Tag Archives: Place

Not My Place (the sequel)

“It’s not my place to say, but…”

I’m sure almost everyone has heard these words, or something along the same lines. Whenever I’ve heard them, and the times I have said them, two things come to mind:

1. The speaker really feels it is his or her place to say.

2. They are usually followed by a negative assessment of someone or something – and often the someone or something isn’t around to reply.

For some reason, casting aspersions on someone else’s character or actions sounds a little less petty when couched in humility, false or not. But gossip is gossip, and making negative comments about someone else often says as much about the speaker as it does the hapless subject.

As far as I know, Jesus didn’t begin many of his words with “it’s not my place to say.” He talked to those who disagreed with him far more often than he made comments about them to a third party. It’s a practice I hope to follow more closely – in thought, word, and deed. When I’m tempted to dress up gossip with these words, these two thought just might stop my tongue:

Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone. (John 8:7)

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (I Cor. 13:1)

If I take them to heart, they have the power to do more than stop me from spreading gossip: they can keep my mind from even thinking about it.

…Everything In Its Place

A few days back, my sister and I sat at her kitchen table catching up over snacks and a glass of wine. I’m at home there – not my home, but a home that welcomes me. I feel like I belong there, even if I don’t live most of my life there.
My sister’s kitchen isn’t set up the way mine is. Sharp knives sit in a block next to the stove, just below her plates and bowls and just above her silverware. Drinking glasses and coffee mugs live near the sink. Containers for lunch away from home are gathered together on the other side of the sink. Her table is between the hutch and the sliding door overlooking the back yard and deck. Things in her kitchen are in place for a reason, and their placement makes her life easier and more interesting.
My coffee mugs and wine glasses live together in the same cupboard. My dishes and water glasses are on open shelves between the dishwasher and fridge. Knives and silverware are to the left of the sink. Cooking utensils are in the silver cylinder next to the stove and hot pads. My dining table is in another room. These things are in place for a reason, and their placement makes my life easier and more interesting.
For me, Everything in its place isn’t a generic phrase or state of reality: it’s specific to tangible places and unique individuals. It’s different in my home than in my sister’s, and different still in the homes of friends and strangers. I can prepare a meal in my sister’s house and she can do the same in mine. There’s a bit more hunting around for the vegetable peeler and the frying pans take some getting used to, but convenience by itself isn’t the goal. In the grand scheme of things, it isn’t even that important. When everyone sitting at the table feels at home, when each person belongs there, then everything is truly in its place.

God bless this kitchen and all enter it. Amen.

For more on this series, see “Place.”

A Place for Everything…

…except in canning season. There are seven jars of green tomato relish, four more with pickled beans, and eleven filled with applesauce. There are three more in the fridge – one of each already opened and tasted. Next week a dozen cranberry sauces will join the heavenly tasting host. Most of these are only here for a couple of months; they will depart in Thanksgiving baskets and Christmas boxes to take up space in the cupboards and iceboxes of friends and family. But for now, they are guests in and on my shelves, tables, countertops, and bookcases. My canning equipment is on the dishwasher, adding to the overcrowding. This year’s hot peppers are in bowls with the few remaining green tomatoes. I’ve made a dining table centerpiece of squash because they are beautiful – and I have no room in the kitchen for them. Herbs in jars have broken out of the spice drawer, claiming space next to the drinking glasses. They, too, will be gone over the holidays as tandoori rubs and cajun spice mixes. My house runneth over with the bounty of garden, bog, and orchard.
My home is just the right size for me and my family to live interesting lives. There is enough room for guests to feel at home, but they sleep on a sofa bed. The kitchen is a good size for a 1950’s Cape, but there’s no walk-in pantry. I have enough shelf space for the canned goods we will keep, the dried herbs we will use, and the usual grocery items needed for two weeks of meals. I wouldn’t trade home for a bigger one, but it’s an adventure in inventive storage and display right now. It’s a good thing I like the look of squash and mason jars.
I don’t want a larger-than-life place or life. It’s too much work to go too big, and the world is better for me staying at my current size. The jars that I can’t fit in place are meant to go elsewhere; I’m meant to give them away. I trust in the bounty of next year’s harvest, and the steadfast presence of God that holds me in love. There is a place for everything in my house…and if it doesn’t fit, then it’s not my everything to keep.

