopted by the French from the Spanish word “alba,” meaning sunrise.

Two of my favorite Aubade poems (for older students) are “Aubade With Burning City by Ocean Vuong and “Aubade Ending with the Death of a Mosquito” by Tarfia Faizullah

For younger students, here is an example of an Aubade poem that I composed with you in mind this morning, using Prompt #3 below. I have bolded the words which answer the questions in Prompt #3:

The sun rises in the east to the sound of a drip–

black coffee and oatmeal on my spoon–

I talk to myself stringing thoughts together

like tiny daisies on black silk pajamas.

I could still sleep to  this light.

Writing Prompts: Listen to the following “Morning Song” and watch the video footage of a sunrise as you listen.

  1. Write down the words that come to your mind as you watch and listen. Use these words to write a poem that welcomes the dawn or laments the end of night (or both).
  2. Are you a morning person? A night owl? Write about yourself and the ways that you either celebrate the morning or lament the end of sleep.
  3. Write down 3-5 words taken from your morning routine. What kind of toothpaste do you use? What do you usually eat for breakfast? Who is the first person you usually talk to in the morning? What patterns are on your favorite pajamas? You can devise your own questions about morning to answer and use in this prompt.
  4. (More challenging) Write an Aubade poem in which a sunrise is a symbol for the end of one season of your life and the beginning of a new phase (graduating high school or college, ending a relationship, living after loss of a loved one,  the end of your school year and beginning of home education, for example).


Reconnecting with an old friend

Starting up this blog about My Writing Life feels like reconnecting with an old friend, perhaps someone I once labeled as “best” in some way when I was a girl, someone with whom secrets were shared. Now there is a vacuous space between us. This opening sentence actually reminds me of someone–my only sister–and in all honestly revisiting my blog feels like a hospitable pursuit as compared to attempting to mend burned relationship bridges because even if I have not written here, in this particular space, I have written somewhere.

My Writing Life has morphed most days into My Teaching Life. While some inklings of drafts have abetted my belief that a second manuscript could be forthcoming, most of My Writing Life and that newness I seek as a writer has come to me in the form of new courses, new books, new plans, new faces, and new writing opportunities that, behind the scenes, I have helped to make happen for my students. Teaching is such a reward, yet it is exhausting in ways that don’t always keep the flame inside my mind constant and ready to pursue my own projects.

I am attempting to do something about that this semester. Mondays during my office hours will be reading days, and by reading I mean reading for my own pleasure/inspiration. My brain needs nutrition and Ann Fadiman again. This blog will become my place for regular writing again. I can’t tell you the thrill of anticipation: the unknown, the blank, the sprite uncontrolled, the exploration, the atmosphere. The open page.


Always on the brink…

Here is something (or perhaps here are somethings) I have learned (rather I haven’t learned but that I keep learning anew over and over again: writers are weird. Writers in all of our weirdness-glory are simultaneously excruciatingly ordinary and singularly misfitted in that “All happy families…” Tolstoy-an kind of way. It’s a matter of perspective and understanding and it’s often a matter of choice for the writer and for the audience-spouse-friends-church-acquaintance-reader-reviewer-editor of the writer.

I was reminded of this recently. It’s not so much that I am clinically manic (I’m not) so much as it is I am constantly butting up against people who aren’t interested in the complications associated with peeling the layers of getting to know the artsy-creative-type. When you write, you specialize in the nurture of listening, really listening. Listening to subjects and eliminating objects of all kinds. Listening to self. To silence.

The act of writing an unshared poem is an act that 100 percent of the time will upset the internal equilibrium of the writer even if the writer is the only person who ever imagines/reads the work. The act of writing a poem and sharing a poem contains every emotional, psychological, creative, political component of  revolution (albeit once-removed) whether the poem is political or seemingly refreshingly simple and pastoral. Poems are box-cutters. I wrote my first one at the age of six. I’ve been bouncing out of others’ boxes ever since. This has been my life. I think it is probably everyone’s life, even those unaware of it (which is the majority of people I believe).

Here is why publication of one of my poems matters so much to me. Not the positive affirmations, though pleasant enough. Not the fact that a publication means even four people are ever going to seriously read and consider my poem. Not the money…ahem. Publication validates me as I continue to bust through confining boxes. I can cut the tape, chew the cardboard and spit it out. I can dust off my dirty feet and move on. I can stop listening to what bores me. I can fiercely flee ideas and the speakers of those ideas when the ideas seek to silence my voice. Poetry as an end can’t seek to categorize, rate, demonize or prioritize any experience. Poetry can only re-enact, bring forth a separate and more distant beauty that compares in some intangible way with the emotion of the experience it seeks to render. A poem is word married to wordlessness.

The reader leafs through the pages and sometimes finds the love-child.  The writer remembers vividly the conception. Listening, always listening, home is constructed with what might compare to this–the work, the sacrifice, the willingness to hold.


But I get summer off…

I ran across this chart and it caught my eye like a cute pair of shoes, probably because I am a Composition instructor and the “shoe fits.” A teacher with 30 students who averages 15 minutes per essay on grading and feedback will spend 7 1/2 hours of grading to complete grading. A teacher with 60 students (I taught 3 sections of Composition during Fall 2021) will spend 20 hours to grade a single essay assignment. A composition class will usually consist of 4-6 major essay assignments during a semester. For six essay assignments, that adds up to 120 hours outside of the classroom just to grade the major assignments.

That means an additional 6 weeks of work is added to my 13-week semester. I am under contract for half-time work as a professor.

As a Composition teacher, I grade a full set of in-class and/or homework assignments almost every class day. I read every poem, lyric essay, and journal entry that is shared with me by my students and I work hard to comment personally on their writing so that they know their work has been read by someone who cares.

It is impossible to teach the art of writing by designing easy-to-grade True-False tests that can be automatically graded online. It is impossible to assign the same writing prompts or teach from the same textbook year after year. All grading takes place outside the classroom.

Just putting this out there. #spinningmyrealife

What do hardworking teachers trying to keep our heads above water during a pandemic need? Not more to do. Do not tell this writing teacher that I also must save their souls, act as a social worker, submit ALL of my plans before class even starts, or teach while being taped by a surveillance video.

Don’t tell me my exhaustion is really a lack of conviction or self-esteem. As someone late to the party (I have only been teaching for 8 years and I’m 59), I am amazed at the expectations placed on the shoulders of teachers who are barely making ends meet with fast-food level wages. I honestly do not know how writing teachers last for 30 years (teachers giving the online True-False tests, okay maybe…)

I won’t be teaching for much longer. It’s time for me to pursue other adventures and to, well, sleep in on Saturday mornings once in awhile instead of reading essays. But I won’t ever retire from advocating for and expressing deep appreciation for teachers at all levels of our educational system. Teachers deserve our best as parents, community members, administrators, politicians; teachers do not deserve our constant higher and higher expectations for what stands for their best.