March 1, 2018

Dear Readers,

I’ve always loved newsletters, but I must be in the minority, since they seem to have gone the way of magazine subscriptions, to be replaced by tweets, status updates and email “blasts,” whenever something noteworthy happens. But I love the reflective tone of a newsletter, its way of looking back at the last month or quarter and assessing what was actually significant, successful, or transformative, instead of just “advertising” about it in real time.

In that vein, I thought I’d offer a “Newsletter from a Fool” as the month of February comes to a close. (I’ll get to the “fool” part a little later.)

February was a big month for our family.

Keara Moses turned 21 on the 18th and happened to be in town on her birthday, so we took her to the Station Tavern in Southpark, one of her favorite restaurants. She started with a coffee stout and after a veggie burger and tater tots, she finished up with two mixed drinks.  She didn’t even seem buzzed, which is strange since they were her first drinks ever (I’m pretty sure). But we all had a good time and raised our glasses of beer, lemonade and Dr. Pepper to the woman we love, who challenges us and makes us laugh and wonder and worry all at the same time, which is pretty much the job description of a 21-year-old college student, as far as I’m concerned.


In other news, Molly Grace celebrated the one year anniversary of her spinal surgery on February 22. Though she had begged to take the day off school, we sent her anyway, since we had taken a three-day snowboarding break in Mammoth earlier in the month. But she was greeted that afternoon with flowers, went thrifting with me at the Buffalo Exchange, enjoyed a hot tub session at the YMCA, a sushi dinner out and finally was surprised at Dairy Queen by her two best friends and their families, who have been with her every step of the way for the past fifteen years. This past month, we reflected on her amazing recovery and how she has finally done everything post-surgery that she did pre-surgery. Grateful doesn’t even begin to cut it.


On a sadder note, we lost a wonderful woman and friend, Gretchen Kelly, to cancer this past month. Tim had known Gretchen for over thirty years; our kids thought of her as their local grandma, calling her “Nana Gretch” all their lives. We loved her homemade carrot cake, her “Sunday ‘do,” her full-bodied hugs and full-throated laughter. She was a legend and her memorial service was a testament to that. Friends from all generations and family from all over the country gathered to honor a woman who lived her life with passion, generosity, loyalty and faith. Gretchen is truly an example of how open-hearted living and loving extends the circle of connection and compassion, making the world a better place. Gretchen is seated on the far right in these photos, which hold pride of place in our kitchen, right next to my mother-in-law Ruth and their friend Patsy.


I found this poem by Mary Oliver on the day of Gretchen’s service and I think it could have been written just for her.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 7.40.11 AM
from Evidence, 2009

Finally, on a more foolish note…

I always think of February as the month of Love and try to do something a little special for my family. Since there are so many miles between us this year, I had to get a little creative, which wasn’t a problem, because I have discovered SNAPCHAT and my kids created a FAMILY GROUP, so now I can torture them all hours of the day and night while endlessly entertaining myself. Instead of love notes on their pillow, they received a daily love song.

untitled-1_158I’m going to admit it: filters are my friend. Stickers speak to my soul. Bitmojis are totally bitchin’ and voice changers are game changers for people like me who don’t have musical talent.

Am I sounding foolish enough yet? Is your respect for me leaking away, slowly but surely?

Stay tuned. There’s more.

I was inspired to take my foolishness to this next level by my church community’s theme for Lent: “Holy Fools for Love, Holy Fools for Christ.” I don’t know how many times I have shown up as the latter, but the former? Any day of the week! I’m your gal, especially when it comes to my kids.

As I’ve dug into this theme, proposed first by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians and later practiced by my favorite saint of all time, Francis of Assisi, I’m more convinced than ever that foolishness is something to be cultivated and cherished, not condemned. I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill stupidity, immaturity, or thoughtlessness. I’m talking about the foolishness on the other side of seriousness, or as Rob Bell likes to say, the simplicity on the other side of complexity.

My family knows how much I love them and they know that my light-hearted singing is not an expression of the depths of my love, but of the lightness of my love. It is the aspect of my Love that wants to lift them up “higher and higher” in the words of Jackie Wilson. We have been to the depths together and have come out the other side: heartbreaks, betrayals, depressions, medical interventions, coming out, moving out, standing up for justice and kneeling down to ask forgiveness. We’ve gained some wisdom during our twenty-five + years of loving each other, so I gave myself the permission and pleasure of being a fool for Love this February. If you’re not familiar with Snapchat and all the good times that can be had with it, here is some evidence.