Photo on 10-9-15 at 4.50 PM

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven…a time to reap and a time to sow. (Ecclesiastes)


There were twenty three of us in Advanced Biology that afternoon for Mr. Chamberlain’s famous water displacement contest/experiment. A couple of hoses, graduated test tubes, and water were all set. The directions were simple: blow into the hose attached to the tube filled with water. Breath becomes air pressure, moving the water into the second tube – water displacement via lung power. The experiment part: measure how much water is displaced by each person and figure out the class average. The contest: try to displace more water than everyone else. The prize: bragging rights and a spot on Mr. Chamberlain’s ongoing chart of winners.

Before we began, Mr. Chamberlain had everyone guess who would displace the most water. To a person, we picked Andy. He was well over six feet tall, played football, and was on the cross country ski team. After that, we picked skiers, long distance runners, and tennis players. Following them, the rest of us. With our predictions set, each of us took our turn moving water with breath.

As predicted, Andy displaced more water than anyone else. The male skiers and runners displaced around the same amount on their tries, clumping around third place. Then came the female athletes. The remaining students were spread out below that. But second place, between Andy and the male athletes, was mine. Five foot two inches, one hundred and fifteen pounds, and able to displace more water than everyone but Andy. It was such a surprising result that Mr. Chamberlain had me do the experiment twice. When the result was the same, he added me to the chart of winners (small letters, with my height, weight, gender, and second place status noted).

I doubt I had a lot more lung capacity than my classmates, but I did spend a lot of time in Chalk Pond. Swimming underwater taught me how to control my breathing. I knew how much air was in my lungs and how far I could swim on a single breath. I was aware that I had reserves of oxygen I usually didn’t need or notice. Perhaps I displaced more water because I knew just how much air I had in reserve, and what I could do with it; perhaps my classmates didn’t.

I think the same is true with my spiritual life. There are reserves that I barely notice and rarely call upon. They are there, ready to displace sadness, grief, anger, and fear. Even better, these spiritual reserves don’t end with my own strength and stamina: they are renewed by the one who gives life and breath to the whole universe.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being… (John 1:1-3)

Out of Place

There’s a single juice glass in my cupboard. I bought it with three others a decade ago, when larger glasses were too big for my four year old son’s grasp. It’s four and a half inches tall, with a seven-sided lower half and a circular top edge. There’s a fancy cursive “L” on the bottom. It’s sturdy, well balanced, and hard to knock over.

This leftover juice glass has no place among the glasses in current use. My son is well past needing miniature glasses, and it’s too breakable to use at the bathroom sink. It’s not worth any money and I have no important memories associated with it. Yet, it’s still here, out of place and alone.

Out of its original place and filled with modest chive flowers, it is a perfect centerpiece on the dinner table – too short to block anyone’s view or conversation, too narrow to be a hindrance when passing dishes, too solid to be knocked over by a careless hand. With a handful of daisies, it fits on the narrow shelves in my living room, and doesn’t tip when the cats pass by with flicking tails. It casts a rainbow when the sun hits it just right.

Out of place isn’t something I like be. It’s uncomfortable to be a loner among a group of like-minded and socially related people; it’s disconcerting when talents, appearance, and meaningful purpose are no longer useful or particularly appealing to the larger group. But being out of place, no longer in like company, may be the only way to grow past my past self. To every thing there is a season, and seasons change. Holding onto one particular season in my life, insisting that I am limited to one particular use or identity, won’t keep me from being out of place. What it will block is a future beyond it, where I hold beauty and find my place at the table and on the shelf. Sturdy and casting rainbows is a wonderful new reality, unseen when out of place but surely on the other side.Photo on 9-30-15 at 3.07 PM

Not My Place

Yesterday morning found me at the Peaslee Funeral Home. With my family, I greeted people as they came to honor my father’s life and death. His cousins I hadn’t seen since the 1980’s; my Aunt Marilyn’s neighbors, friends, and coworkers; people my parents met when they moved to Daffodil Hill; coworkers and friends of my siblings, all entering their lives after I moved too far away to know more than their names. We found ourselves in the same place, saying God-be-with-you to my father together. After prayers and tears, taps and flag folding, we met up again on the patio of the Governor’s Inn. Here we shared food, drink, and stories. Sitting at white tables on a warm September afternoon, we heard stories and told our own.

