Category Archives: life basics

Putting Away the Holiday

I turned sixty yesterday, and today I took down the Christmas decorations and tree. It’s a yearly task, getting back to the usual decor by removing the Advent and Christmas extras. It’s also a task that I put off until after my birthday – it’s a wonderful thing to have twinkling lights and birthday candles as I begin my new natal year.

Going through the ornaments as I put them in boxes and bins is a walk into the past; baby’s first Christmas ornaments for both of my sons, the sparkly drummer boy on a crescent moon that my parents bought in the late 1970’s, the star tree topper that my older son chose, and the angel my mother-in-law gave me after my engagement that my younger son prefers. They are markers of the people I love and the time I spent with them as much as they are decorations.

I’m not one of those who wants to keep Christmas decorations up for more than three or four weeks. They are meaningful because they aren’t permanent parts of my living space. And it helps me to separate the cultural holiday that I enjoy – presents, Christmas music, decorations – from the miracle that is God-With-Us.

Putting away the decorations while doing my best to live in the grace of the incarnation through the year is a visual reminder that Jesus/God With Us is not an object in my world, no matter how wonderful and holy: I am a beloved child in God’s world.

Magi by Thom Nordquist

Getting the Groceries

It’s not just the shopping, it’s everything that goes into it before I ever get to the store – checking the ongoing list of things that need to be replaced, planning meals, looking in the cupboards for recipe ingredients, checking the calendar to count the number of meals that need to be made, seeing what’s on sale where, and remembering to bring the canvas bags.

Then there’s what happens after the trip to the grocery store – putting things in cupboards, figuring out what needs to go in the freezer, and starting the new list for the next round of grocery shopping. Keeping the cupboards adequately stocked and trying not to waste any of the food purchased takes time and effort. But I think that’s true of anything that sustains life. After all, getting the groceries is an answer to prayer:

Give us this day our daily bread.

Tasks and Chores

It’s the stuff we have to do that doesn’t seem to get us anywhere: laundry, floors, bathrooms, groceries, paying bills – the list goes on. The work is noticed and appreciated only when it doesn’t get done because it’s only in its absence that we see its true value.

2024 begins in a little less than fourteen hours. I think it’s a good time to take a look at all the tasks and chores that life requires to see what blessings they might contain. Want to lend a hand?

Learning For A Reason

The Daily Stoic; Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman; New York: Penguin, 2016, p. 204

The difference between learning in a way that leads to a fruitful life for self and the world and learning that doesn’t go that way is the difference between wisdom and knowledge. A genius may use her or his knowledge and skills for irrelevant or harmful ends; a wise man or woman uses his or her skills in a way that deepens the spirit and gladdens the world.

There are evil geniuses, but no evil wise ones. Something to think about…

Personal Appearances

Personal items are boxed or tucked into drawers. The shades are pulled to the same length, toiletries and Kleenex boxes are next to the razors and toothbrushes in the bathroom closet. Cat bowls and scratching posts are in the basement next to the boot tray, and the cats are off site. Rooms are clean and tidy. Other than the books on the shelves and food in the cupboards, there are few traces of the people who live here. We have done our best to create a space where potential buyers can imagine themselves living because this house is for sale.

I am keenly aware of the particularity of the places I’ve called home, and how traces of my family are evident in almost every corner of every room – things we’ve chosen to put on the walls and tables because one or more of us find them beautiful or useful, things that say something about who we are and what we hold dear. Our personalities appear in them, making our home as unique to us as our neighbors’ homes are unique to them. And that is as it should be.

Clearing all the living spaces so that new people can imagine calling this house home is a lot of work, but I’m happy to do it. It’s time for other people to hang their own pictures on these walls and set their chairs on the back porch. Removing things that get in the way of their coming is, in its own way, is the best welcome I can offer.

[Photo by David Fredrickson]

Coffee Wars

It does not insist on its own way. I Corinthians 13:5, NRSV

[For the full text, click I Corinthians 13 above.]

The coffee pot was moved back to the corner, and thus began the battle…

The church kitchen had been a disorganized mess for years, so the youth group took it on as a way to contribute to the life of the community. Cupboards that hadn’t been opened in years, much less emptied, were given a thorough scrubbing; what was broken or dangerous was removed; what was left was cleaned, organized, and labeled. The walls were degreased and repainted. It took hours, but the transformation was spectacular.