(I ask that you watch with generosity! This is amateur hour. I am fully aware I have no musical, filming, or editing ability. The talent may be weak, but the spirit of Love is strong.)

Have you ever been a fool for the sake of someone you love, not because you were weak, but because you had the strength to offer them your own vulnerability? When or where have you chosen to lose, even though you could have won? Who, or what inspires you to fall to your knees, instead of standing tall? These acts of radical foolishness are so rare. We cultivate an image, a “brand,” a level of seriousness, beauty and respect, which we vigilantly guard, but unless we are unprotected, we will not be connected.

There are so many things that keep us from “fooling” around: pride, efficiency, fear of ridicule, loss of standing, lack of practice, cultural expectations. The list goes on and on, but it doesn’t have to. We can stop it anytime, simply by looking at each of those pre-conditions and seeing if it is more important in any given situation than communicating Love, connection, humor, tenderness, grace.

Is there room to “fool” around right now, right here? 

I know the answer won’t always be yes, but it isn’t always no either.

Finally, because poetry is often the language of fools, especially the wise and holy ones, here’s a final offering from Mary Oliver.


I Don’t Want to be Demure or Respectable

I don’t want to be demure or respectable.

I was that way, asleep, for years.

That way, you forget too many important things.

How the little stones, even if you can’t hear them, are singing.

How the river can’t wait to get to the ocean and the sky,

it’s been there before.

What traveling is that?

It is a joy to imagine such distances.

I could skip sleep for the next hundred years.

There is a fire in the lashes of my eyes.

It doesn’t matter where I am, it could be a small room.

The glimmer of gold BÖhme saw on the kitchen pot

            Was missed by everyone else in the house.

Maybe the fire in my lashes is a reflection of that.

Why do I have so many thoughts, they are driving me crazy.

Why am I always going anywhere, instead of somewhere?

Listen to me, or not, it hardly matters.

I’m not trying to be wise, that would be foolish.

I’m just chattering.


Give it a go! Get on your hands and kick up your feet! Look at the world a little upside down. The foolishness of God is wiser than we know.



One of my funniest Ash Wednesday memories comes from my high school years. I was on the Mater Dei swim team and we took our workouts seriously, but we took our faith seriously too. At sixteen, we were “adults” and expected to abide by the rules of fasting on that day. My swim coach, who was also my religion teacher at the time, told us that we were exempt from fasting, but I wasn’t buying it. “Don’t fast,” he said. “Yeah right,” I thought. By the time I got out of the pool for sprints at the end of the workout, I was light-headed, nauseous, seeing stars, but I wasn’t the only one. He had kids falling down all over the pool deck! Something like that is only going to happen at a Catholic school!

One of my least favorite Ash Wednesday memories happened last year, when we spent the day at the E.R. at Rady Children’s Hospital.  Molly had to be readmitted a week after her back surgery for uncontrolled pain. By the time they finally doped her up, she was delirious on multiple doses of Valium and Atavin, which precipitated a crying, laughing, and truth-telling spell we will never forget (and she’ll never remember.) A female pastor – Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal – I can’t remember, came by the room and asked if we would like to receive ashes. Tim and I stepped out of the room and held hands as she completed the ritual: “From dust you came and to dust you shall return.” It was a poignant moment, but painful. The evidence of the fragility of life was just beyond a pane of glass.

This morning, I sat down to begin my first official “Lenten” practice – an hour of morning reading, meditation and prayer. That’s it for the most part this year, nothing too dramatic, not like in previous years, which you can read about here, here and here. I thought about how my Advent journey in December was directed by a question: “What gift do you want to receive from God for Christmas this year and what do you have to release in order to make room to receive it?” I had been hoping another question would come to me from the cosmos, something significant, or holy to ponder, but there’s been nada. Each time I tried to pose one for myself, it rang false, like I was a poser.

So I just let it go.  I’m much more trusting these days that the right thing will show up at the right time if I’m paying attention (that’s the actual trick – paying attention instead of being distracted by our iphones, Netflix, food, alcohol, shopping, do-gooding, expectations, etc.) This morning I sat down to write in my journal, where most of the entries are written as letters to God. Instead of something significant, these were the questions that came to me:

This Lent, can I be content? Can I be of service? Can I participate with your work in the world: to love, to heal, to befriend, to connect?