My cousin Marna sat with me. I hadn’t had time to talk with her in decades, really – just quick catch-ups at various weddings and memorial services over the past few decades. For the first time since we were children, we had a true conversation. We talked about my father, and how he and her father took us swimming and boating on warm summer days. She told me stories about our grandmother and grandfather, both long since gone. I heard about her children and she talked with mine. She met my husband for the very first time. I saw all the delicate family webs that have connected us reveal themselves in her stories and her laughter, her humor and her compassion. In our meeting, we spun new threads; my children and husband were woven into her life’s story, and her children resurfaced in mine. With a hug, we left to resume our places in the daily routines that shape our lives.

Marna’s place in my father’s life story is not my place, and my place is not hers. What she shares with me, and what I share with her are glimpses of a much larger pattern that was my father’s life. It stretched far beyond what I have seen or will ever see. The same holds true for every one of us gathered together in grief and loss – so many stories, such a brilliant and intricate life. How sacred is any life, and how hidden from any one person’s place. How many people are connected to me through my father’s life? How many blessings have come from these unseen and never-to-be-seen people? Living and dead, distant and nearby, there is an infinitely complex and gracious web that binds me to them. It’s not my place to know it completely; it’s just my place to be grateful.

Hard Place


It’s well after midnight, and I’m in my parents’ living room. My mother is asleep in her bed; my father sits on the sofa, legs propped on a chair, blanket keeping him warm. He’s waiting for the white pill he just took to take away the pain, and for the red one to keep nausea at bay. In the last few days, he’s been letting go of the routines and activities that have given shape to his life these many years. He doesn’t talk much and doesn’t always follow the conversation. He eats a toast, perhaps an egg or sandwich for lunch, a juice box and a forkful of food for dinner. He pats his dog, sitting on the back porch; he enjoys the flowers and the birds and the sun on his skin. He isn’t busy and has left nothing unfinished. His time is his own, and there isn’t much left of it.

He drifts in and out of sleep as I type. He doesn’t try to stay awake or asleep. He goes where his spirit and body take him. It’s a hard place, this in-between time. Not yet in the next life, but on its threshold; not really in the life he has known, but standing beneath its arch.

It’s a hard place for everyone who loves him – me, my siblings, his sister, and my mother/his wife. He has loved us all so well and for so long, and we have loved him. Our love isn’t tied to this hard place. It comes and goes with us, embracing us and connecting us. Nothing in life has lessened it, and nothing in death will either. How could it? Love is nothing more or less than God’s greatest gift and our greatest blessing. I am so thankful for this – this abiding love that surrounded our past, dwells in this hard present, and will shine into our infinite future.

(Early this morning, my father passed from life into death, at home in the company of his family. With the help of hospice nurses and aides, he passed without pain.)

In Place

underleavesMy daily routine happens in particular locations and times of day/week/month/year (Everyone’s does; is there anyone whose routine just happens in random places and times? It wouldn’t be a routine without placement, just a collection of happenings strung together through time and space.), interwoven in the fabric of my life. They are the warp and woof that create the mutable and unfinished tapestry that is my very existence. They matter to me, these times and locations – these places I live in.

Today, my prayers were offered from my old blue sofa, looking out on the birds, plants, and chairs in my back yard. Brick steps heard my Jesus prayer, the Weber grill witnessed the prayer list. A couple days ago, it was the flip-out sofa just inches and a screen away from the lavender-bloomed butterfly bush. End of August, these same prayers visited my in-laws’ patio, with its bird bath and rose-chomping mule deer. The time of day stayed the same, the locations didn’t – maybe not a huge difference, but it changed the flavor of the words in my mouth and on my heart. How could it not when I could see, feel, hear, and smell a different part of God’s great world? Even a change of room and window makes a difference in who I am as I pray.

Prayer is a living dialogue as much as an ongoing soliloquy. Alone or in the company of others, prayer is never done in isolation. We are surrounded by all those who ever prayed the words we pray, who ever prayed where we pray; we stand and kneel with pray-ers through all time and in all places. All the spontaneous words ever said, felt, and thought; all the indescribable moments when the words couldn’t be found. It is in this place that I pray and you pray. It is in this place that God embraces us, sometimes seen and felt, sometimes unseen and elusive. If I really embraced the holiness of my places of prayer, I doubt would ever get off my knees. If you did the same, I doubt you would, either.

(For more on place, clickPlace above…)