One of the best things: the coffee station had been relocated to a space near the service window. Everything was within easy reach, and it made coffee hour so much easier for hosts and guest alike. The youth group did the honors that first Sunday after the reorganization, hosting the coffee hour and revealing the new kitchen.

The grumbling started within hours. How could the teens change the kitchen without asking (they had permission from the church leaders)? How could they toss things out without permission (only broken and expired things were thrown away)? What right did they have to change anything?

The next Sunday, the coffee pots and machine had been moved back to the corner by persons unknown, recreating the old set-up. The youth, assuming someone didn’t know about the new place, moved it again. The next Sunday, it happened again. And again. And again. Finally, the youth gave up. Their hard work and best intentions had run into a communal unwillingness to change. The coffee making status quo was restored, but the damage was significant: the youth no longer believed that their efforts or their presence were welcome.

I doubt the adults who moved the coffee pots were intentionally causing damage to the teens of the church. I’m almost positive that there wasn’t a conspiracy intent on rejecting and dismantling the gift of time and effort given by the youth. This was just a typical knee-jerk reaction, a reclaiming of turf, an exercise of power. I wish the adults had asked themselves this question:

What is more important: keeping things the way I want them or honoring the gift offered by others?

The true and most disturbing question: what would have been their answer?

The Examened Life

It’s November. The days are getting shorter, and the separation between Halloween and Christmas seems to shrink a little bit more every year. I don’t want to lose this month of harvest and giving thanks.

Last year, I wrote a pandemic curriculum for Thanksgiving based on the Daily Examen of Saint Ignatius. In a time when many activities were out of the question, and many people were questioning their life patterns, it seemed like a good idea. I put it in the form of three questions:

What was good? What was hard? Where did you see God?

Families were encouraged to take some time each day to answer them together, and were given paper of various shapes to write their answers down. It was my way of offering a specific spiritual practice for God’s beloved children of all ages.

This year, even with the restoration of some of our pre-pandemic patterns, I’m returning to the three questions of the Examen for the Thanksgiving curriculum. What was good this day/week/month/season? What was hard? Where did you see God? I hope you will join me, adding your own answers and spending time with the creator who loves you beyond measure.

Click here to add your thoughts on these three questions;

It’s Not Just About Me

…the fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever;

the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;

[Psalm 19:9-10a, NRSV. For the complete psalm, click psalm 19 above.]


English doesn’t quite get the point across. This isn’t fear in the sense of afraid-for-my-life/scared-to-death; this fear of the Lord is the quickening of the pulse, the scared-to-life sense when holiness shows up. This isn’t fear that harm will come, but keen awareness of the difference between creature and Creator.

This awareness of my own limitations, this encounter with the love that created all that is, this is what I should desire more than gold. My finitude in the presence of the loving Infinite doesn’t diminish me: it just gives me the slightest glimpse of God’s sacred love of everyone and everything else.

It’s a wonderful and humbling gift of truth: I am God’s beloved, and I walk a world full of other beloveds.


Each and Every One of Us

You weren’t put on this earth to be miserable.

It’s something my grandmother used to say, a truth that’s been handed down three generations and beyond. Life isn’t easy, but it isn’t meant to be awful. Difficulties are a given, and times of trouble and sadness are just part of life’s fabric; so is fun, joy, and satisfaction. Work finds its counterpart in play, tears in laughter, boredom in fascination.

This old world holds so much, as does the world within. You aren’t made for unending misery: you are made for joy. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

It is there for each and every one of us.

Deep Inside My Bones

“I will put my laws in their minds, and write them on their hearts,

and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

And they shall not teach one another or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’

for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

Hebrews 8:10b-11, NRSV

Are you enough? Are you loved, and lovable? Do you know, REALLY know, that God delights in you?

YES is the true answer: you are enough, you are loved and lovable, and you are a delight to God. Know this, accept this, inscribe this in your head and on your heart. This is the law of love that guides life and gives us all we need to embody love in our outer actions and inner thoughts. We won’t do it perfectly, and we might not always do it happily, but we can and will do it. And that, my friend, is reason enough to rejoice.

Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.

[The Deer’s Cry]