And as I wrote, I realized that the first two questions were for me, but that I had written the final question to Jesus, not to God. That might not stand out to you, but for me, it was really weird.  I don’t pray to Jesus. I don’t write to Jesus. I wouldn’t even claim to know Jesus, even though he’s probably my favorite person who’s ever walked on the planet and I consider myself one of his followers. I love what Jesus said and did and taught and lived. I love the Eucharist and communion tables, especially when they are open to all. But Jesus himself? Mostly unapproachable. So, I sat with that oddity for a moment, and then I kept writing to him:


 Rarely do I pray to you. Your humanity seems too real to deserve prayers “to,” and yet your divinity is too alienating for me to feel like we’re friends. I have been taught my whole life that you were like us in every way, but sin, which always confuses me, because then you aren’t like me at all! Most of what I am is my “sin,” though I don’t use that word any more. If you were “perfect” and “sinless,” then you have no experience at all with the ways I fall short every day, the ways I disappoint, don’t get things right, hurt feelings, speak hastily, covet something, lose my patience, fall into temptation and eat/do/watch something I probably shouldn’t. I think I’ll be trying to work out that paradox – who you are and how exactly we’re related – my whole life…

 But today, I stop and consider for a moment, that this Lenten season is wholly devoted to you: your life, your teachings and of course, your death.

You were like me, (or so they say,) but I see it here in a way I usually can’t.

You had a life, and a path (which probably didn’t work out the way you thought) and a deep Love for God, and you kept trying to be obedient to that Love, even when it led you to Jerusalem and the mob and authority figures that killed you. You didn’t hit the escape button.

How much of that I can relate to!

What if I remembered that these are your 40 days, Jesus, the last 40 of your life? In the end, you knew you were a “dead man walking,” but you didn’t walk away. How tempting it must have been! So, here’s a question: Can we be friends this Lent? It sounds so silly, but would that be a good question?

Can I be content? Can I be of service?  Can I participate with your work in the world to love, to heal, to befriend, to connect?

It is not God’s work I describe there, but your work in this world. I watch how you lived and loved and bucked the system and ate and drank and touched and taught and broke a lot of rules and through that lens, maybe I can approach you, not as a theological dilemma to be solved, but as a life to be examined, a humanity to be loved.

I’m not really sure why I’m sharing these words with you all. I guess it’s because the complete change of focus from God to Jesus was so surprising to me. It was like I knelt down before the altar to my comfortable, slightly abstract image of a lovely and loving God, and I found myself on my knees before a complicated human being, who lived in the flesh and blood and the “full catastrophe” of what this life is. I don’t know what it means yet, but I know enough to pay attention, to keep asking questions and let my Lenten prayers take me where they may.

What questions are you asking this Lent? What practice is your heart leading you towards? What has to fade away, so that something new can arise? How will you approach these 40 days with grace and intention?

The other morning, I woke with Otis Redding playing in my mind, “You’ve got to try a little tenderness….” I had spent the night at my folks’ house and as I walked down the stairs, humming along, my dad laughed. That song had been in his head for the last couple days too.  Kismet, I guess, or the fact that we are both currently reading Barking to the Choir.  I’m guessing “Tenderness” is just about the only song Fr. Greg Boyle knows how to sing.

Sorry friends, but I am obsessed with this book. I gobble up story after story and then I put it down, hard, and walk away, not because it made me mad, but because it made me so damn GLAD. I just want to cherish the feeling – of both surprise, “I’ve never thought of it that way,” and satisfaction, “I knew it all along!” I also put it down so that I can find my own response to his call. He says “Amen” to life in all its painful, poignant reality and his example demands that I find a corresponding, “Alleluia” within myself. To offer any less to this modern-day gospel feels sacrilegious.

I think I am beginning to understand how the early gospel began to spread and people became “Christians.” When the news is that good, that liberating, that healing, you can’t help but tell your family, friends, neighbors and even strangers about it. You want to jump up and down and say: Look! Taste! Touch! See how love and love and more love makes all the difference.  And in case you think I’m putting Fr. Greg on a pedestal, I’m not.  He’s only reminding us of the “original program,” as he puts it, which is simply the message of Jesus, which some of us seem to have forgotten.

So back to tenderness.

In some ways, tenderness is the key to it all, though it goes by many names: compassion, empathy, love.  Each of those words has its own nuance, but they all work on the same principle – the act of softening towards “the other,” so that some connection, healing, or relationship can be fostered. Tenderness, however, has a connotation of spontaneity, as if it’s something we can’t develop, or consciously create. Nonsense, Greg says.

Compassion and empathy have taken on clinical standing; they have been studied and analyzed to death with data. But tenderness? That kind of just wells up within us, right? It’s too soft, squishy, and personal to analyze, which is exactly why we should embrace it above the others, according to Greg.

Tenderness doesn’t just happen from your intellect; it’s your heart’s response in proximity to what is beautiful, vulnerable and beloved in our midst. The key to the “practice” of tenderness is to become familiar with what it feels like and know what brings it out in you. And once you know it, don’t run away from it; run towards it! Get comfortable with the uncomfortable, vulnerable feeling of tenderness. It feels dangerous (I might get hurt by admitting how much I care!) It feels embarrassing (I might look like an idiot for welling up in tears!) It feels inefficient (who’s got time to stop and marvel? I’ve got things to do. I’ll get back to it later!) For all those reasons and more, we don’t allow ourselves to feel tender towards most things. It destabilizes our ego’s ability to judge quickly, efficiently and “correctly.”

But we all have our Achilles’ heel, the thing that just melts our hearts, even when we’ve got better things to do. Currently, mine happens to be my nieces and nephews, especially the little ones. I wish you could feel my heart leap when I spy one, or all of them in a room. I think my heart literally pirouettes in my chest as I bend down and open my arms and call their names and they come running to me for a heart-stopping, germ-sharing, laughter-filled embrace. I am not so foolish to think it will always be this way. They will grow up and grow out of love with me, but I will cherish these tender moments as long as I can, which is also why I keep pictures like these on my phone. When I’m feeling cranky and judgmental – Instant Tenderness! (Snapchat filters are magical things at this age!)



I also feel tenderness towards my own kids, toddlers of all kinds, some teenagers, and most teachers. Not the heart-skip-a-beat kind of tenderness, but a genuine softening towards their occasional negativity, bad attitude and tendency to see themselves as the victim of unfair authority figures. “I get it,” I want to say to them. “Let me get you a drink (milk, soda, or wine, as appropriate) and sit with you for a while until you feel more like yourself again.”

So the tender gospel of Barking to the Choir asks us to consider:

Where and for whom do you feel tenderness without effort, or reservation?

Maybe you’re not a kid person, but how about a baby?  A newborn? (One of the only places in our culture that men are allowed to display tenderness without shame!) Maybe it’s a majestic, endangered species, or newborn pandas, or packs of puppies. Maybe a telephone commercial with a grandmother can have you in tears? Cats must be the source of tenderness for millions of people in the world, because who else would be watching all those videos?

The next time you experience that rush of tenderness, whatever, or wherever it is, feel what it feels like in your body, your heart, your face. Get to know that feeling, and then hold on to it, because that’s where “kinship” begins. As poet David Whyte writes, “Start close in,” a place where the yoke is easy and the burden is light. Start embracing the tenderness you feel naturally and then take it a degree further, one step at a time.

If my heart melts for my little ones, can I extend some measure of tenderness to the runny-nosed stranger’s child, crying in the grocery store line behind me? Can I ask my heart to skip a beat, offer a smile and drop the judgements I’m making about his parents and their choices? What good do those judgments do anyway? And once I can do that, can I extend it even a step further to the homeless child in my own town, or the refugee child on a distant shore?  Can I eventually get to the heart-wide-open place where I begin to believe that there is no such thing as other people’s children?

Degree by degree, step by step, we expand our tender hearts until they include even our enemies. That is the mission and magic of Homeboy Industries.  Step by tender step, they move people from separation to solidarity to kinship.

Embracing tenderness, writes Jean Vanier, is the highest mark of spiritual maturity. It is not a sign of weakness, or sentimentality, or femininity in a pejorative way. It is a sign of strength and character and mutuality.

I am strong enough, centered enough to allow you to destabilize me through Love.

I am secure enough to be softened and changed by you.

I do not lose me when you win back some of yourself through my tender gaze.

I hope you’ll find something that makes your heart melt this week and then, that you will chose to find another and another, each one less likely than the last and that through the practice of tenderness, you will become the genesis of “kinship” in your own little corner of the world. This is critical work needed in the world today.

 “If love is the answer, community is the context and tenderness is the methodology. Otherwise love stays in the head, or worse, hovers above it. Or it stays in the heart, which is never enough. For unless love becomes tenderness – the connective tissue of love – it never becomes transformational. The tender doesn’t happen tomorrow… only now, only today.”

Greg Boyle, Barking to the Choir 





This week, Tim and I saw Fr. Greg Boyle speak about his new book, Barking to the Choir, but really, his speaking is simply storytelling. At the beginning, or end of a story, he might tee up the point he wanted you to get out of it, but not always. Sometimes, you just had to sit with the story and see what it brought up for you. The impact of his storytelling forced me to recognize how few stories I tell here on my blog any more. When the kids were small, I told a lot.  It’s easy to tell personal stories when your kids are young, but as they got older, I tried to respect their privacy. Their stories are theirs to tell, not mine, even if I am the one learning the lesson. But after a while, I got out of the story-telling habit and then I kind of lost the nerve.  There’s not much vulnerability involved in a story about how your three-year-old is driving you nuts, but grown-up stories, personal ones? It makes me sweat just thinking about it, so I rarely wander down that path.

But the stories Greg tells? Those are risky stories, heart-breaking accounts of abuse, foolishness, pride, stupidity, ignorance, frustration – much of it his own. Nobody comes out looking perfect, but everyone comes out beloved – understood, and held with tenderness. In all that they do, Homeboy Industries is working to create the “Kin-dom of God” here on Earth, a kin-dom where no one is left outside the circle of mercy, compassion, tenderness and connection, a place where everyone belongs.

One of my favorite lines Greg shared was that at Homeboy, they never use a bar to see how the homies are measuring up. They only ever hold up a mirror, so the homies can see who they truly are, and then help them to become that person. In the mirror, homies see who they are in the eyes of God, innocent, untouched, replete with unique skills, talents, personalities and experiences. In the mirror, they see how they are made in the image and likeness of the Divine and they begin to live out that truth.

I heard that line and could have wept.

Like almost everyone I know, I am a master at using “the bar” to see how I measure up and it seems like the world is always “raising the bar.” Honestly, it’s the only game in town: discover your shortcomings and fix them! According to “the bar” method, we are never finished, never satisfactory, never worthy of the title “Beloved.” But the stories in Barking to the Choir show over and over again that the only antidote to “the bar” is “the mirror,” the blessing and transformation that takes place when we see, and are seen, with the eyes of love.

Though I know the power of “the mirror” and use it as much as possible with my kids and husband, friends and family, when it comes to myself, I am quick to reach for “the bar” and the inevitable disappointment that comes along with it. I am so grateful for Tim, who counteracts my self-criticism, by patiently holding up the mirror for me, time and time again, even as recently as last week, when I found myself with it (the bar) in my hand, assessing my performance as a woman.

How had I been doing in the wife-department? Dismal

How had I shown up to our conversations? Distracted

How had our sex life been the last month? Dissatisfying

To be fair, we’d had a full house since mid-December with Kiko and Finn home from college, but on Saturday night, they were finally gone and Molly was out for the evening. For the first time in six weeks, we were alone… in our house… after dark… for longer than a half hour. We’d been anticipating this evening for so long! We drew a hot bath, lit candles, opened a bottle of wine. Let the romance ensue! We talked; we laughed; we relaxed and then… nothing happened, (at least on my part.)

Has anyone else experienced that awkward moment, where all systems are GO, but some critical part of your libido says, NO?

I stalled for a few moments in the cooling bath water, unable to find my way, emotionally or physically, to that place of intimacy and connectedness with my husband I had been longing for so badly. What was wrong with me?

Strangely enough, it was Fr. Greg Boyle who came to mind in that moment. Even after taking the time for romance, I still had “the bar” in my hand and was reviewing all the ways I hadn’t measured up as a woman, or wife. Those are pivotal identities in a healthy marriage, but they had taken second, or third (or last) place while I prioritized some other things going on in our lives. We need to do that sometimes, but after twenty-five years together, we know not to allow the “urgent, but not important” to run the show for too long. I also knew I was going to need some help letting  go, so I said to Tim:

“Hold up a mirror for me, love. Help me see myself through your eyes on a night like tonight. Who am I besides a mother, seeker, teacher, writer, worker, volunteer, cleaner, driver, household manager? Who am I when I’m just me?”

And through Tim’s words, I began to see a reflection of myself again, this time through the eyes of love.

I saw an Ali who surfs and swims and stand up paddleboards, for the sheer pleasure of water on her face and sun on her skin and strength in her shoulders.




I saw an Ali who smiles often and laughs easily, who touches everyone she loves because she just can’t help herself.



I saw an Ali who loves adventures and food and a good drink and isn’t so worried about the calories.


I saw an Ali who isn’t afraid of sensuality, who is learning to embrace her middle-aged body, while also appreciating her husband’s.

I saw an Ali who knows how to stop trying to measure up, so she can relax and find herself “beloved” again.



I did not expect Greg Boyle (along with Tim of course) to be the one to solve my “roadblock” on Saturday night, though I think he’d be tickled by his presence there. But that’s the power of a great story. Not only does it enlighten you in the moment; it sticks with you for the long haul and shows up in radical places down the road.

My takeaway is this: When you need a better story, ask for it and when you hear a better story, believe it.

Allow it to disrupt the narrative you’ve been telling yourself, which probably features a bar you can never live up to.  Make sure the new story includes the mirror of “kin-ship,” grace, and compassion, so you can see yourself in all your beauty, femininity, masculinity, and vulnerability again. Even the great doubters claim, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” so find a mirror that shows you who you truly are in the eyes of Love. Believe it  and then become it.

And if you need some more inspiration, pick up a copy of Barking to the Choir, or get to a source of water and look inside – a natural mirror does wonders for your perspective!



Dear Readers (and hopefully soon-to-be listeners)-

One of my favorite projects of 2017 was working on a podcast mini-series: “Practice Without Preaching: Creating a Family Spirituality”.

Here’s how it started.

About a year ago, my friend Paul, host of the Contemplify podcast, emailed me and said: I think you should start a podcast.

No, was my obvious answer.

He knew I was going to say that, so he had an alternative for me:

Record a podcast series. I’ll produce it and put it on Contemplify. Easy-peasy.

He believed in my blog, my stories and my content that much. We could all use more friends like Paul in our lives – the ones who think that the world would be a better place if more of YOU were in it, the ones who not only encourage you, but support you with repeated follow-up messaging and put their own resources at your disposal.

So after a lot of back and forth, a fair amount of technical difficulty on my part, and then actually screwing up the courage to listen to the sound of my own voice with all my “ums” and “you knows” and other verbal idiosyncrasies, I share with you Episode One of “Practice Without Preaching”.  It was released on January 18, with additional episodes being released, one per day for the next five days.

Depending on when you tune in, you may be able to access all five hours of content at one time. Is it binge-worthy? Who knows? You’ll have to decide that for yourself, but I hope you’ll give it a listen, beginning with the first episode where Paul puts me through the Contemplify paces, normally reserved for the rarefied air of published authors, eminent PhDs and theologians, world travelers, poets, filmmakers and the like. I have to admit; I felt a little intimidated going in. My primary job title for the last twenty years has been “mom,” but as Paul kindly points out in his bio on me, I wear a lot of other hats too, (including “an Ambassador of Love,” which just might be my favorite title ever.)

You might be wondering what the series is about. Why should you give up so much of your time (even though it can be down-time, driving time, gym time, etc) to a podcast on family spirituality? If you read, #Signs of Love, you’ve got an inkling of what’s coming. I talk about family, faith, fidelity and all the ways I (we) can fail to Love, but I also get out of my comfort zone and actually get prescriptive instead of just descriptive.

I tell stories, but I also offer some serious “how-tos” when it comes to offering kids a sense of faith and values outside traditional church settings. I challenge parents to intentionally honor their own truths, but also to consider the triggers that keep them from being the people and parents they want to be. I talk about the importance of finding a place to worship with integrity, not just convenience, or cultural acceptance. None of this is easy stuff, but I long for families to develop a healthy spirituality, one that honors the questions, the journey and the dignity of each of its members.

Here’s why I’m hoping you’ll tune in.

  • If you’re a twenty-something spiritual-seeker, I hope you’ll find that God is with you along every road you travel and all the way home.
  • If you’re a thirty-something parent with young kids, I hope you’ll find comfort in finding someone a little further down the road, who can help you map the terrain ahead.
  • If you’re in your forties or fifties and have teens, or young adults on their way out the door (like me!), I hope you’ll find the language to have some important conversations about who they want to be and how they want to show up the world.
  • And if you’re a grandparent whose kids have left the church, maybe this podcast will open up a dialogue about how the signs of your faith might be made manifest in future generations, whether they share your theology, or not.

Anyway, that’s what I hope for this project someday. In my mind, this series is just the beginning of a conversation I’d love to have with you, so stay in touch. Ask a question; post a comment; offer a constructive critique, and let the journey continue.

Start HERE on Contemplify. Paul will offer you all the links to all the places the podcast can be found, including iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play.


Knowing the podcast on family spirituality was coming out, I asked the kids to take an updated photo. Polished and perfect? Not by a long shot. Perfectly ourselves? Amen.






For the past several weeks, I’ve been wanting to write here, but to no avail. Each time I sat down with ideas in mind –good ones even – the words wouldn’t come. I’d bang away on the keyboard for an hour or more and end up with nothing to show for it – just a bunch of half-formed paragraphs and half-baked ideas. I’d finally walk away, dissatisfied, but also certain that if the words weren’t coming, there was a reason for it.

About the same time in fact, the week before Advent started, my spiritual director asked me what I wanted from God for Christmas this year. With just a moment’s thought, I said:  Clarity. I want to know the next right step.

She then asked a more difficult follow up question:

What would you have to let go of in the coming weeks to make room to actually receive the clarity you want? What in you has to die, so that the Christ can be born?  

Oh, I thought, that is a harder question.

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I’ve been itching to write something for a week in order to get my #Me Too post off the front page of my website. Instinctively, I wanted to hide what I revealed there behind something brighter and more beautiful.  But I was mindful of why I was in such a hurry, so I forced myself to wait until it didn’t bother me anymore to see that part of my past laid bare. While I can’t say that’s entirely true, I want to talk about the other side of that coin –a positive reflection on what it’s means to be a woman.

When I was visiting with my mom last week, she handed me a folder.


It was a biography project I had completed for a Girl Scout award at the end of 8th grade.  I laughed at the cover. For the life of me, I can’t recall why I put a picture of a Marilyn Monroe impersonator on it. Most of the project was pretty boring, but there were a few pages that were surprisingly accurate.

At the age of thirteen, I had called my shot.

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Yesterday was my 24th wedding anniversary, but this won’t be a love story. Plenty of those have been told and plenty more will unfold, but yesterday, as I sat down and logged on to social media for the first time in 48 hours, I was struck by the #metoo posts.  Some included just the words, large or small. Some included instructions – what the #metoo signified, a personal experience with sexual harassment, or assault, and how one could participate. Some included stories from long ago, or as recently as last week. I scrolled and read, unable to turn away from the vulnerability of the posts and the obscenity of the numbers.

My first impulse was to type in “Of course #Metoo ” but something about that didn’t feel quite right. My dad would read that post, my brothers, my husband, their friends, my friends, my mom. Would they ask for details? Would I want to share them? Would I be more offended if they didn’t ask? And worse yet, would I have to explain myself, frame my story with the caveat that “Yes, I believe in personal responsibility” and own the fact that some of the incidents could have been avoided if I had planned better, been more careful, less young and dumb? I’d like to think all that goes with saying, but I couldn’t type #metoo without saying it all.

That’s why I came here.

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Today is my mother’s 70th birthday and although I could think of a few things she’d like more, I’m hoping the gift of words will be enough for now. Her favorite gift will come in a week’s time when our whole family – all 20+ of us – will gather in my sister’s backyard for dinner and drinks and dancing. Cutting a rug with her grandbabies, sons, daughters and in-laws is her idea of heaven!

A few months back, my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. They renewed their vows in front of family and friends with a big celebratory dinner. At one point in the evening, my siblings and I, along with our spouses, each shared a few words about what their marriage has taught us.

How had we grown and benefitted from their love and commitment to each other and to our family?

As you can imagine, we talked about love, loyalty, commitment, hard work, inclusion and integrity. You don’t make it fifty years without knowing a thing or two about those qualities. It was hard for me to decide what to speak on, because I wanted to talk about ALL THE THINGS. (No surprise there, I’m sure.)  But what I landed on was faith, and that brief reflection is probably one of my mom’s favorite things I have ever written. So, in honor of the woman who raised me, I’m sharing it here today with all of you.

If you ask my mom, her family is the best thing she’s ever done, and if you ask any of us, we’d probably agree. Our mom taught us that Love was never just a feeling. You had to live it out too through service, loyalty, and sacrifice. She embodies the art of “showing up,” sticking to your guns, speaking the truth (as you see it), and then releasing the outcome, because she loves you so damn much. My mom lives by the motto that with God, and with her, you get “forever tries.”

Happy birthday, Mama!

Sylvia’s Squad on June 10. 2017. She’s the short one in the middle, between my dad and me.

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Yesterday, I went to the ocean to mix my own salty tears with that of the sea, to be surrounded by Life and forget for a moment my small one. If I lived near a forest, I would have lain down under the tallest trees. If by the mountains, next to a granite face, soaring high above me. If on a prairie, I would have gazed up at the vast blue sky and watched the clouds race from one end of my vision to the other.

I felt a need to be connected to a grandeur and beauty that remains unaffected by the crazy, painful shit we humans do to each other. It reminds me that there is something larger at work, something that does, in fact, want us to be well, not sick – not the violent, unmerciful people we so often are.

I call that something God; I also call it Love and I was grateful to the Center for Action and Contemplation for their post.

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In September, Richard Rohr spent a week teaching about non-violence. Perhaps it was prescience, or coincidence, but perhaps it just seemed practical to remind his readers that we cannot give to others what we don’t have ourselves. As much as we may want peace in our world, we ultimately have to do the even more difficult work of creating peace within – first, or at least at the same time. Otherwise, we’re just brokering a cheap truce, too easily broken when boundaries are crossed.

I’m going to offer a few highlights of his teaching here that I copied into my journal.


September 22, 2017

The  reflections from Richard Rohr have been so powerful this week – deeply convicting about how nonviolence must be something that comes from our heart, an awareness of Your presence within us, God. We cannot live and behave however we want in our everyday lives and then go participate in the non-violent healing of the world. It just doesn’t work that way.

If we want make peace, we have to be peace. Our lives are our message.


How can we make nonviolence a way of life?

[First] Practicing nonviolence means claiming our fundamental identity as the beloved sons and daughters of the God of peace… The problem is: we don’t know who we are. . . . The challenge then is to remember who we are, and therefore be nonviolent to ourselves and others.

This alone, God, challenges me. Nonviolence has to begin in my own heart, in how I treat myself in moments of weakness, or shame, when I have not met expectations, my own, or those of others. The voice of the inner critic is rarely gentle. It yields a sharp sword and knows all my weak spots. Even this has to change? 

To create peaceful change, we must begin by remembering who we are in God.

Gandhi believed the core of our being is union with God… [and] that experiencing God’s loving presence within is central to nonviolence. This was his motivation and sustenance: “We have one thousand names to denote God, and if I did not feel the presence of God within me, I see so much of misery and disappointment every day that I would be a raving maniac.”

[Second] Nonviolence, on the other hand, comes from an awareness that I am also the enemy and my response is part of the whole moral equation. I cannot destroy the other without destroying myself. I must embrace my enemy just as much as I must welcome my own shadow. Both acts take real and lasting courage.

Practicing loving presence must become our entire way of life, or it seldom works as an occasional tactic.

From this awareness, nonviolence must flow naturally and consistently:

Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being. . . . If love or non-violence be not the law of our being, the whole of my argument falls to pieces. . . . Belief in non-violence is based on the assumption that human nature in its essence is one and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love. . . . If one does not practice non-violence in one’s personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken.


Living a nonviolent life is no easy task; it is not simply pacifism. It requires courageous love, drawn from the very source of our being.

As Mark Kurlansky explains, “Pacifism is passive; but nonviolence is active. Pacifism is harmless and therefore easier to accept than nonviolence, which is dangerous. When Jesus said that a victim should turn the other cheek, he was preaching pacifism. But when he said that an enemy should be won over through the power of love, he was preaching nonviolence.”

One year, RR invited his staff to take this vow of nonviolence. I don’t know how many of them accepted the challenge. I only know I couldn’t, as much as I wanted to. I read and reread the vows, but my heart shied away from them. 

What does it mean to take a vow you are sure to break?

 I think I will print the vows out and put them on my nightstand. If I read them over and over again, perhaps I will move one step closer to living into them with some integrity. From RR:

Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God. . . . You have learned how it was said, “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy”; but I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven. (Matthew 5:9, 43-45)

Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus

  • by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;

  • by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it;

  • by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;

  • by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;

  • by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;

  • by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.

God, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so You will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it.


This last line is the key, isn’t it God?

In days like these, while the world grieves so many acts of violence  –

from the hands of our fellow humans,

by the forces of nature,

in the war of words we constantly engage in,

and our slow but sure death from complacency and indifference,

do I trust in Your sustaining Love and Grace?

Most days, I say, “Yes,” with my whole heart and the entire force of my being. I believe, I trust, I want to participate in the Love and Grace that sustain the world.

This week? Not so much.

My yes is a whisper, a longing more than a reality, but I don’t want it to stay there. So I’ll head back to the sea; I’ll look up at the sky; I’ll walk in a canyon; I’ll find my center and breathe and trust that the truth of Love will rise again.

In the meantime, I am grateful for the helpers, the people who are actively participating in the Loving and healing and peacemaking that is going on today – in Las Vegas, Puerto Rico, Mexico City, Houston and around the world. I am grateful for their resounding “Yes” in the midst of tragedy.


If you’d like to read the reflections from the teachings on non-violence, you can find them here. There’s a lot to explore on the page!